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Saturday, April 13, 2024

Is Health Really Wealth? Why Nigerians Trust in Faith and Prayer – By Matthew Ma



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“Sickness is an intricate and diverse phenomenon that can impact individuals from all backgrounds and demographics, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. It can affect anyone, from the Pope to Bishops, Priests, Pastors, or Evangelists. Various factors, such as genetics, viral or bacterial infections, chronic illnesses, unhealthy habits, and exposure to environmental pollutants, can contribute to its onset. Many people believe that religious faith can cure any sickness, but even the Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church, seeks medical care when necessary. This serves as a reminder that we are all human and susceptible to illnesses. Access to healthcare is a fundamental human right, and our religious beliefs should not prevent us from seeking medical attention.”

Nigeria is a country that is well-known for its deep religiosity, with a majority of its population identifying as either Christian, Muslim, or traditional. Despite significant advancements in science and technology, many Nigerians continue to rely heavily on faith and prayer to address their problems and challenges. This has led to a long-standing debate about the role of religion in the country, especially when it comes to issues such as healthcare, which is crucial for the well-being of every individual. On the one hand, some Nigerians have argued that religion provides a much-needed sense of hope and comfort in difficult times, and it plays a vital role in shaping the moral fabric of society. They believe that it is through religion that Nigerians can find meaning, purpose, and a sense of community, which are essential components of the human person. They also contend that religion promotes social harmony and tolerance, as it encourages people to live in peace with each other. On the other hand, others have argued that religion can be a hindrance to progress and social change. They believe that the emphasis on faith and prayer can lead to a lack of critical thinking and a reluctance to embrace new ideas and technologies. They also point out that some religious practices and beliefs can be harmful to individuals and society, such as the stigmatization of specific diseases or the discrimination against certain groups based on religious viewpoints. Nevertheless, religion remains an integral part of Nigerian culture, with many people turning to their faith for guidance, support, and inspiration in their daily lives. The reasons behind this reliance on religion are complex and multifaceted, encompassing factors such as history, culture, tradition, and social norms. For instance, Nigeria has a rich history of religious pluralism, with various faiths coexisting for centuries, which has contributed to the country’s religious diversity and tolerance. Moreover, religion has played a significant role in the country’s struggle for independence and in shaping its national identity. Hence, understanding why Nigerians rely on faith and prayer can provide valuable insights into the country’s unique identity, as well as the challenges and opportunities facing it in the 21st century.

Science and religion are two fundamental and influential aspects of human existence, playing distinct roles in shaping individual and societal values, beliefs, and behaviors. While science is often associated with empirical evidence and rational inquiry, religion is typically associated with faith, spiritual experiences, and moral guidance. However, the relationship between science and religion is complex and controversial. Some people view science and religion as complementary domains, each providing a unique perspective on the world. Others see them as oppositional, with one undermining or invalidating the other. Still, others attempt to reconcile or integrate science and religion into a coherent worldview. One specific area where this tension is particularly evident is in the realm of medical care. In some cases, individuals or communities may reject medical treatment based on religious or spiritual beliefs, which can have severe consequences for both the individual and society as a whole. For instance, there have been instances in Nigeria where people have refused medical care, including vaccinations and blood transfusions, due to their religious beliefs. This faith-based rejection of medical care has led to unnecessary illness, disability, and even death. It has posed significant challenges for healthcare providers, who must balance the principle of autonomy with the responsibility to provide safe and effective care. One of the significant challenges faced by healthcare providers is navigating the delicate balance between respecting their patient’s religious beliefs while ensuring their well-being. Faith-based rejection of medical treatment is a significant concern, and its consequences have resulted in the loss of countless lives. This issue becomes even more complicated in cases where traditional medical practices conflict with religious beliefs. For instance, blood transfusions, organ donation, and other medical procedures could be a source of conflict for some evangelical movements.

