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Opinions of Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Columnist: Adongo, Richard

Ghana, A Religious Zoo?

By Richard Adongo

Many are those who are of the opinion that Ghana is now a religious zoo. A zoo in the sense that one can be sure to see all forms of religions and their denominations in Ghana. A zoo because in the one stop religious shop of Ghana, a religious tourist would admire with awe, the various religious groupings in the country.

Infact, the zoo is really very interesting and insightful, and prospective tourists would not regret should they choose Ghana as a holiday destination. In Ghana, almost every available space is used as a place of worship.

Talk of schools, shops, garages and even street pavements. People can be heard and seen worshiping amidst loud and deafening noises.

Even in school blocks, there is a mad rush as the number of churches for the available spaces far outnumbers the classrooms.

What are the reasons for the wanton proliferation of these churches? The answer is not really far fetched. With a majority of the population earning far less the meager one dollar a day, the poverty situation cannot be anything but excruciating.

With superstition so rife in the society, some charlatans in the name of messengers of God, and to paraphrase the words of Dan Brown, hijack Christ’s message, shrouding it in an impenetrable cloak of divinity and using it to expand their own power and influence.

Usually, this influence is entrenched and consolidated by the amount of money and other material resources which these men of God are able to extract and extort from their very poor unsuspecting members.

Infact so blind is this love for money by these churches that sometimes, their congregants are made to sit according to their financial power. The higher you are able to promise or deliver the pastor, the higher your place of honour within the church, almost synonymous with the sitting arrangement of the Jews in ancient times where the Holy of Holies represented by Yahweh himself sat on the highest place of honour, then closely followed by the Holy men of Israel, the Holy women of Israel and finally, the court of the gentiles on the lowest ladder of the hierarchy.

Whereas these Biblical arrangements in the church were largely based on stereotypes and myths at the time so as to camouflage and garnish the obvious discrimination, that same discrimination today is primarily based on money. The religious tourist to Ghana can then decipher which of the two forms of decimation appeals to him.

As a religious tourist of foreign extraction especially from somewhere around the USA, it would really be enticing to find out that most of the church members of Ghana’s majority Pentecostal churches are youthful in nature.

They are mostly between the ages of 7 and 35. Out of these ranges of people, those between the ages of 7 and early 20 are those who go to the Pentecostal and Charismatic churches because the orthodox churches like the Roman Catholics, the Presbyterians, the Methodists and Anglicans are borey.

Infact a friend once told me that he left the Catholic Church because the “getting up” and “sitting down” were so many and boring. His joints even ached as he did that. He went further, “when the priest says let us pray, I am up. After just two minutes of sitting down and a paragraph of reading, the priest comes again to the altar and says this time round “the Lord be with you” and I have to be up again”. The others who said the older churches were boring left because the mass celebrations were very dull and not lively at all.

The absence of brass band and high pitched music in the older churches was a factor that drove them into the welcoming hands of their Charismatic and Pentecostal counterparts.

The American Obroni, or better still Oyibo would certainly marvel at this spectacle. Whereas in his native America it is only the elderly and very senile members of society who go to church, it is rather the opposite in Ghana.

She should not however be deceived.

The other side of the coin is that those other half of the youth in their early twenties and thirties are not attracted to these charismatic and Pentecostal churches because of the melodious and loud music, but this time round in search of partners.

The majority of these groups are the females, desperate to find Mr. Right who should be handsome, caring and above all God fearing. The scope of finding this Mr. Right is made narrower and even brighter by the fact that some of the pastors in these churches strictly admonish their members to marry from within the church, to the extent that if a brother or sister of the church dreams, to put it euphemistically, receives a vision that God has put he and a sister of the church together, then there are no two other ways. The marriage has to come on.

One thing Oyibo has to know is that this arrangement is very crucial to the Ghanaian literate and independent intellectual woman because the largely chauvinist and patrimonial Ghanaian society frowns on women trying to rub shoulders with men. That BA or MA and worse of all that PhD holder of a woman risks remaining single till she dies if she dares achieve these enviable laurels before marriage. All the men would shun her.

If Oyibo sees this rather too strange, I dare challenge her to extend her stay in Ghana and do a cursory study of Ghana, starting from the churches. Most of the pastors have illiterate wives. From the church, Oyibo should troop into our Ministries and continue with the Ministers. A majority of them also harbour these illiterate wives. Oyibo should insist on finding out from the men whether their wives were educated as at the time of their marriage as some of them try to save their heads by “window dressing” their wives with some form of education which in most cases I dare say would not exceed Senior High School or a Diploma Certificate after the marriage.

The fascinating spectre of the Ghanaian religious zoo is very far from over. If Oyibo is tired, then he should consider getting himself an energy drink. There are several of them in Ghana, coming under several names and shades. One thing which would also hit Oyibo is the high sounding accolades which are used to qualify some of these men of God. The accolades range from Archbishop, Bishop, Prophet, Apostle and even Disciple. Very funny and elaborate dressing is usually worn to accompany these high sounding names.

What Oyibo should help me find out is that who confers these titles on these people? I am incapacitated to find the reason because an Obibini like me would be thrown out of any place if I go finding that answer. But with the thought that Oyibo is fairer and probably can spare some dollars, she would easily be ushered into any office and her questions answered more politely.

If that does not find prominence in Oyibo’s itinerary of activities, maybe we could find out latter. However, what Oyibo needs to know in this direction is the fact that one of those Archbishops, in fact a highly placed one after wedding his wife and saying for better for worse, till death do we part, divorced that wife and took another one to the alter and said the same thing again, blinding himself to the existence of his first wife.

Since life in Accra is almost not possible without the activities of the omnibus services of the local Trotro, I know Oyibo might have patronized the services of these Trotro.

These men of God have mapped themselves to the local FM stations, flooding and intruding the privacies of passengers who board these vehicles to their various destinations.

On top of this, their message is largely in a sharp and piercing tone, throwing fire and brimstone to listeners. Usually trying frantically to induce fear in the lives of everybody. With this fear, the individual would be disarrayed and feeling generally unsecured. They would then project themselves as the vessels of God through whom the troubled and afflicted members of the public can receive their freedom from captivity.

Sometimes the message and topic chosen to induce this fear into the people is so absurd and ridiculously without bases that it leaves one wandering.

Whereas science for example has proved that any child approaching adolescence would have wet dreams in his/her adolescence in which case he or she would wet himself/herself, one pastor claims the action is a spiritual misnomer which can only be corrected by him.

He went further to say that it was indicative of a generational spirit that has haunted the person’s family and would continue to do so unless something is done by him. This is not to dispute the existence generational spirits and the possibility of man to spirit unions, but to emphasize the point that the pastor’s diagnosis was rather too hasty and general.

Other times a guess would be made about caller or church member’s problems. Once confirmed, these men of God forecast the cause of those illnesses with doom.

I hope Oyibo still has some more time to spend in Ghana because there are still more revealing insights into the religious zoo of Ghana yet to be unveiled.

Ever heard of consultation fee? I guess Oyibo and a lot of us are thinking of the Hospitals where the doctors usually do charge fees of consultation. But alas, this thing has been over with the advent of the National Health Insurance Scheme (NHIS) in Ghana.

So therefore, what consultation is being talked about here? Yes, some of the men of God in Ghana charge consultation fee. These fees range from GH¢50 for normal consultation to GH¢100 if one seeks to be seen as a matter of urgency.

I know Oyibo is racking through her brains to see if she can remember how much Jesus Christ last charged his clients for consultation or for the miracles he performed while on his earthly mission. But this is Ghana for you!!!

Even in the USA where living standards are much better and sustainable, this kind of extortionist charges are not asked of them how much more a third world poverty stricken HIPC country like Ghana?

Infact, it should be stated here that some of the professed men of God are really good. There is this one who roams the streets of Accra curing the lunatics of their lunacy. He even shaves them and baths them.

This is commendable because those vulnerable and marginalized members of our society have really nobody to look after them. Even the government blueprint of poverty reduction, the GPRS I and II did not recognize them when they attempted to identify the vulnerable and excluded members of the Ghanaian society.

I however fell out with this SERVANT OF GOD because he had on occasion cursed the father of the unborn child of one pregnant female lunatic in front of the cameras. Christ as I have been made to know and understand is full of forgiveness, to the extent that he refrained from cursing the architects and executers of his own death.

If the Prophet Elisha called on the birds of the air to consume some children because they mocked his baldness, then one can imagine what Christ could have done to those wicked murderers by the words of his mouth.

Oyibo, I nearly glossed over this one because I thought it was irrelevant. But upon close scrutiny, I think it would interest religious tourists.

It is the names of these churches. Some of them are really mind blowing. But I wish to beg forgiveness for having to cite one of them just to whet Oyibo’s appetite to visit Ghana again and again. This one is the Israel King of The Jews Church.

When I look at this name, I don’t know whether Israel is the King of Jews or rather it means Jews are the Kings in Israel. Which ever way one looks at it, the current developments in present day Israel contradicts the whole thing.

Also, It is often erroneously asserted that if one wants to hide something from the black man, he should put It in a book. This saying often suggests that Oyibo is a prolific reader. That being the case, I know Oyibo would read some Ghanaian newspapers.

It should therefore not surprise him after reading this piece should he discover that virtually no single day passes without reports of Pastors or Men of God raping, defiling and sexually harassing minors, juveniles and even adults. The story can go on and on.

But please pardon me if I have not or cannot do justice to this whole topic of Ghana’s interesting religious zoo. The description above rather smacks off a Christian Variety zoo, not a religious zoo. But I think I can be forgiven, taking cognizance of the fact that a cartoon depicting what a certain prophet would have done sparked some violence in a West African country some years back. Violence which claimed several lives and property. Even in our own Ghana, a movie trying to portray that a majority of the people who sojourned to neighbouring Libya en route to Spain, Italy and other countries were of a particular religious divide did not go down well with their brothers and sisters.

I therefore entreat Oyibo to come and enjoy the Christian zoo as it is portrayed here, and I bet that she would discover far more interesting things than have been described him. May be when Obo’adie Oyankopon gives me more breath and wisdom, I would continue with the zoo of the proud but infiltrated and adulterated African Traditional Religion.

Until then, enjoy Ghana, the island of peace and harmony within a troubled sub region. I am told with the presence of beaches in California and Miami, America lacks coconut.

Anyway, Oyibo, while you enjoy the religious scenery, there is a lot of coconuts to get fresh coconut water to quench your thirst. And please do not bring drugs into the country because there is a new administration which may not take kindly to drugs at all.

If you care to know, a word to the wise is now in the north, so if you don’t mind you can take a trip to the northern parts of Ghana where I can assure you that you will ride on the back of a crocodile if you find your way to Paga in the Upper East Region.