Thu, 24 Dec 2009 Feature Article

Nigerians and religio-ethical bankruptcy syndrome

Nigerians and religio-ethical bankruptcy syndrome

I MET an old man recently who 'confided' in me (as if am too young to understand) that "religion has lost its place of pride in our society". Pretending as if the statement is strange to me, I commented, "but sir, it is not all religions".

"Look young man...", he replied, "...unless it is one of those uncommon religions such as Taoism, Hinduism, etc that we have not practised here in Nigeria, all these Christians, especially those I called the 'Penterascals' pastors, Muslims and even the traditional religionists, have all failed the society.

Mind you, am not excluding myself: we have failed to justify that there is any modicum of morality left in any of these major religions". In retrospection, gauging the attitudes of the people to truth and uprightness as well as the high level of moral bankruptcy in our country today, and indeed, worldwide, one cannot but be sad like my earlier interlocutor (an octogenarian), who, like he said annoyingly, "has seen many Xmas in his lifetime coated in and devoid of morality".

Adding to my many concerns about the desirability, or otherwise, of religion in any society, was a sociological report, released recently and conducted by a group led by a famous sociologist, Paul Gregory.

The report reduced religions to nothing but "psychological mechanism for coping with high levels of stress and anxiety".

This might be taken literally as agreeing with the popular Marx's view which sees religion as the 'opium of the masses, the oppressed, in society', but it was not intended to underscore that.

The hitherto moral aspect of religion, as suggested by the report, has evaporated because the people now pride the psychological benefit over the moral benefit.

Indeed, Paul Gregory's report shows that the United States, the dream of almost every Nigerian, has one of the worst dysfunctional social systems which has made the citizens of the country to turn more to 'God' without consequential attitudinal change in how they handle inter-personal relationships. Also, according to the report, "the 1st world nations with the highest levels of belief in God, and the

greatest religious observance are also the ones with all the signs of societal dysfunction". In sharp contrast, majority of Western Europeans, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders and Japanese, with low level of religiosity and thriving secular system, who disturb 'God' less, have functional systems.

Evolving from the analysis that follows is the conclusion that we should all reject the moral-creator socio-economic hypothesis in favour of the secular-democratic socio-economic hypothesis because the secular democracies, as the data suggest, are outperforming the theistic or the religious democracies.

Now, if we could try to marry the old man's submission and that of Paul Gregory's group, it would be glaring that something is amiss in the existing religious beliefs. For if something is not amiss, we wont all be concerned or assailing our minds with the inconsequential. So, what is amiss?

To me, our concerns and many headaches stems from, what I have termed, Religio-ethical Bankruptcy Syndrome (REBS). Religio-ethical bankruptcy syndrome can be described as the failure to validate the traditional assumption that morality is inseparable of religions.

When this situation occurs, rather than agreeing, one is further pushed to assume that something must have gone wrong; hence the usage of the word 'bankruptcy'. Even as we are confronted with this reality, head-on, we still refuse to accept because we cannot bring ourselves

to accept the fact that religions are only useful for selfish utilitarian ends: for venerating/worshipping a supernatural being (who blesses in return), for socialisation (so that we can make merry and keep jobs as Pastors) and for guaranteeing a safe place in heaven (for many religions except few).

Expedient reality and scholarly researches (such as that of Professor Nwala) have however shown us that moral development is guided by three distinct stages: level of instinct, level of custom and level of conscience.

Religion is only useful at the second and third levels. But where the society itself has no existing working moral structure that a child could consider at second stage, what can we expect when they develop into adulthood?

Whither the moral pot from where the ideals will be taken in Nigeria? Is it within the Christian fold where a Level 7 Civil Servant donating N.5 million is not questioned but hailed? Is it within the Muslim Ummah where a goat's life is priced over and above that of an unbeliever's life?

Or amidst the traditionalists who con many to part with their money for rituals not performed?

The entire discourse here is reducible to a call for a rethink of commonplace foundationing of morality in religions. This to me has only led many of us into religio-ethical bankruptcy thinking, which is misplaced. Like my octogenarian interlocutor advised, "a civic and moral education curriculum is very important if we want to get our country back on track".

But as for me, before this, there is the dire need to re-conceptualise morality, basing it on its root (harmonious social relationship) rather and on religions. Until this is done, I humbly leave all (most Nigerians) with their 'Religio-ethical Bankruptcy Syndrome'!