According to the World Bank, there are 689 million people living below the poverty line across the world. While women represent a majority of the poor in most regions, children and youth account for two-thirds of the world’s poor population. Poverty in the sub-saharan region of Africa is extreme and about 40% of the people in the region live on less than $2 a day. Due to the crisis in Syria and Yemen, extreme poverty rates doubled in in the Middle East and North Africa between 2015 and 2018 from 3.8% to 7.2%.
Countries that are bedeviled by crisis, violence and political fragility are home to about 10% of the world’s population and they have more than 40% of people living in extreme poverty. It is estimated that by 2030, about 67% of the poor across the globe will live in fragile contexts.
In Deut. 15:11, the Bible made it known that the poor would continue to be among the people, however no human enjoys choose to live a life of penury and misery. With poverty estimated to rise by the end of this decade, people across the world, especially the less privileged resort to spiritual and religious guidance to escape from the net of poverty.
A data from the 2021 Best Countries rankings shows that Israel, Saudi Arabia and India are respectively, the most religious countries in the world. Israel has a total of 23% Israelis living below the poverty line, in Saudi Arabia, 20% of the population lives beyond the poverty line while India, about 5.4% of its population amounting to over 70 million Indians live below the poverty line.
One would have expected that these countries being the most religious on earth would crack the poverty code.
Is there therefore a gulf between religion and poverty? For the human observer, a pious and religious population should have little or nothing to do with poverty and misery.
As at the time Karl Max, a German’s philosopher, described religion as the opiate of the people, he believes that religion plays significant role in maintaining the status quo with promise of rewards in the after-life rather than on earth. He observed and concluded that by focusing attention on worldly rewards, religion pacifies members through a worldview that deflects attention that would otherwise be directed at the inequalities of the world. He was of the opinion that instead of taking responsibilities for their action and inaction that had contributed to their unfortunate state of wanting, they focus on appeasing their god for miraculous benevolence.
There are also those that believes that Christianity is par with poverty. The proponents of this assertion buttress their belief with Matt. 19:24, where Jesus said it would be easier for a Carmel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a sinner to enter the kingdom of God. An American theologian, John B. Cobb, whose idea is related to that view argues that the current economy practiced by the western nations and the developed countries in the east are opposed to the traditional Christian doctrine. Making reference to Jesus’s quote when he said “man cannot serve both God and Mammon”, he said that the western society is organized in the service of wealth and as such, wealth has triumphed over God in the western world.
While some Christians view acquiring wealth and materialism as evil to be avoided and as a matter of fact combatted, some others see wealth and prosperity as divine blessing that should be craved for. There are some in the Christian fold that believe that a proper understanding of Christian teachings on wealth and poverty needs to take a larger view where the accumulation of wealth is not the central focus of one’s life but rather a resource to foster good life.
Paul charge Timothy and as a matter of fact, all Christians that the desperate desire and craving for wealth is wrong but ordinarily, there is nothing wrong with wealth in itself, I Tim.6:10.
Another biblical instance that some Christians believe discourages acquiring of wealth is Mark 10:17-31 where Jesus made it clear that wealth can be an obstacle to faith and holy living. The rich man’s wealth is actually not the obstacle rather it is his unwillingness to let go of his wealth in order to follow Christ. Apostle Paul also warned that “people who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.”
On the other hand, there are other Christians who hold strongly to the belief that the pursuit of prosperity is a religious calling and therefore acceptable by God. They believe that hard work, diligence and frugal lifestyles are spiritual acts. The founder of the Methodist Movement, John Wesley, encourages Christians to “earn all they can, save all they can and give away all they can.”
Today, churches across the world preach prosperity and teach that God promises wealth and abundance to those that are obedient to His laws. In Nigeria, this teaching is common amongst Pentecostal churches.
It is therefore rather unfortunate that in spite the preaching of prosperity and the sprout of different churches and denominations across the world, especially in developing countries, poverty still permeates the congregations and these countries. In Africa, countries with the largest number of Christians happen to be some of the poorest in the world.
Sao Tome and Principe that has over 90% of its population as Christians also has one-third of its population living on less than $2 per day; Democratic Republic of Congo with over 95% Christian population has 73% of the population living below the poverty line; Nigeria has over 80 million living below the poverty line with over 50% of its population professing to be Christians.
For Muslims, while the likes of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Qatar and some other Middle-east countries are wealthy, yet they are the model of Islam across the globe, observant of the religion in Nigeria and some other sub-Saharan Africa live in squalor and penury yet claim to be strict adherents of the religion.
In Nigeria for instance, the northern parts of the country that has the largest concentration of Muslims has the highest maternal and child mortality rates in the world. It has approximately 1,012 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births. Pregnant women in that part of the country also have limited take-up of health services.
