Today, on Peace FM, we heard that some Ghanaians who have water tanks and/or sell water directly from the pipe are not allowing their fellow distressed Ghanaians to fetch water for free. The government of Ghana in his last but one speech to the nation stated that the government was absorbing the cost of water to Ghanaians for the next three months.
He, therefore, directed all water providers to allow Ghanaians to have water for free. Most of us took to social media and other platforms to hail the president. I was particularly critical of people who underestimated the value of expressing gratitude to the president. But somehow, knowing how we are as people, my concern was largely about whether some of our people will really follow the instruction of the president.
But, sadly, my uncertainty about some Ghanaians not conforming to the president’s direction was confirmed. I am not so much worried that some people are not allowing their fellow Ghanaians to fetch water, as I am about the fact that most of these people call themselves Christians. Definitely, since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic that has taken siege of the world, the churches, para-religious organisations, and other individuals have responded to the call to help Ghanaians.
Some churches have gone beyond their reach to help people from other religious backgrounds. We have seen the best in our health professionals as they put their lives on the line to save lines. We have also witnessed the robustness with which some of our security persons are defending the territorial and aerial spaces of the country. Some of them are also diligently guarding against deviants who may have the predilections to flout the rules against physical and social distancing.
It, therefore, came as a piece of distressing news when I heard that some Ghanaians have also been diligent in not just trashing the "sacred" words of the president, but refusing to let their humanity and the best in them be seen. In England, when the National Health Service (NHS), in the face of COVID-19 pandemic, called for volunteers to support their staff. With this call, over 400,000 people responded.
The number of people willing to freely support the state of England was so huge that some were asked to hold on. Incidentally, England has seen rapid secularization since the late nineteenth century that one would be curious to know the motivation people have to show kindness. I can vouch that most of the people who are volunteering are not religious. It is also possible that these are people who may not even take inspiration directly from any religion. A few may be "spiritual" (though difficult to conceptualise) who share no affiliation with any organised religion. Those who also share any particular with religion may be motivated by their faith, but more specifically by the perilous time we find ourselves in.
In Ghana, about ninety per cent (90%) of the population subscribe to one or two of the three main religions – Islam, Christianity, and Indigenous religions. A few of them may have an alliance with the Eastern Religions, particularly Hinduism and Buddhism. The Ghanaian private and public spheres are suffused with religion. Consequently, while it is inaccurate to repeat the refrain of John Mbiti that Africans are notoriously religious or incurably religious (to quote Geoffrey Parrinder), it is true that religion has ubiquitous expression in our world. Religion occupies such a centre stage in our repertoire of activities that, in both the lower and higher domains, religion finds expression.
The opposite happens in England. As I have stated, many of the English people do not identify with any organised religion. I have met many students at the University of Cambridge who have never read the Bible or owned a copy. My Ghanaian colleague was surprised to hear an English student say that he had never attended any church since he was born. There are some people in England, who have not read even a sentence in the Bible. Religion is a private affair. It is hardly allowed in the public sphere. You hardly find religious inscriptions on vehicles, stores (maybe a few of the Arab mini-supermarkets), and on doorpost. In Cambridge and Birmingham, you may not even hear the muezzin calling people for prayers through the minaret. You hardly find material religious symbols, like the rosary on people. Apart from a few of the African churches, church services hardly go beyond one and a half hours.
Given the differences in religious landscapes, it is curious to explain the differences in demonstrating altruism and care in Ghana and England in a perilous time of COVID-19. Many reasons may explain the differences. I will condense these reasons into social cost and social pressure in understanding the different attitudes Ghanaians and the English people demonstrate towards humanitarianism. I will begin with Ghanaians. In Ghana, the two main reasons for being religious are important in gauging the extent to which people live what they believe. Social pressure is the system where people are "forced" to be religious.
Many Ghanaians choose to be religious because of social pressure. Social pressure is where one suffers for not being religious. The Ghanaian space is such that if one does not go to church or pray at the mosque, one is likely to suffer hugely. If you were to ask any Ghanaian what qualities he or she would expect from a prospective spouse, it is most likely that the first response will be "someone who is religious". This is not bad, in itself, because we all wanted someone religious more so Christian to marry. But it demonstrates the centrality of religion in virtually everything we know. It also demonstrates how religion is ingrained into the fibre of our activities.
