The National Cathedral Saga: Why We Need It And Why I Support It
I have no illusions whatsoever that the debate over the proposed national cathedral is cast on religious and political lines. Some hardliners are beginning to shift position that instead of a cathedral, we should rather have interfaith dialogue centre. That obviously is not a bad idea. Others are also invoking the existential reality of poverty to cast slur on the intelligence of our president, and by extension Christians. To sum this argument, it is better to solve the ravaging effect of poverty and lack than to build a cathedral. Indeed, those who think along this line have a utopian Marxist idea that poverty is framed around class conflict. The only way to kill poverty is to defeat class differentiation.
I must state that I engage the discussion with my predilection as a Christian (a born again Christian, to be specific). I, therefore, speak unapologetically as a Christian. My views are heavily tainted by my Christian assumptions. I must also state that I have no worries about the importance of a national cathedral. But in the following paragraphs, I will flesh out the issues that have informed the debate over the construction of a national cathedral as a commemoration of our sixtieth independence anniversary. It is, indeed, to the glory of God that we have such an edifice to signal our appreciation of God's grace. Though we have not reached were we want to get, we are confident that eventually, the Lord we seek to honour will graciously take us there.
First, I must put on record that Christianity is a precipitator of progress. I have read the histories of England and the United States, and have come to the same conclusion as many eminent scholars that Christianity actually provided the fount and foundation of these countries. In the book, "Rulers, Religion, and Riches: Why the West Got Rich and the Middle East Did Not,' the author, Rubin Jared, underscored the cardinal role Christianity played in birthing the civilisation of the West. He stressed the fact that Christianity was a deciding factor in separating the West from the Middle East in terms of development. The same argument has been advanced by Max Weber, who argued that Protestant Worth Ethic laid the foundation of Western capitalism. Indeed, capitalism had multiple sources in the history of the West, but Protestant Christian logic of work hard, spend less, and invest more was key in propelling the industrialisation of the West.
In Ghana, the early missionaries of the nineteenth century, not necessarily the mercenaries or the merchants were very instrumental in bringing development to us. They built schools, hospitals and brought important crops, like cocoa to us. It is important to note that till date the best schools in Ghana are those built by the missionaries. The cocoa they introduced remains the mainstay of the country's economy. This is not to say that the missionaries, as human beings did not have their shortfalls. It is to point out that to all intent and purposes, the missionaries helped in shaping the destiny of our county, Ghana.
Islam was in Ghana for about one hundred years before Christianity, but the religion of Islam can in no way be compared to the contributions Christianity has made to Ghana's development. Even at a time when Ghanaian Christians, at least the Church of Pentecost, do not solicit for funding from anywhere other than the Church, the contribution of the Church cannot be compared with Islam that continues to receive inflow of funds from oil rich countries in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, Iran, Libya (until the fall of Gaddafi) and so on! In conclusion, it is myopic if not crass ignorance to assume that Christianity is a drawback on Ghana's development. In the same way, given the contributions of the Church to Ghana's progress, there is ABSOLUTELY nothing wrong to have a national cathedral to honour the Triune God.
Second, the idea that Ghana is a secular state is bogus and betrays our knowledge of ‘secularism’. Most of those invoking the secular argument have no understanding of what it means to call a nation secular. For the purposes of space, I will just say that Ghana is not a secular qua secular state. Historically, the word secular became a catchword for separating religion and politics. Partly the Christian reformation contributed to sustaining the secular debate. The conventional knowledge of secularism is that religion should be banned from the public square. In other words, we need to have what has been described as a 'naked public square.' Religion was to be a private affair. The state was to stay away from religious issues.
Let me point out the flaws in this argument. First, religion - atheism and theism - never leaves the public sphere. We all bring our worldview informed by the belief or disbelief in God in the public sphere ALWAYS. How we utilise resources and relate with others are informed by our beliefs. It is therefore impossible to confine religion to the private sphere. Second, what do you replace religion with, if you take religion from the public sphere? In the United States, for example, creationism is not taught in public schools. But what they replaced that with is evolution - which is equally a belief system. In the end, we replace one religion with the other. The public sphere is never neutral free.
Related to the above is the inconsistence of some of our Muslim brothers and sisters, particularly in relation to the veil. In France, the veil was pushed out of the public sphere because of secularism, but in Ghana, the veil is forced into the public sphere because of secularism. In the end, we see the arbitrariness and inconsistency in the secular debate. Ghana is not a secular qua secular state. At best, Ghana is a religious plural state. In other words, Ghana is deeply a religious state that enjoins political actors to mediate the relations of the multi-religious groups we have in Ghana. The state is not to stifle religious activities that are innocuous. In the end, Ghana is not an atheistic state. It is a religious state that recognises the centrality of religion. This explains the reason for beginning every state function with a religious ritual. In the end, building a cathedral for the nation is not against the 'secular' status of Ghana.
Third, Muslims are saying that they are building the biggest mosque in Ghana not with the support of the state. This argument overlooks the fact that over the years, the state has been, rightly or wrongly, sponsoring the annual hajj of some Muslims. But because of their hatred for the national cathedral, some of them are now kicking against state sponsoring of the hajj. Here, I am specifically referring to Coalition of Muslim Organisations in Ghana (COMOG), who are arguing that the state should refrain from sponsoring the hajj. This is deeply hypocritical. When did COMOG realise that the state has to stay away from hajj activities? This is like the two 'warring' Jewish factions – Sadducees and Pharisees - uniting to have Christ crucified.
