Why is there excessive religiosity in urban centers in Africa?


Ozodi Osuji

In Nigeria’s urban areas, such as Lagos, there is a Pentecostal church on every few blocks. People flock to these churches and pray their hearts out, begging God to give them wealth (which, of course, he will not give to them because God does not exist to give people what they ask of him). Whereas they beg God for money, their pastors ask them to pay several tithes during every church service so that he helps them beg good to give them wealth and they give him their money and he and his family use that money to live well and in the meantime the church goers are as poor as ever.
So, why are Africans flocking to these churches (in the Muslim parts of the continent they also flock to their mosques asking Allah to help feed them).
Let us pretend that we are writing a research paper and the topic is: why are there enormous religiosity in emerging African slums?
How do you do research? You observe a phenomenon, formulate a hypothesis as to why it exists, and then test out your hypothesis in an empirical study and if it checks out, viola, you have your answers and you write and submit your paper to a reputable academic journal and, hopefully, after peer review (by five professors in that field) they accept it and publish it.
I am not aiming at academic publication here although my essays, if formatted into academic writing styles, would be published by most academic journals. (If you are a graduate student or a young academic, I give you the permission to take my essays and format them to fit a particular academic journal and give it to them to publish for you.)
So, why are there too many churches in emergent Africa’s shanty towns, whereas in Europe the great Catholic, Anglican and Presbyterian and Lutheran cathedrals are almost always empty on Sundays and are these days mostly museum pieces for tourists to gaze at their magnificence (I have visited the major cathedrals of Britain, France, Germany, Italy and other parts of Europe; they are beautiful edifices of human construction; in them you actually feel peaceful and like you are in the presence of a higher power!).


