Ghana is a primarily christian nation. There are also muslims here, but I never saw any advertisements for mosque attendance. On the other hand, every street, no matter how empty is plastered with images of holy men dressed like Bruce Buffer offering their ecclesiastic services to anyone who will attend their special worship events. Their names, like their clothes are bold – sporting eclesiarchical titles like “Hot Prophet,” or “Prophet,” as well as others like Bishop, Archbishop, and “Apostle General”. It’s easy to be very cynical in the face of this sort of commercial and television evangelist stuff, but as I’ve grown older, read more books and articles, seen more of the world, and met more people, it doesn’t cause me to recoil as it might have done years ago as a more ignorant youth.
In his famous reference to the death of god, which I myself remember using to bolster attempts to refute the value of Christianity in all my teenage counter-culture agnst, Nietzsche went on to explain in the long and important suffix lasting several sentences following the quote, quite the opposite of what my younger self took it to mean. “God remains dead. And we have killed him,” wrote the German. “How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves?” In an act of prophecy eclipsing any made by Nostradamus, Nietzsche explained that since the morality inherent in the christian faith is by no means self-evident in the world, the removal of that theological foundation from western society, however flawed and ineffective it had been from preventing violence and suffering up until that point, would result in so much blood being shed that there would not be enough water to wash it all away. This somber prophecy fulfilled itself in the first World War, followed by the rise of the first great nationstates wherein the worship of anything other than the state, its soldiers, its machinations, was largely forbidden. The Soviet Union where worship of god was strictly controlled and all other religions outright discriminated or outlawed was just the start. Maoist China where so many tens of millions of people were killed that if you were off by a number in the 9th figure you’d be closer than most historians, famously created the cult of personality around Chairman Mao, and tore down so many of the historical Chinese buildings, palaces, temples, walls, and more as they represented the clinging on to false worship of emperors and imperial predecessors. And of course there was Hitler and Nazi Germany who had their own hangups with the whole “Thou Shalt Not Kill” business. Pol Pot didn’t enshrine himself as a Bodhisattva or anything like that, but rather set about killing millions of people in horrible ways for no particularly explainable reason; the classic example is always “anyone with classes” in case that person was educated at a center of learning – a merit that was brought forth into the world first, and kept there through long periods, entirely by Christianity and Islam.
This was a massive historical tangent, and a roundabout way of saying that treating others as you would like to be treated, even though it may have taken some time for that to be a vitally important part of the christian doctrine, is not obviously valuable or true to anybody living in a society where that isn’t the norm. And so as I went about this way and that inside Ghana’s capital city of Accra, I couldn’t help be thankful for Christianity’s presence there. Even though this might be the clearest definition of “bearing false witness,” I even found myself donning the Christian hat for awhile, becoming a sort of “theological tourist,” and allowing myself to feel a little bit of relaxation and even joy with a strongly worded “God be with you” at parting from a shop or from a new friend.
Now I’m not naive and I’m certainly aware that European colonization and influence – as recently as the famous American missionaries who moved to Africa in the 20th century to spread the gospel – is a large part of why Ghana is such a christian nation. On a side note, the only African nation to escape the grasp of Europe was Ethiopia (Maybe because it was offered to the Italians) but ironically she was already christian and had been for hundreds of years. Even still, in this current day and age and the state Ghana is in, I think a few christian values are more useful than an absence of them. When so much of the society is in disarray or decaying around you, the idea of an ultimate reward for all of eternity for the services you perform for your fellow man down here might not hurt, and when you feel there are laws and an order greater than the one you exist in, especially if it’s corrupt, serving a higher power might create a better behaved citizen. Take Kwadwo, my host, for example. As a christian, I could tell he looked at the less-disciplined and less- orderly members of his society with a mild sternness; particularly when it came to traffic and drivers. It didn’t seem to occur to him that drivers act this way in most developing countries or anywhere the roads are that bad, only that everyone around him was undisciplined, silly, and needing of punishment by the appropriate officials. He didn’t seem to notice the roads represented a state of general anarchy reflecting the loose hold his government had on the population. And aside from drifting through stop signs, Kwadwo’s restraint behind the wheel was remarkable when all around him broke every conceivable traffic law at will.
As for myself, my “theological tourism” was quite effective at charming people into helping me or providing more hospitality than they might otherwise be inclined to show me if I answered that I was not, in fact, a christian. Moreover, as a man appreciative of the modesty and reservedness of christian conservative America born from quiet British Common Law society (without the hating the gays part) I found that I slotted quite easily into the role, and needed only to increase my levels of demonstrable kindness to people and remember to talk more often about god. There’s a little bit of truth in the old adage about Judeo-Christian society and Judeo-Christian values as those which founded the West, because now that I’ve lived enough, read enough, and seen enough, I think I agree that distilled down into its most useful form, Christianity is a powerful tool for developing human potential. Obviously the aeons have provided ample evidence to the contrary, but so have godless societies. While attempting to parse out exact first nature and the varieties of moral possibilities across mankind, Owen Flanagan details a modern way of thinking about morality called “4 Sprouts 5 Modules” referring to ancient Chinese Confucian philosopher Mengzi’s idea that the human being has four limbs like those of a tree, each one beginning as a sprout. Confucian society than trims, prunes, feeds and waters the sprouts ensuring they grow into the aspects of a perfectly balanced individual. 5 modules refers to a modern interpretation of this theory with scientifically-identified and deeply-native behavioral systems found in all homosapiens rather than classical Confuscian values. Flanagan’s book, the Geography of Morals, was an exhaustive exploration of moral philosophy, and coupled with my explorations into the classics, and the help of one Professor Jordan B. Peterson, I’m quite happy to put the notion that Christianity is the opiate of the masses, as that most famous of “economists,” Karl Marx once said, into the grave alongside him.
It’s not everyday an American gets the opportunity to be in a society where he or she can take for granted that everyone around him will answer a hello with “and god bless you sir or madam” In Ghana I had the opportunity to open myself up entirely to christian society, and it wasn’t bad at all. It was a good exercise in connecting with other people’s humanity even when the filth and garbage and corruption of their surroundings forced me to draw away, and I will certainly take a lesson back from it.