1 August 2011

Ghana: The Dysfunctions of Religion and the Problems of Today


The functions of religion from time of old till date contribute to the socio-economic and spiritual wellbeing and the overall uplifting of society.

Paul Tillich was right to define religion as "the ultimate concern of man" without which humans, or for that matter society, would be sent into an abyss of backwardness.

Nevertheless, religion aside, its good side is highly countered when viewed from the following background: religion in many ways promotes division and disunity in society because it manifests itself differently from one religion to another. People's understanding of religion differs considerably, hence the division of religion into various typologies: Christianity, Traditional religion, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Zoroastrianism etc.

Today, believers of the same religion break further into different sects for one reason or the other. For example, in Christianity we have different denominations like Orthodox churches: Catholic, Anglican; the Protestants (Methodist, Presbyterians); the Pentecostals (church of Pentecost, Assemblies of God) and the Charismatic church (Calvary Charismatic Centre, International Central Gospel Church, Word Miracle, Action Chapel). Worthy of note is the fact that all these divisions are based on doctrinal differences, which can sometimes degenerate into unhealthy rivalry.

The division in Islam is not different, as we have the Alsunna, the Sunni, the Shiite and the Ahmaddiya Movement, even though they all profess to follow the teachings of the Prophet Mohammed and the Quran. Funny as it may be, even within the same sect the division may be based on the saved and the unsaved members. In fact, people do not see themselves as members of the same community but rather as members of a religious group. This position weakens the foundation of society even though the group may constitute just a small fraction of the community. An example can be seen in Egypt as Coptic Christians are being persecuted and killed for no apparent reason.

It is sad to note that while tolerance, respect and unity were once the backbone of societal unity that is not the case today. Going by Karl Marx assertion that religion is the "opium of the masses," then we may be right to say that religion can make people feel high without regard for other peoples' religion by tolerating their choice of religion.

Secondly, the non-empirical dimension of religion (i.e. the belief in forces outside the physical realm) does not only promote superstition but also militates against individual development initiative. In many cases, believers tend to depend on spiritual forces rather than on themselves to improve their lot in society, instead of seeing life from a pragmatic point of view and work hard to improve themselves. They instead rely on these spiritual forces to seek answers to their problems, forgetting that in the world we live in, humans are the masters of everything and decide everything.

The times in which we live demand that problems that need a physical approach to its solution are not left to the forces of nature and supernatural. But that is what is common these days as people troop to various forests and football pitches to pray. I am not saying that prayers are bad but let us also work toward solving our problems.

The frequent employment of the spiritual approach to problems undermines the development of the individual's lot and that of society at large. Believers usually expect miracles in almost every problem that confronts them without making the least effort to attempt a practical solution.

Again, most religious believers have a strong urge to achieve the ultimate in life: the Endless Bliss of Heaven. This hereafter goal is deeply cherished in the major religions in Ghana (Christianity and Islam). Interestingly, this kind of belief in many ways compels believers to be completely submerged in their religious practices.

This situation weakens the feelings of statehood and patriotism, since these people believe that heaven is their only goal as opposed to acquiring worldly possessions. We can all attest to the fact that the environment is becoming filthier because no one cares about the neatness and cleanliness of our surroundings.

Another worrying dysfunction of religion is that some teachings and prohibitions run counter to national goals, aspirations and development. An example is members of the Jehovah Witness sect do not take part in active politics, and therefore do not run for political offices with the reason that God Himself is the sovereign authority. So, they depend on Him for direction and instructions. In the like manner, Traditional religion also forbids work on certain days considered sacred. An example is the prohibition of fishing on the high sea on specific days in certain areas, Tuesday in particular. Similarly, in most communities in the Asante Region farming is forbidden on Thursdays with claims that these are the sacred days of the deity. These phenomena always reduce national productivity and encourage laziness among many Ghanaians and consequently put pressure on the government.

Undeniably, religion creates tension and conflict among people who do not share the same faith, as has been demonstrated countries such as Egypt, Nigeria and Israel where more often than not, Christians clash with the Muslims. Indeed fanaticism and dogmatism make it difficult for certain religious bodies to tolerate others.

It can be deduced from the above occurrences that dysfunctions of religion, without forecasting the gloom and doom for the future, slows national development in all sectors. We must be aware of the holy claim that "society is dynamic while religion is static." Therefore, the various religious bodies must be reminded of the demands of the times and the call for their practices to stand the test of time and also be transformed to fit into the changes of today.

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