Opinion: How Religion Impedes Personal Growth and National Development

I strolled past the Isis Temple of the Rosicrucian Order on Sunday evening and was quite fascinated with their array of books and audio materials. I almost absolutely don’t do impulse buying but when it comes to books and personal development materials I often find myself bending that rule. Fortunately (or should I say unfortunately?), I wasn’t holding any of my bank cards. So I couldn’t purchase any of those materials.

Looking through some of the seemingly esoteric books, I quickly realised that this is what some smart folks have packaged as Neurolinguistic Programming (NLP), the latest money spinner in the Nigerian (perhaps global) coaching and personal development industry. Interestingly, my friend with whom I was strolling wondered what business I had reading “Rosicrucian” books. This beautiful soul warned me strongly to steer clear of them. Yet, this same person might not mind taking a course in NLP, especially if it is free, sponsored or mandated by employer.

While I understand the need to guard our hearts with all diligence, I also believe that the cause of Christ will be greatly advanced by thinking and well-versed believers rather than dogmatic Christians. Moses learned the wisdom of Egypt and Daniel versed himself in the culture and literature of the Chaldeans. Magic was a key component of these bodies of knowledge. There are many things that we do in the name of Christianity that we should rather be ashamed of. And when someone attempts to challenge these anomalies, he or she is seen as rebellious or misguided.

I remember being called an “enemy of the gospel” because I insisted that a church on my street should stop constituting nuisance to residents (and robbing them of sleep) under the guise of holding vigils. It is equally worrisome to have mosques desecrate our early mornings with their loud calls to prayer in residential areas. That’s even mild compared to the incalculable loss of lives that we record almost annually in the name of stoning the devil in Mecca. I was slightly relieved when the emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, said Nigerians will no longer participate in the stoning of devil ritual, except they get accommodation close to Jamrat, where the exercise takes place.

The emir was quoted as saying “If one deliberately refuses to perform the stoning of the devil ritual, all he needs to do is just to slaughter a ram. So, if this is the situation, why do we go and suffer and die instead of sacrificing a ram?” However Sanusi had also reportedly said, “All of us have our time. No one can spend more than a second when it comes. The stampede cannot be stopped by anyone as that is an act of God.” Does God really delight in snuffing out people’s lives, especially when they are performing religious rites?

I understand that the ritual is a symbolic reenactment of Abraham’s hajj, where he stoned three pillars representing the temptation to disobey God and preserve Ishmael. As didactic as this may be, it certainly isn’t worth dying for especially when you consider the fact that many of the proselytes – at least those that I have spoken to – confess to not understanding the significance of the act, apart from the fact that it is one of the rituals that must be performed in the Hajj. It is painful how religion would make us believe that avoidable incidents like the Hajj stampede and resultant deaths are an act of God.

I have given up on religion. Apart from ethnicity, religion is perhaps one factor that has divided Nigerians more than anything else. The most recent example is the pandemonium that almost erupted in Cross River State over the ban of devotions in schools, a directive the state governor has wisely reversed and dissociated himself from. Like I have always maintained, religion does not commend us to God. God is not a Christian. He’s not a Muslim either. Whether we’re talking about African Traditional Religion, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism or any other religion, religion as we know it does not make us relevant before God.

True religion is a vital, personal relationship with God which causes His life to be reflected in us and through us as we personify His attributes, the core of which is love. We need not discard logic to substantiate our religion or faith; faith and logic could actually agree when we understand the fundamental principles. By the way, I think I want to stop being addressed as a “Christian”. I simply want to be a follower of Christ. After all, that’s what the word is supposed to mean.

Like my earlier article along this line, I am fairly certain that this piece will attract lots of critical comments, especially from folks who will only read the headline and probably scan the content of the article, without taking time to understand its message. Nevertheless, feel free to post your comments or engage me on Twitter and I’ll do my best to respond. I reserve the right to ignore messages and comments that appear offensive, hateful, abusive or otherwise unacceptable. We can disagree without being belligerent.

Philip Amiola wrote in from Lagos. He blogs at http://philipamiola.org and tweets from @PhilipAmiola

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