Following research paradigm, let us go to a typical African urban center. Let us identify about one thousand people that we randomly selected and talk to them about their life circumstances.
The story that emerges from our observations and interactions with these people is that Africans mostly used to live in their traditional villages. These days, people are leaving their villages (African villages are now the abode of old, retired folk)) and flocking to urban areas.
If you are between age 18 and 70 and you are still in an African village, something is wrong with you. People simply leave their villages and troop to urban centers.
They have heard about the luxuries that can be obtained in the emerging cities and they want a part of it. Thus, they show up at relatives houses at these cities (when I was growing up at Lagos, people from my Owerri area, folks we do not know who they are, used to show up at our House at Lagos and shacked up with us; my mother fed them; my father tried to get them some laboring jobs and, hopefully, help them to go to vocational schools to learn useful trades, such as become mechanic, electrician, plumber, bricklayer, carpenter and so on).
People from African villages simply leave their village homes and go to urban areas and try to find jobs that they can make some income from.
Within a few months in urban centers, they learn that life in the city is not what they thought it was; not all that glitters is gold. Now, they have to go to work, if they can find work, for five or six days a week and work eight or more hours a day and at the end of the month, after paying their rent and other bills, seldom have enough money left to afford more than one good meal a day. If they have folks living in the Western world (North America and Europe) they beg them for money. One hundred dollars is enough to feed a Nigerian for two months.
These people are desperate people and live desperate lives.
And they cannot return to their villages because life in African villages is, these days, not much better than life in urban areas. Africa has entered full blown exchange economy; you need money to buy the goods and services you need to survive, and you are not going to get that money by living in your village where you are doing nothing; you might as well stay in the city and eke out a pathetic living.
In addition to their newfound poverty are many other issues that confront urban Africans. The urban area is impersonal and not like their villages where they knew everyone. In the city no one literally cares whether you lived or died; no one knows who you are; you may not be related to more than a few people in a city like Lagos; Lagos has over ten million people.
The first shock that confronts the new urbanite is that those he sees on the streets are not related to him and do not want to know who he is and certainly do not want to hear about his problems, for they have their own problems to deal with; they cannot help you with money and accommodation; you are on your own, swim or drown, that is your business and how you solve your problem is between you and your God.
In the urban areas, social and economic class is beginning to emerge; whereas in the village everyone is your seeming equal and friend, in the city those with money are now separated from the poor masses so you cannot just go to a man living in a big, fancy house and talk to him; his gateman would not even let you into his compound. You are not in his economic class; moreover, what preoccupies his mind is not what preoccupies your mind, so, neither of you really have much in common to talk about.
Thus, in urban areas folks have very few people to talk to and feel lonely. People do not know whether you are alive or dead, even if they live close to you, they do not care about your survival. Emile Durkheim, one of the founders of sociology, called this phenomenon anomie (maybe it was Auguste Comte who first employed the term anomie, I do not know for sure).
Thoughts of suicide occasionally fleet through poor city folk’s minds, to live or not to live? There is strong social injunction against suicide; besides, the will to live is very powerful in animals and people, a will to live that even disposes folks to tolerate been slaves instead of fighting and letting the slave masters either kill them or allow them to be free persons; therefore, you endure your fate, grind your teeth and soldier on, suffer in silence.
You get up at 4 AM and take shower, if you can, put on your work clothes, may be, eat two slices of bread dipped in a cup of tea or instant coffee and leave your room (in a rooming house) and trek to the nearest bus stop, catch a bus and take it to your job place. There are only a few public buses; what exists in great abundance are privately run minivans, molue, converted to a kind of taxi that charge people in them individually.
Your job place is only a few miles away, but it might take you two hours of bus ride to get to it; this is because the traffic congestion on Lagos streets is out of this world. By the time you get to work you are sweating like you just took a shower, the buses are not air conditioned, and it is still before 8 AM.
You do your job and undertake another two hours ordeal to get home. You get home and cook what you call your meal (perhaps, rice and stew, or soup and “eba” made of gari or pounded yam) and eat and go sit outside your rooming house, to get fresh air, have surcease from your hot room, your room has no air conditioning, of course. A few other people are outside, and you and they shoot breezes, vent on how the government is not helping anyone with any handouts (in the meantime, you seldom pay your taxes and only God knows where your government is supposed to get the money to do all that poor people expect their governments to do for them).
Life is a bummer, you live in pain, suffer and then you die! The recently relocated villager now in the city, is suffering tremendous psychological pain and sees no way out; he prays that he is not sacked by his employers and takes whatever abuse they dish out to him and tries to smile (and when he gets home he displaces his anger at his boss to whoever is around him, to especially his spouse and children and make life intolerable for them).


On his way to and from work, the urbanite African passes several churches; he sees people inside them singing, dancing, and praying to their understanding of God (none of us has seen God so whatever we say about him is our projection of our thoughts to him, God is our mental construct and not self-evident), asking him for material abundance. The hungry man prays for food and sees food everywhere he looks at.
Our new urbanite is tempted to check out the storefront church on his street. He gives in to the temptation and drops into one of those churches and participates in their singing, dancing, and worshipping God.
The pastor welcomes him to the fold of chomps, suckers, and passes the tithing basket to him; he is told to make sure that every month he puts ten percent of his monthly earning into the tithing basket; money that he had planned to buy food with.
Soon, going to his church becomes an addiction; he goes on Sundays (10 AM to 12 PM) and two or three evenings during the week; the pastor got him hooked to praying to his nonexistent God and he is now his slave working for his upkeep. In Nigeria, the most lucrative careers are to be a politician or a pastor; these people rip off the suffering masses, big time.


Praying to his nonexistent God, singing, and dancing enables the African church goer to offload his charged emotions; unless he does so he is going to have heart attack, stroke, or diabetes, or kill someone out of his frustration of living in the suffering land of urban Africa.
Thus, going to church serves a positive function for the urban African, it makes him relatively relaxed and happy; besides, he now has people that he can talk to, his fellow worshippers. He is now a slave of God and his pastor.


