Religion Must Be A Private Thing

I keep saying to myself I should keep out of religion in my weekly public discourse, but it’s a tough thing to do if you live in Nigeria.

If you are not forced to declare for either of two religions on hospital registration or school admission forms, with an officious clerk insisting you have no right to be otherwise, the whole stretch of a motorway is lined by religious prayer grounds with hyper-community of sundry economic activity in the name of God, or one of the same two religious faiths would be engaged in ludicrous tussle for ostentatious dominance over the other, or the president or governor would close office to go seek the blessings of some pastor or imam, or in the worst scenario, we are killed like chicken for God’s sake – for not sharing their faith!

The last time I complained on this page of the insomnia my little son and I were subjected to by midnight-to-dawn wailing by one religious sect ‘handing over baton’ to another on loudspeakers in a quiet residential area, some of my readers sent in a query: “Na sleep you come sleep for world?”alt

It is tough to be a Nigerian and live in Nigeria at this time of our lives.

There are more churches and mosques than there are schools and hospitals. Every problem confronting us as a nation, be it lack of electricity, dilapidated infrastructure, poor governance, hopeless state of our schools or hospitals, corruption, or overall pathetic underdevelopment, we look to some God for answers, in total and abject dereliction.

Where folks in developed countries are burning the midnight oil in laboratories, medical and art theatres, figuring out how to conquer space, or find cure for some ailment bedevilling mankind, or creating amazing inventions to make life on earth easier and more meaningful, our folks in Nigeria are busy bruising their knees praying and losing their voices shouting to a God that’s not deaf (or perhaps now been deafened by our din). Then, we are quick to be the first to acquire the products from the developed world’s toil; we are quick to flaunt our mansions made and furnished by foreign technology; we are quick to flaunt our super-jets and state-of-the-art cars.

Where leaders of the developed world are burning the midnight oil fashioning out how to alleviate the suffering of the poor, what policies to promulgate to provide enabling environment for accelerated development, what moral compass to provide the masses for an ordered society, our own leaders in Nigeria are awake all night scheming their political shenanigan, or some cavorting with their gang of accomplices and horde of whores!

If I were God on “judgement day”, and I asked what each man did on earth, I know who to send to “heaven” and who to “hell”.

To heaven will be those who answered: “I founded the cure for malaria”; “I developed the computer”; “I composed that beautiful song or poem”; “I wrote the book that sold millions and helped the mind”; etc.

But to hell goes he who answered: “I prayed on my knee to you night and day”; “I built churches or mosques to worship you”; “I prepared hard for this next world by worshipping You”; “I killed people in their thousands on Your behalf”! Indeed, he goes not to hell he who invented the gun or the atomic bomb but he who employed them to destroy lives!

What got me unto this topic today is the news that ran in the British newspaper, The Daily Telegraph, of Thursday May 3 about a medical doctor whose sack for being overtly religious got the backing of a judge who ruled that there was no place for religious references at work!

The story goes that a Christian doctor, David Drew, 64, was sacked by his employers after sending out religious prayer to motivate fellow members of his hospital department.

The doctor said the prayer was intended to offer inspiration in his ‘frail and imperfect efforts’ to serve patients. The Birmingham tribunal heard he also sent emails to colleagues quoting poems and the Bible.

“One member of staff said he found them ‘strange’, and another felt they were ‘bizarre and inappropriate’.

“He was first suspended after a senior nurse complained that he was undermining her. That was dismissed, but following an independent review, a report concluded that Dr Drew’s religious language was inappropriate in a professional setting, and he was told to keep his religious beliefs to himself.

“The report criticised Dr Drew for sending a text message to a colleague, saying ‘Have a peaceful Christmas’, which was perceived as an ‘aggressive and unwelcome intrusion’.

Dr Drew refused to adhere to the report’s recommendations and was dismissed for ‘gross misconduct and insubordination’.

He then appealed to the Employment Tribunal for unfair dismissal but the judge, David Kearsley, threw the appeal out saying in his ruling that Muslim or Hindu doctors would also be expected to refrain from quoting holy texts at work, if colleagues complained.

“Similarly, if an atheist caused unease by trying to educate his colleagues in ‘the works of Richard Dawkins or Christopher Hitchens’, he or she would be treated in the same way”, the Judge said.”

This is in England, the country and people that brought and sold Christianity to us through their missionaries recognising that for the order and sanity of everyone in a developed society, religion must be kept as strictly as possible a private thing.

Sometime ago, I also read of a nurse here in England (any surprise she was Nigerian?) that was sacked for dereliction of her job to “God” thereby causing the death of a sick child in her care. The parents of the child sued her and the hospital, claiming that they watched with horror, as the nurse was busy praying for their child to recover consciousness rather than applying the appropriate lines of treatment her profession demanded of her.

Nigerians have carried this “taking it to the Lord in prayer” refrain to the most absurd and nauseating level, with the deployment of modern communication technology to full abuse. Those who now want to “worship God” by spending time thinking of solutions to our problems are inundated by SMS texts to our phones and stream of emails to herald the beginning of each day, each week, each month and sundry other moments, quoting the holy books, offering prayers, and sending exhortations!

And then there are employers who carry their religiousness to ridiculous extent of turning their offices to chapels for devotions in the mornings indifferent to the sensitivity or religious differences of their staff? The phoniness is clear, for are these not the same bosses who have run the same firms and banks down, exploiting and looting their companies?

Are these how developed countries are made? It would be easier to deal with if many of those sending these messages out are not themselves devil-incarnate, loathsome and dishonest.

Interestingly, even the Bible, so often used as cover, did say, in Mathew 6, verse 6:

“But you, when you pray, enter into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret shall reward you openly.”

Nigeria is dying slowly for getting it wrong. In a secular country that our constitution proclaims, religion must be a private thing. That is what God demands. Let us pray!