According to wiki, There is no scholarly consensus over what precisely constitutes a religion. It may be defined as a cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, world views, texts, sanctified places, ethics, or organizations, that relate humanity to the supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual.
Religion seems to be guide to humanity in order to properly maintain its dominance over the earth. There are several philosophies made over religion, but my favourite remains that of Baha’u’llah(founder of Bahai faith) which states as follows “In truth, religion is a radiant light and an impregnable stronghold for the protection and welfare of the peoples of the world, for the fear of God impelleth man to hold fast to that which is good, and shun all evil. Should the lamp of religion be obscured, chaos and confusion will ensue, and the lights of fairness and justice, of tranquillity and peace cease to shine. Unto this will bear witness to every man of true understanding.” – Baha’u’llah.
This explains that religion is the only factor that can positively bring about balance in the world. The question is; even after over thousands of religion had been established in the world, do we have a balance? Do we have peace? Tranquility? Justice? We all know the true answer.
This article is aimed at tackling the wrong perception of religion globally, using Nigeria as a case study.
Religion plays a vital role in Nigeria, as some of its inhabitants see it as a guide to wisdom, some see it as a business venture due to its perception among the populace and some see it as means to acquire power,influence and to dominate through divide and rule principle.
There are several religious groups in Nigeria but Christianity, Islam, and traditional belief are the major religions in the country. In the north, Islam is predominant, while in the south-east Christianity(Catholicism) is predominant and in southwest mixed up with Christianity, Islam and traditional beliefs. Now what are the threats posed by religion in these regions? In actual sense, religion poses no threat but the mindset of its followers are the threats.
Before the arrival of Christianity and islam, traditional worship was the major and paramount religion in Nigeria and Africa as a whole. The traditional worship is systematically designed to uphold belief that everything is caused or allowed by a supreme being. No sense of responsibility. Discovery or science would be a taboo to such community as asking questions of “why and how” isn’t appreciated. This mindset was inherited by successive generations of this race. Even as we embraced Christianity and Islam, the mindset still remains and is instilled in us, which is the threat we mistake for religion itself. There are sharp distinction between Christians/Muslims in advanced climes and that of Nigeria. Difference in terms of method of practice and beliefs. No doubt that some Christians in western world are allowing negative policies of humanists to derail the tenets of Christianity, and some Muslims in the developed Arab region are fanning the embers of violence in third world Islamic countries. But their advanced mindset in religion has brought them progress so far.
One major reason of religion surge in Nigeria has a lot to do with our archaic and negative style of leadership. Although we are at the beginning of a new millennium and exploring new ideas, our government still fail to give the people any cause for optimism. The mission of any government should be to promote its people’s creativity and to understand that continuous humiliation, degradation and criticism stifles creativity. This environment produces a totally demoralized citizen who cannot achieve any of his goals; one who cannot even dream about a better future because he is afraid to face the bitter reality when he wakes up each morning. The person would resort to crimes to survive if not deeply from a religious home while his counterpart from a religious home finds solace in churches and ministeries which, at times stifle his creativity. When bureaucracy is rampant, corruption is widespread, equal opportunity simply does not exist and most jobs and promotions are obtained through powerful people- you have a situation that leaves people with no hope for the present or the future. They finally resort to mounting pressures on different religious leaders seeking for a divine orchestration that would give them fulfilment. This however exposes youths to dangers emanating from false religion. False teachers and prophets employ several gimmicks and tactics to extort youths of their money and time. The young females resort to ready made men to escape the impending challenges of which is the reason why most of them work, sleep and wake in different religious dominations. In a country whereby due process and competency is ignored, we see men visiting and bribing “traditional worship” leaders and “prophets” for contracts they are not qualified for. In the northern part of the country, the majority of the youths which are deliberately deprived of sound education are easily used to perpetrate religious violence which leads to loss of lives and properties. I believe our religion could be more understood if government provide basic, secondary and tertiary amenities to the people. No doubt that God in his infinite mercy still intervenes in issues that He has already given us the resources and wisdom to handle.
Moreover, it’s important for us to know that religion doesn’t totally strike out the ability to reason. Even as our religion guides us we need to at times apply wisdom and logic in handling most challenges. When we come across difficult crossroads or hurdles, its role of religion through faith is to enable us go through it. Then with knowledge and wisdom which we might have acquired through different mediums of life , we devise a means to win through. But most of us believe religion is an escape route from difficulties, thus wasting our valuable resources to poor approach of religion. There had been scenarios whereby some people believe aprons, water, dramatic spiritual display, bath rituals, salts etc would solve problems ranging from financial, marital, medical, academic and career. Few months back in 2017, a governor from northern part of Nigeria once told his subjects that the outbreak of meningitis that claimed tens of lives in his state at that period was God’s response to their sins and immoral ways of life. He used a negative religious mindset to cover up for his ineptitudes. What a pity for the indigenes of his state.
