WHEN Karl Heinrich Marx, the 19th Century German Philosopher, Economist, Sociologist, Historian, Journalist and Revolutionary Socialist, declared that religion is the opium of the people, he could as well have been speaking of contemporary Nigeria and other undeveloped parts of the world.
Religions have provided deceptive avenues for the location and hide-out of every manner of persons who have failed in other careers.
Instead of using their past failures or non-fulfillment as a stepping stone to attempt other careers, they descend on religion; religion thus has provided unlimited space for several of such vocational dropouts to hibernate.
With nothing but money in their mind, they plot the exploitation of human weaknesses for their selfish benefits, through preying on gullible and unsuspecting adherents. And a sketch of world religions will clearly demonstrate that religion is a strong commodity.
Little wonder that Karl Marx can make his captivating submission. Religion is the opium of the people, one of his most frequently paraphrased statements, was translated from the German original, "Die Religion...ist das opium des Volkes." The quotation originates from the introduction of his epic work, "A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right." The full quote is:
"Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people."
This commentary perhaps may or may not generate diverse opinions. But reactions are welcome as long as they are meant to draw the attention of Nigerian clergymen and clergywomen to introspectively re-consider their individual or group profile before God, Whom they claim to serve, before their innocent adherents and before the larger society. Let me also state strongly that I am not passing judgment on the clerics but calling their attention to the unsavoury image the lifestyle of some within their fold has created for Nigerian Christians.
I am not unmindful of the fact that in recent times, Nigerian clergymen and clergywomen have done some positive work to expand the Kingdom of God and the Good News globally.
It is a fact that today, it is Nigerian priests on missionary exploits who are building large churches in the states of Europe, Asia and the United States of America.
The Europeans and Americans, who in the 19th and 20th centuries came on missionary journeys to Nigeria and other sub-Saharan African nations, have virtually moved on to other pastimes, as their societies have conquered hunger, and achieved self-sufficiency in housing, clothing, efficient transportation, relatively quality education, medical care and care for the aged.
These services that Western societies take for granted are still the aspirations of a continent, where about 70 per cent citizenry remains pauperized and dehumanized by both military and civilian rulers who have appropriated the commonwealth to themselves and their fellow conspirators.
The current state of religion's expansion in Nigeria without commensurate godliness is just part of the fulfillment of the prophecy contained in both the Old Testament and the New Testament as signs of the end times. These signs are illustrated particularly in Ezekiel 34:2-7 and 27, and Matthew 24:11-12, respectively. Ezekiel 34:7-10 and 27 states:
"Therefore, ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely because my flock became a prey, and my flock became meat to every beast of the field, because there was no shepherd, neither did my shepherds search for my flock, but the shepherds fed themselves, and fed not my flock; Therefore, O ye shepherds, hear the word of the LORD; Thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against the shepherds..."
Meanwhile, Matthew 24:11-12, predicts:
"And many false prophets shall arise, and shall deceive many. And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold."
An American-based research group in 2010 reported that Nigeria was the most religious country in the world. Another organization, measuring citizens' state of mind in 2008, reported that Nigerians happen to be the "happiest" of all people globally.
That is a paradox. How can the sixth largest exporter of crude oil, with about $400 billion gross oil earnings, have one of the most wretched people in the world, have unprecedented levels of poverty, have about 70% of its population living on about $1 per day, have about 40% of its work force unemployed, and yet be considered the "happiest" place in the world? It beats logic. It is an irony. To say it is a contradiction to reality is an understatement. As a Nigerian, are you happy with all that you see?
Confronted with an economy that defies all understanding, Nigerians sought refuge in He who promises peace that passes all understanding. The national economy witnessed an unprecedented down-turn, and many Nigerians resorted to patronizing the many one-man founder churches for promised succour, comfort and varieties of trumpeted "miracles."
In looking up to the hills of religion for help, these Nigerians were just being human. Humanity is faced with the regular situation of a state of anomie, confusion and paranoia in attempting to deal with the fear of the unknown. But once laid vulnerable, human psyche quickly becomes susceptible to various manipulations by so-called men of God.
We have had the likes of the "Jesus of Oyingbo," the "Saviour of Agege," various Gurus, and their likes in the early 70s. And their proliferation in recent times is indicative of the end times as forewarned in the Bible.
Many now deceptively profess to be Pastors, Bishops, Founders and General Overseers, Popes, Prophets, Evangelists, Imams, Ustazs, Gurus, Grandmasters, etc. But as prophesised, they usually come in sheep's clothing.
But they are wolves through and through. One common thread in their activities is that rather than proclaim God's supremacy and the Gospel of Christ, they engage in vain self-glorification and self-advertisement of their accomplishment of the "supernatural and miracles."
Apostle Paul's divinely inspired teachings on the acceptable characteristics of true servants of God as contained in 2 Corinthians 2:14-26 and 1 Timothy 3:1-7 are noteworthy, particularly where he instructed in 1 Timothy 3-2-3 that:
"A Bishop must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach.... Not given to wine, no striker, NOT GREEDY OF FILTHY LUCRE, but patient, not a brawler, not covetous."
Furthermore, Paul's admonition in Titus 7-9 is helpful enough as guide post to our clergy.
There are numerous advertorials in the media, signposting where these charlatans make ridiculous claims of general and specific miracles -making babies for the barren, matching-making spinsters with life partners, securing jobs for the unemployed, healing the sick of afflictions, overcoming worshippers' enemies, prophesying and foretelling for the curious, etc.
A particularly worrisome dimension to the reported cases of the outrageous conduct of many clergymen and clergywomen in recent times is the incredible race by church proprietors and leaders to out-pace, out-manoeuvre, and out-class their colleagues. They have embarked on this inordinate acquisition of cheap popularity, dubious wealth and the endorsement of and collaboration with politically-exposed persons and business tycoons capable of financing them. Many Nigerian clerics today will take tithes, offerings and gifts from anyone without questioning the sources of such largesse. And sometimes, these gift-givers wear the reputation of corruption, with provable evidence and indictment for misappropriating public funds. Yet our clerics will accept offerings from these degenerate dogs. In fact, they have shown a preference to kick their God and kiss these dogs. But they have queries they must answer their Creator and the society.
(1) How can our clergymen justify their penchant for contracting their personal security to armed professional outfits? Why are they afraid, to the extent of employing bouncers to keep commoners from coming in contact with them? Are they not now in unholy competition with our political jobbers who hedge themselves in with armed guards and convoys?
(2) How can our clergymen justify their ostentatious lifestyle and opulence in the current circumstances of extreme poverty and misery ravaging their flocks?
(3) How can our Christian religious leaders rationalise their usage of private jets when their flocks are being manipulated through sophistry to part with their hard-earned donations and tithes?
(4) What biblical foundation justifies their playing "god" in their various advertorials, propagandas, signboards and banners, as opposed to promoting Jesus Christ?
No doubt, the global community has entered the JET AGE, concomitant with the development of IT and social media, and many church Ministers just want to "belong." But should our clergymen and clergywomen not return to the divine injunction of soberness and tenderness of the spirit to prevent further ridicule of Christendom?
Nothing here indicates we demand that our priests must be superhuman and behave like angels. But as we find in Luke 12:48, "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required" meaning that, "Greater privileges demand greater responsibilities." In essence, anyone who has volunteered to heed the divine call must accept the demands, the disciplines and the denials concomitant with such a high calling. Otherwise, clerics have kicked God out of religion.
Mr. AYO OPADOKUN is chair Central Working Committee, CODER.