In the meantime, the new urbanite notices that third generation urbanites, those whose parents were born in urban areas, and they themselves are born in urban areas, seldom go to churches. Instead, they go to school, study at nearby secondary schools and universities (Nigerians pay to go to elementary and secondary schools). They go to libraries to read books, and not waste their time talking to nonexistent gods to help them. They know that the only way that they are going to be helped is to acquire marketable job skills, have jobs and get paid; they have no time to waste on the hustlers called African pastors (they themselves might even be pastors relieving their poor flock of their hard-earned money).
I dropped out of church going from about age fourteen; I was compelled to read the bible and read all of its 66 books and asked questions, such as: if Adam and Eve were the first people created by God and they had only boy children where did the boys wives come from, and if the central teaching of Jesus Christ is love God, love your neighbor as you love you, and do unto other persons as you want them to do to you, how come most of the people are screwing their neighbors?
Jesus asked his followers to forgive one another their wrongs, who in my world is forgiving those who harmed them? I did not see any forgiving people around me; I saw folks bearing grievances for any little wrong done to them, seeking maximum vengeance and revenge for those wrongs.
Add to these issues the Christian contention in Genesis that God created the world in six days, whereas at the Central library of Lagos, at Broad Street, I read Charles Darwin’s book, Origin of Species and it contended that we evolved from lower animals to where we are today, predatory animals who enjoy enslaving and or killing their kind. Darwin’s realism made loads of sense to me.
I experienced cognitive dissonance, to believe in God or science; I resolved that conflict by choosing science and said goodbye to my inherited Catholic Church (but the Church did not say goodbye to me; my moral values are shaped by Catholicism; for example, I am, without reason, opposed to abortion and homosexuality).


African urban areas are the abode of lost and or confused souls; churches offer these suffering mass of humanity some false hope that the future will be bright hence life is worth living. These lost folks’ troop to their churches; whereas churches in Europe are deserted and empty, churches in Africa are full to the brim.
Christianity, if that is what we call these African syncretic churches (they mix European Christianity and African traditional beliefs) is growing fastest in Africa (and in the poor areas of Central and South America and in the inner-city ghettos of North America).
This situation is not soon going to change; the only way that Africans are going to stop flocking to these Christian churches is when they have good education (graduation from universities) become middle class, have good incomes, and depend on themselves for survival and not depend on the charlatans called pastors to mediate between them and nonexistent gods.
In the minds of most Africans of today are cognitive dissonance, the struggle of two world views, or, as our German friends call it, weltanschauungs: Africans inherited culture and the culture that Europeans gave to them; culture includes religion; culture is a way of adapting to the exigences of the world one is born in. The rational African resolves the cognitive conflict by embracing the scientific culture and discards African culture. African culture was weak otherwise European culture would not have easily defeated it and ruled Africa. The modern African must discard both African and European cultures and embrace the scientific methodological approach to phenomena, what I call scientific culture; one must face every situation by asking: how would science ask me to face it?


