Woe unto thee O land whose destiny is ruled by superstitions instead of production, thou shall continue to be vassals of the diligent, hewers of water and fetchers of firewood for the household of your former enslavers.
Granted that the history of the black man has been tempestuous, but contemporary happenings indicate that the future of the race may be even more so if the ugly trend of zombifying millions of people in the name of religion is not reversed. While the rest of the world is conquering their environment, we are busy hypnotising our people, mystifying their very existence to the extent of robbing them of both their earthly possessions and capacity for rational thinking.
Enter the godtrepreneurs. They are a new breed of salvation merchants marketing God to the weary for a fee. Christian or Muslim (but mostly Christian) their theology is uniquely mercantilist and extortionist. While some operate from trendy auditoriums complete with the razzmatazz of modern technology, others vend their spiritual wares from no fixed address. The poor, who believe that the hypnotist has a secret key to unlock the gate of abundance, make up the larger percentage of his/her patrons.
However, if you look deeply enough, even the wealthy in society and many tenants of power have one ‘powerful’ marabout or the other, pastor, prophet or man of God who claims to have a direct line to Heaven and its bounties.
The story was once told by a friend who, you’d better be warned, cannot be described as an adherent of any religion although, if my opinion mattered, he would be a veritable candidate for heaven or paradise or wherever else good people are supposed to wind up after their earthly exertions.
According to the story, a famous local champion, a man of God with a thriving ministry in my neck of the woods, who chewed prophesies and was generally believed to be God’s emissary in saving humanity from the end times (which, he sternly warned, was imminent), threw a party for his graduating daughter in whom he was well pleased. The jollity was proceeding without incident until one of the invitees shouted, “Praise the Lord”.
As the man of God ecstatically raised his hand and replied, “Alleluia!”, his fingers got caught by the blades of the rolling ceiling fan.
He screamed, “Shango o o o!!!
Now, Shango is the Yoruba god of thunder. His name usually doesn’t cross the lips of a pastor unless in derision. But see who this merchant of salvation called in his time of distress! You never know what a man is serving until he is confronted with a life-threatening situation.
Or, take the case of a one-time presidential candidate of one of the prominent political parties, Alhaji Omilajoamuku. A good man and worthy philanthropist in his own right, he decided to throw his hat into the ring after a coterie of ‘concerned citizens’ and ‘progressive youths’ threatened to harm themselves if the good alhaji did not accede to their request by filing his papers for the presidency.
There is no man that is so virtuous as to be completely immune to flattery. Alhaji Omilajoamuku decided to recognise his own messianic talents. First, he didn’t see anything wrong in paying for the ‘patriotic’ advocacy of ‘pressure groups’ even though the rest of the country knew that those rabble rousers were mere political jobbers adroit at marketing political spare parts to whoever needed to overhaul the engine of his brittle ego.
By and by, the presidential aspirant was introduced to a marabout in Senegal who promptly predicted his victory at the primaries and the general elections. He was made to pay for the spiritual intervention of forty Islamic prayer gladiators who, I was told, would not see the sun for forty days but spend the whole time in fasting and prayer. He complied. Then he was introduced to some other powerful intercessors in Mauritania and Saudi Arabia. The spiritual aspect of the electoral preparation cost him untold millions.
Convinced that he had settled one arm of the campaign, the spiritual one, he pursued the political one with gusto. Billions of Naira were unleashed in pursuit of the dream. Two weeks before the party primaries, Alhaji Omilajoamuku jetted to the Middle-East to meet the highest ranking of his marabouts who had instructed that he had to come for some special invocations 14 days to D-Day.
On arrival at the man’s abode, he saw a sombre crowd clogging the street. By the time he managed to gain entrance into the yard, he saw that the Muslim faithful were reciting the Ṣalāt al-Janāzah, the Islamic funeral prayer.
The chief marabout who had a direct line to God and who had assured our friend of victory had died on the very day he promised to put a seal of finality on Alhaji’s impending victory.
Death is a cruel customer. The Caller becomes the Called — and he no longer answer.
Even Alhaji was not surprised when he lost the primaries and quickly receded to the political junkyard from whence he had emerged. Man can continue playing all the pranks in the world. But God will be God. And he brooks no competition.
In the midst of our underdevelopment, the last thing we can afford is the current mass hypnosis being mis-advertised on television as televangelism. Now, don’t get me wrong. There are genuine, spirit-filled televangelists living up to their calling. There are honest pastors whose primary preoccupation is leading people to Christ. But there are also charlatans, modern day versions of Soyinka’s Brother Jero.
Seven years ago, a hypnotist gave life to Karl Max’s contention that, “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.”
Reverend Njohi, pastor of the Lord’s Propeller Redemption Church in Kenya, ordered the female members of his congregation to attend church without any form of underwear so that Christ could enter their lives. According to the Kenyan Post which reported the story, the ‘man of God’ warned members that there would be terrible consequences if they attempted to secretly wear bra or pant. What manner of God interacts with His worshippers through their genitals?
In South Africa, Prophet Penuel Mnguni of the End Times Disciples’ Ministries in Gauteng, shocked the world when he asked members of his congregation in need of prayers to strip naked and lie on the ground. The scandalous photographs of the prayer session show the young man stepping on his nearly naked worshippers. He had also, at different times, instructed his congregation to eat grass, eat dog meat and swallow live snakes!
He was later beaten up by some angry youths in Mmakaunyane Village. Youths from the Economic Freedom Fighters burnt his church at Soshanguve in Tshwane and tied him and an acolyte with rope. The charismatic pastor eventually wound up at TB Joshua’s Synagogue church in Lagos, Nigeria, seeking deliverance from the cocktail of demons directing his infamous ministry.
All over Nigeria, we have cases of ‘men of God’ preying on their prayerful congregations. It is so prevalent that nobody raises an eyebrow anymore when a pastor acquires a private jet when his ‘flock’ live in abject poverty. It wasn’t so many decades ago when clerics were distinguished by their subscription to the vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. Now we have people feasting on God’s name. Religious entrepreneurs: people who smile to the bank in the name of the Lord.
We are in an era when Africans are seeking Christian and Muslim Dibias, not clerics. The plague is worldwide.
Bishop Michael Reid was the pastor at Trinity Church from the early 1980s to 2008. He used his mantra, ‘No Miracles – No Jesus’, to elevate his own ministry and de-market other pastors, thereby persuading people to follow him. One scandalised blogger who had followed Reid’s career and eventual downfall wrote: “Reid and his people destroyed numerous individuals and families”. It seemed Reid’s definitive test for his ‘Man of God’ status was ‘No kindness – no decency – no honesty – no integrity – no Jesus’.
There are numerous honest-to-God Christian and Islamic clerics out there. But they are fast becoming an endangered species as “Let us pray” has now become “Let us prey”.
Lord have mercy!
- Wole Olaoye is a public relations practitioner and a public affairs commentator and can be reached at email@example.com. Readers comments are welcome.