The argument that Muslims are building their biggest mosque on self-funding basis is a LIE. We know that the Turkish government, as part of its effort to resuscitate (if possible) the Ottoman Empire ideology is sponsoring Islamic activities in the Third World countries. Turkey, which was 'secularised' by Mustafa Kamal Ataturk, is relapsing into its religious fever - here, promoting Islam both home and abroad. Aside that since the resurgence of Islamic activities in Ghana in the 1950s and the emergence of salafism in the 1990s, monies from oil rich Islamic countries in the Middle East has been pouring in to support Muslims in Ghana. In contrast, in the 1950s, many Christian groups in Ghana became self-sponsoring in their activities. This self-sufficiency of Christianity in Ghana has continued till date. In fact, the Church of Pentecost (which I proudly belong to) has since its establishment in the 1950s has NEVER depended on external financial help from any 'secular' organisation. But the achievement of the Church is glaring enough for all to see!
In relation to this, we are not sure whether the state is fully funding the construction of the cathedral. I have heard from credible source that Christians are going to contribute in providing resources - human and material - to construct the cathedral. In any case, the state would have to account for every pesewa that has been used in the construction of the cathedral.
The other argument against the construction of the cathedral is poverty. The argument runs in a simplistic way as follows: Ghana is poor. We must use the money for the cathedral to reverse poverty. This argument at face value looks appealing and rational. But, as I will show, it is simplistic and not nuanced. First, poverty will never end in our world. This is not a prophecy of doom or to discourage us from fighting it. It is rather stating the fact! Karl Marx and his apostles have a deluded utopianism where poverty would cease to end. From the Marxist point of view, poverty will end when the proletariat rise to challenge the privileges enjoyed by the bourgeoisie. This argument is so illogical and unconvincing. When I first read George Orwell's 'Animal Farm,' in secondary school in 1998, I right away had a hint that socialism, advancing to communism, is a daydreaming idea. It looks appealing, but very unrealistic. Throughout the history of the world, no nation has succeeded in reversing poverty (however we define it)!
It is not the building of a cathedral that would sap Ghana's resolve to overcome poverty. Let me use the case of James McKeown, the Scottish missionary, who founded the Church of Pentecost, to show that the Church rather reverses poverty. When McKeown came to Ghana in 1937 to begin mission work, he was deeply Pentecostal in orientation, and his primary mission was mission. He had no direct interest in building schools, hospitals or even bringing cash crops like the other missionaries before him had done. When he was asked by the District Commissioner (in Kibi?) why he was not engaging in building social infrastructure, his answer was: "When Ghanaians get rooted in the Christian faith, all other things will follow." Since many Akan people accepted his message, the Church of Pentecost has become one of the richest Christian organisations in Ghana. The Pentecost Convention Centre in Gomoah-Feteh, Central Region, is arguably the most biggest and beautiful edifice in Ghana! Go and see it for yourself, and know what Christ can do! Recently, the vice president suggested that the state learns from the managerial skills of the Church.
The Church has produced some of the richest men and women in Ghana and Africa. The secret is: giving priority to God. After focusing on building the Kingdom, McKewon planted the seed of building the base of the Church. The Church, which is less than a century in Ghana, has a university, Hospital and clinics, and many primary and senior high schools. The population of the Church is about 9.1 percent of the entire population of Ghana. The Church is also involved in missions in more than one hundred countries in the world, including Ukraine, Pakistan and India! The secret: if you attend to God, He comes in for you.
Let us compare the McKeown's logic with Nkrumah, Ghana's first president. Inverting a Christian message, with his 'seek first the political Kingdom, and all other things shall follow,' he renounced God and became hostile to Christianity. He failed miserably, became a ruthless dictator, and ransacked the resources the nation had. Most of his ministers became deeply corrupt and self-serving. He presided over a country that was running into a ditch. The secret: He renounced God and made 'Kankan Nyame' his deity. He served the atheistic god of Marx and Lenin. Like his communist forebears, he thought religion was a bane to development. In the end, he failed Ghana!
From the above, I state that there is no correlation between the building of a national cathedral and poverty reduction. In any case, which religious organisation has been involved in alleviating poverty more than Christians? Which organisation embarks on robust rural development more than Christians? Let us stop the thoughtless argument. We NEED a national cathedral.
Finally, the argument that we need a national shrine is absolutely a show of ignorance of 'traditional' religion. Unlike Christianity and Islam that have specific buildings for worship, in Akan Traditional Religion, for example, there is no need for a special house for the deities. And also devotees of traditional religion rarely have a history of building shrines like Christians and Muslims. Neo-traditional groups like the Afrikannia that is seeking to place injunction on the state over the cathedral issue do not worship in a 'shrine'. Also, Muslims already have the state facilitating for them to build their 'national' mosque, which is right in my community in Accra. The land on which the mosque is located used to be called 'Montreal' where we used to play football when I was young. Following the destruction of the Makola mosque, Rawlings GAVE them that land to rebuild the mosque. Yes, if other parties want to build a national shrine for ancestral worshipers, they can go ahead, but God will speak out eventually.
Yes, it appears there is some sense that Ghana does not need additional CHURCH. But this is not just additional church. For heaven sake, it is a national cathedral. I will not spill ink to explain the multi-functions of a cathedral. You should read that for yourself. We cannot also confuse a cathedral with an edifice for interfaith dialogue, as Sheikh Aremeyaw Shuaib is suggesting. We simply NEED a national cathedral.
Concluding, we NEED a national cathedral. By righteousness a nation is built. If we are able to attend to the things of God, God will come in for us. Nyame adwoma na ye, na wo de3 aye ye! I am for the national cathedral. WE WILL BUILD THE HOSUE OF THE LORD.
God bless the government of Ghana and those who support his vision.
Charles Prempeh ([email protected]), African University College of Communications, Accra.
Disclaimer: "The views/contents expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of Charles Prempeh and do not neccessarily reflect those of Modern Ghana.