Religion, Politics And Development In Ghana: Part I
(Discrepancies in Values and Practice)
In the last few weeks many articles have been written about how religion/religiosity can help Ghana develop, but these articles appear to miss important realities of the state of religious practice in Ghana. This article is about how Europe managed to create 'Kingdoms of Heaven without Prayer', but Ghana created the exact opposite, through extreme essentialisation of prayer. The mental construct of belief (in God or something) is one of the most invaluable psychological tools of all humankind, because it helps to conquer our fears and instill hope in our very existence. That is why religion has had the extraordinary capacity to be employed as a medium for both positive and negative events in human history, including inciting wars, hatred, racism, slavery, and paradoxically, love, compassion, peace and development. Religion is thus a neutral force like power or authority, and can be used positively or negatively to direct the destiny of human societies.
Ghana's Failure to Develop It is not uncommon to hear Ghanaians and many Africans attribute our under-development to colonialism. However, much as this long-ago experience could have contributed, among other pressures to our predicament, the contemporary situation in Ghana has more to do with ourselves- our values and aspirations. As the developed world gallops away with material progress and peace, the struggle for survival provides more fuel for the poorer communities in Ghana and Africa to reach out to the supernatural for help in their prayers. It is only perhaps in our part of the world that the predictions of Sigmund Freud that there will be decline in religion with scientific advancement are yet to unfold.
The Reverend Jesse Jackson has an unambiguous answer for people of African descent, when he said that a man who is put down is not responsible for being down, but has the responsibility to himself to stand up. Have Ghanaians taken upon themselves the responsibility of rising from the fall? The answer to this question is subjectively outlined below.
Ghanaians' and Africans' appreciation of what Europeans have is more about the overt (great cities, architecture, good living conditions / live style) than it is about the underlying values (mental, attitudinal and convictions about life/community) that make European societies 'Kingdoms of heaven without prayer'. While Europeans cherish the philosophy that 'The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade you do not expect to sit' (Nelson Henderson), Ghanaians only want to plant trees under whose shade they MUST sit. Some Ghanaians are prepared to destroy such trees if they know they would have no opportunity to enjoy the shade.
Politicians and Religion
The effectiveness of 20th & 21st century leaders (politicians wielding power) to provide bread to the population depends on honesty and sensitivity to the rights and needs of the population.
The majority of the members of parliaments/government in Ghana are openly religious, and one would have expected that these religious politicians would live by the demands of their religious beliefs, and ultimately provide the best forms of governance. On the contrary, the available research shows that the bulk of the blame for under-development falls on bad governance from our politicians who are religious zealots in belief and practice. These politicians have demonstrated the worse of values and behaviours, which are surprisingly/sadly accepted in silence by the extremely religious Ghanaian population. This huge discrepancy between values thought by religion and the practices that inform daily lives and governance, provides justification for religious analysts to endorse Karl Max's definition of religion as the opium of the masses.
Religious Practice and Values
The practice of religion (Traditional African Religion, Christianity and Islam) revolves around two dimensions, which I choose to label as 'The Spiritual' (giving birth to rituals) and 'The Conscience' (giving birth to humane laws and actions).
Most contemporary European countries have taken away the spirit and rituals of Christianity, but kept its conscience and humane laws/actions, creating what I call 'Kingdoms of Heaven without prayer' for their people. The contexts of these 'kingdoms of heaven' allowed for the creation of systems that uphold the values of truth, honesty, kindness, and hard-work, in addition to food, shelter and peace. The populations of Europe therefore have all the necessities of life as envisaged would obtain in paradise, even with little or no prayers.
Ghanaians on the other hand, have kept only the spirit and rituals of Christianity, Traditional African Religion and Islam, and abandoned the conscience and humane laws of these faiths. Through an extreme essentialisation of prayer, to the exclusion of all other requirements, we have created on the contrary a ' Kingdom of Hell with million prayers' for our people. The contexts of our 'Kingdom of Hell with million prayers' are breeding grounds for lies, dishonesty, hate, wickedness, and all manner of injustice, in addition to hunger, disease and misery. It is one unique paradox of religiosity, which appears to defy explanation, but which certainly can be explained as emanating from historical, psychological and methodological developments.
Many Ghanaians think of religion in a one-dimensional way- it is only about prayer, and so we can pray for days without doing any other work. However, many will be surprised to realize that in the teachings of the Traditional African Religions, Christianity and Islam, more is required of us in relation to the welfare of the members of our society (including justice, kindness, honesty and compassion) than prayer. Read the Bible, Quran, and investigate your local religion, and this fact is hard to miss.
Ghanaians leaders and peoples pray more than many nations on earth, but lack the conscience humane laws that sincerely recognise that all our people (of different ethnic/language groups are equal as sons of God (Bible), and creation of God (Quran), and that every single citizen needs basic necessities of life. There is demonstrable absence of compassion among Ghanaians, and the frequency of telling lies is so high that some people even lie in their prayers. Yet according to the religious books, it is only in a society of truthfulness, kindness, and compassion that prayer becomes truly meaningful, and that is perhaps why our prayers are of no good.
Unfortunately, our religious leaders only flash their credentials as the best minds with fear of God, who should be listened to, yet remain silent on corrupt practices and other incredible atrocities of Governments. Given this situation, there is pessimism in regard to employing reform in religious thought as a way of enhancing good governance and promoting development.
Religions teach great values, and values such as hard work, responsibility, tolerance, respect and compassion for others are not just noble ideas or ideals, but constitute the embodiment of the aspirations of societies, and what makes societies peaceful, and progressive.
To this end, what values do we Ghanaians want to transmit to our children as a nation of praying people? Do we have values that mirror our extreme adherence to prayer, as professed Christians, Muslims and/or practitioners of traditional religion? When Jesus (refer to the New Testament) overturned the money-changers' tables in the Temple in Jerusalem, it was because the misplaced values and actions of those men were undermining the purpose of God's Temple. Ghana like much of Africa is desperate for answers from God, but it may be that God has over-turned the tables of Ghanaians because we undermine the true purpose of God's Temples- our Hearts, which dictate honest words of prayer that issue at our lips. In our case, the words of prayer are dishonest.
There is no doubt that, with all our trooping to churches, mosques and shrines, true morality has long been dead in Ghanaian politics, and is dying in the larger Ghanaian society. Our morality and social conscience are replaced by diseased-hearts of greed, hate, and lack of compassion, which fuel our unreserved desires to be rich at the expense of the happiness of our communities. Compassion is the child of the heart (like faith), and until there is a compassionate change in our hearts, we are in for the long haul, because God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in their hearts (Holy Quran 8:53).
We are ready to defend governments and politicians for various reasons even against the principles of our religious convictions, and even with the knowledge that their corruption has resulted in our communities not having drinking water, food or clinics.
Ghanaians would need to use their heads to make conscious judgments about the actions of the politicians and how these actions impact on everyone. It is equally important for each one to remember that our own actions contribute to this misery, and our prayer alone will not alter our situation. Until we do this, our practice of religion, in deed our faith and prayer will qualify to be defined (in the words of Ambrose Bierce) as '…. a request to God that the laws of the universe to be annulled on behalf of petitioners (Ghanaians) who are confessedly unworthy of God's Mercy '. How we got it wrong, and lost all our cherished values comes in Part II. Dr. Ahmed Bawa Kuyini Dept of Learning & Educational Development University of Melbourne Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.