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Opinion | Sep 6, 2018

Lease Do Not Involve The State In Religious Issues!

The Author
The Author

I once received a telephone call from a friend who was at Heathrow airport in London, going back to the land of his birth, in Africa.

He told me with breathless excitement that he was going back home to contest a political election.

I knew a bit about how “politics” was conducted in his country, so, instinctively, I said to him ”No! – Please don't! They will kill you!”

He paused for a moment, then he shot back, “You're saying that because you are not a ….[religion deleted].”

I was flabbergasted! My friend was a rational being with whom one could discuss issues without getting the deity involved. But now, he was showing me a different side of himself.

Unfortunately, once religion enters an argument, almost every door to reasoning is closed fast. Who are you, a simple creature of flesh and blood, to argue with a position that has been revealed to him or her by The Almighty The Lord of All Creation?

Revealed probably after hours of prayers on all fours and many “sacrifices” – including cash offerings to pastors/imams – gifts to the poor, and so on?

I quickly changed the subject and wished my friend good luck.

Next I heard, he'd been imprisoned by the opponents from whom he wanted to wrench political power. He never came out of prison alive.

It's happened so often in Africa and elsewhere that one would have thought that by now, everyone was aware that religion is the one touchstone that can set politics alight even in the most placid-looking localities. Ireland; India; Pakistan; Holland; Belgium; Spain; Iraq; Somalia; Syria; Libya; Nigeria; Central African Republic; Yemen; Rwanda; Bosnia; the Congo Democratic Republic, Myanmar.... Shall I go on?

There is , apart from the daily diet of news about religious killings currently served to us by the media, there is also the backdrop of history; of ancient religious wars whose effects are still being felt in some places on earth today.

Thankfully, we in Ghana have never allowed this canker to affect our relationships. So far.

Yes – two of our most vibrant cultural influences – Akan and Islam – have so much regard for each other that there are people who synthesise the idea by calling themselves with the beautifully evocative name, Asante-Nkramo! (Islamic Ashantis). They are so proud of both sides of their religious affiliation that they identify themselves through it, without batting an eyelid. Yet, I am sure that doctrinally, there are elements in each culture that could be frowned upon by the other.

Again, “Protestant-versus-Catholic” has never been allowed to become one of our socio-political headaches; and akom [possession by spirits] and sunsum-sore [worship in a spiritual church] share many common traits (though both would probably deny that to high heaven, despite their common addiction to African rhythms!)

Well, in a tolerant atmosphere like ours, the last thing we want is to be done the “favour” of indulging in a debate on whether we should, or should not, have “a national cathedral” built.

Now, I personally adore cathedrals. I have attended a “Choral Evensong” service at St Paul's Cathedral in London and I enjoyed the experience immensely. There's also a tune I once heard from a BBC Radio 3 broadcast of Choral Evensong from Bristol Cathedral that will never leave my ears until I draw my last breath on earth.

But such cathedrals sprang from British history. We have pale imitations of them in the form of churches dotted all over our own landscape. They serve the purpose, and we don't have to match the grandeur of other people's cathedrals (whose evolution sprang from their own peculiar administrative arrangements of the past). Ironically, even as we argue endlessly about building a cathedral, a lot of churches in London (for instance) are being turned into apartment blocks or furniture showrooms!

Let us be realistic: the existence of a cathedral at Yamoussoukro, in the Ivory Coast – reputed to be second only to St Peter's Basilica in Rome – did not turn Ivorians into such spiritual beings that they would not take part in a civil war in which unspeakable crimes were visited upon one part of society by the other.

It can be seen already that talk of the Ghana National Cathedral is being used to generate a lot of anti-religious propaganda. To counter some of the more inane arguments being espoused by those in favour of the cathedral, it is being asked (for instance): if you claim that Ghana needs a national cathedral because the churches “built schools”, why shouldn't someone else ask “But who forced the churches to build schools? Didn't they do that of their own volition, to win converts?”

Or if you want to indulge in “equalisation” and argue that Muslims are assisted by the state to make annual pilgrimages to Mecca, and so the state owes the Christians too something, then why not suggest that the state should assist Christians to go to either Israel or somewhere similar that is supposed to harbour traces of the life of Christ?

I mentioned the rise of anti-Christian propaganda. People have expressed scepticism about the wisdom of demolishing valuable properties to make way for the cathedral.

Even the Catholic Standard, which could have been expected to lead the pro-cathedral oratorio and yell fortissimo in support of every aspect of the idea, has said, in an editorial, that QUOTE: The Catholic Standard supports the many calls to the Government and the committee working on a national cathedral to, take a second look at its plan to pull down some buildings between Ridge Circle and State House/Parliament House [in Accra]to make room for the siting of a national cathedral...Our first concern for pleading with the stakeholders to find an alternative place ….is that it will cost Ghana a lot of money to pull down such expensive structures on the proposed site”. The paper adds that it will also cause “a lot of inconvenience to people who are already occupying those buildings and offices”.

That is the sort of sensitivity to the needs – and feelings – of others that one expects the organ of a Christian institution to take. The Christians on the committee should accept this in good spirit and reconsider their rather unnecessarily divisive proposal.

All humans are, after all, susceptible to errors of judgement. Even if it is granted that the Government might have made an initial mistake in getting involved in the national cathedral idea, it was up to the committee to take care NOT to make such outlandish proposals as would embarrass the Government.

As for the $168,000 the Government proposes to spend on renting homes for those whose dwellings are to be pulled down to make way for the cathedral, it must be co-opted to be be used to cover all the smelly gutters in the vicinity.

The latter suggestion would convey to our sports-loving populace who find the environs of the Accra Sports Stadium a tad insalubrious, the idea that their Government does think of their concerns too.

Cameron Duodu
Cameron Duodu, © 2018

Martin Cameron Duodu is a United Kingdom-based Ghanaian novelist, journalist, editor and broadcaster. After publishing a novel, The Gab Boys, in 1967, Duodu went on to a career as a journalist and editorialist.

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