By Iyayi Oria
Religion may be the opium of the masses, but Nigerians have upgraded to heroin. Opium is for the poor, and our God is not poor.
Back in the old days, offerings brought to the temple of a deity automatically became the property of the deity’s priest. This is so because by their very nature, deities do not have bodies requiring sustenance. They do not eat, drink, or sleep. They do not require houses or clothes, or money.
Therefore, when you brought a goat to the shrine, the priest automatically knew that there would be no shortage of goat meat around the house for a while. And, seeing as it was such a sweet deal, no priest was actually going to tell you that his god didn’t need your goats or yams or cowries. Or that his god really didn’t exist and couldn’t make it rain no matter how many cows and chickens were slaughtered in his name. Or that placing food in a calabash by a junction was a waste of your time and your food, and that you were a fucking moron for going hungry while providing flies with a rich environment for breeding.
The invasion and conquest of Africa by the white man dealt the old gods a blow from which they would never fully recover. The sheer technological superiority of the invading forces turned all “cursed” forests into shortcuts, and the idols of our forefathers were brutally swept aside by those newfangled repeating rifles and cannons. Afterward, the white man introduced his god, and told our forefathers that his was the true faith. This god didn’t reside in carvings of wood and stone, promised you eternal life if you served well, and didn’t believe in human sacrifice. Naturally, they glossed over the fact that their god didn’t mind the odd human sacrifice himself as long as it was tastefully done, of course.
No, their god was so benevolent, he sent his only son to die for the entire world, believers and infidels alike, to save them all. And oh, the son would be back one day, so best behavior was required. It also turned out that this god didn’t mind sacrifices of money, yams, goats, cows, etc. In fact, from the spread of his reach, it should have been apparent rather quickly that this god had one voracious appetite.
Men flocked to be priests of the new god, and found that much like the old gods, the sharing formula was the same. Anything brought to the church and handed over to God, was now yours to do with as you saw fit. Some branches of the new faith believed that a man should hand himself over to the religion and forsake such earthly whims as family. Others believed that serving God didn’t require that step. Whichever branch you joined, you had your sheep to tend to, and your sheep supported “the ministry” through their contributions in cash or kind.
Churches soon began to accumulate the kind of wealth that would make Midas salivate with raging envy. And it was only natural that men would begin to question the wisdom of gathering all this cash only to send it off to some headquarters and receiving a pat on the head and a “good boy” for all your trouble. As history is littered with men who saw visions and were hailed as prophets, it was only natural that one would see a vision, receive a personal command from God, and start one’s own church with all the attendant benefits of “headquarters” being the room behind the church.
Before you could say “ka-ching!” men of God began to accumulate the kind of wealth that would make Midas rend his robes and weep at his poverty. Mansions and flashy cars became the order of the day, for these men do not serve a poor God, and all they’re doing is display the benefits of working in the Lord’s vineyard.
The focus of these one-man churches is simple: spread the word, and that word is “cash”. Their followers are admonished to “tithe”, “sow seeds”, “give generously” and so on and so forth. The pastors are no longer mere men of God, they become “Daddy” to their followers. You hardly hear their flock talk about the Bible or Jesus, but all they’re concerned with is what Daddy said about whatever subject.
People then begin to see themselves as vicarious property owners through their pastors, much the same way your father’s house was “your” house when you were a child. The suits, the houses, the cars, the private jets, are all theirs because they belong to Daddy. And they’re all signs of the blessings Daddy could send their way if they made that seed just a wee bit bigger.
In a nation of soul-crushing poverty, men of God are the wealthiest citizens. Their displays of wealth would make your average hedge fund manager look like he hasn’t got two nickels to rub together, and there is no sign of things slowing down, not with the gauntlet Bishop Oyedepo (Daddy to his followers) threw down last week. You see, the man already owns four private jets, but apparently private jets are for the poor, so he started his own airline. And, in case you were wondering, the four private jets aren’t going commercial.
Starting a new airline is a massively capital-intensive business, and may require you to pull off stunt after stunt to build up some brand recognition (just ask Richard Branson what he had to go through with Virgin). It would take years of operating at full capacity just to break even, and your more established competitors aren’t going to mothball their operations so you can catch up. So, in order to shorten the period you’re going to be making a loss, you’ll have to be hyper-aggressive in terms of opening up new routes (like Arik Air is doing) or offering competitive fares to passengers (like Aero Contractors did until the gimmick threatened to bankrupt them). In other words, the airline business is not for the shallow of pocket.
Oyedepo, however, is reputedly Africa’s richest pastor, and the money is still rolling in from his books, CDs, DVDs, conventions, tithes, seeds, etc. With rampant poverty pushing more and more desperate people into churches in order to secure themselves mansions in heaven, the situation is unlikely to change. And just like the priests of the old gods, it’s not in his interest to tell you that a god who created the world in 7 days using nothing other than the sound of his voice couldn’t possibly buy anything with your money. Or that this god who is everywhere has no need of a car or private jet. Or that he has no body and so doesn’t eat yams. Or goats. Or cows.
The gods don’t need your sacrifices and offerings because they can’t bloody use them. Men, however, are a different story. We have bodies, so we need food. We can’t be everywhere at once, so we need transportation. And we love the finer things in life, so we acquire them by any means necessary. And what better way to do that than as the servants of a “powerful” deity? And, the more powerful your deity, the wealthier you become.
It’s so brilliantly simple, anyone can get in on the action, and anyone does. Today, we have churches on every street, sometimes two or three per street. Each one with a name chosen to imply that God himself wrote the signboard, and each with a Daddy within, waiting for his children to come obey his commands.
Religion may be the opium of the masses, but Nigerians have upgraded to heroin. Opium is for the poor, and our god is not poor.
About Oria: I love my country, enjoy a cold beer once in a while, rabidly support Arsenal FC, but I don’t get Diet Coke…
Link to his blog here–