Holy Ghost Fire!: The Role of Religion in the common African’s life

If you’re not Christian in Ghana, your Muslim. If you’re not Muslim, you’re a Traditionalist. If you’re not Traditionalist…well, there’s not much of an alternative? Religion in Ghana, as in Nigeria, is central to living, only slightly less important than air (that God gives to you.)

Does it mean we follow all the rules stated in the Good Book? No, of course not. We wouldn’t be the Third World if we did. As Ifemulu said, “[Churches are] full of 419 men.” And promiscuous men. And liars, thieves…you get the point.

However, religion remains nigh high in most people’s lives. Not nigh-ish, or nigh-to-my-family, but really, really nigh.

 It is the reason you could get married (page 419), have a job (Outline of “The devil is a liar to the Light at the End of the Tunnel ), get a visa (Chapter 8), or be healthy (page 44 “I did not study because I was sick and yet I passed my exams with flying colors! I had malaria and prayed over it and was cured! My cough disappeared as Pastor started praying!).

Of course, I believe in the power of God to do all things and He is the reason I am as blessed as I am today. I believe he specially anoints people’s callings, and thus anoints his pastors with the grace to speak His word. However, the length that the average Ghanaian, scratch that, the average Christian takes it to is ridiculous.

For example, I go to Action Chapel International Charismatic Church, much like Ifemulu’s final childhood church. My youth pastor once said as a joke: “In my house there is God the father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, and his Eminence The Archbishop Duncan Williams.”

Of course he was joking, but that sums up how many people see their pastors, or in this case ‘spiritual fathers’. It explains why Sister Ibindabo had such a respect and fear in the church, and why the silly little receptionist called on the power of her pastor, not on the power of God. (page 419 “Esther said, her voice earnest and low, “Ma? I think you have the spirit of husband-repelling…[But] my pastor can destroy that spirit.”)

Religion, specifically Christianity, plays a huge role in Americanah. However, it is not the aspect of whether or not God exists, but whether or not it’s worth putting up with his church. Thankfully, we can skip all the debate as to whether God exists and get down to the meat of the problem: If God is so wonderful, just, and perfect, why do the people who claim to follow Him suck so hard?

The Bible actually answers this question: most church-goers, as high and mighty as they are, do not have the most basic traits of a born-again Christian, the fruits of the Spirit: gentleness, long-suffering, self-control

In short they’re hypocrites. Of course they believe but, when they’re acting like church is just a place to show off, they are hypocrites. “When Sister Ibinabo was talking to Christie, with the poisonous spite she claimed was religious guidance, Ifemulu had looked at her and suddenly [saw]…a person who had to spread the cloak of religion over her own petty desires.”

It’s why I stopped pitying Kosi and respecting Ifemulu’s mother and humoring Ester. Christianity no longer was for them a way to salvation, but a way to complete their desires. It was a way to become “prosperous” and “virtuous”. It was an escape from reality. You know want really annoyed me about the Christians in Americanah?

They were dull.

They were plain.

They wished to remain ignorant.

And they were all women.

“Obinze feared she would grow up to be a woman who, with that word “amen”, would squash the questions she wanted to ask of the world.”

I hate how they think God wants their personalities muted, silenced; how they refuse to know anything beyond the ‘spiritual aspects’ of things; how they work tirelessly to ensure that they remain ignorant. I ask you, is ignorance the same thing as innocence? Or am I just mixing up their definitions?

Ifemulu’s mother seemed so vibrant and lively when we were first introduced to her. She was a beauty with long, flowing hair,”[ so] black-black, so thick it drank two containers of relaxer at the salon, so full it took hours on the hooded dryer, and when finally from the pink rollers, sprang free and full, flowing down her back like a celebration.”

And then, Christian reform happened, shown in the symbolic cutting of her hair. Her beautiful, unique hair. I like to believe that this was a metaphor for what her renewed love for her religion did to her: it stripped her of what made her. She became prickly, someone to avoid, someone not to tell the truth to. A wedge was formed between her and Ifemulu because of her fanatical worship, and,  because of said worship, she remained ignorant of her daughter’s personal life. I mean come on! You’re her mother and you could not notice how in love she was with Obinze until she entered college???

Ester is even more blinded by the ever shining light of religion than Ifemulu’s mother. At first, I found her amusing, if not enduring for her naivety and Christian jokes that remind me of how I relate to my friends. But, as time passed, it became increasing clear that because she was Christian, she had a ‘get out of reality free’ card. She was older than Ifemulu, but she was worrying whether Ifemulu would get married.  She did not worry that she had been given an unmarked drug prescription. She believed she would get promoted by fasting…with a magic handkerchief? Wha?

But Kosi takes the prize for the worst Christian archetype I have ever had the pleasure of reading.  She would be everything you want to be; beautiful, well-married, a glowing mother. And then she crushed every reason why the reader should side with her when she handled Obinze’s confession with guilt. Good old religious guilt. Granted, he was admitting to cheating on her, but she knew the whole time and said nothing to keep the peace!

As a Christian, I initially felt offended by these character archetypes, but with time I grew to understand how true they are. Although religion is presented as a crutch,  I don’t think religion is living Africa any time soon. I certainly hope it does not; for me and at least a billion other people, it makes life worth living.

Thanks for reading! Leave your ideas and comments in the comments section.

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