I’ve just finished watching the last ina series of three programs on BBC 2 about life in Lagos, Nigeria – Welcome to Lagos
The strap line was It’ll defy your expectations. It certainly did as my memories of Lagos come from the 1980’s, seen from the back of an air condition car travelling around Victoria Island – Lagos’s Chelsea - immune from Lagos’s Dickensian poverty and hardship. So I expected to be confronted by that poverty, hardship, deprivation in Welcome to Lagos but I was totally surprised. I found the programs totally spell binding, uplifting and touched me deeply how people can triumph in what seemed the most desperate circumstances.
The last episode particularly moved me. It told the story of Esther , she lived both physically and economically on the edge of Lagos and its society. Living in a beach shanty hut under the constant threat of either demolition by the authorities or being swept away by the sea, scratching out a living selling mobile phone cards. Her knowledge and use of phone cards helped her discover her husband was cheating on her , this led to her marriage breaking down leaving her alone and seemingly destitute.
Not a bit of it she kicked him out the hut and found comfort in her Bible.
Watching it I recalled a Thinking Aloud episode which discussed how religion flourished most in those countries where their inhabitants experienced the most personal insecurity – where there the greatest inequalities of income and equality.
Esther puts on her finest and goes to Church but not just any church a huge sprawling church on the outskirts of Lagos with a congregation over one million.. One million souls seeking the Lord wanting to be born again, sprit filled . The queue to be touch by the sprit seemed to go on for ever. The church was truly biblical – vast!
This I believe was where those in Lagos living on the edge of society economically and politically, deprived and alienated turned to religion for comfort. Answering the question Dr Tom Ress discussed with Laurie Taylor in Thinking Aloud:
Is Personal Insecurity a Cause of Cross-National Differences in the Intensity of Religious Belief?
He produced a chart which correlates the frequency of prayer against income inequality. African countries dominate the large income inequality and high frequency of praying end of his chart will modern western countries UK, Germany are found at the opposite end low income inequality and low frequency of prayer.
Below is a simplified version of the chart with Nigeria speculatively added based on Esther and her church with its congregation of one million.
So for religion to succeed drivers appear to be income inequality and personal insecurity. And I can see how important it is for Esther and that million congregation living life on the edge of modern city like Lagos, without relgion they would have no hope.