Thursday, January 14, 2010
Ghana and the ‘opiate of people…’
Intellectuals, who are also religious, have always fascinated me. Since whatever religion one might favour is, at its heart, based on belief rather than fact, I want to know how, contrary to human logic, these usually evidence-based individuals end up constructing a personal cosmology with a god at its centre.
There is a story about Ludvig Wittgenstein, the language philosopher and noted atheist. Lying on his death bed, reviewing his life, he had a blinding revelation. The logic he had assiduously developed, which proved to him that there was no god, could be turned on its head to prove entirely the contrary! He promptly summoned a priest for his last rites!
Here in Ghana, it is rare to come across intellectuals prepared to talk openly about their lack of belief. Indeed, to prosper in Ghana requires lip service to a god, preferably the Christian version. Somehow, the various Christian groups have so infiltrated social life that prayers, entreaties, blessings and greetings, infuse formal and informal gatherings, business meetings, emails and conferences. Every politician sprinkles godly phrases in his or her public utterances. Church, on Sunday, is so all-pervasive that the roads, normally nearly gridlocked, are clear. Driving to the ungodly supermarket past these places of worship gives one a sudden immersion in hymn singing, clapping, praying and glossolalia. The churches in Africa appear to have little time for intellectual and other freedoms (witness the discussion in Uganda, driven by three US evangelists, regarding intoducing the death penalty for homosexuality). As far as Christianity in Africa is concerned, reading and writing are necessary only to enable adherents to get fulfilment from bible classes. Bible readings, pulpit pontifications, quasi exorcisms, healing, prayers for consumer items and the conspicuous consumerism of priests tie the evangelical to worldly possessions and career success. Foundational reading and writing actually enables the process of indoctrination. Too much and the fires of intellectual questioning begin to grow. Religion in Ghana is the opium of the people, as Marx actually stated it. Until an intellectual cadre of individuals have a critical voice here, Ghana will not achieve much desired parity with developed countries. The opiate quality of religion hangs like a fog permeating Ghanaian manners. To be critical of people and institutions are examples of bad grace or, if severe, might lead to reprisal. To have forums where endemic bribery among politicians, church ministers and the civil service are publicly denounced, are rare.
Some intellectuals are appealing in their spirituality and convey it to you without the slightest desire for you to understand existence in the comforting way that they do. They can enhance your own life with their open thought. But imagine being poorly educated, in poverty and with no sense of the future. Then you become ripe pickings for the gods of capital, either purportedly spiritual or otherwise.