Feature Article of Monday, 10 April 2006
Columnist: Fredua-Kwarteng, Y.
The Potent Force of Religion in Ghana?s Economic Development
We cannot realistically analyze Ghana?s underdevelopment without factoring religion into the analysis. Nor can we design any economic development plan for Ghana without acknowledging the influence of religion on its implementation. The fact is that any economic development policy requires a change from old values, attitudes, beliefs and behaviour patterns of the citizenry to those that are supportive of the new policy. That change is unlikely to occur where the designers of the plan failed to take into account sources of motivation for implementation of the plan. Religion, particularly Christianity, has become a potent social force in every facet of Ghanaian life, from family life, economic activities, occupation, and health to education. This has spurred church planting in every nook and cranny in Ghana and correspondingly an exponential increase in the number of young Ghanaians who are opting for the clergy profession.
Religion is also the framework through which the average Ghanaian interprets daily life events, phenomena, and the future. For the average Ghanaians, witches and demons are the primary cause of illness, diseases, poverty, death, and other misfortunes in life. One can say without any fear of generalization that Ghana is a religious country as measured by church attendance and religious beliefs of its people. Nonetheless, it should be noted that religion is not necessarily bad in its self because religious people and institutions may be agents of advocacy, funding, innovation, individual/ community empowerment, social justice movements. For example, Mennonite Church (both in Canada and the US) in its reaction to the corrupting influence of modernity has successfully established economically self-sustaining communities across the two countries. In Mennonite communities the members are provided not only opportunities to eke out a reasonable standard of living, but also essential social services such as recreation, health care, and education are provided for the members. Unfortunately these positive aspects of religious life are rare in Ghana.
Religion as Determinant of Economic Development Usually, Ghanaian development economists work with conventional economic models that focus on narrow measures of variables that can be precisely quantified and predicted with a reasonable degree of accuracy ? gross domestic product, average life expectancy, adult literacy, level of educational attainment, and infant mortality rate. They also assume that Ghanaians are rational people in that all the models they work with were constructed on the philosophy of logical positivism. Rarely do these economists include religion as a determinant of economic growth, or do they have any appropriate response to the average Ghanaian deeply rooted in the belief that human efforts can not build a nation except that of God.. Despite its qualitative and fluid nature, Max Weber argues that religious practices and beliefs have important consequences for the economic development of a community or nation. Weber links the rise of industrial capitalism to the Protestant ethic that instilled in its adherents the values of thrift, trust, integrity, honesty, hard-work, and fairness. However, in Ghana the opposite is discernible. The spread of Protestantism in Ghana under different banners such as ?Charismatic,? ?Born-Again?, ?fellowship?, and ?Pentecostal? has not succeeded in instilling similar cardinal values in adherents of the Protestant faith. That is, the Protestant churches are mere social clubs rather than molders of the congregation?s behaviour and values. Yet Ghanaians, including the Christian population, want economic progress or growth while at the same time they cling tenaciously to their old, unprogressive values that are detrimental to economic growth. So how do we achieve economic progress when the values, beliefs, and behaviour of the average Ghanaian are diametrically opposed to economic growth? This is a question whose answer continues to elude the author of this piece.
Part of the problem has to do with the leadership of these Pentecostal churches, whose principal focus is building social and political empires in their respective enclaves and amassing wealth for self-aggrandizement. Most of these leaders seem to be less interested in transforming their congregation into honest, law-abiding, and productive citizens or providing them essential services such as health care and education that the members badly need. However, these leaders always defend themselves by saying that Christianity is not about teaching values but rather it is concerned with establishing and maintaining a spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ.
