Each time my mind wanders back to 1988, I always felt a tinge of trepidation. Of the many thoughts that always ran through my mind, the name of Ayatollah Khomeini and his death fatwa sentence on Sir Ahmad Salman Rushdie, an award-winning British Indian novelist, stand out. Rushdie had published a novel ‘Satanic Verses’ The self-appointed custodian of Allah’s Will, Ayatollah waste no time, not even to read the content, before issuing the Executive Orders to kill Rushdie, wherever he may be found. Not even an apology from the satiric writer could appease the Ayatollah. He wanted him dead.
The tension created around the novelist was scarily out of this world. This is more so because some religion fundamentalists, especially from the Middle East region could do anything to carry out the fatwa. The British intelligence agency had to protect him.
Today, I’m breaking a critical golden rule; a personal ethos that I always found utterly difficult to keep. I have some Golden Rules, a personal ethos I set for myself. One such is the need to respect all shades of opinion when it comes to religious interest. By extension of this, it is also to see the matter of religion as a private affair, not for public debate. But sadly, somehow, an innocuous incident will always push me to break the line.
As hard as I could try, pushing way the thoughts of that German socio-philosopher, Karl Marx who wrote his damning thesis in 1843, concluding that ‘religion is the opium of the people’, would always creep into my mind. Happenings and hyper stances among our people will not simply allow the German’s thinking to fade away. The German had posited that ‘Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of the heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions’.
I am never a Karl Marx apologist. I try to take my religion credo very seriously, but with respect to others with divergent beliefs. But I study his thoughts with equanimity. And recently too, I accidentally come across the views of that famous British guitarist, Richard Smith. Sincerely his views rock me to no end. He brutally, took Africans to the cleaners on this same issue of religion. ‘For everything, they confide in superstition and religion. We brought our God and continuously invent fuzzy concepts to confuse them more…’ He was quoted to have said. He was not done, however, went further: ‘I have been asked many times what I think of Africans, here is what I think of Africans, without language, and without taboos. Look at their Pastors or so-called men of God. They rob their congregations and become billionaires in very poor nations. The church has become a family inheritance…the father, the mother, children, and other business interests’.
Then from here, I started thinking of where we got it all wrong. This head was still dizzy by this puzzle when the most unnecessary babble of voices from the Northern hemisphere of our country started pouring in like a deluge. Some States Governors for reasons far outside political, but closer to what may eventually draw the ire of the financial scamming watch-dogs goons, EFCC operatives, were quickly beaten to the high octave pressure. The management of the emergency funds by some of these funds are foggy. Biometric auditing may not be needed to unearth scandalous movements of those funds during the medical emergency wrought by COVID-19. Some of these maleficent governors quickly adopted the strategy of easing the closure of the lockdown to allow Islamic adherents to observe the end of Ramadan month.
No sane government ought to take this root. It is perfidiously laden with deadly mines. Yet our governors did. The opium of religion is deviously at work. Brains are dizzying; head no longer syncs with the mind. They now flow in the deliriousness of the opium. But not for the National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and its Spiritual leader, the Sultan of Sokoto. The body measuredly but maturely wades in. The Islamic body quickly dispatched a note of caution to the errant governors. For another reason, I always know the FG may have the political will to do that. But once the Sultan-led NSCIA did, the FG too feebly raised its concern. Almost stammering a displeasure at the governors’ stand.
Coming back now to the rather icy views of Richard Smith, one can see clearly the extent of frustration that prompts such a brutal conclusion from a self-confessed ‘lover of humanity’. I was by my electronic gadgets, for more than five days to the Eid El Fitr prayers, monitoring news as they break from all over the world. I did not hear a whimper from Saudi Arabia and any other Sharia-driven Islamic countries, calling for easing of the lockdown to enable them to observe Eid prayers. But in a highly opiumnated Nigeria, both the Christian body, CAN and some governors hiding under the shades offered by religion to pervert humanity, ‘corpses can be picked from the streets’, if I may use the exact words of Mrs. Melinda Gates, so far it serves their shallow interest.
At this point, I feel, we should be bothered with where we would allow the opium of religion to push us to, if I may still ask? As rightly observed by many analysts, African and the Middle East might have truly lost it. Religion has failed to guaranteed enduring peace in the Middle East, for as long as one may recall. The likes of Ayatollah Khomeini still stalk the horizon in the region. In Africa, it is becoming even worst. Churches have displaced the developmental economy. It is no longer ‘Ye have robbed God’, as stated in Malachi 3 verse 8. It is now, ‘Yee have robbed your congregations and become billionaires in very poor nations’.
Richard Smith complained of Churches becoming part of family ‘inheritance’ now. Why won’t, If the Pastors are now mega-rich? If the congregations are becoming more stupid than ever, such complaints are apt and germane. I can still recollect the story of late Bishop Elomobor. The assassinated clergyman used to have his Church at Ogba Estate in the early 90s. He was killed on his way from a Church activity on a Saturday evening. The wife on being informed by the police, first safely deposited his remains in the morgue, most quietly, without informing anybody. The following morning, a Sunday, a worship day. She gorgeously, made for the Church. She made sure she first secured the leadership of the Church properly before announcing the sad incident of the previous night. Today, she is the inheritor of the estate, the Church. I just read of recent, the dramatic story of Olumba Olumba Church and his two children. His two children, the first child, a female, and the second born, a male, could not agree among themselves, on the sharing of their departed father’s inheritance; the Holy Altar and the leadership and control of the Church. The two of them laid claims to the Holy Altar.
They had to drag themselves before a temporal judge. The judge ruled that the duo have constitutional rights to the ‘inheritance’. They now resorted to the customs and traditions. They headed to the family, who now employed the Customary Laws and practices to divide the ‘inheritance’ between the siblings. Today, the two jointly hold sway in the Church. If these two examples aren’t enough, then let us look further. Perhaps, you may not know, all Pastor Chris Oyakhilome’s siblings are senior pastors in the Church. And they head the most ‘lucrative’ branches around the world. Okay, let’s take a look at Bishop David Oyedepo ‘s church if the storyline is any different, or even our spiritual Baba, Pastor E. A. Adeboye. Both their wives and children are all deeply involved in the churches’ management and in line of succession. The opium of religion is deadly and contagious. It has truly drained the Spirit of humanity from the Church.
That Karl Marx canvassed ‘the abolition of religion’ to end what he called ‘the illusory happiness of the people’ is never the solution. He believed that this will usher in ‘the demand for their real happiness’. But I disagree. Maybe in 1834, yes, but in 2020, no, never.
No matter what, you face the East to pray, or you shout in Jesus name in a hall, anyhow you choose to do it, we all need that special relationship with the Supreme Being. I think what we need to abolish is the opium that has been overfed to the large percentages among the congregations.
The notion that ‘religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature’, is antediluvian. It should not also be ‘the heart of the heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions’, but a beautiful route to serve the Creator of Heaven and Earth. Unless action is taken to redefine religion, more and more people may stay back from the worship centers. Certainly, if both Jesus Christ and Prophet Mohammed (SWT) should come back to the world today, neither will be happy with what he will meet us practicing in the name of religion.
Afolayan Adebiyi writes from Lagos, Nigeria.
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