Written by DAMILARE RILYCKS
“God has no religion” – MAHATMA GANDHI
I was passing through a street in the ancient city of Ibadan some days ago and something quite unusual caught my attention. I was attracted to a scene where a large group of people were singing and dancing in merriment. The unusual thing about the gathering is that most of the men and boys have their hair braided in different styles. Curiously, I moved closer to the scene of the event. On closer inspection, I discovered they are Sango (god of Thunder) worshipers having their annual Sango festival. I couldn’t help but marvel at how passionate they were at performing the festival rites. They were chanting all sorts of eulogies in praise of their highly referred SANGO just like we do to Jesus and Mohammed in our different Churches and Mosques.
My first reaction was that of awe and skepticism. How could this people be worshiping this sort of thing? Why would they believe so much in a virtually non-existent god? Are these people going to make heaven? Which Religion does God really stand for? These and a barrage of other questions flooded my mind. Much later when I reflected over the event again, I had a change of mind. What if I was born into a Sango family? Perhaps, I would have been braiding my hair like these people and probably I would be bearing Sangodamilare instead of Oluwadamilare. One thing is certain though, most of us are into the religion we believe in today by virtue of our parents’ faith.
While growing up, we were all made to believe that our religion is good while others evil. Our parents, our pastors, imams, priests etc. took it upon themselves to painstakingly inculcate in us the belief that our own religion is supreme and thereby the one that leads to salvation.
Consequently, we are all guilty of religious ethnocentrism, we downgrade other people’s values and belief system. A typical Islamist will not want to condone the thought of Christianity being the way to eternal life. In the same vein, a typical Christian will be very eager to dismiss Islamic ethics and beliefs as insipid and false. As much as we might not want to admit it. Religious ethnocentrism and Jingoism is actually the bedrock of all religious fanaticism and terrorism in the world today. This is not meant to down play the roles played by other socio-political factors.
The religion that ought to be a unifying factor is now an agent of violence and division among humans. Karl Marx sees Religion as an opium of the masses, and this has been greatly justified in the cases of Alqaeda, ISIS, Boko-haram etc. These groups have been hiding behind the guise of religions to perpetrate all sorts of heinous acts against humanity. They capitalize on people’s deep sense of sentimental attachment to a particular religion to lure them into engaging heinous and inhuman practices such as suicide bombing.
Pastors and other religious leaders have also hidden behind the guise of religion to enrich themselves and build a vast business empire at the expense of the innocent populace that have been made docile by their religious beliefs.
What is the way forward?
Religion is a very sensitive and complicated topic that even great scholars have had problems unraveling. So, the only way to heal the world from all these atrocities committed in the name of religion is to hold on to your faith dearly and leave the other person to his. After all, there is freedom of religion and association in this part of the world. Moreover, the Yoruba people will say “Asoro gbenija ni Olorun” meaning “God is beyond human advocacy”. So do away with your religious jingoism, let our difference unite us rather than pulling us apart. There is a great deal of inner peace in being tolerant of another person’s religion. I will leave you with this quote:
“Religion is like a pair of shoes. Find one that fits for you, but don’t make me wear your shoes” – George Carlin
– Jagunmade Damilare Rilycks