By Douglas Anele
It is well-known to New Testament scholars that questions concerning the historical existence of the person named Jesus of Nazareth are far from settled. Still Christian religious apologists, from the Pope to pastors of Pentecostal churches, behave as if the gospels’ are true beyond reasonable doubt. A few Christian denominations do not celebrate the supposed birthday of Jesus on 25th of December.
For instance, Jehovah’s Witnesses insist, on the basis of their own interpretation of relevant biblical texts, that Jesus was probably born in October. Aside from controversy about the actual birthday of Jesus, Christmas did not originate from Christianity.
It was an extrapolation or adaptation of religious practices in Mediterranean and Persian communities, as the fledgling Christian sect tried to establish a foothold in the crumbling Roman Empire. Some Christians freely admit the unchristian origin of Christmas, but insist that it does not really matter since it is now widely accepted by an overwhelming majority of believers worldwide.
The main problem here is that the “pagan” origin of Christmas compromises the purported divinely-ordained superiority of Christianity over the so-called pagan religions and practices; it equally raises the question of the appropriate spiritual status of those beliefs and practices Christianity absorbed from other faiths. In The Holy Bible Jesus neither celebrated his birthday or recommended that it should be celebrated by his followers. As I suggested before, adoption of 25th December was a desperate attempt by leaders of the upstart (Christian) religion to attract new converts from existing religions which celebrated the birth of various deities on that very day.
Over the centuries, the rise of capitalism and concomitant commercialisation of everything has led to dissipation of the spiritual raison d’etre of Christmas. Presently, the event is so bastardised and commercialised to the extent that reckless indulgence in immorality has taken center stage. Church services, singing of Christmas hymns and token recognition of the less privileged in the society are still part and parcel of Christmas.
Also during the occasion, religious and political leaders throughout the world make ceremonial hypocritical speeches exhorting people to imbibe the lesson of Christ’s humble birth. Last year, President Goodluck Goodluck Jonathan attended the Holy Ghost Congress hosted by The Redeemed Christian Church of God. He looked somewhat pathetic and “unpresidential” while on his knees as Pastor Enoch Adeboye, general overseer of the church, stood over him and prayed.
A few days ago, Mr. President repeated the same charade, but Nigerians are yet to feel any positive impact of such religious solicitude on his style of governance. Of course President Jonathan can worship as he pleases: the 1999 Constitution guarantees freedom of religion to every Nigerian citizen. But as I suggested a moment ago, Jonathan’s public display of religious piety is not reflected in the quality of his leadership.
The same conclusion applies to most political office holders in Nigeria today. Moreover, I am not sure that Pastor Adeboye, mustered enough courage to tell his august visitor the truth concerning the sufferings and traumas our people are experiencing in the midst of plenty: most probably, he offered prayers asking God to protect the President from “the enemy,” from demonic forces responsible for the Scylla and Charybdis in his administration.
Some cash-and-carry pastors do not have the moral locus standi to criticise the President, governors, ministers, legislators, and prominent Nigerians in general because they themselves are equally guilty of avarice, debauchery and corruption. Indeed, well-known Christian and Muslim clerics are more interested in protecting the privileges they are enjoying from corrupt politicians and greedy business people than in speaking the truth. That “unholy” alliance between the clergy and “oppressors” is partly responsible for the increasing pauperisation of Nigerians. It also explains the torpid exhortation that people “should wait upon the Lord and continue to pray for the leaders” (irrespective of the conduct of those leaders).
For cash-and-carry pastors radical positive transformation of the current unjust status quo should be discouraged because “it is well.” Nigerians are intoxicated by foreign religions and the festivities associated with them. Therefore, they should not complain about pastors who exultantly receive private jets as “gifts” in the midst of abject poverty, or condemn extreme monetization of religion. Metaphorically speaking, fraudulent clergymen and women are urinating on the heads of believers, and the latter happily accept it as showers of blessing.
So, Christians should see the current Yuletide period as an opportunity to reflect deeply on the ignoble role religion has played (and continues to play) in dehumanising people, and consider the possibility that pastors are exploiting the gullibility and existential fears of believers for self-enrichment. Going back to the issue of Christmas, I have stated already that the event is spiritually hollow, mainly due to malignant capitalism and increasing acquisitiveness among the populace.
Consequently, it is not surprising that ritual killing, armed robbery, kidnapping, profiteering by business people, the worst forms of debauchery etc. escalate during yuletide. For traders and transporters in Nigeria, Christmas is the “season,” that is, an opportunity to exploit customers. In addition, “men and women of God” collect huge tax-free tithes and expensive gifts from affluent church members, in the pretext that they are sowing seeds for God to attract more blessings.
This Christmas, church leaders nationwide will receive money and gifts in billions of naira. Now, overemphasis on material possessions and wealth by the clergy completely negate the main thrust of Jesus’ life and teachings, as recorded in the gospels. In fact, there is no single unequivocal assertion of Jesus which supports the insane quest for material aggrandisement. However, the gospels contain numerous passages where he vehemently condemned wealth and craving for material possessions.
In Matthew 6:24, for example, Jesus made it explicitly clear that one cannot serve God and mammon (riches) at the same time. Again, in a parable (Luke 8:11) he affirmed that “The seed is the word of God.” But our pastors have a contrary view: they actively and repeatedly encourage their church members to “sow seeds” with money and expensive gifts. In a story about the widow’s mite (Mark 12:42) Jesus ignored those who gave big offerings, and commended a poor widow who generously gave the most from her extremely meager resources.
In Matthew 6:19, Jesus advised his listeners not to accumulate wealth here on earth “where moth and dust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.” He also disrupted business activities in the Jerusalem temple (Matthew 21:12-13). There is no doubt about it: Jesus’ attitude to worldly possessions is completely different from the shameless, crude, and rampant exhibitionism celebrated by pastors nowadays. Christians, it is time to wake up from your dogmatic slumbers and face the truth!