Obinim Is The Standard Bearer!
BY DR. SAMUEL ADJEI SARFO
In the face of the scandal ridden life of Obinim, many Ghanaians have come to think that he represents the worst in religious leadership and conduct. It is the proposition of this paper that Obinim represents the typical religious leader and person, and that his obnoxious conduct defines, rather than detracts from the typical religious devotee. We come to this conclusion upon close scrutiny of the nature of the religious phenomenon as it has played out in Ghana. We do not dwell too much on the man’s evil machinations.
Among several definitions, pundits view religion as humankind’s search for a fruitful relationship with the holy other. It is also an affirmative conviction about the omnipotence, holiness and righteousness of our object of worship and the belief that resulting from our devotion to it will be the boon of happiness and protection. In short, religion is the ways in which humankind seek the will of a god in order that we might satisfy this divine will and as a result, live in peace and happiness.
Many scholars identify common threads in all religions. Firstly, there is the concept of revelation, during which the etiology of the faith is established through a prophet’s encounter with the holy other. In this encounter, the will of the deity is often revealed to humans. These revelations are then committed into writing which compose the sacred book of the religion. The content of the sacred book may comprise two pillars, namely myths and ethics of the religion. Then, the place of the revelation, where miracles and auspicious events are believed to have occurred, are consecrated into the holy sites of the faith. Finally, the divine might reveal the rewards for obedience and describe steps for salvation after the earthly life of devotees. This final stage constitutes the eschatological aspect of the faith. World religions are therefore founded on the rubrics of revelation, sacred writings, myths, ethics, rituals, holy sites and salvation.
Of these aspects, the most important convergent point is ethics. This is the pattern of acceptable behavior and conduct--what is considered right, honorable and praiseworthy by all civilized societies. Indeed ethics determines the character of the person and defines his worth in the context of universal responsibilities and values. Here, all religions are unified, insofar as each agrees on the virtues of generosity, decency, respect, peace, mercy, honor, unity, honesty and altruism. Given the visceral nature of ethical norms, it makes sense to presume that it must be the most pleasing to God, since it determines human character and level of righteousness. It makes sense also to conclude that it is ethical behavior which brings the divine rewards of human happiness and security. Thus the most cogent part of all religious faith is right conduct and proper behaviour.
But ethical conduct is not emphasized by religious leaders! The reason is that emphasis on ethical behavior will definitely deprive all religious leaders of the power and money they so crave after. If people were told to be the best that they could be, eschewing greed, hatred, dishonesty and jealousy, and upholding the virtues of love, honesty, compassion and friendship, every human person will become a divinity unto themselves and get rid of the feeling of guilt upon which religious leaders thrive; and those leaders who claim to deputize for God will soon find themselves out of business. Let us take for example a scenario where a majority of church members decide to give their tithes to charity. By this noble act, the members will be performing service to humankind which is also service to God; but because of the greed and chicanery of their religious leaders, these devout worshippers will be castigated and threatened with fire and brimstone for failing to bring all the tithes into the temple treasury (read the pockets of the religious leaders). Therefore, the first order of business of most religious leaders is to keep the minds of their followers away from the issues of righteous living and to focus them on acts that feed their monetary interests. They do this by de-emphasizing righteous and ethical behavior and accentuating the importance of religious frills. In this case, sacred objects, shrines, holy temples, myths and rituals take the center of worship, and the devotee is gradually alienated from any service to his society and fellow human beings, focusing on monetary offerings for the enrichment of the religious leader . Thus ethical conduct is replaced by doses of redundant instructions and postures structured to make the person feel emotionally good as long as he lives in doctrinal abstraction and keeps the money flowing. Religion, instead of transforming the individual, now incapacities his critical thinking and turns him into a hypocrite……an unquestioning minion of those who have sworn a cabalistic allegiance to temporal power and earthly riches. Thus the focus of modern religion is to provide a veil against critical thinking through mysterious rituals and formalized posturing. Religious leaders calibrate esoteric practices and concoct systemic vocabulary to confound their followers. They provide scriptural mythologies by which the unproven claims of their faith are effectively propagated. Ninety percent of what religious leaders talk about are intended to benefit themselves, and they only lace up their messages with footnotes about righteous living just to keep the charade going. They have cleverly decoupled the perennial messages of their prophets from themes of righteous living and substituted them with income and property producing doctrines. Religious leaders strut the corridors of power, dressed in the garb of riches to intone their messages to the miserable ones from whom they extort huge amounts of wealth……The foregoing aptly explains the reason why the rise of religious faith has never corresponded with the growth of human ethics and earthly peace.
