By Douglas Anele
A LARGE percentage of the new churches are disguised business ventures. But because of material poverty, intellectual cowardice and inability to genuinely appreciate the existential implications of the cosmic insignificance of human life here on earth, most Christians believe that by giving to the pastor, by giving to the church, they are really acting in accordance with the divine will, forgetting that no one knows the divine will for sure.
The pastors are smart though; they know how gullible even people with highfalutin academic titles can be when it comes to religion. They also know that fear of eternal incineration in hell-fire can make people behave irrationally to the extreme. Hence, they (the pastors) deliberately escalate that fear so that members of their churches would rely more on their alleged intercessory powers to save them from hell.
Evidently, it is not only at the spiritual level that Christmas celebrations have transformed into a meaningless ritual. At the material dimension, Christmas provides opportunities for excessive indulgence in food, sex and alcohol. During Christmas, armed robbery, prostitution and other social vices tend to increase, as people try to make money through any means necessary to buy cars, clothes and other fashion accessories to show that nothing do them, that they have been blessed.
People are willing to go to any length, do anything, â€œto be like the Joneses,â€ so to speak. For most men, both married and unmarried, Christmas period is a time of stress and trepidation, as their wives, children and lovers bombard them with requests for this and that. To a lesser extent, women experience similar pressures from their unemployed and frustrated husbands, family members, relatives and boyfriends.
But I just cannot understand why people insist on buying things they do not really need for Christmas, a terrible habit that creates financial and health problems for those expected to pick up the bills. The revelry worldwide during Christmas is truly astonishing.
In Nigeria, businessmen and women arbitrarily increase the prices of their products and services for maximum profits and exploitation of consumers. Transporters refurbish dead and unroadworthy vehicles to make more money, thereby endangering the lives of travellers. Police officers mount innumerable unnecessary checkpoints to extort money from people traveling to the countryside to celebrate with their loved ones, whereas some customs officers abandon the borders for the expressways, intimidating people in order to collect â€œfamily supportâ€ for Christmas.
In my opinion, any manifestation of crass materialism one can imagine reaches its apogee during yuletide. The latest religious scam of yuletide is the series of welll-advertised, impressive-sounding, money-making programmes organized by miracle peddling, Pentecostal churches sprouting all over the place, especially in the big cities of the country.
At such events, people are promised all they ever wanted or dreamed of, the most important one being material prosperity, so that they can continue to be â€œcheerful giversâ€ to the church.
Again and again, Nigerians troop to these programmes to listen to essentially the same threadbare promises they have been hearing for years from their pastors, as if to remind whatever deity they claim to worship that either the expected miracles were yet to manifest or that they had manifested but needed â€œrecharging.â€
To be candid, in matters of religion, millions of Nigerians, irrespective of socio-economic and educational status, become almost completely unreasonable. Now that I have argued that Christmas has not contributed much to the spiritual upliftment of Christians but has, instead, increased their proclivity for debauchery, what should be the most sensible attitude to it?
I must admit that there is no easy answer to that question. Before we articulate some recommendations, it is necessary to point out that Christmas, like everything else humans engage themselves in, has both positive and negative aspects.
I have briefly underscored the latter because Christians dogmatically assume that the celebration of the birthday of Jesus is, unquestionably, a spiritually-ennobling exercise which deserves the support of everybody, and because the negative aspects of the event have almost completely supplanted its supposed spiritual benefits.
Nonetheless, no one can honestly claim that something good has never, and can never, come out of Christmas. In any case the claim would be false. I have already alluded to the sharing of gifts; for instance, when some members of the privileged class visit motherless babiesâ€™ homes, orphanages, centers for the disabled etc and offer a helping hand. It also provides an opportunity for rest and meditation.
I must confess that I and millions of other non-Christians enjoy Christmas carols. However, the gift aspect is mere tokenism, because after Christmas the needy are neglected by their yuletide benefactors. Now, back to the question we raised earlier concerning the most reasonable attitude to yuletide. I recommend that people should see Christmas day, Boxing Day and New Yearâ€™s Day like every other day of the year.