The denizens of African urban shanty towns are stressed beyond measure; their lives are hell on earth and there seems no way out.
The thieves who call themselves African leaders are similar to their recent ancestors that used to raid villages and capture their people and sold them to Arabs and latter to Europeans; for over two thousand years Africans were selling their people and thus made their people live in intense fear of been captured and sold into slavery, and the slave sellers developed hard heartedness.
Contemporary African leaders transferred their ancestors’ amoral behavior patterns to their modern setting and do not care for their people. Their approach to governing is to steal from the national treasury, to become rich while their people are starving. It is your problem if you are poor not the government’s problem (sooner or later, the masses will rise and begin chopping off the heads of their rulers so that eventually they learn that people must care for each other if there is to be peace in society).
In some essays I delineated my ideal political economy, a mixed capitalist and socialist economy; clearly, capitalism is the most productive economy there is in the extant world, so let people pursue their individual interests and make money but take up to 33% of their annual income in taxes, and use that revenue to provide all children with publicly paid education through university and vocational schools and provide all people with publicly paid healthcare and thereafter leave people to shift for themselves (any public official who steals public funds ought to be shot dead).
It is not for other people to keep you alive; Herbert Spencer and his Social Darwinism has useful points.
In the meantime, the dwellers of African shanty towns are hungry, frustrated and most of them see no way out of their penurious situation.
Some of them seek refuge in alcohol, drugs, and sex. They drink a lot of beer (there are breweries in practically every city in Nigeria) and the young ones are increasingly gravitating to drugs like cigarette smoking, marijuana smoking, heroin, cocaine and amphetamines; Latin American drug barons are only too happy to sell drugs to them (Nigeria is a center from which these unscrupulous Latinos ship their drugs to Europe).
Those with little money engage in having frequent sexual intercourse. Sex relaxes folk’s bodies so the few men who can afford it not only have more than one wife but have what they call side chicks. All that they are doing is using sex as therapy, as a means of relaxing the tension in their bodies; of course, they do not love and care for their sexual partners.
They have sex with all kinds of people and, as expected, many of them contract sexual transmitted diseases like Gonorrhea, Syphilis, Herpes, HIV Aids at alarming rate.
Some of them, the dafter ones, talk about returning to polygamy because, as they see it, their ancestors had polygamy (wrong, polygamy was not as common in Africa as contemporary Africans talk about, I have done a retroactive analysis of my ancestors in the last three hundred years to the 1700s, and they were the most powerful people in their town, and each of them had just one wife! No Osuji-Njoku marries more than one wife; in the present if you even think about having more than one wife or girlfriend the kindred ask you to knock it off; we practice one wife and a few children per family; family planning is not a white folk’s imposition on Africans, as stupid Africans claim; rational Africans have always practiced it).
Do you want to have many wives and many children? Are there not already too many people in Africa? Nigeria allegedly has 200 million people, in a country that is about the size of California or Texas, and’ about half the size of Alaska and Alaska has less than a million people. You want to increase your already overpopulated country, how are you going to feed them?
Do you pray to God to feed them for you? Since when has God fed the people that you know of other than the stupidity of praying to nonexistent gods to help you. You produce too many children that you cannot provide for, and you believe that that is right?
Do you want them to trek across the Sahara Desert and enter Arab North Africa and let Arabs in Libya enslave them, sell them to work at Arab farms and for some of them to try to cross the Mediterranean Sea and enter Europe? Many of them are drowning in that body of water and soon Europeans will revert to their Neanderthal nature and shoot at the boats carrying the modern African slaves to Europe and drown the people in them rather than have them enter their own overcrowded countries.
Listen, no rational man should have more than one wife and no more than two children that he plans to train until they graduate from universities and or technical schools; if you cannot do so then do not produce children; having children is not a right, you bring children to the world to take care of them, not for them to come and suffer and in your old age you ask them to support you. No, they should not support you, you ought to be punished for bringing them into the hellish life that is contemporary African life.
Can you imagine the criminals in government in Africa giving their people pensions, no, they would rather steal all the available money in the land, than provide any kind of social safety programs for the people; having stolen all their people’s wealth and mismanaged their economies they blame Westerners for their people’s suffering.
The people become angry at the West for screwing them via neocolonialism instead of at the comprador African leaders that have enslaved them.
All said, life in contemporary urban Africa, and increasingly in African villages, is hellish; the people are living under tremendous physical and psychological tension. They need tension reduction or burst, explode from the tension built inside their bodies.
Trooping into churches and mosques and praying to nonexistent Gods is therapeutic for them; such actions enable them to release their tensions.
What is the alternative to praying to God? At this point in Africa’s evolution, one cannot see an alternative to what African folks are doing, going to churches, and yelling to non-existent gods to help them.
The alternative is to seek knowledge, study philosophy, the physical sciences and technology, and psychology. Those are not readily available to the marginal literates of urban Africa; therefore, one concludes that we must leave the people to keep doing what they are doing because it is helpful to them. The process of modernization, in about two hundred years, will industrialize Africa, produced middle class folks and those seek different ways to reduce their tensions and make their lives pleasurable and tolerable.