Further, some of these leaders defend themselves by stating that being a good person is not the aim of Christianity. Personal virtues or righteousness, they contend, is not pleasing to the Lord and that it is the Lord who grants favors to his followers. It follows from this line of argument, that one could be an unproductive worker, deceiver, community wrecker, contract breaker, thief, or philanderer and still be able to maintain a relationship with Jesus Christ without the need to change as a precondition for that relationship. Nonetheless, this is contrary to the teachings of Christ, who commands his followers or adherents to lead a righteous life and also maintain relationship with him. The metaphor of a Christian as the ?light?, ?salt? or ?book? of the world speaks to this truism. While maintaining a spiritual relationship with Jesus Christ is one cardinal component of Christian life, the other component is the manifest of Christian principles or morality in the lives of Christians. The Bible is replete with countless examples of Christian morality, but Jesus Christ summarizes this as follows: Love your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself.
The Emergence of Prosperity Theology
The leaders of Pentecostal churches focus mainly on what they call ?prosperity preaching?, a new form of theology that is concerned with a shift from preaching moralities, hell, pauperism, and heaven to material prosperity for the congregation. The disciples of prosperity preaching believe that it is grounded in the lived realities and experiences of the congregation, many of whom are looking for material prosperity out of their distressful state of abject poverty, unemployment, underemployment, business sluggishness or failure, lack of investment, and other socio-economic problems. It is little wonder that some of those churches now tutor their congregation in wealth creation and accumulation. Another popular rationale of prosperity theology is that Christians also have to enjoy material things, if not better quality, than their non-Christian counterparts. Prosperity theology is, thus, a revolutionary reaction to material altruism and glorification of poverty that hitherto characterized the lives of Christians. Such Christians are looking for their material rewards right here on earth rather than in heaven.
Prosperity preaching abhors morality because it is considered to be morally judgmental, evaluative, and condemnation of the very few who have made it to the top of the material prosperity-pyramid. It is also believed that morality preaching drives away rich people from the church, who could otherwise help the church financially to spread the Gospel of Christ and pay the operating expenses of the church. However, the problem with prosperity doctrine is that it eschews ethical values and basically privileges material prosperity over spirituality, as if the two are separable in attaining the fullness of life. Indeed, the Gospel of Christ does not trivialize the importance of materialism that is why Jesus Christ multiplied the little amount of fish and bread available to him to feed the hungry. But Christ never deviated from morality preaching either.
Another problem with the prosperity theology is its narrow focus; it concentrates on how individuals in the congregation could attain material freedom so that they could contribute regularly by way of tithes, offerings or donations to the church treasury. It does not preach prosperity that trickles down to other members of our society; nor does it have anything to do with the collective prosperity of society. It fails to acknowledge that the collective prosperity of our society is often times hampered by the self-interest of some members of the congregation through negligence of family or public responsibility, willful destruction of public property, the appropriation of public property for private use, and misappropriation of public funds. For example, a member of the congregation who works as a government official collects a bribe from a road contractor. This allows the road contractor to either abandon the road construction or do a shoddy work with impunity. Is this government official not hampering the prosperity of the collectivity?
Another scenario is a government clerk, a born- again-Christian, who steals a registered patent belonging to a Ghanaian inventor and sells it to a Chinese industrialist for a handsome price. The Chinese industrialist sets up a factory in China to produce that item for export, creating employment opportunities and income for Chinese people, while Ghanaians wallow in unemployment and lack of income. Of course, the government clerk has prospered by the transaction but the common good of Ghanaians has suffered. A lot of Ghanaians would have benefited if the patent was not stolen and its inventor allowed to establish a factory in Ghana to produce that item. In fact, an investigation into the religious identity of many national economic saboteurs?people whose behaviours or practices stifle the Ghanaian economy-- would reveal that most of them are Christians.
