May 26, 2015 by Kambili M.A. Chimalu
Sometimes, I get angry when I hear stories pertaining to the abuse of organized religion. I get outraged when I read that a pastor commanded his flock to eat grass. I get furious when I read that a pastor swindled his congregation out of thousands under the guise of checking for their name in the book of life. I am filled with rage when I read that a pastor has convinced his flock that his sperm has been specially anointed by God. I see red when I read about pastors preying on the desperation and gullibility of unsuspecting victims. More than that, I am becoming increasingly disillusioned by the focus on dogma in the traditional “old generation” churches in such a way that people often consider their Priest’s or Reverend Father’s words to be law.
Let me start by saying that I was raised in a very Christian household. From the ages of ten to sixteen, I attended a church (convent) boarding secondary school and after I graduated from secondary school, I attended a catholic university in Enugu for about two years. In my secondary school, our schedule revolved around prayers, prayers, and more prayers. On the week days, our prayer schedule looked something like this: waking up, we first had to say our morning prayers; opening and closing prayers at the cafeteria for breakfast; hymn singing, bible reading, preaching, and more prayers at the assembly; prayers at break time; prayers at dismissal; opening and closing prayers at the cafeteria for lunch; evening prayers accompanied by hymn singing after afternoon prep; opening and closing prayers at the cafeteria after dinner; prayers after night prep; night prayers in the hostel before turning in for the night. On Sundays, the schedule of prayers varied a little bit: morning prayers after waking up, church service, opening and closing prayers in the cafeteria for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, Sunday school after siesta, evening service, sing song (singing praises and praying) in the night, and night prayers in the hostel before turning in for the night. After secondary school, the catholic University did not mandate as many scheduled prayers, but it was still compulsory that students attend mass/church service every Sunday morning and adoration every Wednesday evening.
I give this overview to show that my growing disillusionment with certain aspects of organized religion is not as a result of my yet “unclaimed” atheism [I have actually had someone question if I was really Christian and not atheist]. I have been a member of religious organizations from my mother’s womb, but as I grew older, I began to question the validity of religious dogma as it relates to our everyday reality in life. In Nigeria, we pride ourselves on being so religious that a common refrain is “pray about it” when we are asked for advice. People bind and cast even a common headache as the work of spiritual forces. Most times, when religion or men of God are brought up, the conversation is effectively shut down because common sense is suspended. So, our everyday lives become ruled by our belief in our religious denominations.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it becomes dangerous when we use it as a basis for cloaking our penchant for discrimination and marginalization of others that do not believe or worship as we do. Recently, I read that if a Roman Catholic person weds outside of the Roman catholic church, (s)he is banned from receiving Holy Communion in the church for life. Let that sink in for a moment. In other words, if Roman Catholics marry in Anglican, Redeemed, Baptist, etc. churches, they are banned from partaking in the Holy Sacrament for life, so a lot of people spend their whole lives being afraid of the conversion of a holy sacrament to an instrument and weapon of mass control.
Just as I was reeling from the insanity of lifetime bans for wedding outside the church, my father told me another depressing story. On a Sunday morning in my village, people were lined up to go and receive communion when suddenly woman A, who had already received hers, walked up to the front of the church in order to drag woman B out of line because she found the idea of woman B receiving communion offensive. She claimed that because woman B’s husband had two wives, woman B was disqualified from receiving communions. Woman A, instead of focusing on her prayers and communion with God, was busy scanning the church to see who was going to receive communion, who was not going to receive communion, and who was “qualified” to receive communion.
I despise things like wielding religious sacraments as weapons because they clearly go against the spirit of Jesus’ teachings. It reeks of “do as we say or we condemn you to damnation by withholding important sacraments.” The story of Zacchaeus easily comes to mind. Imagine Jesus dining with a tax collector, who was considered by many to be the epitome of sin and degeneracy, and then imagine Jesus refusing to feed people with his body and blood because they happened to conduct their marriage in another church. Those images cannot be reconciled, but some “men of God” punish erring members by withholding God from them.
A lot of people go through life finding God. We look for him through our actions and beliefs, in the hope that the life we lead here on Earth will guarantee us a space in Paradise. Thus, people in religious power seize on our need to find God in order to create rules that strike fear into the hearts of people. Rules are important to maintain a stable and peaceful religious institution; however, those rules should not be used to intimidate worshippers into blind obedience.
People should be free to marry in whatever church they want to and still be able to receive communion in their churches.