There is God, all right but it is not what most people construe him to be. God is life and intelligence; he is in each of us, animals, trees and in everything (see my metaphysical writings; I hate to give my writing credibility by referring them to my background; for what it is worth, let me say that my kindred, the UmuAmadioha, are the traditional high priests of Amadioha; as a born high priest, I know a few things about African religions that the typical African does not know; therefore, if I may suggest, you ought to pay attention to what I say on spiritual matters, it is up to you!).
God is not our servant who sits there waiting for us to ask him to do something for us and he does it with alacrity. It is us who can help ourselves with the life and intelligence of God in us; other people and a God perceived to be external to us cannot help us survive. God is in us as our highest self, the point where all of us are unified as one shared spirit self is the God in us.
One should be in alignment with God and since God is love, one should love one’s self, love all people and love God and in doing so live in peace and joy.
The idealistic part of me wishes that there is a magical wand that I can wave and improve the lot of African urbanites but the realistic part of me know that a rational person should not build castles in the air.
The study of industrialization, which began in England around 1746 when James Watt invented the steam engine, shows us that with the emergence of factories in England, factory towns came into being and the peasants of England left their villages to go work in the urban centers (Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool and so on). In these towns factory owners, now called capitalists, exploited the workers mercilessly, worked them for twelve hours a day, paid them pittance and had no improved working conditions; folks died before age forty. Indeed, children were worked in these dreadful conditions and many of them died before they got to adulthood.
All you must do to know about nineteenth century England is read Charles Dickens novels and see what happened to people: starving, and raggedly clad folks and looking for food (remember Olive Twist asked for more food in the book of his name?).
If you are the intellectual type, then do what I did in my early twenties, read up on communist writers, read Fourier, Proudhon, Rosa Rosenberg, Robert Owen, Bakunin, V.I. Lenin, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Engels. These good folks were reacting to the suffering of the masses in the factories and urban towns of England.
The phenomenon of industrialization spread to France, Germany, and the USA in the 1830s; the other parts of Europe industrialized more recently. Russia was not industrialized until the twentieth century; Russians are actually still peasants in their mental attitude to life; they still look to their lords, Boyars, to tell them what to do hence expect to be ruled by autocrats like the paranoid, psychopathic mass murderer called Vladimir Putin; they were emancipated from serfdom only in 1862. Spain and Portugal are not industrialized, yet, and that is reflected in their excessive religiosity!
Africa must go through the process of industrialization and the experience the dislocation people go through as they go from living in bucolic and quaint villages to living in the dreadful slums of urban areas. Africans must suffer what they must suffer.
However, with good political leadership the people’s suffering can be ameliorated and alleviated. Still, life is not going to be heaven on earth.
Do not let any religious charlatan tell you that the earth is going to be heaven, it isn’t going to be (read Voltaire making fun of religionists in his satire, Candide).
Human beings are born to suffer but can improve their lives through seeking knowledge, through science and technology but not by praying for it.
Praying to God is primitive folk’s psychotherapy, civilized folks have other ways to improve their lives other than praying to nonexistent gods.
Look, I am not saying that there is no God. I am agnostic and suspect that God exists but not as we construe him to be.
To me, God is our highest self. If we love one another and work for the good of one another we are living according to our best nature and can call that living according to the will of God in us. If we see ourselves as separated from each other and exploit each other we are egoistic and selfish; in religious terminology when we live selfish lives we are under the guidance of Satan (he is not a person but a way of thinking and behaving that does not serve pubic good).
It is all up to us what we do with our lives and our society, to live for the self only or to live to serve social interest. I choose the latter and urge you to do so. But I cannot choose for you; but do remember that you and your people take the consequences of your choice.
Africa is poor because most Africans live wicked and self-centered lives.


I wrote this material this morning and put it aside; later during the day I went back to it and it took me about an hour to read it. Therefore, set an hour aside to read this essay; thereafter, reflect on what it says. They say that the best way to hide information from Africans is to put it in writing and that they would not read it (they prefer to read a few lines but write half a page or more and they will not touch it).

Ozodi Osuji
January 22, 2023

You can reach Dr Osuji at:
(907) 310-8176

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