Let me start with a caveat. I am not exactly religious. I believe one can have a relationship with God on his own.
I am not arrogant enough to call myself an atheist, and though I could engage anyone on the subject, I am aware that there are grey areas in life that even the most ardent atheist or agnostic has to leave in the realm of some superior being. Science has not explained a lot of things about life no matter how it tried. I therefore respect anyone’s belief systems. One of my issues with religion is the proselytization bit. The constantly jostling for souls among the Abrahamic religions. It reminds me of Nigerian banks seeking endlessly for customers that they don’t intend to assist but take from. I don’t like the idea of some people trying to convince others that their own ways are right and others are wrong. I detest even more some of the tactics and languages employed against the other side by the born again or ‘izala’ (true muslim) members of each side.
Well, we are in very odd times. I was a bit surprised at how easily many religious people folded and took it on the lam the moment Covid-19 was announced. Most of them did not even try to exercise their faiths. Some smart ones have been trying to justify behind their laptops on many a Zoom-talk how their steps were logical and how the church is not the building and so on, but clearly, many of the miracle claims have been revealed to be pure shams. We cannot compare 2020 with 1918. Churches were closed 1918, but they laid no claim to curing the lame, the blind, the deaf, or even raising dead people to live again. These new churches especially, have done just that. Anyhow, they shut their doors, and but for a few whimpers here and there, the monstrosities they built have remained symbols of helplessness, and a departing era.
Then Donald Trump, the POTUS, spoke a few days ago, announcing that in his view, churches, mosques and synagogues are essential services, and that got the world thinking again. It also got a certain section of the liberal press into a flap. Trump accused some state governors for categorizing abortion clinics and liquor stores as essential services, while locking down firmly on these religious houses. For me, the argument is water tight, even as many people believe that Trump is as usual, playing to the gallery and trying to win some November votes. Add to the liquor stores and abortion clinics, large malls where hundreds have congregated, touching trolleys and items on the racks for the past 4 months, have remained open as ESSENTIAL SERVICES, while religious houses are closed. Yet, no word had been said as to how the religious houses can begin to resume howbeit gradually. Liquor stores are there for people to stock up on their booze. There is a new culture among those who prefer to remain at home, to get drunk by 10am. This has increased incidences of child abuse and domestic violence. Idle ‘Uncles’ are preying on kids. Small crimes are climbing due to hunger and idleness. Marriages are crashing the more, and the alcohol is only weakening the immunity of hundreds of millions of people around the world. I would have put this down to some deliberate desire for some powerful people to reap more cadavers, but I think the strategy so far – especially after data has emerged – is down to simple stupidity. Those who say they are smart are just not so smart anyway – Michelle Obama said as much that she had been in many top-level thinktank meetings and been disappointed at the level of thinking of those who run the world.
I am interested in one question and one question only; why do people think religious houses are NOT ESSENTIAL while these other centres of mass gathering (markets, malls etc) are essential for a time like this? Do we really understand what people get when they visit their religious houses and how important they see these contacts? Are we being merely elitist and dismissive, from a public policy angle, seeing issues only from our ivy league perspective? Is there any representation from the really vulnerable or are we shutting down their voices from afar?
Abortion clinics sometimes provide essential services, but also their prioritization could encourage promiscuity among the young who know that there is a place to terminate pregnancies around the block, round the clock. It seems the world is working hard at devaluing the worth of humans by the choices we have taken. Is this deliberate? Again, real data has emerged, enough time has elapsed, and it should have since been time to recalibrate our strategy. What is going on? People love to bash Trump naturally, but I try not to follow the herd; the herd is usually wrong. Thinking about the goings-on again, I think there is a need to point out to the world, using some short points, that indeed religious houses may be essential services. Recall that I am no religious fanatic. I however believe that subject to limits, religion has played and continues to play a good role in organizing society, offering succor to billions around the world, and indeed, religion has been central to the evolution of science and innovation the way we know them today. The end of religion has not arrived, and may not in a while to come. We can reform religion, but we must not hold religion in disdain because we have the power of bureaucracy or the mob on social media. I personally like the fact that people head to churches and mosques and billions actually get calmed down by doing so. Perhaps it is the best that humanity can manage. Let us see just how essential religion is, especially from a Nigerian perspective:
1. PSYCHOLOGICAL SERVICES – In a country like Nigeria where visiting the ‘shrink’ is not as popular as it is elsewhere, only our religious houses offer such services. There is a spike in mental cases presently. People trust their pastors and imams more than they do the odd psychiatric doctor or psychologist. Many churches I know serve as rehab centres for poor drug addicts where governments have no provisions. Okay, why are these religious leaders not being actively pressed into service to assist the medical doctors in a world going into total mental meltdown at this time? Why are they shut out and told they don’t matter?
2. MARRIAGE COUNSELLING (OF COLLAPSING MARRIAGES, SPIKE IN DOMESTIC VIOLENCE) – There is a spike in domestic violence lately, including serious strains on many marriages. Many men in our clime, are wired to be on the road – hunters and foragers. Now they are at home, dissecting the behaviors of madam and the children in microscopic fashion and also being dissected and cheapened. Well, mostly the religious houses offer this service in our country. Yes, you could say the pastors are still otherwise available at home or via the internet. But with the fear around this disease, they are discouraged from seeing anyone – except if their services are rightly recognized as essential and their counselling considered as value-adding. There should be a way of continuing this service. And no, Zoom cannot help very well in many bad situations. Perhaps the goings-on at this time is meant to damage the family institution. The liberals seem more in favour of same sex marriages, no marriages at all or any arrangement that do not product children