There was a recent incident involving a doctor from Nigeria who is currently working in Canada. As per reports, the doctor prescribed medication to a patient who was suffering from a terminal illness. However, the doctor was left disappointed when he found out that the patient did not take the medication as prescribed. The doctor was reportedly furious as he believed that the drug could have helped the patient manage her illness and improve her quality of life. During a recent visit to the doctor, the patient revealed that she had not taken the prescribed medication because her pastor had advised her against it. Instead, she was told to use anointing oil for healing. As a Catholic priest, I firmly believe in the power of prayer, but I also acknowledge the vital role that physicians play in the healing process. In my opinion, seeking healing from God through doctors is not at odds with science. In fact, many people of faith believe that God often works through tangible means, including doctors, nurses, medicine, and vitamins, to heal people. While God may still perform miraculous healings, it is more common for him to work through everyday means, such as the expertise of a trained medical professional. Last November, I underwent a significant surgical procedure in the US. Rather than relying solely on divine intervention for my health, I sought the help of a medical professional for a solution. Nevertheless, prior to the surgery, my Jesuit companions offered Mass and anointed me, providing me with a sense of comfort and assurance. The power of prayer helped me to approach the medical procedure without fear. I am grateful that with the prayer and anointing, the surgery was successful. I have always believed that integrating medical science with our faith-based practices is a testament to our trust in divine blessings. As a priest, I have seen many people who have experienced the healing power of God. At the same time, prayer alone may not always be enough to overcome specific health issues. Integrating medical science into our faith-based practices can provide a more holistic approach to healing and recovery. It allows us to acknowledge the importance of both the spiritual and physical aspects of our being and how they work together to bring about healing and restoration.

In Nigeria and other parts of Africa, it is common for individuals who are diagnosed with a severe illness to ask themselves existential questions such as “Why me?” Often, these questions are rooted in religious beliefs and faith. Many Nigerians believe that if they are devoutly religious, then they will be protected from all diseases and illnesses. Therefore, when they become sick, they feel that it is a punishment from God for not being dedicated enough. This belief can be harmful to the patient because they may perceive their illness as a result of their lack of faith. Such individuals may also experience guilt, anxiety, and depression, which can further exacerbate their condition. It’s crucial to understand that physical and mental illnesses have various causes, including genetic predispositions, developmental abnormalities, accidental injuries, and traumatic events. These factors are not related to an individual’s religion or faith. It’s a fallacy to assume that a person’s poor health is due to a lack of faith, even if they are the most religious person you know. Nigerian society should never make such assumptions. Instead, we should encourage people to seek professional support and counseling when they are sick. Seeking care can help patients explore all potential causes of their illness, including more complex and underlying issues. Therefore, it’s essential to avoid stigmatizing the sick or casting blame for their conditions. By doing so, we can create a culture of compassion and understanding towards those facing health challenges. As counselors, clinicians, and clergy, we should make it our priority to educate our patients on the importance of seeking medical attention rather than solely relying on divine power from a religious leader. It is crucial for us to be mindful of our patient’s cultural and religious beliefs and to provide care that is respectful and sensitive to these beliefs. By doing so, we can help our patients feel more comfortable in seeking medical treatment, which can lead to better health outcomes. Moreover, we need to understand that our patient’s faith and spirituality can be an essential part of their healing process and can provide them with a sense of comfort and hope. Therefore, we should work collaboratively with our patients to integrate their spiritual and religious beliefs into their treatment plans if they so desire. By doing this, we can provide a holistic approach to their care, which can result in better physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

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In a country where prosperity theology reigns supreme, the proliferation of religious institutions is seemingly unchecked. As a result, many Nigerians have come to rely heavily on pastors, divine intervention, and miraculous healings for their overall health and well-being. The streets of the country are lined with countless churches and mosques, while many areas of the country still lack basic infrastructure, including access to quality healthcare. Despite the struggling state of hospitals, religion has become the dominant force in the country, with the number of new hospitals being dwarfed by the number of new churches and mosques being built. This religious fervor has led to an increasing number of Nigerians turning away from conventional healthcare in favor of seeking out spiritual cures for their ailments. However, as the healthcare sector continues to face mounting challenges due to inadequate funding and equipment, the fate of the nation may end up resting in the hands of a higher power. As such, the future of Nigeria’s healthcare system remains uncertain at a time when it is needed more than ever before. As St. Ignatius of Loyola once said, “It is not the soul alone that should be healthy; if the mind is healthy in a healthy body, all will be healthy and much better prepared to give God better service.” The adage “health is wealth” may seem like a trite saying, but in reality, it carries a profound meaning. It’s a statement that transcends cultures and geographical boundaries, resonating with people all over the world. It means that one’s health is the most valuable asset they possess. Without good health, one cannot enjoy life to the fullest or pursue their dreams and ambitions. It is essential to understand that good health is not only about the absence of disease or illness. It is a state of physical, mental, and emotional well-being that enables individuals to function optimally and lead fulfilling lives. When you prioritize your health, you’re not just investing in yourself; you’re also laying the foundation for everything else that matters to you. From your relationships and work life to your hobbies and community involvement, everything is built on the foundation of good health. In essence, the saying “health is wealth” is a reminder that our health is the most precious resource we have in life. Taking care of ourselves and prioritizing our well-being should be a top priority, as it allows us to live life to the fullest and achieve our goals and aspirations. Maintaining good health is crucial not only for a happy and fulfilling life but also for achieving success in different aspects of life. Eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise, having adequate sleep, managing stress, and maintaining good hygiene are some of the critical factors that contribute to good health. It is also essential to undergo regular health check-ups and seek medical attention promptly whenever necessary. Therefore, taking care of our physical and mental well-being should be a top priority in our daily lives. As it is often said, “Health is wealth.”

