When Religion Becomes A Problem – By Ogunjimi James Taiwo

“It is possible that mankind is on the threshold of a golden age; but if so, it will be necessary first to slay the dragon that guards the door, and this dragon is religion.” – Bertrand Russel

When the fuel subsidy removal saga started, I remember posting a comment about religion that some people felt they needed to attack me for. I still recall that the reactions to my posts then were the longest chain of reactions that I ever got. It made me wonder then, and I sat down and thought, what if this whole multitude – that are so deep in religion that they gullibly follow instructions without asking questions, would be told by their religious leaders that they have a part to play in nation building and national unity, what a great country we’ll have. The reactions I got then perhaps caused my hesitation to write on religion when the Boko Haram saga intensified and people began to criticize Islam for Boko Haram’s actions.

Like Dave Barry said, “The problem with writing about religion is that you run the risk of offending sincerely religious people, and then they come after you.” I have however decided to break my silence as far as terrorism and religion are concerned.

When I say that religion in this context has become a problem, I’m not referring to what people practice and they still think for themselves; I am referring to what people practice that their religious leaders now think on their behalf. I am referring to what people practice that their religious leaders determine the name they’ll give their unborn child, I’m talking of what people practice that their religious leaders tell them what to eat, what to wear, where to go, and even who to marry. I am referring to gullible followership that leaves no room for questioning the leader, where going against his/her instructions means that you’ll be sentenced to hell.

Georgia Harkness stressed this that, “The tendency to turn human judgement into divine commands makes religion one of the most dangerous forces in the world.” It amazed me that during the fuel subsidy removal protests, most influential pastors were silent, and even went further to criticize the pastors who spoke out against government’s evil actions. Their actions make me wonder if they see themselves as Nigerians and if they even know that they have a part to play in nation building.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “A religion that takes no account of practical affairs and does not help to solve them is no religion.” It is high time people broke away from gullibly following religious leaders who won’t lend their voices to speak against evil in the nation.

“Disturbances in society are never more fearful than when those who are stirring up the trouble can use the pretext of religion to mask their true designs.” – Denis Diderot

When the Boko Haram sect started their operations, little did people expect that they will become a terrorist group that would strike fear in the heart of even the bravest of men. The failure of government to wipe out the sect caused their development into a dreaded group. Instead of the government admitting its errors and looking for solutions, they have resorted to witch-hunting of people who they believe are sponsors or affiliates of Boko Haram.
I then ask, what result has their witch-hunting brought? Have they been able to stop the sect from wreaking more havoc? NO. Let us reason it out, if there is to be an end to terrorism in Nigeria, the responsibility does not only lie in the hands of political leaders; religious leaders need to act.
Both Christian leaders and Muslim leaders need to correctly sensitize their followers on the dangers of religious extremism. Islamic leaders need to come together and openly speak against the acts of terrorism being carried out in the name of Islam, they need to gather the Islamic youths together and think of ways to reclaim their religion from these religion hijackers.

The Christian leaders must make their followers understand that Islam isn’t their problem, but the perversion of Islam. They shouldn’t be the ones who will sow seeds of discord and disunity in the minds of their followers. I have Islamic friends and I will frown at anyone who calls them terrorists, but the Islamic leaders need to reassure everyone that Islam is against terrorism. Pervez Musharraf said, “Islam teaches tolerance, not hatred; universal brotherhood, not enmity; peace, and not violence.”
People need reassurance and it is the duty of religious leaders to reassure them. If the religious leaders fail in this, then there is no basis for religion if it promotes hatred instead of love, if it allows war instead of peace, and if it causes division instead of national unity. Any religion that threatens our existence as brothers should be subjected to the fire of reality to determine if it deserves to exist.

James Ogunjimi
[email protected]

  1. Markson peter Reply

    It surprises me when some pple try to look @ the surface of a matter instead of looking inward, those Christian leaders who try to critizes odas instead bring in ideas to address the nation uprug are so doing cos they don’t truly know the essence of been a religious leaders other than telling their congregation it shall be well with them and when it comes to offering times u see praying all manners of prayer just to win ur fat pocket.you have been truth in facts about your fight for humanity, more oil to ur brain! Our political leaders are not rather helping matters when all they do is looting our money with their fat criminally sound heads, i could remember a particular interview Sultan of sokoto grant Journalists there he was distance Islam in connection with terrorism he subsequently went ahead to brand Boko haram Anti- Islam why then is he agreeing to broker dialogue between them and govt alongside tambuluwal, if he truly know the existence of boko haram wz not known to him from the beginning he shld be the first to look into hw dis pple can be brought to book an get prosecute not dialogue cos they are not fighting on the ground of resource control they are just a bloody terrorists. Am sure if Osama was to be from the northern Nigeria Jonathan wld have chose to dialogue with him instead of look for a way to take him out like Americans did. We only have God to pray to for quick intervention in our faith. Once again tanks for the piece!

