Religion plays a very important role in the affairs of men, especially Africans; the believer is guided in how to relate to his fellows, the choice of food to be eaten and when, dress, thought process, sexual life etc. A staunch belief in a Deity is what appears to be propelling the African; we hold our religious views dear and in most cases are willing to fight to “defend our faith”. In this discourse, I intend to beam my torchlight on the modern day Christianity-the Pentecostal brand. As always, I wish to state here that it is not my intention to vilify this brand of Christianity, it will be wrong and cruel of me to ridicule people of faith and the beliefs they cling onto in their quest for salvation.
However, it appears that though I am always striving to be out of the way of “fire-brand” Christians by diligently minding my business, I am daily affected by their actions and inactions. While some of their antics I find utterly amusing, some are just so outlandish. If you have not noticed, our dear Nigeria is under siege-the “Holy Ghost fire” adherents are attacking us from all angles. There is no escape from them. Chants of “Holy Ghost fire” and similar staccato of venom-filled prayers fill the air. Bible clutching “brethrens” and weird looking “sisters” have been let loose on us, the mission is to force you to “accept Jesus as your Lord and personal Savior”, or banish you to hell fire if you resist. That miserable place where you will gnash your teeth forever and be begging the lucky ones across the great divide for water! This horrific picture is daily being projected by our “Holy Ghost fire” Christians who see it as a moral duty to either convert and practically drag you to their own church or shake off the dust from their sandals and banish you to the realm of Hades. It is all good.
I must confess here that I am still unable to unravel the mystery behind this Pentecostal malady, especially in Nigeria. Pastors in snazzy suits and jerry-curled hair are the custodians of our morality which they dish out to hungry and mesmerized worshippers with some kind of “American accent”. In their world, every problem is traceable to some familiar spirit somewhere which must be “uprooted” and thrown into the abyss! Every financial misfortune is definitely the handiwork of witches and wizards, any form of unfavorable human condition owes its occurrence to “principalities and powers in high places”, and barrenness is heaped at the door step of “mammy-water” spirit. Ahaa, what about Eckankar Power? Ogboni Power? “Secret Cult” Power? Well, they are all the various machinations of the Devil which he uses in destabilizing the Christians of the Holy Ghost Era. In most cases, the litany of woes are said to be the design of “an enemy” who does not want your progress. Action must be taken to “bind, cast and destroy”!
And we move up to the next stage that sees our Christian folks piling up spiritual arms in preparations for some esoteric warfare-because, “my Bible tells me that we fight not against flesh and blood…” Otherwise sane men and women are now encouraged to direct both spiritual and physical energy at destroying some imaginary enemy. Followers of Jesus Christ whom the Bible portrays as a “meek and gentle” fellow filled with love and compassion now spend the better part of their praying life “binding and casting”. There are also instances where the wishes of the praying fellow must be carried out “by fire by force”! This particular prayer rises in a deafening crescendo; the imaginary “evil spirit” is commanded to “fall down and die”, to disappear, be confused, and be struck blind. Again, the stubborn “evil spirit’ that fails to be overtaken by any of the first wishful fantasies of the “prayer warrior” is dealt the blow of being screamed at until deaf! Amen somebody! The session is now brought to a frenzied session with deafening screams of “Holy Ghost fire”! “Holy Ghost fire! And so on and so forth. What I find the wackiest is the idea of Christians making loud and incessant supplications to their God to kill their enemies. I am sure we have all heard that prayer somewhere, and then a group of fear-stricken men , women and children with sweaty foreheads, eyes closed, lips trembling, fingers snapping and feet stomping the floor all echoing “destroy, destroy, destroy, scatter, consume” and so on and so forth. I find this too hilarious and silly. Did Jesus not enjoin his disciples to forgive their traducers and enemies? Strange times require strange methods, right?
