If we stand on the principle that we are all hardwired for religion whereby we believe in the existence and power of a Supreme Deity and subordinate deities, we should ask what the essence of all the effort and trouble is. From the Christian angle the book of Matthew 22 verses 36-40 appear to summarize the essence of that religion. A lawyer asked Jesus a simple but deep question: which is the greatest law? Jesus answered: love of God and one’s neighbour. “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (THB). Now, if this idea is expanded, the entire essence of Christianity and indeed all religions come alive.

First, law should be seen in this context as representing the body of principles and procedures which govern human societies. Wherever human groupings have existed, the need for controls have always existed because life is “nasty, brutish, and short” as British philosopher Thomas Hobbes held. Meanwhile all human animals (we are in the class ‘animalia’) are hardwired to be brutish. Have you ever felt your muscles contract and expand when your mind deliberates on an annoying case? You wish you could remove the teeth of say a law enforcement officer who, based on his or her brutish instincts, ill-treated you.

 Governments from antiquity were set up to keep human beings alive, well, free, and to ensure their hard-earned properties are protected because fellow human beings have the tendency to kill and to destroy. All human societies therefore have traditions, mores, processes, and procedures to keep the society functioning and to provide facilities and situations for the wellbeing of all. Laws include religious observances and thoughts and of all these, Jesus said the central issue is love of the Supreme Being. Love of the Supreme Being can be interpreted and stretched to mean knowing and doing all the things which are in accordance with what is good and pleasing to the Supreme Being.

The concept of ‘prophet’ implies those select persons who serve the Supreme Deity and the lesser deities (yes, we claim monotheism, but the Bible recognizes the existence of principalities and powers or gods and base earth beings with paranormal powers).

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The second leg of the argument of Jesus stood on love of neighbour as ourselves. If you love your neighbour such person should not be hungry when you are well fed. At the beginning of Rotary, the theme was that a Rotarian is someone who can afford three square meals a day and is willing to let go one. The operative word there was sacrifice. Love of neighbour means someone who has clothes should not standby to watch another person walk naked. It means the child of a neighbour whose parents cannot afford exercise books in the assumed “free education” system should not be home because of inability to secure exercise books and writing materials. I came across a case just two weeks back.

Thus the ‘law’ as we conceive of above says it is wrong to see a hungry person (all human beings are our neighbours) and say “Be well” instead of giving the person food. Churches, their leaders and members as a routine say, “It is well with you,” or “You are blessed” yet do not offer something real to ease pain. This is why I appreciate the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star as a religious organization. They always emphasize feasts and brotherly love. Most churches emphasize “substantial giving” and tithes which reach few in the church hierarchy if not the leaders and their families alone. I hear the old school Qua Iboe Church at 2 Olu Obasanjo Road, Uyo has a well-structured program for training of youths and empowerment generally. My church, like the 99% of others, does not have any. I submit that a tiny helping hand to the needy is a thousand times better and fetches more blessings than 40 days of fasting and prayers.

Has any super rich businessperson or politician or church leader in Nigeria ever thought of soup kitchens? Rather, they buy private jets of which the parking fees per month can run a soup kitchen to provide one meal a day to the super poor. Some, church leaders buy long trucks to convey the members of the church to religious functions to enable them drop offering and tithes and levies for the church leader. The vehicles should remind us of trucks which carry workers to construction sites. Meanwhile in the case of workers they will earn income. In the case of church members, they spend sometimes non-existent income! Imagine borrowing money to sow seed!!

We can see the blend and synergy in the words of Jesus: the real essence of religion is to love God and the most important way is to love one’s neighbour.

This Sunday therefore ask yourself whether you can say you have carried through the essence of Christianity. How many distressed people have you assisted since January 1 this year? Why should you assign all duties to government and yet be in church and mosque for observances when the essence of religion sits far away from your heart and pocket?  Is there any child of the poor who has received ordinary pencil from you? School fees? Books? School uniform? How many people have you bought chloroquine to help them manage malaria? Agreed the combined 10% of the salaries of National Assembly members for research and development of antimalarial vaccines can stop malaria but the members have no such heart. Waiting for them is like Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot.”

Churches, what programs do you have to empower youths and your struggling members? Do you keep preaching against stealing and prostitution in youths when your children chose and pick foods and schools while the children of the poor barely survive? Indeed, judgement will start in the church because we focus on issues at the fringe of religious essence and neglect the issues at the heart of religion. A youth who has basic food to eat, attends school and is sure of a job on graduation need not steal or be involved in kidnapping or prostitution. Sweeping statement? Yes, and it falls in line with the position of Socrates who held that bad behaviour including crime results from ignorance. Standing on such sweeping assumption he proposed education for all. Whether all educated people behave well is not the issue. The worst behaved people in Nigeria are in fact the educated ones but Socrates needed a platform to stand and recommend the concept of education for all. In this wise I propose that economic wellbeing can stop behaviours that are anti-societal.

Morality is to a large extent an offspring of socioeconomic well-being. Even at the danger of being guilty of the fallacy of generalization, one can assert that a well-nourished person is a moral person (where nourishment is all encompassing to include the basics of food, clothing, housing, education, health, and a job – the United Nations Development Program’s concept of human development index).  The privileged therefore have the duty to protect the underprivileged from temptations associated with want. Assistance should be carried through within the resources of the well to do, that is, without having to impoverish self and family. A right balance is a simple rational activity.

Let us conclude this part by reminding ourselves of the words of Jesus in Matthew 25 verses 31 to 40. Those to be blessed are the persons who saw hungry people and gave them food; who gave clothes to the naked; who treated the sick that were unable to treat themselves, and so on. Some people insist they cannot do anything for anyone unless they have something to benefit (at the level of nations I put China in this group). But benefits derivable from assisting others are in several cases indirect and psychological. A smile from the heart by a child to a kind person cannot be measured in silver and gold. It lifts the spirit of the giver and compels God to bless the giver. Can you bless one poor person today with something concrete not just with “Be well”?

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