BY Rev. Fr. John Damian Adizie
AFRICANS, according to Professor John Mbiti, “are notoriously religious, and each people has its own religious system with a set of beliefs and practices.” Mbiti’s observation may not be far from reality. Here in Nigeria almost everything we do or say are directly or indirectly influenced by our religious beliefs and background. Most of the official gatherings in Nigeria begin with opening prayer. Even when the politicians meet for official purpose, a Muslim and a Christian are usually appointed to lead the group in an opening prayer.
Moreover, the numbers of religious denominations in the Nigeria are uncountable. People are beginning to build mosques, even in none Islamic areas. Some of our Muslim brethren are even engaging in all night vigils and crusades. Churches and Mosque are the most available and most accessible structures in most streets in Nigeria. But does this really mean that Nigerians are religious as Mbiti observed? By the way, what does it take to be a true religious? What type of religion are we even practicing in modern Africa society?
Pope John Paul II of the Blessed memory wrote in his Post-Synodal Apostolic Exhortation, Ecclesia in Africa, that “Africans have a profound religious sense, a sense of the sacred, of the existence of God the creator and of a spiritual world” This, to some extent, affirms the claim of Mbiti that Africans are notoriously religious. But if I may add, that was then! A critical look of how the Africans are practicing their so-called religion would force one to ask if Africans are actually religious as they claim to be?
A Pastor once complained that most of the people he prayed for are not showing appreciation. He cited an example of one of the politician he prayed for during the last election. He went as far as prophesying to him that he will surely win the election. The politician then promised to purchase a landed property worth of twenty-five million naira for his ministry if he wins. Luckily for him the politician actually won the election. The pastor complained that up till then the politician has not redeemed his pledge. It took me time to convince the pastor that it was not him but God who gives victory and moreover, the bible clearly stated, freely you receive freely you should give (Matthew 10:8). A capitalist religion does not believe in this principle.
Men of God are beginning to charge money in order to conduct an ordinary family liberation. A family that is struggling financially is expected to borrow or even take a loan before they could be liberated from their bondage. Even sacramentals such as anointing oil, holy water are sold at a very high cost. Imagine an ordinary bottle of holy water is sold at five Thousand Naira. That five Thousand Naira happens to be what some casual workers are receiving in a month. It is an indirect way of saying that the Holy Water and anointing oil are only meant for the rich. Missionary schools seem to be the most expensive schools in Nigeria.
Churches are no longer rated based on the number of converts or the spirituality of the faithful but on the returns they make. If you are a priest or a pastor and you want to be recognize as a hardworking man of God then you must visit your bishop of general oversea often with a smiling envelops. Failure to do so can easily lead to your transfer to remote areas. Even if one is calling down fire like Elijah of old, that does not matter; what the Church leaders want to know is how much money you are able to make. They are not even interesting in the welfare of the people. We have forgotten that Jesus fed thousands of people during his own public ministry. And he told Peter, he head of the apostles, “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-17).
One of the pastors once cited an example with himself how God can transform people’s life over night just because of seed sowing. He told his audience that one day God told him to give out his only car; which he did in obedience. After that sacrifice God blessed him with six jeeps. This is another way of trying to force God into our capitalist mentality. The God I know is not an insurance company. He is not a businessman. He is rather a generous God who even “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45). One does not need to bribe God before receiving blessings from God. Our God is not a capitalist, who exchanges favour with money. He does not even need our money. He cannot be bribed like most religious leaders of our time.
The modern religion has been adulterated with the influence of capitalism. You can even call it a Capitalist religion. In a capitalist religion money is the ultimate value. Money speaks louder than faith. In a capitalist religion the richer you become the more religious you are thought of. People no longer run after men of God for blessings rather men of God are running after rich men, especially politicians. When a rich man dies, no matter how sinful or corrupt he may be, most men of God would prefer to attend their burials because of money but when a poor man dies they will simply send an ordinary catechist to bury him. This is not Christianity – it is pure capitalism!
Thank God, Nigerians are advocating for local government autonomy; this autonomy should also be extended to local stations in the Church. The local stations usually contribute money to develop the main parishes and dioceses but there is no system in place where the local stations receive fund from above to develop their poor stations. That is why the local stations are getting poorer while the main parishes are getting richer. Unfortunately, most of the rich men in the cities would prefer to make their donations in big parishes where people could easily notice them. This is not Christianity but capitalism!
The Church in the northern part of Nigeria is facing all kinds of hardship due to the Boko Harram insurgencies. There are some parishes in the Northern parts of Nigeria where the Priests could not even afford their daily bread from the Sunday mass offerings. One of the Bishops in the North, His Lordship Most Rev. James Daman once told me that they are even the ones feeding some of the refugees in their state. If we are not practicing a capitalist religion in Nigeria by now the Church in the Southern part of Nigeria would have started sending some relief materials to the Church in the North.
When the Church in Judea experienced famine, the disciples sent relief to the brethren who lived in Judea” (Acts 11:29). St. Paul narrated how Macedonia made some contributions for the poor saints at Jerusalem (Romans 15:26-27). Most of the churches and schools in Nigeria were built by the early missionaries with foreign donations. They were able to do this because they were not influenced by capitalism. In communal system of religion, which the early disciples practiced, “all who believed were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44). As a result, “There was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34-35). This can never take place in a capitalist religion.
The Holy Father, Pope Francis’ laments the negative influence of money in our world today; and how money has negatively affected evangelization. He went as far as describing money as a modern form of idolatry. According to him, “The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols. The worship of the ancient golden calf (cf. Ex 32:1-35) has returned in a new and ruthless guise in the idolatry of money and the dictatorship of an impersonal economy lacking a truly human purpose.” Our people are no longer worshipping God but money, the root of evil.
Pope St. John Paul II observed, during the African synod, that “The primary and most fundamental fact noted by the synod Fathers is the thirst for God felt by the people of Africa. In order not to disappoint this expectation, the members of the Church must first of all deepen their faith. The Church must begin by being evangelized herself” (Ecclesia in Africa, no 47). Charity begins at home. The Church cannot evangelize others without being evangelized. The best way the Church can effectively bring transformation to our modern world is by practicing the principles of transformation as stated in the gospel of Christ. Action speaks louder than words!