This is the latest in a series. See also:
N is for Nigerian Pastors
Nigeria is Africa’s most populous country, a rising power, and a land of huge complexity, its population comprising around 250 ethnic groups. The country has huge oil reserves and an economy growing at Chinese-type speed; at its current rate of development, Nigeria stands to become a global power within decades. In surveys, Nigeria generally ranks as the world’s most religious country, with its population roughly evenly split between Christians and Muslims. Religion in Nigeria is one of its fastest-growing industries and is hugely competitive, especially in the wealthier Christian-dominated south. Nigeria’s demographics and history make for the evolution of bizarre new strains of Christianity; despite the country’s growing wealth, inequality is extreme, and most Nigerians still live in poverty. Education has yet to reach the majority – only about 30% of Nigerians receive secondary education; and despite the dominance of non-African religions, most people still hold on to traditional beliefs in juju (black magic) and witchcraft.
Additional to the home market, Nigeria’s large and wealthy diaspora are also targets of the religion biz, with large international church networks blossoming.
These factors make for a population that’s deeply susceptible to superstitious beliefs, and a large number of religious preachers who are willing to exploit the ignorant for huge financial rewards. The religion business is so lucrative that Forbes maintain a rich-list list of the wealthiest Nigerian pastors.
Nigeria’s pastors preach a kind of anti-Christianity known as Prosperity Theology, which promises not just eternal salvation but wealth on Earth too; this is (understandably) hugely popular, despite contradicting the traditional Christian idea of wealth and inequality being evils. The sight of the rich extracting money from those who can’t afford it is ugly enough, but much darker practises also take place. Given the cost of medicine to ordinary Nigerians, and the belief in juju, many preachers offer cures for cash. This practise was most recently revealed to be taking place in London, where three AIDS sufferers in the congregation of one of Nigeria’s wealthiest pastors, TB Joshua, are reported to have died after stopping their HIV treatments.
And it gets worse: three years ago, a documentary called Nigeria’s Witch Children was shown on UK Channel 4. This revealed horrendous and widespread abuse of children labelled as witches. While this happened because of traditional superstition, it was stirred up on a large scale by wealthy pastors who were selling “exorcisms” to their poor victims.
We’re used to thinking of missionaries as Europeans who go to preach in Africa. Now the flow is reversing – the Nigerian pastors are coming!
O is for Omnipresence
Once upon a time, God was a physical being who lived somewhere. In a primitive, tribal world where few people strayed far from their home village, that made sense; people could believe that a god or gods could be found on an island they’d never visit, across a sea they’d never cross, or up a mountain they’d never climb. Primitive gods aren’t fluffy, undetectable things like those of today; they have substance, appearance and location, and can be called upon at will to prove their existence. Moses, for example, was able to climb Mount Sinai (alone) to meet God and collect the tablets containing the ten commandments.
As people began travelling further afield, God became more elusive. The atheist rapper Greydon Square (who you should seek out if you enjoy intelligent hip-hop) said the following in the track Mission Statement on his album, The CPT Theorem:
I love how the gods used to live in the mountains, and when we moved to the mountains and never found them, then they went and moved to the sky, then we moved to the sky, but we didn’t find them there, and you’re wondering why.
… thus summarising the religious problem nicely. God is always to be found just beyond our reach. The heavens were once “up there” in the sky. But when mankind insisted on inventing flying machines and space rockets, heaven, like God, became an abstract, elusive thing. So if God is no longer somewhere, he must be everywhere – how else could he hear our prayers, check that we go to church or see us sin?
Omnipresence is only a temporary refuge for God. Having evolved from a physical being who intervenes in our affairs to a wispy cloud-thing who generally leaves us alone, he becomes a soft target for scientific reasoning, which grows stronger all the time. Of course, the power is still in the hands of the believers. All they need do to prove their case is provide evidence of God’s existence – and presumably they have some hidden away somewhere, ready to reveal at the right moment.