• Thursday, April 18, 2024
businessday logo

BusinessDay

The role of religion in governance

The role of religion in governance

One must first start by quoting the Nigerian Constitution, which declares it a secular state. This principle, according to the Oxford Lexicon, dictates the separation of the state from religious institutions. The National Secular Society (United Kingdom) gives a fuller definition and describes it as having three components:

1. separation of religious institutions from state institutions and a public sphere where religion may participate but not dominate.

2. freedom to practise one’s faith or belief without harming others, or to change it or not have one, according to one’s own conscience.

3. equality, so that our religious beliefs or lack of them doesn’t put any of us at an advantage or a disadvantage.

The crux of this is that a secular country does not have an official religion. This is contrary to what is obtained in some other nations of the world that were either founded on or later officially adopted a specific faith. For instance, the United Kingdom, Denmark, and Zambia are a few of the officially Christian nations, just as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran are some of the nations that have Islam as their state religion.

Having established that Nigeria is constitutionally a secular state and taking a cue from the National Secular Society’s (UK) definition of what secularity means, one may not be wrong to conclude that religion should play no role in government, but evidence from various countries across the world says otherwise. The founding fathers of the United States of America were practising Christians, and they founded the country on Christian values, but according to the nation’s Constitution, it is a secular state.

The Constitution specifically states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Article Six of the Constitution goes further to say that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the United States.” Having said all this, however, in practice, the United States government has always been guided by Christian principles, as have many other Western nations. So, in this sense, one can say that religion plays a crucial role, perhaps not in government per se but surely in governance.

Despite the country’s secular state, I will venture to say that Nigerians are some of the most religious people in the world. In the southern part of the country, almost every other building houses a church, and the story in the northern part of the country is not much different; mosques abound. Unfortunately, our religiosity has not yet translated to godliness, as evidenced by the quality of successive leadership and the horrendous state of Nigerian society. It may well be true that most of the developed nations of the world are less ardent about religion now than they used to be.

A case in point is in the United States, where there have been growing anti-religious sentiments in the last few years. However, what is also true is that over the years, many of these developed nations have embedded many of the principles of God in the rules and ethos by which they live. The governments have adopted these godly principles and instilled them as national ideologies, and that is why their society will continue to progress even if their citizens do not attend church every Sunday or call seven-day national fasts.

It is not a fluke that the average life expectancy in these nations is far higher than that of recalcitrant, underdeveloped nations like ours. Successful governments all over the world have one thing in common: They relentlessly pursue the common good. Wisely, they align their value system with God’s enduring principles, and it shows. A government that cares enough for its people to ensure life is worth living is governed by God’s principles.

In these developed countries, you may not see the “givers never lack” stickers that we have become used to seeing on every other vehicle here in Nigeria; nevertheless, the governments provide social safety nets for their people by “feeding them when they were hungry… and clothing them when they were naked (Matthew 25:35–40), beautifully exemplifying one of God’s cornerstone principles, compassion. Doing the right things will produce the right results, and living by God’s principles of equity and social justice will reduce the manic search for instant miracles. In well-run societies, testimonies given in church are very different from what we usually hear here. One would be hard-pressed to hear anyone testify that he or she has just bought a brand new car. Such a thing is a given in a society that works.

In societies where God’s principles uphold justice and righteousness, treat others as one would want to be treated, give unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar (by paying one’s taxes), and love one’s neighbour as oneself, prosperity is altogether guaranteed. Without recourse to holding endless vigils and casting out demons, once one has a reasonable source of income, things like paying school fees on time (if education isn’t already free) and owning one’s house become a fait accompli.

In such a society, they recognise that the miracle indeed abides in the principle, and prosperity responds to an enabling environment, which these principles provide. A nation where injustice reigns and religion is worn as a garb rather than a way of life is doomed to stagnate, or worse, regress.

Changing the nation, one mind at a time