The Missing Ingredients of Pentecostalism
Because prosperity preaching eschews morality and focuses on individualism, it has not inculcated in Ghanaian Christians virtues of productivity, diligence, hard-work, thrift, law-abiding, and frugality which are some of the core values needed for economic growth. Ghanaian Christians generally have difficulties in forming business partnerships among themselves for the purpose of undertaking business ventures in spite of their claim of being Christians. Even where partnerships are formed they break down quickly, because one or two partners tried to defraud, or defrauded the other partners of cash or other assets. Alternatively, one partner, who arrogates to himself or herself as the smartest, would commit a heinous act of dishonesty contrary to the partnership agreement. Ghanaians, Christians or non-Christians alike distrust each other. In this case, how can they form business partnerships to produce a product or service? In fact, a business partnership is a viable means through which two or more persons pool their talents, expertise, and financial resources together to undertake a business venture for a profit. It is impossible for such business associations to survive without the owners upholding the cardinal values of honesty, transparency, hard-work, fairness, and integrity. Business organizations create wealth and jobs for the macroeconomic prosperity of the nation. Therefore, if businesses can not flourish or prosper because our values are a hindrance then, it is impossible for us to achieve any measure of economic progress.
The Impact of Excessive Church Attendance
Excessive church attendance also impacts negatively on the economic well-being of the country. It consumes disproportionate amount of production time and money. As Ghanaians spend inordinate time attending church services and all-night prayer meetings, they are using up the time and energy that they would have spent on some forms of productive work. The simple rule is that when production suffers, our economic development also suffers. The reader may say that we have to put God first in everything we do. Sure, we have to put God first, but spending 3-13 hours in the church or in the Achimota forest praying, fasting, and singing does not mean we are putting God first. On the contrary, it suggests that we as a nation are despicably lazy and irresponsible because we expect God to feed, clothe, and shelter us directly. This is in spite of the fact that God has given us all the necessary resources ? natural resources, creativity, intellect, and physical brawn- to apply to provide for our basic needs.
As we continue to sacrifice productive work for excessive church attendance, how are we providing for our material needs? Our only option as it has always been is to approach the Western world for handouts produced by Westerners working hard around the 24-hour clock in different production shifts. The critical questions are these: for how long can we depend on the West for our basic sustenance? How can this dependency give us any measure of respectability within the international community? I expect the reader to express his or her utter discontentment with our current status as a nation of hewers of wood and drawers of water. To come out of the economic doldrums, Ghanaians need a fundamental change of attitude, beliefs, and behaviour. This is the punch line, they need a mental shift.
?Demonology?: Ghanaian Attribution Theory
The rapid growth of Pentecostal churches in Ghana and among the Diaspora can be attributed to a deep-rooted belief in witchcraft in our society. Ghanaians generally have fears of witchcraft and other demons and they embrace Christianity as a means of fighting off the threats of those evil entities. It is customary for the average Ghanaian to use religious framework to interpret events, phenomena, and the future as I stated in the first paragraph of this paper. For example, when a Ghanaian fails an academic examination she or he blames witches or the devil. When she has biological difficulties in conceiving and having a baby she blames it on witches. If his/her business runs into bankruptcy the devil is the cause of it. Similarly, if the prices of his/her products fall in the market he/she attributes it to the work of the devils. In the same way, if she/he is not prospering materially the devil must be responsible. The examples are numerous. Nonetheless, the Ghanaian attribution theory is so simplistic that one may counter it with a single question: where is the individual responsibility or agency? Can every bad event be blamed on witchcraft or the devil? Why is it, it seems, that Africans are the only people bothered so much by witchcraft and demons?
Church leaders use the attribution theory to maintain psychological control on their congregation. Now almost every church in Ghana and in the Diaspora offers spiritual deliverance as its core function with the goal of protecting the congregation from witchcraft and other demonic activities. Indeed, a church that does not offer spiritual deliverance services may not grow in membership. In effect, these churches are now performing the same function as the fetish shrines and medicine men, most of who perform various exorcist activities to cleanse an individual of a curse or witching influence.
