By Babatunde Jose
Religion is an omnipresent and seamless part of daily life, taking an infinite variety of forms that are part of the distinctive quality of each community. Religion could thus not be seen as something apart and personal. It is, rather, a dimension of life that suffuses whatever people do. Religion has an effect on many people’s attitudes to everything, including such matters as savings, investment and a host of economic decisions. It influences area we had come to see as vital for successful development, like schooling, gender quality, and approaches to health care. In short, religion could be an important driver of change, even as it could be a break to progress…
James D. Wolfensohn former President of the World Bank
Religion provides the unifying power that grounds the socio-political, economic, technological, cultural and moral dynamics of a culture. This is particularly true of Africans for whom life is an intricate web of the sacred and the secular.
Our daily lives revolves around work, play, eat, recreation, spiritual fulfillment and obeying the calls of nature. It is when one aspect of our life dominates our lives to the exclusion and detriment of others that we become slaves to that aspect of our life. As Easter celebrations ended last Monday, we are looking forward to the holy month of Ramadan next week and people are beginning to question the role of religion in our lives. They claim that we are too religious; a state of affairs that has been termed the unprogressive effect of religion and a hindrance to development.
True enough, political leaders are known to exploit the religiosity of the people in their intra-elite competitions; however, the role of religion in society goes deeper than that. In fact, this might not be the whole truth as research in the developmental sciences are increasingly beginning to recognize the positive role religion could have in development.
Throughout its long history, the Church and Islam have been major sources of social services like schooling and medical care; inspiration for art, culture and philosophy; and influential player in politics. From the 11th to 13th centuries, medieval Europe absorbed information and ideas from Islamic civilization, which was then at its peak: Such as in astronomy, mathematics, medicine and science. The Islamic world also influenced other aspects of medieval European culture, including the arts, agriculture, music, technology, and textiles.
However, this is also true for the negative effects of religion, such as the conflicts that result in war and bloodshed, the separation of social classes, and the corruption throughout God’s kingdom, especially the unending sex scandal in the Catholic Church; or the radicalization of faith as witnessed by today’s Islamic insurgence. There is also the horrible events of the slave trade and colonization and the decimation of the cultures of non-European peoples, particularly Africa. It is these perceived negative effects of religion that has prompted many social scientists to condemn religion as irrelevant to socio economic development. However, Despite the general hostility among social science and professionals, the empirical evidence shows religion to be a very powerful and positive part of everyday life – Patrick McNamara, professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico.
Christianity, Traditional Religion and Islam, promotes integral development that goes beyond mere economic globalization, one could posit the thesis that religion if properly harnessed, could play a very important role in sustainable development despite conflicts, (at times violent), arising from religious intolerance.
No doubt, religion particularly in this clime commands the followership of millions. In social change theory, one of the most effective medium of change is diffusion of ideas and innovations; and religious bodies are most suited for this role. How great would it be, if our churches and mosques were to channel their weekly homilies (52 sermons a year from each church, mosque and other religious gatherings) to that great effort at bringing about social change in their followers; with a view to bringing about attitudinal dispositions that are amenable to socio economic betterment of the people? There is no doubt religion, if well channeled, could be made a veritable instrument of change and development.
“The paradox of growth in the face of poverty and inequality is a result of the inequity and injustice in Nigeria’s socio-politico-economic distribution, with 1% of the population, (politicians and bureaucrats) cornering the national resources to themselves while the rest of the populace wallow in abject poverty.
The role of religion for the sustainable development of Nigeria has been both positive and negative. Positively, religion stands as a reliable institution providing stepping stones to sustainable development; “from the days of the missionaries to the present, the church in Africa has focused its development strategy in two areas: education and healthcare.” And they have done remarkably well: Ditto for Islamic organizations, which have a proliferation of mission schools all over the country. They provide health and educational services through their hospitals, clinics and maternities, schools and colleges, vocational training centers, seminaries and universities. Some even, promote small scale businesses by granting loans to individuals and cooperative societies.
However, in spite of their laudable involvement in promoting progress and sustainable development, religions in Nigeria have in some ways been inhibiting sustainable development. Christianity and Islam are often antagonists, leading to religious conflicts resulting in loss of lives and destruction of properties. This has been intensified by the Jama’atu Ahlis Sunna Lidda’awati Wal-Jihad, better known as Boko Haram; which, since 2009, has caused the loss of thousands of lives and valuable government and business properties. Its terrorist activities in Nigeria have crippled the economy of North-Eastern Nigeria, creating insecurity in the country, driving away investors, foreign and local, and resulting in much government spending on security instead of on infrastructures.
It should be noted, however, that as the Council on Foreign Relations in a symposium,
“Religious Conflict in Nigeria,” (2007) discovered, most religious conflicts in Nigeria also have ethnic and political nuances. Yes!!! Politicians have hijacked religion to fight their wars.
Another reason for the upsurge of religious intolerance and violence is economic. The concomitant decline of investment in the education and economic well-being of people, especially the young, makes the latter a veritable reservoir and recruiting ground for religious fanatics or lunatics.
Religion also impedes sustainable development by tacit collaboration in corruption and mismanagement of the economy; mainly because religious leaders have failed to challenge the unjust structures that give rise to bad governance, corruption and social malaise: They have not spoken with one voice against the cycles of injustice; greed and self-aggrandizement of the political class that confiscates the state resources for personal use, thus dehumanizing ordinary Nigerians.
On the contrary, various religious groups have sought to benefit from the corruption and nepotism of the Nigerian system. As we enter another phase of religious activity with the coming Ramadan, religious leaders in Nigeria must figure out a way to honestly embrace peace and promote mutual coexistence by understanding one another’s religious beliefs. They must become the conscience of the people and speak up against the excesses of our corrupt and thieving leaders: And stop receiving the proceeds of corruption in the form of offerings, tithe and Zakat. Only then would religion become a veritable change agent.
Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend