By Bayo Fasunwon
Nigerians are very intelligent and resourceful. The average enlightened Nigerian are quick to interrogate events. Some have taken yours truly up on the last week’s write up on Deborah, and had brought discussions on religion. Many had opined that religion is the opium of the masses, and that it dulls rationality, industry and even kills human feelings. Some however are of the opinion that religion is a liberation tonic from the entanglements of the wicked, and a key to divine inspiration, ideas and inventions that have made life and living interesting, joyful and easier. Between these two extreme submissions are those who opined that those understand the power of faith and religion have manipulated human beings, and selfishly controlled people to protect personal political and economic interests. To these third opinion, religion in itself is good, but the religious leaders who indoctrinate disciples with bad teachings are the real devils in angelic clothing. They reasoned that this is reason for diverse radical teachings from different leaders who profess allegiance to the same religion. This third perception therefore brought forth the question on whether religion should be controlled.
Religion is man’s way of interacting with the Supreme Being to whom allegiance is supposed to be willingly given. In other words, it is a person’s decision to choose whom he reveres or abhors when it comes to celestial relationships. While this remains, personal conviction concerning religion. Many theorists have their theoretical postulations and submissions on the subject matter of Religion. To the Functionalists, religion is a functioning belief which gives meaning and purpose in life; reinforces social unity and stability while serving as an agent of social control of behavior; promotes physical and psychological wellbeing of adherents, and motivates people to work for positive change. For the conflict theorists, religion only reinforces and promotes social inequality and conflict, and thus convinces the poor to accept their lot in life, as it is the will of God. Furthermore, it leads to violence. Symbolic interactionism emphasizes that beliefs and practices are only sacred because people regard them as such. In other words, it is instructive to note that religious leaders usually develop doctrines, teachings and directives that becomes sacred to their disciples.
Therefore, we could understand that these teachings could be developed as a means to continually control the lives of the people beyond the dictates of the established holy books that guide the religion. For example, many Clerics have come to say that the Quran does not command the execution of those who blasphemy the name of the Prophets. However, many have indoctrinated ignorant followers that killing the perceived blasphemer would grant the murderers a special place in Paradise as well as guarantee several freebies too. In recent times, Pastor W.F. Kumuyi of the Deeper Life had confessed to the fact that preventing the members of the Church from having or viewing television was an error. These and some other practices of the Church were not explicitly stated in the Bible, but are the teachings of men for control through fear.
Scholars like Emile Durkheim and many others had submitted that apart from preparing human beings for the eternal abode of rest and peace, religion functions as agent of social control which regulates man’s behavior and seeks to control the animalistic behavioural tendencies of homo sapiens. Therefore, the basic rules of religion focus on man’s acceptable behavior towards fellow citizens of earth; not neglecting attitudes towards all other creations of the Supreme Being. Hence without religion, life would have been brutish and short. Also, in times of distress, religion gives succor, hope and strength to the people. It remains an aphrodisiac to hurting souls, and enables men to embrace what Fela regarded as ‘suffering and smiling’. Religion therefore promotes better health, as laughter delivers more health benefits than medicine. Furthermore, religion provides platforms of interaction and integration for people of diverse cultures and history, and helps them to work for positive soil change that helps to ensure peaceful coexistence amongst men. So, religion in itself is not a culprit in social disorder, but rather a victim.
Different religions have different beliefs which are generally acceptable norms. Although history has proved over time that certain religious practices, especially with regards to modes of dressing, singing, eating and salutations are more culturally related to the sources of those religions, than to the dictates of the religion. But that is a subject for another day. Now, can we judge these norms of some religions barbaric and tolerate the extreme practices of others. In Nigeria, a man who practices the traditional religion, which believes in human sacrifices at certain levels would be arrested, prosecuted and punished. Such has committed murder or is in conspiracy to murder. Some do not kill, but exhume corpses (organ harvest type) in order to fulfill the dictates of their deities, and are arrested.
Reverend King who believed that Christianity abhorred fornication and followed the old testament extermination of offenders was arrested and sentenced to death. A Pastor who asked members of his church to pay N310,000 in order to travel to heaven was interrogated by the Police. Islamic clerics and adherents who had proclaimed and supported the killing of Deborah had been left to preach and advocate for the murder of human beings, without being prosecuted, while the Imam preached against the perceived inefficiency of government was removed from office. The question arises as to whether some religions are forbidden from killings, while others are given the license to kill.
Given the position of Symbolic interactionism, especially in an ethnically diverse secular State as Nigeria, is there no need to control the excesses of religion? Sometimes ago, many people were rescued from religious dungeons in the North, Soka in the Southwest and Okija Shrine in the East. The victims, like those of Jesu Oyingbo and Sat Guru Maharaji were incarcerated on the basis of religion. There are certain teachings that are repugnant to natural justices that should be prohibited in religious gatherings. There is also the need the censor the uncontrolled emergence of religious groups, and worship congregations on the country. However, it is either government does this to all religions or allow all religions practice their beliefs, irrespective of how barbaric they seem. Congregational hypnosis pervades religious houses where teachings that negate the function of religions are openly disseminated and government likes until religious bodies turn into unconquerable terrorists.