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Opinions of Sunday, 3 February 2008

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Grappling with contending moralities

For sometime, Ghana is gripped with morality issues. There are strong perception that morality in all spheres of Ghana's life is declining to such an extent that a few months ago a drunk driver, in one early morning, nearly killed President John Kufour. This situation has opened the floodgate of all sorts of moral merchants who want to correct Ghana's moral crisis. The heated moral debate is also broadened by a new education curriculum that effectively removed religious and moral education and in its place inserted a broader secular one.

From civic organization to cultural groups to children organizations to Islamic groups to myriad Christian churches and associations to traditionalists to educationists, all sorts of morality solutions are being jingled around. But all moral posturing considered, despite their good intensions, all these holier than thou moralizing wheel around basically what the Ghanaian media calls R&ME - that?s Religion and Moral Education.

The acrimony isn?t necessarily whether morality shouldn?t be taught in schools or in public or that morality should be consigned to the private domain but whether religious-funded schools should teach morality from their religious perspectives. That?s why the two main religions in Ghana ? Christianity and Islam ? are complaining bitterly, envisioning, wrongly, chaos if religious education isn?t restored in schools as if the core foundational traditional cultural values that formed the Ghana nation-state have no moral basis.

The religion-morality row gets scrambled if you consider the number of other religions in Ghana and if all were to demand that their religion and morality be taught from their perspectives.

The dropping of Religious and Moral Education from the curriculum since September 2007 and the institution of more holistic religious and moral teachings is to deepen the secular character of Ghana legally and socially, and de-emphasis one religion as the dominant mode of morality. Of particular note here is traditional African religion and morality, which since colonial times till now, weren?t openly taught in schools but which most Ghanaians access.

For most part of 50 years of Ghana?s existence, because of long-running colonialism, Christianity had had its way, whether directly or indirectly, in teaching its mode of religion and morality in schools against traditional African religion. The new curriculum gives equal weight to traditional African religion and morality as are Christianity and Islam. While there are Islamic schools, Christianity have been dominant, and traditional African religion virtually not mentioned at all in the morality chants for decades.

Like other Ghanaian development values, for historical reasons, Ghanaians have to grapple with two contending moralities ? more or less Christianity and covertly traditional Africa. The new religion and morality education not only attempts to give respect and confidence to traditional African religion and morality but will help open up traditional spiritual and moral practices that have been suppressed for years.

It is not surprising that the Afrikania Mission, a traditional religious movement, supports the educational reforms and counter-argues that R&ME shouldn?t be restored in the face of Christians and Muslims calling for the restoration of R&ME. The AM position reveals the old moral battle between traditional African religion/morality and Christianity, which AM sees as the imposition of colonial morality and values on Ghana, and believes this has caused, over the past 50 years, moral confusion in the soul of Ghanaians.

In a mark of the on-going global debate about whether religion and morality should be taught in Ghanaian schools, the AM?s argues, with images of colonial subjugation, that "Ghana does not need the teaching of religion and morals in schools to develop, but the development of the peoples? culture, which is built on hard work and dedication?There is no economic or political research to suggest that stronger religious beliefs and practices within a country are statistically associated with higher rates of revenue or economic growth in this world than developing the peoples? culture." The AM view of religious education, culture, and progress, all either juggled or mixed, emphasis Ghanaian/African morality more and less of other foreign religious moralizing is a reflection of what is occurring in some parts of the Western world in the past four years where religious education in schools is seen by some as counter-productive in an apparent lack of historical awareness. In "God Delusion," biologist Richard Dawkins says there is "?the long-term psychological damage inflicted by bringing the child up Catholic in the first place." Revealing his hostility to religious education, philosopher Daniel Dennett warns in "Breaking the Spell" that parents harm their children by teaching them reprehensible lies "under the protective umbrella of personal privacy and religious freedom."

The writer Sam Harris, in "The End of Faith," says that "the very idea of religious tolerance?is one of the principal forces driving us toward the abyss." And the polemicist Christopher Hitchens controversially yells in "God is Not Great" that man/womankind should "escape the gnarled hands which reach out to drag us back to the catacombs and the reeking altars and the guilty pleasures of subjection abjection?" These views by some Western thinkers may give the AM some ammunition to campaign for new form of moral movement based on Ghanaian/African traditional images and values as some Southeast Asians countries did when they dusted their traditional Confucian moral teachings to restore decline in national morality. AM?s stand isn?t surprising whether drawn from the current Western situation or the Ghanaian morality conundrum.

What is surprising and newsworthy is the dramatic projection of African Traditional Religion as equal to Christianity and Islam in the new education curriculum that has given AM, which has been sleeping for long time on serious national issues, the vim to get involved in national development issues. But the AM?s position goes beyond any moral or religious rupture with Christianity and Islam or some distortions within project Ghana. The AM views also borders on Ghanaian/African culture and development or the suggestions for the exhortation of Ghanaian/African traditional moral precepts to rally the development process as the Chinese leadership have been doing.

Orville Schell, the Arthur Ross director of the Centre on US-China at the Asia Society, explains in "Time" magazine that part of the reason for China?s economic dynamism is that its leaders depend on both their traditional ancient wisdom and communist doctrine as guides to their development process. No doubt, traditional virtue exhortations such as "hexie shehui," "a harmonious society," or "datong," the "great harmony," which come in the form of quotes from traditional Confucianism and their ancient "Book of Rites," from President Hu Jintao to rally the development process are a common feature. The morality debate that has gripped Ghana impinges on development since morality drives discipline and trust, two key elements for progress. Whether the Afrikania Mission wants Ghanaian/African traditional moral values given equal weight in the education system and how they will do it is a different matter. What matters is whether Ghanaian elites, increasing finding their development sense from within their innate traditional values, can rebrand the morality issues as a core development issue in such way that Ghanaian/African traditional moral teachings will have as important a place as Christianity and Islamic moral values in the larger progress of Ghana is another matter.

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.