64. Safeguarding our authority and faith—Religious distance
64. Safeguarding our authority and faith—Religious distance

64. Safeguarding our authority and faith—Religious distance

Last week, I began the religious reason we must safeguard our authority. Today’s post is on religious distance, which entails that an individual is somewhat withdrawn from religious beliefs, rituals, and experiences or has disaffiliated from the religious community.

During apostolic work visitation as a seminarian between 2004 to 2012, I encountered many Catholics who were no longer interested in coming to church. I also found out that some Pentecostals were former Catholics. Their reasons included excessive financial contributions to 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 in 2017, I researched “Religious distance among post-migration blacks in Britain” for my thesis. 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 the “Association of Black Humanists” [1]. I simply introduced myself as a postgraduate student at King’s College London, without reference to my priestly identity. I heard the undiluted content against religion and the Church, but given the rules of ethnographic research and 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 cafes. One of the Nigerian interviewees was a former Catholic Eucharistic minister, and another Nigerian had wanted to be a Catholic priest.

I identified five reasons for religious distance among post-migration blacks. The first is 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”.

The third reason is that religion is a supporter of violence. The fourth is the erroneous presentation of Jesus as a white man with blue eyes contrary to his Middle Eastern origin and the religious underpinning of colonialism and racism. The fifth is the lack of support from the religious community.

While the blacks I interviewed in London could stop being religious because 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 studies—the undesired propensities of religion and the lack of support from the religious community. Are these two still existing today? Your guess is good as mine.

No doubt, 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 weak 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.

Ka Chineke mezie okwu🙏🏾


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