Feature Article of Sunday, 22 January 2012

Columnist: Dery, Francis

The Untouchables – An Introduction

Countrymen and women, The Untouchables is a multi-part series discussing aspects of a Phenomenon that has gripped our nation for some time now. It is one that currently rivals with anything that defines us as a people; it seems to be political, social and economic. Yet, for some odd reason, the subject cannot be touched, at least in the way I am going to; be patient. I have been cautioned that few have the guts to cast away years of dogma and fear to address this Phenomenon, and that in the process, the Coalition will rally to destroy me. I am less afraid of that coalition, but more afraid of what our nation is becoming, has become, will become. So let’s roll.

At the centre of this Phenomenon is the animal called Man (both male and female). So gird your loins, and come with me on a journey into the very centre of this Phenomenon – perhaps you can help shed more light on it, or add more darkness to it; or you might just recognize it for what it is, what it has always been – about one thing and nothing else. Money!

Money in and of itself is not a bad thing. A renowned Ghanaian musician captures this unequivocally in “Sika y? moja”. Just the ability to bring this view to you takes money – my education, the computer on which to right, the ability to send this very article to the internet. Still we all know that like most things multi-dimensional, money is a double edged (or if you like “multiple-edged”) knife. It can create and it can destroy. Usually, having it is not by itself objectionable. It is how one acquires it that is often the sore point. All of us know many decent wealthy men and women, who have used their gift of wealth to do good; still others have used that wealth to destroy and to get to the very darkest realms of life on earth here. We should be wary not to confuse the two. But to the Phenomenon….

You can see it everywhere, on mega billboards, small posters, on TVs, in the newspapers, in some of your friends and family, perhaps even in yourself, in strangers - local and foreign; you can hear it on radio stations, in your neighbourhoods and across this nation, booming on anything that has the capacity to carry sound and vision, utilizing some of the most modern and far-reaching tools of our time. They carry fantastic promises of everything under the sun – business success, financial breakthroughs, passovers, crossovers, fruitfulness (child-bearing), examination success, spousal fidelity, marital bliss, career success and promotion, political power, exorcism from witchcraft, demons and many more. These messages epitomize the singular dreams of many of us either as individuals or groups. However, the problem is that the Phenomenon defers the realization of these promises to a Supreme Being – a Supreme Being in whom the Phenomenon itself appears to have little faith, as far as their own actions exemplify. I am talking about the thousands, if not tens of thousands, or more, of “men” and “women” of God who have set up shop, in virtually every nook and cranny of our country, exploiting our truly honest and God-fearing nature for material and personal gain.

Now wait a minute!!! Before anyone starts casting stones on me as an unbeliever, let me say upfront that I am a Christian; I haven’t been anything else in my entire life. In that rather long life, I have seen many, many Godly men and women, some good and some bad. So in embarking on this exercise, it may well be that I end up shooting my own kin in the foot for the dubiousness of this Phenomenon touches us all. I am not embarking on some crusade, neither am I about to form a church (with an almost business-like name). I am simply sharing my thoughts on what I have observed for a long time; but to the subject at hand, and perhaps, some historical context bears explaining. Please bear with me….

Historically, our country, since its founding, has always been tolerant of different faiths – Muslims, Christians and Traditionalists (or Pagans as others may derisively call them). Collectively, these forms of worship dominated the spiritual landscape of this. It is my view that over time, these faiths became institutionalized and perhaps became quite complacent about their dominance over the spiritual lives of our people. The Catholics, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Methodists on the Christian side come immediately to mind. Then, anyone calling himself/herself a Christian invariably professed one of these faithful doctrines. As our country matured, these doctrines continued to expand variously within the vast Christian space. The Catholic Church in particular continued its march along Roman-centric forms of worship, drawing extensively on Latin components. The solemn-hymn-laden church services brought a certain dreariness to worshiping God, that immediately created the space for a more vibrant, unorthodox, even exciting style, yearning to be filled by those who had the charisma and the courage to seize the opportunity. They called this a “calling” and have managed to proscribe this calling only to a select few by some arbitrary measure of spiritual purity and piety understood only “phenomenally”.

By the late 1970s to early 1980s, this yearning was growing stronger, with Afro-centric churches like Musama Disco Christo Church and many others. Worshippers often congregated in school buildings over the weekends, really singing, drumming, dancing, praying, praising and worshiping God. It was that simple. The heavy Afro beats introduced by drums and other instruments previously outcast as unsuitable for proper worship within so-called orthodox churches, simply dominated the new worship style, belling out scintillating rhythms that reverberated across neighbourhoods and brought out the music in many believers. At these services, worshippers shared their blessings, hopes as well as fears and sorrows. They were a truly Christian Community, with an African twist. It was almost (for want of a better word) magical. The “game” was on, droves of people, seeking new spiritual fulfillment left the dreary orthodox churches for these start-up churches, and to be quite fair, seemed to find some happiness there. Members saw changes in their lives, in the way they talked about everything else, including the Bible. They preached a more worldly, direct connection between spirituality and life on earth and found solace and strength in pulling together their growing numbers to achieve what they wanted on earth.

When the December 31st Revolution came, a time in which people of means became pariahs arbitrarily and material success was a high-risk factor and property-owning was undemocratic, the idea of ordinary people, coming together to do extraordinary things for a better life on earth was very appealing. Enter the Okomfo Damuahs of the time. Remember how in those days Okomfo Damuah rose to prominence, basically shaping the new landscape of spiritual engagement? Indeed, he dominated and defined the spirituality of our nation at the time, even if rather forcefully, with the blessings of those who wielded the power of the gun and governed the rest of us by sheer force. Still, that environment, as enabling as it was, was not ripe for the type of material excesses that later came to characterize newer churches from that era. Material success was still a high-risk factor. Still Okomfo Damuah’s provenance perhaps symbolized the beginnings of a powerful connivance between Church and State in ways that will redefine our spirituality as a nation. I will return to this relationship at a later stage in this series….

Political forces, internal and external, would compel a shift in our nation’s direction, from a military dictatorship, to a constitutional democracy, yet one which still had vestiges of the old order in aspects of our governance. With this came market economy policies which sought to liberalize everything; I mean, everything. Restrictions, on basic freedoms, including the right to assembly, worship and free speech, were eased away, and rightly so too. We all struggled under the yoke of a governmental system which kind of stifled growth and innovation. When running water is contained against its will and eventually it breaks boundaries, it carries all manner of extraneous elements with it as it breaks free. So the cavalry came marching in with the new liberalization, and things begun to spring up in every corner. Overnight, church signboards were almost competitive with business signs. Enter the era of the proliferation of Independent African Churches.

Are you with me so far? We will continue this phenomenal journey, next time. Stay tuned for I am just getting warmed up.

Francis Dery

Email: deryfrancis@yahoo.com