Sickness is an intricate and diverse phenomenon that can impact individuals from all backgrounds and demographics, regardless of age, gender, or ethnicity. It can affect anyone, from the Pope to Bishops, Priests, Pastors, or Evangelists. Various factors, such as genetics, viral or bacterial infections, chronic illnesses, unhealthy habits, and exposure to environmental pollutants, can contribute to its onset. Many people believe that religious faith can cure any sickness, but even the Pope, the leader of the Catholic Church, seeks medical care when necessary. This serves as a reminder that we are all human and susceptible to illnesses. Access to healthcare is a fundamental human right, and our religious beliefs should not prevent us from seeking medical attention. While we should honor our faith, we must also recognize the crucial role that science and medicine play in preventing and treating diseases. Seeking medical assistance is not a weakness but rather a wise and responsible decision. Therefore, it is crucial to prioritize one’s health by seeking medical attention when necessary and adhering to prescribed treatments, as doing so can help manage existing health conditions and prevent the onset of new ones. By scheduling routine medical check-ups, individuals can safeguard their health and that of others, contributing to a healthier, more resilient society. In the event of illness, seeking medical assistance from a qualified healthcare professional is of utmost importance. Not only can medical help diagnose the underlying cause of disease, but it can also provide appropriate treatment that can aid in the recovery process. It is critical to follow the recommended treatment plan and take any prescribed medications as directed to improve health outcomes. Neglecting to seek medical help when one is sick can lead to complications and potentially worsen the condition. This is why it is essential to prioritize seeking timely medical attention when faced with an illness. By doing so, individuals can take control of their health and prevent any further damage caused by the disease.

In Nigeria, there is a rampant preference for religious remedies over medical ones when it comes to health issues. This preference can be attributed to various factors, including cultural beliefs, socioeconomic status, historical experiences, and religious superstition. Despite the availability of numerous medical facilities and professionals in the country, many Nigerians still rely on traditional, religious, and faith healers for healing. This trend is a complex phenomenon that raises essential questions about the intersection of religion and healthcare in Nigerian society. Cultural beliefs play a significant role in the Nigerian approach to health issues, with the majority of Nigerians holding religious beliefs that are deeply ingrained in their daily lives and culture. This often leads to a preference for spiritual remedies as the first resort rather than seeking medical attention. Many believe that supernatural forces cause illnesses and can only be cured by spiritual means, resulting in a strong belief in traditional medicine and spiritual healers. This belief is deeply rooted in Nigerian culture and has been passed down through generations. Therefore, the biggest challenge that healthcare providers frequently encounter is dealing with patients who are uncooperative with medical care. Such patients may be hesitant to undergo medical procedures or reluctant to take prescribed medications because their religious leader is opposed to it. This creates significant complications in treating their medical conditions, leading to further health complications and longer recovery times. Therefore, healthcare providers often have to employ various strategies to encourage patient cooperation and ensure that their patients receive the best possible care.

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Socioeconomic status is a crucial factor that has a significant impact on people’s access to medical facilities and professionals. Unfortunately, many Nigerians, especially those residing in rural areas, have limited or no access to quality healthcare services. In such situations, people may have to resort to seeking help from alternative sources like traditional medicine practitioners and religious leaders. However, it’s worth noting that these alternative sources may not always provide the best or most reliable healthcare services. Moreover, the cost of medical treatment is often high in Nigeria, and many people cannot afford it. This cost factor makes spiritual remedies a popular choice among Nigerians, as they are often free or available at a much lower cost. Despite the popularity of spiritual remedies, it’s crucial to note that they may not always be effective in treating certain medical conditions. Therefore, it’s essential to educate people about the importance of seeking professional medical help whenever possible. One of the complex histories that has shaped Nigeria’s beliefs, attitudes, and preferences toward medicine is colonialism. The country’s history of colonialism, which lasted from the late 19th century until 1960, has had a significant impact on the way Nigerians view Western medicine and its associated practices. Many Nigerians have a deep-seated mistrust of Western medicine, which they see as a tool of oppression that was imposed on them by their colonial oppressors. This mistrust is rooted in the belief that Western medicine is not designed to meet the unique needs of African people and that it is more concerned with profit and control than with healing and well-being. As a result of this mistrust, there has been a growing preference for traditional medicine and religious remedies in Nigeria. These remedies are seen as more authentic and culturally relevant, and they are often viewed as a way to resist the legacy of colonialism and assert one’s African identity. Religious remedies, in particular, are highly valued in Nigeria and are often seen as a powerful way to connect with the spiritual realm and access divine healing. Many Nigerians turn to their faith in times of illness and distress and believe that prayer, meditation, and other spiritual practices can help them overcome their health challenges. Overall, historical experiences have played a significant role in shaping Nigerians’ attitudes and beliefs about healthcare and medicine, and this has led to a complex interplay between Western medicine, traditional medicine, and religious remedies in the country.

