In support of God’s way

Abi AdeboyejoHome Away from Home with Abi Adeboyejo

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There are very few things that we learnt right from our period of colonialism. Different cultures from arguably different regions were made to become one and a miscellany of values, cultures and habits were made to become one. I daresay we are still suffering from this amalgamation of potentially different nations into one. We were encouraged to select leaders from the general populace, without regard to the way things were done in the olden days, when rulers were born, not selected. Again, we are still in the process of fashioning our own version of democracy (or demonstration of Craze as per Fela Kuti’s song). Our ways of traditional worship was discountenanced and we were introduced to the Whiteman’s religion, Christianity. Here, however, they got it quite right.

I was brought up a Methodist and I can still sing whole hymns from the top of my head. I am a member of a Pentecostal church these days but I thank God for my Methodist roots. As far back as the early 1900s my great grandfather and my grandfather adopted Christianity, with my grandfather spearheading the building of the only Church in our village on the outskirts of Ibadan.My father told us stories of how his grand-aunts performed ‘Osun’ pagan rituals in secret to avoid facing the wrath of my great grandfather, who had assumed the role of God’s personal messenger in the village.

My great grandfather must have been fierce because not only is every member of our family practicing Christians and members of the clergy, the old church still stands today. It so happens that many of Pa Ogunmodede’s great grandchildren now live all over Nigeria and abroad. I am yet to hear of one defecting to another religion, though most of my generation have turned Pentecostal. The important fact is that we are all still Christians.

There are millions of families in Nigeria with very similar stories to mine. Our forefathers were converted to Christianity and descendants have followed the religion because it works. Without going into a full-fledged Sunday sermon here, I think I can safely say it is the religion of life here and life everlasting.

Having lived abroad now for so many years, I am used to hearing people say that Africans, and Nigerians in particular, are very optimistic and cheerful people. Research also shows that Nigeria has the largest number of growing churches in the world. It is therefore safe to say that the two facts are linked. Our joy comes from our faith. If there’s anything we can thank our colonial masters for, it is the sharing of the one true source of happiness on earth.

Compare this to the fact that in recent times UK church attendance has been constantly dwindling. Now majority of the traditional orthodox churches have an aging congregation, where ‘young’ members are those in from age 60 and above. Some churches have had to be closed down because of poor attendance, and the buildings sold on to property developers. The society is getting more and more liberal and young and middle aged people do not regard religion and spirituality as a necessary component of their lives.

Is there a link between this lack of spirituality and mental health? If we look at the statistics, depression is now the No.1 psychological disorder in the western world. In the UK, the average age of first onset of major depression is 25-29. Depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illness have taken over from unemployment as the greatest social problem in the UK. Around 15% of the population suffers from depression or anxiety. The British Medical Journal says there are now more than 1 million mentally ill people in the UK.

Some people believe that depression is caused by lack of basic emotional needs. After the primary human needs for food, water and shelter comes commonly shared emotional needs. Without exception we find depressed people are not getting their emotional needs met. Isn’t it ironic that in countries where many people don’t have to worry about their primary needs, they still find something to be sad about to the extent that they develop depression? How come the poor people in Nigeria who struggle and worry about their primary needs don’t suffer depression as much? One science writer suggests that religious beliefs can be a source of hope for those facing difficult life problems, and it is not surprising that religious activity is positively related to hope and optimism and negatively related to depression. Excuse me, but we already figured that out in Nigeria long ago!

Some may say that being happy in the face of adversity is a simpleton’s way of looking at life. I beg to differ. It is our religious beliefs that has kept majority of Nigerians sane and able to cope in the face of all sorts of adversities.  If western countries that pride themselves as world leaders with very low levels of poverty are gradually turning into mental illness hotspots, then there is something to be said of being poor yet hopeful. Doesn’t the Bible itself say that “what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul”?

Perhaps a return to God and the church in Western countries will renew people’s hope in life and stop this scourge of mental illness. Perhaps it is time for us ‘Third World countries’ to teach the Western world, for a change. Perhaps, in this one area, the student has now become the teacher. Perhaps this is the time for Nigerian Christians to continue to do good work wherever they are, inspiring people with the word of God.

To all my fellow Nigerians going through a tough time at the moment, don’t give up. Keep smiling and believing in God. It is really the only way forward. A Merry Christmas and a Prosperous New year to all!