Kenyans who swear by hippy ‘prosperity gospel’ churches do better economically [Photo: Peter Ochieng]

The most over-religious Kenyans, on average, are materially poor than their secular counterparts. Just check adherents of indigenous African denominations like the Akorino, Dini ya Msambwa, Legio Maria and Roho churches for confirmation of socio-economic penury compared to those who profess dogmas from mainstream religions like the Presbyterians, the Anglicans, the Adventists or Roman Catholics.

Conversely, Kenyans who swear by hippy ‘prosperity gospel’ churches like the Mavunos and Jubilee do better economically than those from evangelical, Holy Spirit and Brotherhood churches - whose adherents are also likely to be school dropouts.  

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This disconnect between economic prosperity and over religiosity can be discerned from the 2018 Gallup International poll ranking of countries. The most religious countries in the world are also the poorest: Malawi, Niger, Sri-Lanka, Yemen, Burundi, Djibouti, Mauritania, Somalia and Chad, meaning the most religious regions are in Africa, the Middle East, south-east Asia and Latin America - the home of banana republics.

The richest countries are the most irreligious: China, Japan, France, UK, Sweden, Australia and Norway (the richest donor country in the world) and Germany (Europe’s largest economy). Curiously, Israel is not so religious despite Jesus Christ, the legend from Nazareth, having been a Jew whom they hardly recognise, let alone celebrate Christmas.

The notable exception is America - which is both religious and the world’s biggest economy, exporting its culture (while we export horticulture) in movies and series, music and video games, sports and food, technology and books, politics and policies. 

‘Prosperity gospel’ churches do better [Photo: Courtesy]

But why is this so? Well, the USA is largely Protestant and the ‘Protestant Work Ethic’ as postulated by German sociologist Max Webber emphasises enterprise to achieve prosperity for the here and now. In his magnum opus of 1905, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, Webber explores the interrelationship between religion and commercial pursuits and notes that over religiosity often waters down wealth creation, while “ethics of ascetic Protestantism” encouraged forays into capitalism in which profits and material success are valued signs of God’s favour.

These spirits of capitalism among Protestants is hardly found among fundamentalist orders from mainstream churches. Like the Opus Dei (God’s Work) order of the Roman Catholic Church. Its adherents believe in surviving on bare essentials. Members, among them scholars, economists and lawyers, often offer their entire salaries to Opus Dei, meaning a member and the millionaires’ club are soon parted.

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The Akorino, on the other hand, basing their beliefs on the Old Testament and Kikuyu customs, eschew wealth and material possessions, largely because believers prepare for the hereafter and have little interest in worldly affairs. The possible exception is Obadiah Maina, the Mukorino founder of the defunct Good Life Sacco, who went against the grain on his way to coining a Sh500 million microfinance enterprise.

And why are Africans more religious than wazungu? In a May 2016 Guardian article, The World is Getting More Religious because the Poor go for God, Giles Fraser notes that Westerners are less religious, and thus more prosperous because “we in the West are less and less a society of joiners. And religion begins not with the metaphysics, but with the taking part – belonging preceding believing. Which is why the communitarian spirit of religion is declining in places where liberal individualism thrives. And why religion itself thrives in places where liberal individualism fails.”

Interactivity between religion and enterprise failing? [Photo: Peter Ochieng]

Here in Kenya, the seed of interactivity between religion and enterprise was planted in the colonial period with different churches scrambling for a piece of our country: The Methodists settled in Meru, the AIC in Rift Valley and Kambaland, the SDA in Kisii and Kisumu.

 The biggest were the Presbyterian, the Anglican and the Catholic churches. The Roman Catholic Church, bankrolled by the Vatican Bank, still enjoys pervasive penetration via its missionaries and missions, which boasted a church, hospital and school: the old money elite Kenyan families in business and politics are invariably ‘Mission Boys.’

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Those around Anglican churches were not as lucky. Being the Church of England, part of its colonising mission was not to help Africans, hence the scarcity of good Anglican schools and hospitals, and the reason ‘Anglican townships’ are not xanadus of commerce like ‘Catholic townships.’ The odd thing is that the closer a Catholic family lives near the church, the less prosperous it is compared to those living farther afield!