During apostolic work visitation as a seminarian, I encountered Catholics who were no longer interested in going to church. I also found out that some Pentecostals were former Catholics. Some of the reasons for their choices were excessive contribution in the Church, little or no concern from the Catholic community when they had challenges even though they were active members, the character of the priests, and particularly among the women, marriage.
While studying religion in contemporary society in London, I researched on “Religious distance among post-migration blacks in Britain” for my thesis. Religious distance here indicates that an individual is somewhat withdrawn or has disaffiliated from the religious community. I based the questionnaire on the four aspects of religion that serve as a yardstick to gauge religiosity—religious belief, religious ritual, religious experience, and religious community.
To find people to interview, I joined London Black Atheists (now called Association of Black Humanists). To avoid distractions and ensure I got the undiluted message, I simply introduced myself as a postgraduate student at King’s College London without reference to my priestly identity. Indeed, I heard the undiluted messages 😊, but given the rules of ethnographic research as well as data privacy laws, I could not counteract any opinion.
My interviewees, who were of both genders, came from Nigeria, Angola, Ghana, and the Caribbean countries. They included atheists, agnostics, and those on the borderline The recorded interviews took place individually at their homes, at train stations, squares, and cafés.
I identified five reasons for religious distance among post-migration blacks. First, the illogicality of religion, that is, the apparent inability for religious truths to be proved scientifically, the contradictory nature of religious tenets, and the claim of each religious group to absolute truth. Regarding the last point, one of my interviewees said: “They can’t all be correct. If one is correct, then all others are wrong, which concludes that all of them are wrong”.
Second, the undesired propensities of religion such as the overemphasis on money and the hypocrisy of religious leaders. Hence, one of the interviewees said: “I am not going to church because I don’t want to go, but because I don’t want to see things that I don’t want to see”. Third, religion being a supporter of violence. Fourth, the erroneous presentation of Jesus as a white man with blue eyes, contrary to his Middle Eastern origin as well as the religious underpinning of colonialism and racism. Fifth, the lack of support from the religious community.
While the blacks I interviewed in London could stop being religious because the society largely takes care of scarcity, insecurity, and uncertainty, those in Nigeria may not do so because our society does not provide these. Yes, people may stop coming to Church, but they still believe in God. Some might continue coming for social reasons even when they no longer believe.
Two reasons appear in both research—the undesired propensities of religion and lack of support from the religious community. Are these two still existing in our beloved diocese?
As I have argued in the past, there is no best pastoral approach because no two situations or individuals are the same. However, we need to re-examine our over-emphasis on money, hypocrisy as religious leaders, and disinterest in the weaker members of our communities.
While we can never please everyone and some people will still go away no matter our good intentions or how we try, we should not actively increase their number by our actions and inactions.
May God continue to help us.🙏🏾