Some Nigerians hold a strong belief that illness is not caused by natural or scientific factors but rather by spiritual or mystical forces. These forces include anything from dark influences on spells or witchcraft. This belief has been passed down from generation to generation and is deeply ingrained in the society. As a result, many people are reluctant to seek medical treatment when they become ill, choosing instead to rely on prayer or spiritual guidance from their religious leaders. Unfortunately, this reluctance to seek medical attention often results in cases being reported at a very late stage, making it more challenging to treat the illness successfully. Consequently, individuals may suffer from complications and, in some cases, lose their lives due to the belief that their illness is caused by supernatural forces rather than by a medical condition that can be treated by modern medicine. Scholars and healthcare practitioners are working to educate people about the importance of seeking medical attention when they are ill. They are encouraging individuals to find a balance between their religious beliefs and modern medicine and to understand that some illnesses can only be treated through medical intervention. However, changing deeply ingrained beliefs that have been passed down for generations is a long and challenging process. There are certain African evangelical sects, particularly in Nigeria, that hold a belief system opposing medical care. They believe that through the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, both sins and diseases were atoned for. To be cured of illness, they maintain that they must “atone for their sins,” firmly believing that the crucifixion has already saved them from sickness. Members who subscribe to this belief are encouraged to remain steadfast in their faith and disregard any symptoms of the disease. In addition to their faith in divine healing, many of these groups also practice physical rituals such as anointing with oil and the laying on of hands. Evangelical groups also place a strong emphasis on forgiveness as a crucial step toward spiritual healing. They believe that harboring unforgiveness can hinder God’s healing power and obstruct complete recovery. Ultimately, these evangelical sects that oppose medical care place great importance on faith and divine intervention for healing, and their practices and rituals are deemed essential for accessing God’s healing power.

The pervasive mentality of some religious people in Nigeria is that a disease is “not in my portion.” This kind of superstition is perilous. Anyone who believes he is impervious to diseases or other problems because it is not in his portion takes unnecessary risks and makes irrational choices. There are so many examples of this behavior; I know of several cases of women in Nigeria who tried to pray away early-stage breast cancer only to die a slow, painful death from metastatic cancer. Or the case of parents whose kids had a minor bacterial infection but refused to use medication, preferring prayer until it was too late. Public Health, therapeutic, hygiene, sanitation, and other interventions will be ineffective when people continue to sabotage them with ignorance and superstitions. This mentality is not unique to Nigerians and is shared by many West Africans. Denial and superstitions are why people hide family members who have cancer instead of protecting them and the community by sending them to healthcare centers for proper treatment and quarantine. Instead of rejecting superstitions, people embrace these superstitions tightly. Instead, they hide away from help and try to pray the cancer out; after all, it is not in their portion. It is no wonder that attempts at containing cancer in Nigeria are proving quite difficult. This is not my portion statement preferred by some folks; it is one where it is easy to regurgitate conspiracy theories rather than practice the courage displayed by physicians who make the ultimate sacrifice to prevent disease in Nigeria. Nigerians continue to sing praises of the unnamed healthcare workers who sacrificed health or life for public safety.

In Nigeria, where religion is the new way to gain quick wealth, the liberty of opening churches seems to be going unchecked. The health of many Nigerians is dependent on pastors, God, and miraculous healings. The God of impossibility will change the doctor’s report, many of the pastors boast. Anyone who walks down a street in many parts of the continent is bound to find a great deal of churches and mosques. In Nigeria, many of the areas that boast many churches and mosques do not have good roads, and most importantly, access to primary healthcare is a challenge for some who attend these religious institutions. While schools and hospitals lack the basics, religion has overtaken every activity in the country. One can count the number of hospitals that are opened in a year in the country on the one hand as compared to churches. As trouble looms in the health sector and Nigerian hospitals continue to struggle due to a lack of adequate equipment and financing, perhaps only God will help the country and its people.

Rev. Ma, S.J, is a Jesuit Catholic priest and PhD candidate in public and social policy at St. Louis University in the state of Missouri, USA.

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