Also, a 2018 UNICEF survey revealed that the population of out-of-school children in Nigeria had risen from 10.5 million to 13.2 million making Nigeria as the top on that global tally. Of this figure a large fraction resides in the core northern part of Nigeria due to the almajiri system practice in that part of the country. The almajiri system encourages Muslim parents to leave parental responsibilities to Islamic school where their children are attached to. This system exposes the children to begging and anti-social vices.
The system is supposed to teach the children the virtues of Islam and inculcate in them socially responsible character however, the system has been bastadised and does not fit into the 21st century. Islamic nations of the Middle East do not practice this system, yet they are literate in Islam and the Holy Quran.
The reality however is that some religious leaders in Nigeria have seen religion as a weapon to cajole and hypnotize unsuspecting followers seeking spiritual enlightenment. Most have been successful in mentally enslaving their congregation who continues to live in abject poverty while these leaders lead flamboyant lifestyles. They boast that they are successful and that God answers their prayer because they live according to the precepts of God they preach, encouraging their congregation to do same while blindfolding them to the reality.
It is unfortunate that in Nigeria, rather that unite and demand for good governance from the political leadership, Christians and Muslims alike would prefer to stay long hours in their churches and mosques offering prayers to God to help touch the heart of their leaders to do what is right for the country.
While public servants corruptly enrich themselves at the expense of the general public; while insecurity threatens the fabric of the society; while poverty continues to walk on two legs on the streets across the country; while the government would ill-equip the health centres and at every opportunity fly out of the country to access medical attention; while pastors and Islamic clerics romances the people on the corridors of power; and while innocent lives are lost on highways due to unmotorable roads, religious Nigerians would prefer to gather in churches and mosques to pray to God to turn the tide.
It is amazing how Nigerians have been too religious and have religiously handed over to God what ordinarily he has graciously given them power to effect. In 2017, in the heat of the outbreak of Type C Cerebrospinal Meningitis in Zamfara state, the then governor of the state, AbdulazizYari described the outbreak as God’s way of showing his anger against Nigerians for turning their back on him.
While 200 residents of the state had been killed and several others receiving treatment in various hospitals and clinics in the state, he said the outbreak might not be unconnected to the people’s total disregard of God’s commandments.
“What we used to know as far as meningitis is concerned is the type A virus. The World Health Organisation, WHO, has carried out vaccinations against this type A virus not just in Zamfara, but many other states.
“However, because people refused to stop their nefarious activities, God now decided to send Type C virus, which has no vaccination. People have turned away from God and he has promised that ‘if you do anyhow, you see anyhow’ that is just the cause of this outbreak as far as I am concerned.
“There is no way fornication will be so rampant and God will not send a disease that cannot be cured,” the governor said.
The state chapter of the Nigeria Medical Association accused him of failing to prepare for the outbreak despite warnings, and not responding adequately to the epidemic.
In the early 2000s, while the world health organization in collaboration with the governments across the world were working to eradicate polio pandemic and it traces in every corner of the world through vaccination of children, religious leaders in the north denied their subjects the opportunity to receive the vaccine with the implication of having more crippled children in that part of Nigeria.
The controversy started when the traditional leaders under the aegis of Jama’atulNasril Islam (JNI), the umbrella organisation of Muslims in northern Nigeria asked the Nigerian government to stop administering the vaccine because of fears that it is contaminated.
They said their advice was based on the report of a medical team sent to India by the Muslim organisation to test the vaccines. The report is said to confirm the fears of the Muslims of northern Nigeria that the vaccines may be unsafe.
They argued that the vaccines contain “undeclared contaminants that can cause malfunctioning of the testes and cause infertility in women.”
These claims eventually check out to be untrue and by the time the dust raised by this controversy would clear, Nigeria remained one of the last two countries that had polio when the rest of the world had moved on.
These are few of how religion has beclouded rational thinking of the enlightened and limited advancement in human endeavor.
The poor, the lowly and the unenlightened therefore need to be liberated from the addiction to religion as the silver bullet that can make all misery, penury and misfortunes disappear without making effort to change the tide. The responsibility lies in the hands of the religious leaders to let them have the understanding that while miracles truly exist, for such to happen, man has his own responsibility to play.
For the poor to enjoy riches, he must work, trade and engage in activities that would make him earn a living rather than live on alms and at the mercy of the rich. For the economic activities of the country to develop and advance, the citizens must ensure that the leadership is made accountable and responsible and dedicated to the cause, rather than go to churches and mosques to offer prayers to god to change the hearts of the leaders.
Religion would continue to be the opium of the poor for anyone who denies himself the opportunity to see the world as it is and take responsibilities for certain actions and deeds.