By Sunny Ikhioya

RIGHT from the beginning of history, religion has always played a prominent role in the development of man, whether for good or bad. It is the “belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods”.

It has undergone so many battles with science and the free thinkers of the world but remained larger than life and ubiquitous. As a result, both science and religion have resolved to progress side by side, all through the ages. We are in the age of fast technological developments and breakthroughs and the ‘now generation’ are beginning to depend more on science.

However, no matter how hard man has tried, there is always a gap to be filled in explaining things about the existence of man; when man fails, man turns to God. In the past, philosophers and learned men have tried to marry science and religion; they see no conflict but a complement between the two. In Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and The Spirit of Capitalism, it was established that the ethics of ascetic Protestantism is the catalyst for the emergence of modern capitalism.

The value attached to hard work, thrift and efficiency in one’s worldly calling will manifest into physical breakthroughs in other spheres of life. At the same time, religion has caused much sorrow to the world at different times: needless and senseless wars, from the jihadists to the crusaders and now in countries like Afghanistan, Somalia and the rest. It was also used as a tool of colonialism by the Europeans; that is using religion to pacify the people; they were helping to send them to work in slave camps in Europe and the new worlds.

It has also brought great wealth to empires, Great Britain and Rome under the Vatican, Saudi Arabia and others. With the tenets and proceeds from religion, countries have established great bureaucratic structures which have seen them stabilised until today and this includes the Canon law, which is the foundation for the rule of law all over the world. So, while it has brought much joy and sorrow to man, religion by its nature, has always tended towards the good and progressive, especially as it concerns the educational development of its adherents, which have invariably resulted in scientific breakthroughs, that have brought great progress to mankind.

Every good religion teaches equity, fairness and justice, which are the foundational principles for good governance.   So, countries that understood these values have used them to move their societies up to world standards. The United States is called “God’s own country “ for a reason; when it is God’s own, it must be great and well protected. We are still trying to find a proper rationale for the situation in Nigeria. The people are getting more religious, the country’s fortune is on the decline, the people are getting poorer, while the religious leaders are getting richer, this is different from the normal. Once upon a time in Nigeria, the news of a family member going into the faith profession attract sadness to the home; it is received in the manner of a funeral dirge: “this one is no longer our own, God has taken him”.

It was indeed challenging for the faith professionals. Also,   it was common then to describe a poor man as “a poor church rat”, but things have changed, it is no longer the case in Nigeria, indeed, for all religions – Christianity, Islam, African traditional religion etc al, it is now a new dawn. They are now the happening things, everything revolving around them; they now hold the keys to all of the luxury, fame, privilege that only money can give to man; even the yahoo yahoo boys are consulting with the native priests. Ironically, as their fortunes are rising, those of people around them and the country are going down. Nigerians have now become one of the most religious people in the world and it is time for our religious leaders to let the whole world to know that it pays to serve God. And, how will they do it? It is by taking the burden off the shoulders of people, especially the poor and down-trodden.

Many people embrace religion as solution to life’s problems; they go to churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship for succour, and, because our religious leaders have become wealthy, it is expected that they begin to use their resources to build up the capacity of members. Everywhere in Nigeria, you are faced with challenges: education standards are falling, medical health infrastructure is down, that our rulers are always running abroad for health solutions. The electricity structure has broken down, no energy to power manufacturing and other productive concerns, no jobs for millions of job seekers, our unemployment rate is now over 30  per cent and, not the least, the country is faced with myriad of insecurity.

If our religious leaders really mean well for the country, all of these challenges could be individually or collectively handled to certain levels of successes. If our religious leaders put their feet down, especially in the North where these terrorists and insurgents operate, we could bring these criminals to submission by simply preaching the right messages to them, not that of strife and division.Religion is preached through messages designed to make adherents to behave in a certain manner, with a supernatural reward as the ultimate prize. We must recalibrate our messages to our followers in such a way that will make them behave in the correct manner, not the unnecessary rivalries. A country is not developed alone by faith, but with the calibre of faith that works because,   according to the Holy Book, “a faith without works is dead faith”.

So, how do we make it to work? Do we believe that we have a great country? Do we believe in the people that make up this country? Do we believe in the talents that God has blessed this country with? Do we believe in the manifold resources in the country? If we say yes to all of these questions, we must begin to put our faith to work. All faith-based organisations must begin to see how all of these can be actualised through their independent and respective domain. How do we create jobs for members? We must make the environment we live in productive for members to access jobs – create a body within the organisation- draw up proposals for production, provide funding for these projects, supervise the project and run it in a business like manner, with God’s backing, using integrity, hard work, commitment, sacrifices. By so doing, members will be productive and engaged. Each denomination established in different parts of the country will work in line with comparative advantages – agriculture, manufacturing, research and development, ict, music and arts, even tourism is not left out. It does not matter your faith inclination; instead of going about instigating divisions and strife,  they should collaborate productive activities.

They should build capacity for members and that way, they will even earn the respect of competing bodies. It is clear to all now in the country that, depending on government will only lead to more depression, so we have to personally direct our progressive destiny. Government must withdraw from wasteful religious interventions as pilgrimages and the like. Religious bodies must be encouraged to be productive for the nation, we are in a secular country, no one must take precedence over the other. Government must set the templates for proper accountability and the leaders of religious institutions must live by examples.

Ikhioya  wrote

Vanguard News Nigeria

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