Religion is meant to improve intra and inter human relationships. Intra which explains the relationship between us and our minds. True religion enables us to forgive ourselves when we fail to reach our expectations. It creates the spirit of second chance within us to refire back to life. Many youths have failed to reach their potentials due to poor intra relationship created by a crude understanding of their religion. Inter explains the relationship between us and others. True understanding of religion makes us understand that it’s our sole responsibility to fix the lives of others not regarding their race or belief in any available and sensible way we can and not leaving it for God or solving it via prayers. The patriarch of Christian faith- Jesus once said “Verily I say unto you, In as much as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” Through this proclamation He encouraged inter human relationship. Founders of other religions also encouraged helping one another. The founder of Islamic faith, Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) once said ” Have you seen him who belies the rewards and punishmentsof the Hereafter? He it is who drives away the orphan and does not urge giving away food of the poor.Give to the near of kin his due, and also to the needy and the wayfarers. Do not squander your wealth wastefully; for those who squander wastefully are Satan’s brothers, and Satan is ever ungrateful to his Lord.” But in our society today reverse is the case due to our poor understanding towards life. We care for only ourselves and family. Amass wealth at the expense of others, instil hardship and poverty on others and intimidating others with our riches. Even our religious leaders are not exempted, thus bringing mockery to religion.
Furthermore, Religion should be seen as a tool to foster community development. This is because true religion inspires the spirit of leadership in us thus enabling us via hardwork and resilience,to harness factors and resources required for sustainable development. It’s no doubt that most people that brought change and development in the past were religiously motivated. We have people like Mary Slessor who went out of her way to halt the killings of twins. The likes of Mahatma Ghandi, who was an epitome of diginity and honour in Delhi, India. Gandhi grew up in a Hindu and Jain religious atmosphere in his native Gujarat which were his primary influences, but he was also influenced by his personal reflections and literature of Hindu Bhakti saints, Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism, Christianity and thinkers such as Tolstoy, Ruskin and Thoreau. After his return to India in 1915, he set about organising peasants, farmers, and urban labourers to protest against excessive land-tax and discrimination. Assuming leadership of the Indian National Congress in 1921, Gandhi led nationwide campaigns for various social causes and for achieving Swaraj or self-rule.
Gandhi famously led Indians in challenging the British-imposed salt tax with the 400 km (250 mi) Dandi Salt March in 1930, and later in calling for the British to Quit India in 1942. He was imprisoned for many years, upon many occasions, in both South Africa and India. He lived modestly in a self-sufficient residential community and wore the traditional Indian dhoti and shawl, woven with yarn hand-spun on a charkha. He ate simple vegetarian food, and also undertook long fasts as a means of both self-purification and political protest. Through his religious beliefs and principles he brought the change Indians hungered for. There are so many people who utilized their religious strength and knowledge to make impact in the society. But most present religious leaders are not zealously focused to the main aim of religion, rather they are after the luxury religion could offer.
Come to think of it!!! Does religion contradict science and Education? In Africa, Nigeria to be precise, religion had been made to look like it contradicts with science. In the northern part of Nigeria, a large group of religious folks detest western education which connotes science. They believe such exposure would deplete the culture and tenets of their religion. They believe the first and most important education a child should acquire must be that provided by his religion. Such notion contradicts with the fact that most materials and instruments they use to propagate their belief emanates from western education ideas. If only they knew that education, science and inventions were once pioneered by Islamic Arab civilization era. Scientific applications pioneered by Muslims are numerous. They excelled in geography, which was crucial for mapping borders along their trade routes, and in astronomy, which allowed merchants to sail at night using the stars and planets as their guides, instead of waiting until sunrise to resume their journey. Professor Salim al-Hassani, Chairman of the Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilisation, explained that In 859 a young princess named Fatima al-Firhi founded the first degree-granting university in Fez, Morocco. Her sister Miriam founded an adjacent mosque and together the complex became the al-Qarawiyyin Mosque and University,still operating almost 1,200 years later, Hassani says he hopes the center will remind people that learning is at the core of the Islamic tradition and that the story of the al-Firhi sisters will inspire young Muslim women around the world today. Also, Hospitals as we know them today, with wards and teaching centers, come from the 9th century Egypt,” explained Hassani. The first such medical center was the Ahmad ibn Tulun Hospital, founded in 872 in Cairo. Tulun hospital provided free care for anyone who needed it — a policy based on the Muslim tradition of caring for