I personally have nothing against Obinim, because, while not being so judgmental, I don’t consider him as a man of God. I rather consider him a God of man. Obinim has dominated the headlines of newspapers and featured prominently in social media when he audaciously claimed that he was capable of transmogrifying himself from human being to animal and other non-human creatures in his spiritual escapades. Such statement elicited sharp criticisms from most Ghanaians. Obviously, there are a few Ghanaians who support him, and such ones remain faithful and committed to him.
Every man is religious, but we can choose to suppress our sense of religiosity, which is innate and intrinsic. That is why those who claim they are atheists have a bigger challenge in proving that there is no god. In any case, the sophisticated arguments contemporary radical atheists, like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, generate against God are themselves an indication that they recognize that there is God, but they are only suppressing that God-consciousness in them. After all, if there is no God why do they argue against Him? In the case of Africa, several scholars, including John Mbiti and Geoffrey Parrinder, have convincingly argued that Africans are notoriously and incurably religious.
Recently, some African atheists have contested this assertion. They have argued that Africans were humanists. In 2007, for example, a group of African atheists convened at the University of Cape Coast, my alma mater, to provide a historical justification for their position that Africans have not been religious always, and that atheism is indigenous to Africans. The conference, which was patronized by some academics on the continent, was convened by advocates, including Leo Igwe, the Nigerian human rights advocate and humanist.
Some critics, particularly humanists and secularists, have anticipated that the force of religion would wane as man progresses in his knowledge of science. For such critics religion thrives on ignorance of the natural laws of nature. This is a reverse of Islamic Jahiliyyah, where ignorance drove men away from God. Indeed, the forefathers of these critiques include James Frazer, Sigmund Freud, and Herbert Spencer, who argued that the notion of God is a figment of imagination. According these humanists, the underling logic of the death of religion, and by extension God, is based on their conviction that God is the creation of the human mind.
The fixation on the part of these scholars to study the so-called primitive societies was for them to dismiss religions likes Christianity that make a big show of God. The theory that provided the impetus and rationale for these scholars was social Darwinism. When the German philosopher and cultural critic, Friedrich Nietzsche, arrogantly announced the death of God, he was definitely not talking about the literal death of God, as Christians do when they talk about Jesus Christ. He was talking about the irrelevance of God to the scientific world. By trumpeting the death of God, Nietzsche was saying that man has outgrown his need of God: God is no longer relevant! Nietzsche repeated what Protagoras, the Greek philosopher, said that, “Man is the measure of all things!”
Contrary to the predictions about the eventual death of religion, it appears that the unprecedented stride man has made in the area of science has not dispel the idea of God. It is true that secularization is gaining more adherents in the world, but the belief in God is still alive in the world. The 1970s saw a resurgence of religion and this has continued till today. There are countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia, where religion stands supreme to the state.
In fact, in these countries, there is no distinction between the church and state. The two are fused together. There are also countries like the United States of America, where there is a complete decoupling between church and state. In Communist China, it was the state that controlled religion. Religion was subordinate to the state.
In Ghana, our constitution is secular; such that religion is no religious script is above that state. No religious text serves as a point of reference for adjudicating national issues. Even so, the Ghanaian environment is so charged religiously that religion permeates every life of the Ghanaian. The Ghanaian farmer prays before he cultivates the land; the carpenter prays before he works, the teacher prays before he teaches. Religion is at the heartbeat of the Ghanaian. At all state functions, religion finds expression.
The pervasiveness of religion explains the furor that encountered the temporary ban that was placed on the pouring of libation at state functions when the country was under the regime of the late President John Evans Atta Mills. The Ghanaian religious landscape is so fertile that all religions, including Eastern religions like Hinduism, Sikhism, and Buddhism, have found acceptance among Ghanaians.
It is the religious proclivities of the Ghanaian that has energized some so-called men of God to dupe and exploit Ghanaians. These so-called men of God claim to have such metaphysical powers that enable them to intercede for Ghanaians, making them (so-called men of God) God of men. Usually, these God of men have very scanty knowledge about the bible.
