“A sin against a brother or sister is an offence against the gods.” – Akan proverb
Ever since Karl Marx, the German philosopher and economist, wrote in his work ‘A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right’ that “religion is the opium of the people”, many from the ancients and the moderns have sought to bastardise religion so that it can be hanged. It is the reason the advocacy for secularism is high on the agenda of every critic of religion. Within this hostile environment, it is not surprising religion is struggling to be resurrected from its authentic and most important element, the inculcation of a value system that empowers the individual, and subsequently the wider society to live meaningfully, purposefully and in harmony.
Many enlightened individuals know deeply that Karl Marx was not against religion per se, but against individuals and groups who had hijacked religion and continue to hijack it using it to pacify and immobilise the masses, rather than allowing them to genuinely express their spiritual belief. What he really meant by his quote was that mainstream religion was serving as a kind of appeasement that dulled the pain of the oppressed and allowed them to be exploited. He did not mean religion was bad.
Factually, his argument was not even against religious leaders. His was centred on the fact that the ruling class, the politicians of his time, had courted and hijacked religion and they were using it to provide false hope to the oppressed, promising them rewards in the afterlife, rather than addressing the real causes of their suffering in the present. By focusing on an otherworldly salvation, religion was being used to distract the masses from the injustices of the system and preventing them from taking action to change it.
Fast forward to our time, and not much has changed. Some of our religious leaders are in bed with the politicians and are using religion to dull the senses of the masses. Not only are they exploiting them economically, but they are suffocating the little hope that is also left in them. The higher ideals of religion is being endangered by narcissistic individuals and groups whose utterances and actions are destroying the very system they are taking advantage of. While their objective is to use religion to their advantage and enrich themselves, they do not realise that every time they do that they are in effect chipping away the integrity of religion. More and more people are being sceptical of God because of the increasing charlatanic activities in religion.
It is no secret that religion is attractive to narcissistic individuals. It is a platform where accountability is almost non-existent. How does one demand accountability from an individual who proclaims, “God says”? Few would dare to challenge their statement, and it is not for lack of courageous individuals, but their loyal following, who are often ignorant of religious knowledge, will defend them and their behaviour – even when it is questionable or harmful. It is the reason why throughout the history of our humanity, narcissists have used religion to promote their own views and assert their authority over others.
All it takes for a narcissist to become a leader is for them to acquire some quantum of religious knowledge, learn a few oratory skills and bam, they are in business. From there on, they may use their supposed superiority in religious knowledge to seek admiration and praise before they embark on the manipulation or exploitation of others. And since religious teachings can be interpreted in various ways, when the context is ignored, many imposters have used and continue to use religious texts or beliefs to validate their actions and beliefs – even when they are harmful to others.
Interestingly, it is easy to spot a religious imposter, except many of us have been cultured to be so afraid of God; we would not dare question anyone who comes in His name – that is where many of the challenges associated with religion come from. We have been taught that God is a mysterious and an all-powerful Being who transcends human understanding. Ideally, this notion should make us seekers of God. It should push us to question a lot more those who claim to represent Him. Rather, it is the opposite that happens. Too many of us are overwhelmed by the idea of a divine presence that is beyond our control or comprehension, so we would rather swallow everything God-related for fear of offending Him.
But that also stems from a conditioning where many have been made to believe that God is a strict Being who punishes those who do not do as He says. This notion, propagated more by ignorance rather than knowledge, continues to allow imposters to slip through the system being put up by well-intentioned religious leaders. Instead of the masses seeking God individually and personally to understand and appreciate His lovingness, they often entrust themselves into the hands of some other individuals who are good at creating a sense of anxiety or fear of divine retribution from God if the masses do not put up some moral behaviour or actions that are pleasing to Him.
We have had enough history to make us all want to prevent narcissists from making “religion the opium of the masses”. The way out of this is for us all to become seekers of knowledge about God. If we do not, we put ourselves, our children and our loved ones at risk of being manipulated and exploited by cunning individuals. At the very minimum, we can all attest to the commercialisation of religion in our time. We have the duty to halt this because it could become a huge craze and an even bigger platform for exploitation and manipulation. As the Christian Scripture puts it, “for lack of knowledge, my people perish”. The time has come for all of us not just to seek knowledge about God, but to also encourage deeper research about Him that would benefit us and our descendants…
Kodwo Brumpon is a partner at Brumpon & Kobla Ltd., a forward-thinking Pan-African management consultancy and social impact firm driven by data analytics, with a focus on understanding the extraordinary potential and needs of organisations and businesses to help them cultivate synergies that catapult into their strategic growth and certifies their sustainability.
Comments, suggestions and requests for talks and training should be sent to him at kodwo@brumponand kobla.com