Politicians and political prophets have also taken advantage of the "religiosity" of Ghanaians to deploy religion as an important tool in exploiting and manipulating Ghanaians. Suddenly, it is easy to manipulate people in the name of God than anything else. Generally, in the world, there are three things that drive passion for good and/or evil – sports, politics, and religion. But religion is the most important index of determining the contours of passion.
The entrenched position of religion in our society is such that the less religious or irreligious is likely to lose friends and family. Unlike in England, it is possible to state that virtually every Ghanaian is born into a religion. Even those who refer to themselves as humanists or atheists cannot hem their children against the influence of religion, because schools and public places are inundated with religion. In Ghana, social pressure to be religious is also such that we mostly invoke the name of God when we know we are lying and cheating. We recite the Bible or Qur’an when we are actually fleecing people.
The opposite of social pressure is social cost. Social cost is the cost one pays for being religious. This applies partly to Ghana but more so in England. In Ghana, the social cost of being religious is that you must really strain yourself not to be corrupt – in one way or the other. You really have to be strong in your faith to avoid cheating the system. This is precisely because corruption at the lower domain is so pervasive and there is every reason to be corrupt that, it will take a heartless swim against a menacing tide not to be corrupt. Sometimes failure to be corrupt will imply that you may lose friends, family members or even your work.
In England, the social cost is real in terms of what a Christian accepts and does not accept. Liberalism in England, which has turned Christian ethic on its head is such that a pastor or Christian may find it hard if not almost impossible to keep his “conservative” conviction against abortion, homosexuality, and pre-marital sex. These moral issues have been liberalised and become the paradigm through which life is lived. They have also been normalised and canonised into law. Running roughshod against them is, therefore, to run into legal challenges. In some countries in the West, a pastor risks losing his license if he fails to officiate or preside over homosexual marriages.
But in all of this, Christians are called to be like Jesus Christ. We are not to "be" Jesus, but we are to be "like" Jesus. This implies that we are not in a forward march to progress into deities or gods – in the manner that Jesus is God. We are not expected to progress from being finite beings to becoming infinite beings. Our finite nature is forever, no amount of religious practices we dabble in. But we are called to share the communicable attributes of Jesus Christ – primarily the attribute of LOVE.
God saved His elect, because of Love. Jesus entered into history and lived among us because of love. It is love alone that brought God into our world to save us. This is why John 3:16, "For God so love the world that He gave His only Begotten Son" is the heartbeat of the Christian message. Christians are expected to love because Jesus shows us love. Christians are expected to serve, because Jesus serves us, by washing our feet. Christians are expected to be charitable because Jesus is charitable toward us. Whatever Christians are, we owe it to God. So, why can't we give to the world what was freely given to us?
People who are in pain do not care about how much we know God and how much theology and doctrines we can teach. They care about how much we care. History books are littered with many instances where men and women were moved by their Christian faith in the Lord to advance the common good of society. Consequently, I can surmise that, while one may not necessarily have to be religious to be good to those in need, the western world has had Christian values of love to humanity deeply engrained in their society that, even in post-Christian England, the Christian value of service to humanity is still very evident in the face of crisis.
In Acts 3, we read about an unprecedented show of kindness by Peter and John. In the text, we read about how the Apostle Peter defied human constraints and self-imposed taboos to touch and heal a person who had been lame from birth. In the Jewish culture in the first century, it was defying for a person to touch someone who was lame from birth since it was considered a curse (John 9:1).
But the Apostle Peter defied self-imposed tradition and touched and healed a lame person. Christians are expected to demonstrate love by touching someone's life with kindness. If you are playing politics with water, then your Christianity is problematic. If you cannot do good to someone who cannot help you, then your Christianity is questionable. If you cannot provide for the needy, beyond preaching, then you are unlike Jesus Christ.
We need to be like Jesus Christ by showing love to people in need. Even if the government will not absorb the cost of the water you supply, at least do it for the Lord, since the Bible categorically says that there is more blessing than giving (Acts 20:35).
Charles Prempeh ([email protected]), African University College of Communications, Accra