“This church is full of 419 men. Why should we pretend that this hall was not built with dirty money?” (62).
With “419 men” basically meaning con artists and frauds, this quote from Americanah focuses on the concept that a religious community actually harbors and is built on a crop of criminals and-to put it in religious terms-sinners. As someone who was raised in the church purely because it was the way my mother was raised, I’ve experienced both an insider and outsider perspective on the workings of the church behind the scenes.
My mother and her entire family were all born and raised Catholic, so when she met my father, one of her conditions regarding their future was that their children be raised Catholic. Ergo, as a child I was subjected to hour long mass every Sunday and traditional rights of passage that would pop up once every three or four years and take up at least one non-Sunday of my life. But, as I grew older and I was exposed to the idea that not everyone followed the same religion I was raised under, I was also subject to an onslaught of stereotypes about the Catholicism and Catholic people. One specific stereotype that connects back to the original quote mentioned is the stereotype that Catholic people are very greedy and money-oriented, which stems from their need to show off to the outside world.
I do believe there are many genuine Catholic people out there. There are people who believe strongly in God and follow the traditions of the Catholic religion in doing so (my extended family to name a few). But at the same time, I believe there also are the people who build their giant churches to flaunt their wealth and scam the church-goers out of their money. But then again, isn’t that something that’s prevalent almost anywhere in society. You look at any area of life and I can guarantee you’ll find someone who’s doing something in that area for the not-so-right reasons. It’s not just specific to religion and it’s not just specific to Catholicism.
But, in Americanah‘s case, there is very obviously an influence of criminals in the community of the church. Following this quote, it’s source, Ifemelu, is chastised for being so outspoken about this statement, further proving that while this is the truth, it isn’t something the nice, smiling suburban moms of the church want being spread around. It would damage the image of the church. So while the church does thrive off of sinners and greed, it’s main focus is it’s appearance, which is exactly why Ifemelu’s mother sort of goes into her crazy religious reinvention where she chops off all of her hair and tries to convert her entire family to this new religion. It’s all about appearance, which is where these kind of stereotypes and their realities stem from. Everyone wants to seem better than they actually are.
That’s it for now.