all who are sick. From Cairo, such hospitals spread around the Muslim world. If those who brought Islam to the Northern Nigeria believe so much in education, then why do some Northern Nigerian Muslims pay little attention to education? It’s no doubt that some of their political leaders use it as a cover up to blindfold its populace in order to continue their political gimmicks and abuse of rights without opposition from the masses. The Christian counter part abuse the use of faith. Most times they replace common sense with poor understanding of faith. And such belief discourages research and discovery, as everything is left for God to handle. One of the preeminent geneticists in the world, Francis Collins(a devoted Christian) didn’t wait for God to help complete a groundbreaking research into human DNA and gene sequences as a leader of the Human Genome Project. Sir Francis Bacon(a devout Anglican), Lise Meitner, Sir Isaac Newton, etc were all christians that changed the world through science and discovery. Whle some believe as Christians they ain’t meant to fall sick, when they do, they resort to spiritual gimmicks instead of good medical care which at times cost them their lives. Same is applicable to the academic sector, whereby students spend more time in church than in school with hopes of God aiding them to pass their exams. I’m not asserting that faith doesn’t work, or church activities are irrelevant, rather I assert that common sense and wisdom should be applied to all situations. Most Asian countries are great today because of how they positioned their mind towards their major religion(Confucianism). Confucianism is a philosophical religion adopted by most Eastern Asian nations. This religion establishes its tenets on human and environmental developments. Nations that adopted this religion had gone a long way to prove that religion (Confucianism) goes hand in hand with education. For instance, Taiwan, a chinese autonomous region is well known for adhering to the Confucian paradigm of valuing education as a means to improve one’s socioeconomic position in Taiwanese society. Heavy investment and a cultural value for education has catapulted the resource poor nation consistently atop the global education rankings. Taiwan is one of the top-performing countries in reading literacy, maths and sciences. In 2015, Taiwanese students achieved one of the world’s best results in mathematics, science and literacy, as tested by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a worldwide evaluation of 15-year-old school pupils’ scholastic performance. This implied that one can’t take out education from true religion.
Is religion susceptible to change? Each religion of God is originally a source of rapid material and moral progress for mankind, however over time, like all things, it will slowly begin to decline and eventually lose its original influence and relevance and beauty, and is then in need of renewal.
According to Baha’i Philosophy, it is a law of the Universe that all things except for the Origin of Creation are subject to change, and are in need of renewal. This applies universally to everything, from the air in a room, to the cells in our bodies, to the laws and institutions of Governance and Law, and this also applies to Religion.
To cite an example: For those who believe in the existence of God, the fruits of the earth are, like all things created through the laws of nature, considered to be created by “the Will of God”, yet these fruit have a lifespan after which they will begin to decline and then rot. Is it reasonable for a person to insist on eating an old and spoilt piece of fruit and say “It is from God” or “God Created it”, as the justification for such an action? Is that action at all in conformity with wisdom, or justice, or the Will and good pleasure of God?
No it is not reasonable at all. Yet this is what occurs when one insists on living under the teachings of a past Faith, and claims that it still must be beneficial and good simply because it was originally “Created by God”. By clinging to the past we are doing a dis-service to ourselves and to mankind, and perpetuating the incorrect belief that the Religion of God revealed to humanity throughout the ages is irrelevant.
The Religion of God may be compared to a tree. At first it is young and beautiful, and all nations derive benefit and inspiration from its fruits, and take shelter in the shade of its leaves, and make enormous progress in scientific achievements, civilization, and morality. However after a time the tree will grow old, will no longer yield fruit, and will fall into a condition of decay. That is when a seed from that old tree is taken, and re-planted in the soil, in order that a new tree (a new Faith) may appear. This process is eternal and God has throughout eternity revealed new Teachings in each era.
For example we Christians were born from the Jewish religion of which its most laws were inhuman, but Christ came and amended these laws through his wise and effective teachings which brings about peace and every form of human progress. Also the era when Islam was discovered was met by so many oppositions, wars, unrefined education system and other form of barriers. These factors shaped some teachings and laws which if applied to the modern world would lead to uproars and violence. Some Muslims keep to these laws negatively which draws controversy towards the peaceful religion, although many Muslims with advanced exposure and mindsets are currently marketing Islam to the world, thus making it one of the most sort religion in the world.
In summary, religion is and would be the best thing that happened to humanity if only we change and shape our mindsets. Religion isn’t the problem but those practising it is.
By Okonkwo Franky Perez Ifeanyi