Over the decades, I have grown with my faith and religion. My thoughts about it have changed in response to the changing landscape.
Being a Christian for 31 years, and in the ministry as a pianist, youth and adult cell leader, and even leading in songs and writing plays for the church, I have experienced a fair bit about the spiritual and organised side of religion.
Over the years, I have never stopped reading, learning and understanding this religion of mine.
I have written about it in my blog, questioned the divine about his intervention and non-intervention, empathised with Him on the seemingly intractable responsibility He holds as the universe's divine maestro balancing all things good and evil, and shed tears in prayers and fasting in the past.
The adventures and misadventures in my religion have been quite a journey.
At most times, I considered myself as a defender of the faith. I used to enjoy mingling with hardcore atheists and cross "theodicy" swords with them over the existence of God.
And here's a secret about dealing with the hardcore atheists...ready? The secret is, to start by asking questions, and never launch off with a mouth-spew of what the Bible says.
To them, quoting the Bible is a non-starter. They neither believe what you say or what you have to say about what the Bible has to say. The moment you sprout scriptures to them in a pharisaical way, they turn on their switch off mode.
Somehow, our annoying certainty as believers in the face of disjointed reality irks them to the core.
But dealing with the atheists is not the hard part. And over the years, I find less meaning doing so. Not surprisingly, some have become less robust in their so-called sword-fights or verbal exchanges.
However, that does not mean they are more open to the message. On the contrary, they have grown from being dismissive to being apathetic about it.
Of course, there are those who are sincerely touched by the message of Calvary. But there are many others who are genuinely disillusioned.
They are disillusioned for many reasons. For example, I spoken to one or two law interns and they told me that the City Harvest affair was their main "meh" moments - so to speak.
I guess if I can pin it down to one thing about today's mega-church movement, it would have to be the prosperity, live-it-up aspect of the belief. In other words, it is the promissory side of organised religion that has caused many to walk away in disgust.
To me, Christianity has become a promise-some belief. I use that word "promise-some" in the same way someone would use words like "wearisome", "troublesome" and "burdensome".
Here's what I mean.
If you look at churches that are growing today in the thousands, they exist only about handful. And they are honey-potting the faith to the max. Their names are familiar to any churchgoer and embracer of the faith.
If you pigeonhole them into neat categories, they come under the following unmistakable charismatic umbrellas: the healing church, the prosperity church, and the signs and wonders church.
They are the fastest growing churches in the religious belt of any country. They are what many would call the culturally relevant churches. More relevantly, they are promises-galore churches that most of the time hook people up on the intravenous drip of outstanding hope and blessed fortune.
Apart from the eternal hope, the one that makes the things of the earth to grow strangely dim, these churches psyche the people up with the earthly trinity of immediate healing, instant prosperity and inviting signs and wonders.
They are more like the great attraction than the Great Commission, and trust me, when you puff it up, they will come, and they will come in droves.
It is like the believers are each given a golden ticket to hold close to their chest, waiting in anticipation (or, as most would like to call it, in faith) for that big win of that promised healing, wealth and wonders.
Of course, some would strike it big with their petitioned divinity; yet others, mostly in the majority, would strike out, and live most of their life in the self-deluded bubble of what I call the "promise-some" hope.
Alas, before Jesus left for Calvary, he reminded us of adversity, trials and temptations. He painted no blue skies, calm waters or serene horizons for us. He in fact told us to count the cost. For life is trouble, as surely as sparks will fly upwards.
But Jesus did not stop there. He ended it in triumph by assuring us that he has overcome, so shall we.
But the culturally relevant churches are sending a different message today; a more finessed/moderated one. In my view, it is a brochured message where we are instantly invited into a holiday of faith once we cross the redemption threshold at the altar.
The people are told that Jesus has already done the heavy lifting for them, and they are therefore called into Eden-lux living, expecting that all their earthly troubles will settle themselves somehow as long as they keep believing, trusting and hoping.
Let me caveat that there is nothing wrong with keeping the belief, trust and hope. But the issue is that these glittering preachers make the faith so one-dimensional, so devoid of or separated from the everyday reality that their congregation have to confront once the soul-rousing sermon ends on Sunday.
Things are often not what they seem, and this is not because they do not have enough faith, trust or hope, or a combination of them. No way Hosea.
The reality is, there is an unnerving disconnect between the promises dished out in these churches and the life the believers live outside of the church.
These preachers are forgetting that we are not energizer bunnies that they conveniently wind up during sermon time so that we may charge out of the church door to a song-and-dance routine for the rest of the week. I therefore feel that there is a reality-distortion field in some of these churches.
Anyway, didn't the wise man of old once said, "It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart"? This is not a call to put on sackcloth and sprinkle ashes on one's head. It is a call to confront reality with the Cross before us, moving forward in faith and hope, and not hide behind it in a dreamy state of belief, deluding ourselves with one day striking the big ticket blessings.
In fact, this biting irony seems to escape most who sit on the pew to take in the "hook, line and sinker" of the Sunday sermon. And it is this, you will note that the only confirmed recipients of prosperity are the leading advocates of the health and wealth gospel. They are the ones reaping it in, that is, pressed down, shaken together, and running over on their lap.
If you want the stats, just look at the prosperity preachers from across the Atlantic to the ones nestled cozily up here. They are without a doubt the full and true beneficiaries of the blessed prosperity that they holler about from the comfort of their pulpit.
They preach about material blessings, and they are living in mansions and driving fast cars. They preach about overcoming, and they live in financial victory, very much insulated from money woes because of the retirement wealth they have gathered up for themselves. And they preach about believing big because their God is a big God, and they are definitely living it up with every word that comes forth from their mouth.
So, this brings me back to the disillusionment of atheists in general (and even some believers). The trouble is that they can't really tell these churches apart from the corporate world anymore. We have lost them on the issue of authenticity, that is, the line is blurred between professing that one is in the world but not of the world and living that profession out not just in words but action.
In fact, one of the megachurch pastors of late even compared the running of his church to the running of secular companies. I guess the modus operandi is indistinguishable.
It is mainly about keeping the numbers quota up, dishing out what they want to hear, exciting the masses with carnival-like programs, demonstrating some mysterious awe and wonders here and there, and letting the cash pile up in the church coffer under the control of a handful, or worse, one.
I therefore can't really blame the atheists for their antipathy to the faith, or at least their reservation about it. To some extent, they may just have good reasons to keep organised religion at bay.
Let me end with the words of Malcolm Muggeridge, the famed satirist, who once said:-
“If God is dead, somebody is going to have to take his place. It will be megalomania or erotomania, the drive for power or the drive for pleasure, the clenched fist or the phallus, Hitler or Hugh Hefner.”
And for some organised religion, the drive may just be the same as what Malcolm had described...only the disguise is more sacred. Cheerz.