At least one reason we Nigerians go to church is the same reason we go to the beer parlour- there isn’t much else to do. Church is the Sunday morning equivalent of the beer parlour on Friday and Saturday nights.
We are not generally big on hobbies; we don’t do hunting or hiking or stamps collection that white people and the idle rich religiously engage in. Our religion is hope or disremembrance and we practice it with a passion. The men go and drown their sorrows on Friday; their wives go and complain to God about them on Sunday, and so the cycle continues.
Or used to. These days the economy appears to have woken up a giant that had been asleep so long that it must have been thought to be dead. There is trouble in the paradise pentecostal pastors have built for themselves and the disquiet is growing daily.
The grumble this time has emerged from the least likely quarters – on air personality Ifedayo Olarinde , better known as Freeze or Daddy Freeze who has insisted that the payment of tithes to churches is illegal not only secularly but spiritually as well.
Earlier in the year a phenomenon known as Hallelujah Challenge had millions of the faithful staying up night after night, gaining so much traction that CNN and other international media agencies followed its progress.
Two things are clearer now than ever before. One is that Nigeria is divided along religious lines more sharply than we had thought. The other is that whether it be the brewery or the church, when it has to do with money, people pay attention.
While the intellectual basis for a debate on tithes appears nonexistent, there is more than enough financial basis. Whole industries have been built around our churches, featuring the same paraphernalia as you would see in show business. The setup is basically the same. Minor celebrities take the stage to start with, heating up the crowd and building up the excitement. When the hour has come and the crowd is salivating , the superstar steps on to the stage – the one for whom the majority came for the show in the first place. The crowd is ecstatic.
Like the super star celebrities, like the super star ‘men of God‘. The stage is set and the lesser ‘men of God’ parade it. The excitement is built up gradually until the super star ‘man of God’ appears in a blaze of glory. The goal is the same – to persuade fans or rahter the faithful to part with their hard earned and not so hard earned money through glib talk and suave persuation.
The most prominent pastors have lent their voices to the tithes debate, not least because they take the most funds in. Today, certain churches own or have stolen more real estate than many industries, and they feel entitled to it. And while individuals reserve the right to give to any cause about which they are persuaded , this is not as much a matter for individuals as it is about the collective and about society.
If our holy books are available to be consulted, the controversy around church financing ought to be navigated with a lot more clarity than presently being done, including even the emotional bits. The fact that dogma and cynicism are the only things driving the tithes debate says a lot about us as a people; and the fact that all the tithing has not changed our finances as a nation shows how individualistic we all are.
The trouble, where the against camp is concerned, is not as much the taking of tithes as the basis for which it is demanded and paid. The humongous takings recorded by these places of worship might be used to further any objectives for which the givers gave them,and it would be nobody‘s business as such. The main concern really should be that such a massive pool of resources is not only untaxed, but mostly unregulated to boot. What this means is that the people to which these sums are entrusted possess a great deal of unmerited power wich they can and actually do as they please.
The simple solution to that of course is to tax the ones who cannot prove that they are charities; but would that happen? Maybe sooner than we think.