This is the era of ‘Holy Ghost fire” Christians. A bunch of women and men obsessed with Heaven and a deceitful disdain for anything mundane. This is the era of Pentecostalism in Nigeria, a period of time where millions of misguided and traumatized citizens roam the streets armed with some Holy Book and talks of an event that allegedly happened two thousand years ago being the cure to our multifarious societal ills. This is a curious case where citizens of Nigeria are encouraged to “fast and pray” as a replacement for medical attention in this 21st century. The ‘Holy Ghost era”, a period where the long stretch of the Lagos-Ibadan Highway is filled with men and women chanting to the Heavens to hurry up Armageddon and the attendant ‘rapture”, this is the moment. Our major cities are all under attack from the ‘Holy Ghost fire” warriors; loud-speakers mounted at the four corners of the pockets of churches littering our streets rending our such loud threats of hell fire, ‘the second coming of our Lord’, ‘there is no repentance in the grave’, etc. Smart but charlatan pastors have perfected the act of bludgeoning frightened church members into submission by making use of the “fear of the known”. This is what is keeping most people glued to churches.
In an earlier essay, I did wonder what it felt like to lie to people for a living. I have given up hope of trying to break into the mind-frame of Pastors who exploit the ignorance of their members because I am not capable of fathoming such evil. Any religion that attracts followers by dishing out series of calculated and well thought-out messages of eternal punishment strikes me as being fraudulent. I will not accept that I will spend a life of eternity in some imaginary hell because I refused to believe in a particular deity, it is absurd and totally wicked to preach to children about a God that punishes people for what Christopher Hitchens called “thought-crime”. A vindictive and callous teaching of the Christian sect that maintains that God will find you liable for the thoughts that wafts through your mind-thoughts, not actions! This is very strange; pastors mount the pulpit and tell stories of wars in the ancient Middle East, of murder, rape, looting of properties belonging to other people for the simple reason that ‘The Lord our God promised us …”. I am yet to grasp the moral of all the horror stories of the Old Testament that I am commanded to believe and be thankful for; I still can’t understand why a just Deity will harden the heart of Pharaoh just to prove his mettle-by slaughtering innocent people, especially children!
‘The council of Ndi Nze reaps the benefit accruing from an evil society”, so goes an Igbo saying. The era of “Holy Ghost fire” is churning out a new generation of millionaire pastors in Nigeria; pastors that wear designer suits, soggy looking jerry curled hair, Italian shoes, and shirts bought on the high streets of Europe and America. I am talking about the pastors that boast of owning a private hanger in our airport that houses four private jets [to the glory of God], pastors that run lots of money making ventures, notably schools that their followers cannot afford to send their wards to, pastors that live in mansions guarded by armed security guards [one would have expected them to trust in the lord for security, yes?]. This is the moment of the super rich pastors-all making use of modern marketing tools to ensnare more followers. The highest brain-washing comes in the form of “blackmailing” followers to detest and shun anything that is of this world because they are all evil-your reward is in heaven brothers and sisters! Meanwhile, the Pastors are shoring up treasures on earth, riding exotic cars and smiling to the banks.
Pentecostalism is daily maiming the mentality of Nigerians. Church goers are being encouraged to surrender the use of their heads and accept the utterances of the pastors and end-time preachers as the truth, and nothing but the truth. What we have now is a Christian society that is totally obsessed with images of a “spiritual warfare”, devils and demons, witchcraft [adult/child], occult powers, ancestral spirits and many more contraptions of a demented mentality. Pastors make a living “casting out demons”, offering “deliverance”, “breaking the yoke of familiar spirits”, etc. Children are being brought up with stories of “blood-sucking demons”, mammy water spirits, “spirit of fornication”, and many more deluded and wicked imaginations of the ‘Holy Ghost fire” era. Annually, the Nigerian government spends millions of dollars ferrying top government officials and sundry cronies to Israel for pilgrimage. I am yet to understand the importance of this indulgence which I see as a flagrant waste of our patrimony. What is the spiritual importance of visiting the once wastelands of Palestine and Israel where countless stories of events filled with soothsaying, sorcery, incest, fratricide, and outright murder allegedly took place?