They attend wayside bible schools, where they learn nothing but the arts and quasi-science of exorcism. Their knowledge of the bible is very rudimentary and primary. Their homiletics is polemical, while their hermeneutics is nebulous. And by their teaching, they reverse the gains of the reformation of the 16th Century. The bible for these God of men is not the standard against which the repertoire of life must be judged.
Their modus operandi is to magnify witchcraft. They, therefore, have a dualistic theology, where God, the creator, is pit in an unending battle against Satan, the creature. They take unsuspecting Ghanaians captive by assigning superstitious explanation to everything in life, including very mundane ones such as headaches. By hyping witchcraft, they create and reified witchcraft mentality in Ghanaians, and make Ghanaians very vulnerable. They feed into such vulnerability that they have created in Ghanaians to have their business thrive. They are also religious entrepreneurs, who make huge sums of money out of their jejune theology.
One of their main theologies is deism: A theology that posits that God created the world, but he is like an absentee landlord, who is far removed from His creation. These God of men, therefore, create a vacuum and widen the perceived gap in theocentric relationship. In the process, they present themselves as the right persons to intercede between God and men. Because of this created responsibility, they promote themselves more than they praise God. They also make miracle, which is not necessarily the sole mark of Christianity, a huge enterprise. Thus, to imprison the gullible Ghanaian, they deploy all forms of familiar spirits to do exploits in miracles.
I have observed, for some years now, that these God of men have survived and also gain more acceptances, because they exploit the despondency of Ghanaians. After all, if you are sick and doctors do not have their medical solution to you sickness, you would be compelled to go to these God of men, who claim to have answers to the poly-challenges of life. Again, if you are a worker and your income never seems to be enough, and these God of men promise to help you, you would, by virtue of your circumstance, yield to their exploitation. In short, these God of men take advantage of the existential challenges of life. They ascribe to themselves the power to solve all life’s challenges.
The sexual, financial, and physical abuses and exploitations that go on in the churches of these God of men should be given the needed attention by the state. While Ghana provides freedom of religion, the state must guard against these God of men who use religion as opium to dupe the masses. I personally think that the state should intervene as quickly as possible to bring sanity to the Ghanaian religious landscape.
Here, my understanding is informed by the fact that freedom of religion should not be misconstrued as freedom of religious exploitation. The next solution is that the Ghana Christian Council should be given additional powers to enforce their code of conduct. Here, I think that we can weed out these God of men if the Ghana Christian Council is constitutionally empowered to de-register churches that have doctrines and dogmas that are very inimical to the welfare of Ghanaians.
In sum, my argument is that the Ghana Christian Council should be constituted as the determinant of religious teachings and practices. They should ensure that, while churches should be free to teach their church-centered doctrines, no church should have a doctrine and dogma that could potentially injure Ghanaians. For example, stepping on pregnant women by some of these God of men should not be allowed. No stretching of religious freedom to entertain such despicable practice.
The state must also provide social intervention programmes to bring some relief to Ghanaians. The failure of the state to provide for its citizens is one of the reasons for the mushrooming of the churches of these God of men. Here, I believe that if the state were able to provide for adequate health facilities, accommodation, and food, most Ghanaians would not be driven by the despondency of life to go after these God of men.
I conclude on the note that the state and other stakeholders should closely monitor the activities of these God of men. The few remnants of God should be proactive in condemning these God of men. Christians all over the country should be taught to understand that life is always punctuated by several challenges. They should encourage Christians that suffering is part and parcel of the fallen world.
The existentiality of suffering finds expression in the suffering of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. So, while we do not resign to fate in the face of challenges, we should be encouraged that on the cross, Christ defeated sin, and by His resurrection, He conquered death. Thus, in Christ alone is found the solution to the all time greatest challenge of the human race: death. We should be encouraged to work hard to better our lot, but in so doing, we should be assured that there is a better world after here. Eternity is just a breath away, do not gamble with your soul.
Charles Prempeh ( [email protected] ), Makerere Institute of Social Research, Makerere University, Uganda