  2. Markson peter Reply

    May will not end up with a bloody revolution in Jesus name- amen

  3. Ristic Reply

    Out of context? I went lnikoog to find the context, and it doesn’t appear to help much. Religion is like the total body irradiation that destroys an immune system and lets an underlying infection take over. It’s like a pesticide that destroys some insect species only to let others, freed from predators and competition, explode.It’s like an antibiotic that kills some strains of bacteria only to help resistant strains thrive and flourish. It’s also a kind of protective colouring. There is no very compelling reason left to treat particular groups of people as inferior. It used to be possible (just barely) to think that human groups were literally and essentially different in some way profound enough to justify inequality, but it isn’t possible any longer.All that’s left is a literalist idea of God’s will along with a conviction that God’s will must not be disputed or disobeyed. Without that, a defence of unequal rights just looks like what it is a frank defence of injustice.This puts religion in the uncomfortable position of being that which puts lipstick on a pig. That is uncomfortable, but it is exactly the position religion is in.Religion, in the hands of the literalist defenders of God’s putative will, is in the business of dressing up what would otherwise obviously be tired old prejudices and hatreds and plain exploitation, and making them seem vaguely respectable.Religion is the whited sepulchre, the warthog in a party dress, the dictator in a pink uniform plastered with medals, the executioner in white tie and tails.It is possible to imagine a god who is a friend to the despised and downtrodden, a lover of fairness and equality and hope, a champion of rights and of our better natures.But that’s not the God we have. Other than a very small weasel word escape hatch there that wasn’t acknowledged, what in that context is it that you feel was lost in the author’s quoting of you? It’s *possible* to imagine a god who is *but* that’s not the God we have. You tossed that away, denying that it is the god of any in doing so (so much for the abolitionists, the liberation theologians, or the ecotheologians, or the lay folk who actually claim such a god). You choose to deny religion to any who aren’t of the literalist ilk. They’re noisy, obnoxious, ignorant, and dangerous and you choose to cast the majority whom you might make common cause with as being no different from them in any discernible or meaningful way. Feh. We’ll do without you. Zealots and purists have never been good allies anyway.

  4. Larissa Reply

    The logic of this piece is awful and shows a distinct iuisnderstandmng of the issues. Be, you ask: The first question I have for Harris and Dawkins is this, do other liberal and moderate things justify their extreme forms? It is utterly illogical to equate alcoholism and similar behaviors with the liberal/extreme divide in religion, because of the problem of structure. No matter how extreme my drinking, it is not part of any structure of alcoholism. I do not get on a boat and go to foreign countries and demand that they drink like I do, give up their current drinking habits, and give me money and status after they adopt my drinking patterns. No matter how much I drink, I am not part of structures involving millions of people. Drinking does not make me deny scientific consensuses, believe in false histories, argue that the millions who don’t drink they way I do are either bound for hell or somehow in need of my saving, or submit to the authority of others who claim they have a still small voice that recognizes the right way to drink. Drinking does not put me in a structure whereby I have to brainwash my children into drinking, or otherwise suffer the opprobrium of neighbors or perhaps even the sanction of the law.The argument about Kucinich has more force, simply because it recognizes the existence of structure that Kucinich is part of, and by participating in, legitimates. But Kucinich is not legitimating the Iraq War by participating in that structure; he is legitimating the democratic process, which in that case resulted in flawed decisionmaking, and which he had hoped to use to stop the war. Again the logic of the argument is confused.Your MLK example is actually exactly what so many of us, looking at religion, see: the structure of power and control. According to you, King switched from UU to Southern Baptist because it gave him the chance to harness the structure of that faith to his own purposes. It is incredible that you can write that and yet not see the problem that Harris et al are screaming about. King was exceptional not because he was able to turn that structure to his own ends but because his ends were not about power and control. Religion is about structure, control, and power modern liberal religion is a laudable reaction to that structure of power and control and cases like King’s are notable chiefly for their rarity. For every King there are a thousand Francos, Chiangs, Torquemadas, European colonialisms, slavers, etc all exploiting that structure. When you choose to be religious you legitimate that structure of power and control. You imagine somehow that you can change that system of power and control, but you cannot change it because all systems that legitimate their values by appeal to some transcendent authority that exists outside humans, be it the State, the Objective Laws of History, Allah, God, whatever, exist solely to control the minds and bodies of those unfortunate enough to find themselves caught up in them when they are too young to fight back. Indeed, by becoming UU and sustaining the idea that belief is a good thing, not only do you legitimate the actions of extremists who call themselves believers, you commit a double evil, because after legitimating their pernicious social action, you leave the field of evangelization which you appear to have rejected to the pernicious believers, meaning that because of the structure new believers are more likely to belong to pernicious beliefs ensuring the spread of those beliefs. The beauty of structure is that in order to make it move as the King example so mightily shows only a few people need grab hold of the top. The beauty of quasi-Leninist organizational structures like Communism or Christianity or Nazism is that when good people join them and are active, it helps spread them. And if good people join in but aren’t active because they don’t like extremists that’s ok too, because the extremists win over the structure and it still spreads. Either way the structure spreads. The only way to deal with quasi-Leninist ideological structures like religion is to leave them. A good example of this is my cousin, who wrote about her spiritual journeys a few years ago in CommonDreams. After much searching she wound up back in the Catholic Church. She’s liberal, feminist, democrat, and yet she entered the structure of a organization that is formally committed to fighting against almost everything she believes in and she gives it money, provides it with social support, and she legitimates it. The structure of belief is part of her social identity, and its control over her, implanted when she was young we went to the same Catechism but I rejected all gods by the age of 11 remains powerful. All that is what Harris et al are arguing about. I think you need to rethink your criticisms of them, which, like the daggers of a knife thrower at the circus, land everywhere but in the body they are directed at, and reflect on the importance of the structure of control and shaping that lies at the heart of religious organization and belief.And leave your religion, of course.Michael Turton

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