Individual versus Community-Good ValuesIn the practice of religion, the institution of prayer and cultivation of good values that inform and direct actions are indispensable to our contribution to the happiness of our communities. This is more likely to help us create a Kingdom of Heaven backed by a million and one prayers.
In part II of this article I observed that the desire to receive rather than give has grown to become (shamefully) an acceptable value for Ghanaians, making us one of the leading beggar nations of Africa. This tendency is present among us, in spite of the teachings of the scriptures that ‘Blessed is the hand that giveth than the one that taketh’ (Holy Bible) or ‘ The upper hand is better than the lower hand’ (Quran).
Cultures generally divide according to those leaning towards individuality and those leaning towards communality. It is not an argument that individualism would not exist, but that when pendulum of values and actions of a culture/society swings more towards community-good, then it is a community-oriented society. And although the individual charts his/her own path to salvation, the question that needs to be answered by us and all our very powerfully religious politicians is whether we prefer an ‘I’ salvation, politics, and culture or a ‘we’ salvation, politics and culture.
Our religion, culture and traditions as Africans had emphasised honour, ancestors, family and community. The reality today however, is that our values of community-good are giving way to values of focusing on individual-good. We have lost or are losing values that motivate us to want to give to others and to aspire to be proud that we are giving to others/community. More importantly, the tendency to receive from others means that we do not generate enough creative solutions to give to the rest of the world. Many people ask why we are unable to harness our resources to meet our needs. The answer is that we want others to think for us, like the manner we expect to fall from heaven when we pray for God’s help. It is this attitude or value, which also makes us aspire to serve no other persons in but ourselves, hence the greed and non-performance of our leaders.
We hold a distorted view of when the value of honesty for example must apply to ourselves, as individuals and when it must apply to our community, neighbours and institutions. For example, many Ghanaians (the most guilty being our politicians and civil servants) justify their pilfering from government with the assumption that the government is not an entity that feels the effects of pilfering. In fact, they forget that whenever the government loses ten cedis, someone may not have access to medicine in a hospital, someone does not get paid t o provide food for his family and someone somewhere gets no water to drink.
Elsewhere, I have written that no nation can develop our country Ghana but ourselves. Through thinking and placing value on sustaining what we have, we will realise that foreign aid (in the forms of food, money etc) is not development, and that we are losing sight of the fact that they are merely end-products of the creative process, which issue from values the donor nations have cultivated for themselves. How much money do we need to borrow before we are able to provide water and basic health in each community at a sustainable level? No amount of loans will suffice until we cultivate the value that it everyone’s responsibility to maintain and sustain what we have in our communities, otherwise we have borrow these monies a 100 times over and achieve nothing.
A systems approach to looking at our communities would lead to a systems-value-conceptualization i.e. conceptualizing our values in terms of what we need as communities and as a people. We need to revert to values that engender upholding the survival and efficiency of our entire systems- in this case our villages and communities. In such an exercise, we cannot dismiss the role of honesty, responsibility and pride in using our intellect and strength to create and give to others. There is therefore a tug of war between values of individual-good and values of community or collective-good, and also between values of functionality and ostentation.
Values of Functionality versus Values of OstentationThe modesty required of religious practitioners would dictate that Africans /Ghanaians aspire to hold values and tastes that are modest and which serve specific functions for individuals and society. This implies that ostentation is to be avoided. However, our choice of clothing, birth and funeral rites and development priorities reflect ostentation rather than functionality.
The society lavishes on big funerals with specially designed coffins costing millions of cedis although their children have no food, and educational materials. In a country of poor people with no water and an appreciable health delivery system, the population spends over 20 billion cedis each year on expensive coffins. This practice can be likened to withdrawing 20 billion cedis from the Bank of Ghana and burying it at the Osu cemetery, and then turning round and asking God to help us feed and clothe our children. Our governments prioritise and support projects of ostentations including flashy residential buildings and airports, but no functional roads to the airports, residential areas or even to nearest hospitals.
Failing to Create a Kingdom of Heaven with our Millions Prayers We have failed to use religion to guide the development of our values towards total community salvation and development. Thus, our understanding of religion is all confused and what we want from God in our million prayers is completely incomprehensible. What is clear though is that we want God to give all of the good things of our community to us as individuals- for our personal material salvation and whatever happens to all others is not important. And for the reason that we have lost sight of this problem, we tend to believe that our suffering is the result of not praying enough, when in fact it is that we failed use our intellect and our hearts.
As one grows to appreciate the extent to which our European brothers and sisters have cultivated the values of kindness, honesty and love without comparable expression of religiosity or million prayers, you begin to feel that the current expression of faith and religiousness in Africa is nothing but a huge furnace melting away all the pockets of kindness in our hearts; the more we become religious the more we lose compassion for our communities. Social solidarity, which emerges from compassion with others, is the backbone of a society’s social capital. Though all societies possess social solidarity, the quality and intensity of the solidarity diminishes with changing values. In Africa, the solidarity has been diminishing since the coming of foreign religions and their gradual total influence on our thinking as Africans. Ministers or Men of God in the name of Jesus and God are fast emerging as corporate entities. We see huge buildings proclaiming to be the houses of God but the House of God is not a building but the hearts of the worshipers. These ‘men of God’ are dancing tango with corrupt public office holders who are able to pay 5 millions cedis (5 months salary for an average worker) to these priests or modern-day prophets who have no shame. Poor people pay huge amounts of money for special prayers offered by heartless ‘men of God’, who are the exact opposite of Christ’s legacy. When will these poor believers realise that if money was needed for special prayers, then Jesus would have asked payment from those who were cured, healed and brought back to life. How on earth would we be able to ask for God’s mercy? The mercy of God encompasses all things, but that mercy will be hard to give to practitioners who have no mercy for other men.
Karl Marx called religion the opium of the masses. Sigmund Freud on the other hand called it human infantile neurosis and Bierce called it an explanation of the nature of the unknown. Sadly, we may find that these definitions appear to perfectly describe the practice of religion among Africans today, because we don’t seem to know what faith and religion truly mean. There is misapplication of faith and prayer among all Africans Christians, Muslims and Traditional practitioners. We believe in God without knowing what exactly God wants us to do when society’s leaders are not doing the right things. Our blind faith in religion leads to silence, with only one utterance ‘ God will help or deliver us’, instead of standing up to the leaders and requiring the best from them, and changing our own input into what goes on in our society. Can there be an excuse before God for one who pockets the money meant for the construction of a clinic or water facility for an entire community? Bob Marley’s words echo more strongly here ‘ Is there a place for the hopeless sinner who has hurt all mankind just to save his own soul?’ Yet there is silence everywhere, even in the churches, mosques, shrines, and in the hearts of the praying parliamentarians who are taking exclusive part in the eating of ‘the cake that belongs to all’.
Religion has anesthetized the population into the silent suffering Africans who have simply accepted the situation as our fate, and erroneously conclude that it is our destiny. What we fail to realize is that our destiny is alterable by employing the free gift of the power of intellect and hearts, which God and nature gracefully bestowed upon every human being (at no cost). Africans appear to have chosen not to use the intellect and hearts constructively and our situation is therefore a self-imposed destiny. Sadly, as Ambrose Bierce noted, destiny is ‘A tyrant's authority for crime and a fool's excuse for failure’. Thus, Africans have only taken religion as excuse for failing to take responsibility to rise up to tyranny and their collective failure. Therein lies the genesis of Europe’s Kingdoms of Heaven without Prayer and Africa’s Kingdoms of Hell with Million prayers.