‘The divine right of kings’ was one of the primary justifications for feudalism back when Europe was ruled by monarch’s. The king could rule the land as he wished because God put him there, God was the justification for all the bad leadership and suffering brought on by the king’s inability to govern properly, in many cases, and when the people got angry they were reminded by the church that acting against the king was equivalent to acting against the will of the one who put him there, God.
Thus, over the years and especially when combined with politics, religion has become this force that enhances oppression, this titan if you will of quelling the masses. Growing up I heard the saying ‘if Jesus was alive he’d be Nigerian” not in reference to any particular good quality that Nigerians have because ‘Nigerians are religious and not godly’- another adage, but because there is a church around every street corner of Nigeria.
In my village in Ekiti state, the schools are barely painted. The one across the street from our family house is the size of three small apartments all nestled together, the chalk board is faded black paint and most of the students wear hand me downs as uniform. Right outside is a church with enough money for a generator and speakers that blare the word of God down the street at ungodly hours. About a twenty-minute drive from this school, on which you encounter more under resourced schools and a match box clinic, there is a Mega church, the type that you see in large cities, with large glazed windows, surround sound and the capacity for over a thousand people.
The church does more than spread the gospel of Christ. The church is a vessel through which people are stopped from dissenting. The church can create an environment through which human suffering is justified, because just like the kings in feudal Europe, God gives those who lead us today, the right to rule.
The spread of prosperity gospel, the form of theology that preaches that God rewards his most faithful and merciful with wealth and as it would seem health, has spread across Africa. Prosperity gospel relies on scripture to justify capitalism and the exploitation that comes with it and allows faith to be used as a justification for inequality.
This idea that if you pray hard enough or believe enough God will deliver you from a poverty that is systemic and endemic and or cure your sickness, whatever it may be; permanent disability or HIV is a terrible thing to believe in and tears at the fabric of our societies. It then follows that those who God so saw fit to give an abundance of money and power deserve it, even if they stole, cheated and lied their way to those riches, because after all God knows what he is doing and more importantly those who God or the devil has subjected to earthly suffering have more awaiting them in the afterlife or simply are not deserving of his blessings.
Furthermore, believing in this survival of-Gods-most-loved disallows us to see that the way in which people in our societies gain wealth is deeply intertwined with the oppression of people who remain economically disenfranchised. In these economic systems it is the lack of provision of basic services to the poor that allow politicians to make the salaries that they do, and it is the cheap labour economy that allows the rich to profit. It is not God that makes people billionaires but systemic flaws.
In the last 3 years the eccentricity of African pastors has become a trending topic; from eating grass to drinking petrol and the odd whipping of women (to remove the spirit of singleness). The lack of regulation of religious practices allows those in charge who do not always have good intentions to abuse the hoards of vulnerable people that rely on religion as an escape to reality or at the very least see it as a way to improve it.
Pastors demand tithe from a group of people who many a time cannot even afford to feed their families or put their children through school but give anyway under the guise of planting a seed, an investment with everlasting return as it were.
In the Forbes Top 10 list of richest pastors 4 of them are Nigerian. It seems that finding eternal prosperity for the masses is big money for the few which God has chosen. Nigeria also has one of the highest numbers of people living in extreme poverty in the world. Prophet Bushiri, South Africa’s answer to Creflo dollar recently bought his daughter an 80,000-dollar car for her fifth birthday. This obscene manner that wealth is acquired and spent leads us to wonder whether the God of the bible, the one who proclaimed scriptures such as:
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free…” (Luke 4:18)
Approve of the use of his word for such worldly gain? And if he does is he still a god worth serving.
When Africans speak about the church and religion, the discussion is not always so simple. When you look at the origins of Christianity as a religion everywhere but Ethiopia it seems that how we found our way to heaven is a road that is stained with cultural genocide and violence. We did not en-masse flood to Christianity because we out of our own volition found it to be a befitting religious belief. We cannot separate Christianity from its violent beginnings.
Nonetheless it would be unfair to not acknowledge Christianity as a coping mechanism from the hardships of life or even negate the genuine belief in a God that many argue does not represent us. Religion is also more than the actual deity; it is the sense of community, the support structures that they provide; it is ritual and tradition. However, when something as seemingly honest as the concern for a vindicating afterlife is reduced to a money-making scheme even the most religious of us should find this worrisome.
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