They provide the populace with something that successive governments have never been able to deliver to the people: hope.
Religion- particularly the Nigerian version of Christianity- can be confusing for the non-practitioner. Even some of us that were raised in church and whose mothers continue to pray that we forsake the secular world for the clergy still find the whole affair a bit much to take.
In recent times, the flamboyance of certain men of God and their seeming disconnect with the widespread pauperism within their congregation can be off putting. So is their apparent desire for things of the world- jets, boats and blings- that Jesus Christ was not recorded to have cared about. As a result, pastor-bashing is very popular and very tempting. This writer has partaken in the act a few
However, the existence of these men of the cloth do more than just give a frustrated populace a bulls-eye to aim darts at; they (and religion has a whole) provide the populace with something that successive governments have never been able to deliver to the people: hope.
For a people repressed and treated with outright disdain by the political class that plunder the commonwealth time and time again, Nigerians have only one respite: the hope that one day, things will be better. If not now, then definitely in the hereafter. That, perhaps, is why we are able to forge ahead each day, despite the extremely difficult country we live in.
Psychologists have determined that hope is not just a feel good emotion, it is a dynamic cognitive motivational system. When people are hopeful, they are able to develop goals and they have the belief that they can achieve them. In a country where a single piece of legislation can dash all your plans, the belief in a higher power is what helps us all survive. Even billionaires are seen kneeling and raising hands in worship.
This is the essence of faith- that the future will be better than the present. That is what the church sells. Never mind what today looks like, Jesus Christ will make things better. That is the fuel that drive successive generations that have had to deal with the Nigerian system designed for leaders to oppress the led.
There is no quicker way to become rich in Nigeria than becoming a government official. And as we have seen repeatedly, once people ‘enter government’ they become transformed. They become unreachable, unattainable and often times, inhuman. Such detachment is why a governor who for many years was a union leader would say to a citizen ‘Go and die.’
To simply survive, Nigerians need something, someone to believe in. These pastors provide that ‘thing’: the promise of a better tomorrow. They present a picture that while the physical is out of your control, the spiritual is not- seek ye first the kingdom of God and everything else will be added.
Has it worked? Methinks it has. Beyond the regular rhetoric of pastors flaunting extreme wealth, their ministries have touched more people than government ever has. There are more churches than schools and hospitals. That is not the fault of the pastors; rather we should ask government why the Niger Delta Development Commission has more budgetary allocation (N61 billion) than the Ministry of Education (N50 billion), or Health (N51 billion).
As a matter of fact, most of the criticisms against pastors (many of them valid mind you) come from non-congregants. Their members don’t seem to mind very much, do they. When Daddy G.O or Papa flies in a brand new Gulfstream or alights from a gleaming Rolls Royce, the church member does not see oppression like he does when his president’s daughter’s wedding is a Louis Vuitton fest; what he sees is an embodiment of the riches of God also available to him through faith. ‘There might be a recession but our possession is in heaven. There might be famine but they that look upon the Lord will never lack. When others say there’s casting down, we shall say there’s a pulling up. Amen somebody?!’
Hebrews 11 says, ‘Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.‘
This is the bedrock of everything pastors preach (and also profit off): hope. To deny that is to deny the very essence of life: the pursuit of happiness. In Nigeria, the state does not see that as important but guess who does? Religious leaders. Their product is just like Mastercard: priceless. You cannot put a figure on the value of a better tomorrow. A better tomorrow, is what Nigerian pastors sell.
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