For all these donkey years, witchcraft and demons continue to pester Ghanaians. This suggests that Christianity has failed to rid Ghanaians of their belief in witchcraft and demons with the result that the average Ghanaian finds it extremely difficult to embrace logic or rationality as an explanation for life-world events. In fact, religious rationality is not only found among the uneducated or semi-educated folks, but also it is an entrenched part of the worldview of the highly educated Ghanaians. How can Ghana improve its economy when an overwhelming number of its people reject secular logic or rationality in favour of religious rationality? Any economic progress is a rational process, which is conceived by a rational human mind for the purpose of solving a sociological problem. Indeed our economic problems are not simply solved by leaving it to God. If this is not the case, why are our socio-economic problems deepening and getting out of control? Is God so unkind to us or what? Take index of human progress, you will see that Ghanaians or Africans are at the bottom rung. Why? From my perspective, there is nothing wrong for a Ghanaian to pray to God for wisdom to solve a problem. However, that individual should accept the responsibility if he/she fails to solve that problem rather blaming the evil for his/her irresponsibility.
Ghanaian Attribution Theory as Political Ploy
Our political leaders also use the Ghanaian attribution theory whenever it suits them in order to avoid public responsibility for their short-sighted policies, programs, management ineptitude or intellectual astigmatism. For example, the minister for energy professor Mike Ocquaye on the Sept. 27, 2005 (See Ghana web) blamed the devil for the closure of the Tema Oil Refinery (TOR).He equally blamed the evil for the untimely deaths of the three top-urologists in an automobile accident. The minister said, ?I?m appealing to all religious leaders of this our dear country to pray against this evil visitation?. I presume that a vast majority of Ghanaians accepted that facile explanation without any questions that is why there were no calls for the minister to resign. However, a closer analysis of the TOR affair shows that the minister is blamable for everything that happened at the refinery. If the minister is the devil responsible for the mess at TOR, I have no qualms about that. On the other hand, if the devil is faceless, living in an unknown location then it is a hoax. In the same way, the death of the three eminent urologists must be blamed squarely on poor road conditions, the absence of road signs, irresponsible driving on the part of the other driver of the vehicle that caused the accident, and lack of enforcement of traffic regulations. In Ghana, for instance, driver license is a saleable commodity to the highest bidder. Anybody could have a driver license provided one can pay for it. But having the money to buy driver license does not necessarily translate into the ability to drive safely on our roads. Using the available statistics, Mr. Appiah Kusi Adomako, the leader of the Kumasi branch of the Leadership for Tomorrow Foundation, characterized Ghana?s roads as our graves (Ghanaweb, Sept, 22, 2005). In other words, our politicians can not be absolved from responsibility for deaths on Ghana?s roads. They should be held responsible!
If Ghana needs a spiritual intervention, we should have no use for our conventional politicians. Rather, we should fire all the politicians and hand over the political administration of the country to a theocratic leadership, made up of preachers, pastors, priests, priestesses, bishops, archbishops, and prophets. In fact, a theocratic leadership would understand the strategies of the devil better and would have the spiritual tools to banish the devil from Ghana?s soil forever. This sounds like a comic relief, right? However, it is only in Africa, a continent that scores the lowest points on every index of human progress, where a politician would call for divine intervention in running the affairs of the nation. Such mentality does not augur well for the economic development of the nation, in that it places the locus of control of our economic destiny in the hands of unseen, unpredictable spiritual forces.
It is the fervent prediction of the writer that Ghana will see not economic prosperity until Ghanaians demanded responsibility, accountability, and quality performance from their elected or appointed politicians. Our politicians must not be allowed to hide behind the veil of religiosity to avoid public responsibility and accountability. The average Ghanaians also need a mental shift, an adoption of progressive values. As well, I also expect our religious leaders to join the crusade of creating a new Ghana by preaching in the church civic and moral responsibilities, accountability, transparency, hard-work, and honesty. The participation of our religious leaders in creating a new prosperous Ghana is crucially needed; for they have the institutional infrastructures and processes to transform the mentality of Ghanaians. By this, I am not suggesting that a special office or ministry should be created for our religious leaders. On the contrary, I am urging our legion religious leaders to use their leadership role to promote healthy values and macro-economic development of Ghana.
Department of Theory& Policy Studies, OISE/ University of Toronto.. Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.