I agree that it is the right of every individual to subscribe to any brand of religion which he/she so freely chooses. As a thinking mammal, it is equally my right to ask questions concerning the many absurd claims which religion makes. It is however appalling that Africans frown at the thought of having their religious beliefs questioned even when it is glaring that lessons could be learnt from such enterprise. The people that brought Christianity to us are daily asking questions about the origin, claims and similar aspects of that religion. As a result, new grounds are discovered which sometimes render prior positions void. The Catholic Church discarded the view and teaching that children who died unbaptized ended up in “Limbo”. Surprisingly, Nigerian Christians detest being challenged when they make many spurious claims regarding their faith; ‘’my Bible tells me so” is the only argument they use in waving off a critical enquiry, and any further attempt to appeal to common sense is met with a barrage of “any sin against the Holy Ghost will not be forgiven”. It is completely warped that in this 21st century, Nigerians are still being guided by the contents of an antiquated religious book written by Stone-age ignorant peasants under the influence!
This is not an attack on the integrity of the many nice men and women who find solace and consolation in the Pentecostal trend in Nigeria, but a call for a more critical approach in our religious belief system. It will be very impertinent of me to ridicule anyone’s faith. Having said that, I wish to remind those that send me e-mails laced with threats of an “eternity spent in hell fire” to please disabuse their mind of such wishful wickedness. I am neither moved by the threat that people who do not accept a particular teaching will be sent to hell fire at death or the promise that good people will go to heaven. It is my considered view that religion of any sort does not make people good, rather good people carry out so many wicked acts in the name of their God. I am an all for a world where we make use of our rationality in solving our numerous problems which hinder our progress as primates, a Nigeria where members of the “priestcraft” will see the moral evil in making a living by frightening people with horrible stories of hell fire. I enjoin fellow Nigerians to discard so many fraudulent religious practices and embrace an era of enlightenment. Our problems in Nigeria are man-made; inept leadership, lack of proper planning, collapse of societal values, lack of access to proper education, corruption, and many more. Directing an imaginary ‘Holy Ghost fire’ at trumped up enemies will not change the status quo, what it does is to offer one a momentary sense of solace and comfort. We need to harp more on the importance of education; we must collectively deplore a situation where most students drop out of schools to become pastors and “prayer warriors”. It is a shame that our leaders use religion as an instrument of control-our society has a warped value system; a system that assumes that everything in a Holy Book is above questioning is doomed.
It is unimaginable the extent of damage done to the psyche of most Nigerians by this “Holy Ghost fire” men and women. The government of the land is not helping matters either; our towns and cities are crime infested, the level of poverty is staggering, basic amenities that ordinarily should ameliorate our destitution are nowhere to be found. I am yet to see a functional hospital anywhere in Nigeria, meanwhile we have a Ministry of Health that gulps billions of Naira yearly in budget allocation, most city inhabitants do not have access to clean water, our roads are bad, armed robbers and kidnappers roam about freely, malaria and meningitis still kill our people, the rich folks who are mainly government officials go abroad for Medicare, women still die at child-birth, and our schools churn out half-baked graduates. This scenario is the perfect breeding ground for religious bigots, charlatan preachers and rogue pastors who prey on the privation of the people.
Finally, it is my utmost hope that President Goodluck Jonathan will revamp all our decayed and totally nonexistent infrastructures. Government must be seen to be working for the good of the people; we need clean water, good roads, hospitals that cure people instead of ones where Nigerians go to die, good schools, regular power supply, security etc. For sure, this is not asking for too much. The idea of having a government which binds all together in a social contract would be meaningless if our collective needs cannot be met by the said government. A situation where government officials and their chattels live the better life whereas we the people are left to chant countless prayers to God for succor is wrong. Top government officials are easily ferried to foreign lands where responsible governments build good hospitals for their citizens for treatment of minor ailments while the rest of us are left with the option of “trusting in the Lord”. We are left in the hands of “miracle working” pastors who sell silly olive oil to us as “anointing oil” as an alternative to drugs for our illness. It is a shame, pure shame. Until our government wakes up to its primary responsibilities which includes making provisions for our welfare as a people, majority of Nigerians will still continue to troop to the churches scattered all over the country where the injunction is to “pray without ceasing until something happens”. Of course, screams of “Holy Ghost fire” will continue to assault our ears-daily.