Yet devotees of the faith have shown an amazing reluctance to extricate themselves from religious bondage. In our world today, many people are in mental captivity, not because of the dearth of religion, but because their intellectual faculties are subsumed in deceptions to the point of hopelessness. These are not prepared to be redeemed; rather, they will kill, burn and destroy in order to remain in their mental state. They are like Kofi Tetteh, a mentally retarded man at Effiduase- Koforidua, my hometown. He works very hard, weeding farms and cleaning houses and thereby earning some money for himself. At the end of the day, he gives all his money to young girls who deceive him that they will go to bed with him. Anyone that tries to tell the truth to Kofi Tetteh becomes his worst enemy. His very existence depends on being constantly deceived by young girls! Likewise, many who profess to be religious will murder to maintain themselves in their delusion, away from any truth that is contrary to their faith. They, like Kofi Tetteh, consider the truth to be their worst enemy.
There is also something to be said for a psychological satisfaction that arises out of this religious irresponsibility: Humans naturally gravitate towards evil and therefore do not care to make their societies better through proper conduct. To many, no price is too great for the freedom from righteous conduct. In this sense, the deceptive ways of the religious leaders are far alluring to them than the weighty duty that comes with a true commitment to the ethical life. These people readily accept blatant lies in order to escape from the rigid rigors of righteous living.
When Jesus came, he found the Pharisees engaged in deceptive teachings. Instead of being concerned about the plight of the poor and suffering, they were busy teaching abstract religious dogma. Jesus repudiated that teaching and spoke extensively about altruistic love and authentic kindness. Today, religious leaders have stolen his name while rejecting his message and retaining the practices of the Pharisees.
At the University of Cape Coast, Garbah, professor emeritus of Religion, used to repeat the thoughts of pundits in these paraphrased terms: If the Muslim or the Christian or the Hindu, or the Taoist or the Baha'ist or the Mormon or any religious person does what they are supposed to do, their actions, thoughts and behaviors will be both similar and the same positive conduct. Further, Prof. Garbah taught that the lamps are different but the light is the same. What the aged teacher meant was that at the irreducible level, all religions strive to achieve the same purpose: making the individual more virtuous: more honest, more loyal, more loving, more compassionate, more peaceful, more truthful, more respectful, more generous and more forgiving. Every known religion should espouse these values and gives them a pride of place. Unfortunately, this is not the case.
Religious leaders tend to ignore these unifying virtues taught by the prophets and to focus on what can be called the frills of the religion, namely tithing, dress code, prayer posturing, taboos, fairy stories, and holier-than-thou messages that finger the evil other. Herein then lies the source of all religious conflicts: by preaching what divide them instead of what unite them, religious leaders fan hatred and animosity and fear among their followers, thereby exercising power over them and profiting through their ignorance.
Whenever any religious person finds himself in conflict with another, then the things unravelling are those irrelevant aspects of that person's religion. Whenever the virtues triumph, peace prevails among all peoples, and their faiths, their prophets and their Gods speak one language, sing the same songs and dance to the same tunes.
The time has come for us to wake up from our slumber, to unmask the palpable guiles of our religious leaders and their deceptive teachings. Although inherent in religious phenomena is its verifiable ability to baptize whole populations in the pond of ignorance, we still possess the power to work out our own enlightenment through critical thinking, proper conduct and righteous actions.
While others remain unperturbed by the abdication of religion in the positive transformation of our society, we remain convinced that the institution must be prompted to preach ethical living as a more viable alternative to the litany of abstract dogma applied in her processes of mass acculturation. For we hold this truth to be self evident that the worship of God has nothing to do with myths, temples and rituals, but everything to do with the quality of our lives in the world: our kindness, our generosity, our sense of duty, our honesty, our love and goodwill towards all humankind. Our genuine transformation and new birth begins the day we pray to God and say: of all we know of good we shall perform; from all we know of evil we shall refrain; and of all we are left to know, we pray for the Almighty God to teach us.
The extent to which religious leaders detract from ethical teachings puts them in sound company of Obinim, who then becomes their arch example and standard bearer. Like Obinim, religious leaders thrive on teachings that serve three purposes: misleading their congregation, profiting from their ignorance and securing a free pass to commit the most heinous crimes.....
Samuel Adjei Sarfo, Juris Doctor, lives in Austin Texas. You can email him at email@example.com