Wednesday, February 10, 2010

And He Went About Doing Good - The impact of Christianity on Ghana (The good, the bad and the ugly)

Part 1 - The Good

It's not often that we talk about Christianity on this blog. Which, is rather odd, considering that Ghana self-identifies as a Christian nation and signs that point to this aspect of our identity are all around us - I mean every other Ghanaian owned business has a name that identifies the owner as a person of the Christian faith, right?Think tro-tros (e.g. No bribe in heaven) and kiosks (e.g. Except God) , containers (e.g. My Savior lives), nursery schools (e.g. Little angels School).

So in today's post and the next 2 posts, I want us to look at what impact Christianity has had on our country and our people. Today's post will address all the good that Christianity has done for Ghana and Ghanaians. The next post will address the bad, and the post following
that will talk about the downright ugly.

I crave your indulgence, ladies, and gentlemen, as I lay down the rules.

Today's post shall only be about the positive. So if you have nothing good to say about Christianity in Ghana, shut up, sit tight, and wait. In subsequent posts, you will have all the opportunity to bash, and vent and let it all out. But today... today, we want to acknowlege the good. I'd like us to do this because it will help us hear from both sides without one side drowning out the voices of an opposing side. This way, even if you're not a fan of Christianity, you'll be forced to acknowlege its merits. And even where you believe it's had no positive impact, you will read only from others who believe it's done us some good.

Similarly, in the next post, we will only talk about how it's impacted us negatively. This should help maintain some sanity in here. My hope is that the discussion will not degenerate into personal attacks and we'll all learn something, maybe even switch positions at the end of it all.

The question is this: tell me, what good has Christianity done for Ghana.

I have a few answers of my own.

First, Education
Majority of the top secondary schools in Ghana were set up by Christian missionaries and continue to be guided by Christian principles and values. I'm talking about the Mfantsipims (Methodist), The Wey Gey Heys (Methodist), the Presecs (Presbyterian), and Rosecs (Catholic), The Abugiss (Presbyterian), The Holy Childs (Catholic) and St Augustines (Catholic), The St Peters (Catholic) and Adiscos (Anglican?). And more recently, we find that a disproportionate number of the newly established private universities are affiliated with Christian denominations. Like the Catholic University, Presbyterian University, Methodist University, Central University
and so on.

Second, Charity
That which makes us kind and loving towards other people, even if we're not related to them.There are times when it seems to me, all life should be spent pursuing that which makes
our time on earth a little easier for one another. I attended a wake-keeping last friday. My first. And despite my objections, was pressured by my peers to go see the corpse.I'm glad I caved. Seeing a body so lifeless of a man who was very wealthy in his day, with tens of people gathered around him, yet unable to restore him to life...that did something to me.
When i came out, I couldn't understand why mourners were dancing in the courtyard.
They said they were celebrating the dead man's life but I imagined, if i died, would i want people dancing? When i got out of there, i broke down and cried my heart out. The kind of crying that leaves you with puffy eyes the next day and makes your
husband look bad. haha. I was crying for the dead man, yes, but also for all of us, especially myself. I wondered how I would deal with it if my husband died. What would life without my best friend be like?

My thoughts led me to one thing. If all the things we chase after-the fame,the fortune, the success- is meaningless, and we're all just going to die in the end, maybe more time should be spent making the life we have better, more enjoyable for those we love. Should I be having a fight over who does the dishes, and who takes out the trash and whose money we use to build the house that we're both going to stay in and die in and then leave behind? The least we can do is spread a little kindness. Helping the poor, the sick, and the outcasts.

I went into all of this to make the point that we all need it, not just the lepers and the beggers, and the homeless. In Ghana, Churches, and even individual Christians tend to be extremely charitable. Just recently Christ the King Church invited some lepers to their church and they sang and worshipped with all the usual bourgeois Christ the King Crowd. I thought that was the most beautiful thing, and a wonderful example to the rest of us. I heard later that the usual church goers were not very happy with the idea at first but that their priest insisted, saying that it's not enough to send cash and other donationsto those in need. That besides gifts, we should treat people like these as we would like to be treated. What can i say? Even if you're not a Christian, hearing this kind of thing is pretty inspiring.

Third, Community
In a discussions that I had with people before writing this post, one of my friends said,
"a positive contribution is the social interactions it fosters. Many people make and hang out (every week) with friends or acquaintances from Church, forming an extended social structure that sometimes rivals our extended family system. Some Church groups have credit unions." I couldn't have said it better. In one of the comments coming out of Naa Anang post on mental health in Ghana, someone (Anonymous) also said "I think most Ghanaians use church and God as a coping mechanism. We pray about whatever is bothering us and "let go and let God". i guess thats therapy in a way" So yeah, having the Church has helped lots of people deal with personal problems, marriage problems, even financial problems
and so on.

Forth, Contentment & Hope
How can a people who have so very little materially be so very happy, generally?
Hope and contentment with one's lot. It reminds me of my encounter with the street seller who inspired me to be content with what I have. For better or worse, Ghanaians are generally a content people and I think content:) and I think Christianity has had a role to play. But whilst they're content, they also have hope that their condition will get better because God is on their side, or even if it doesn't get better, God will grant them the grace to cope. Call it what you will, but somehow people are able to draw strength from this to cope with the toughest circumstances and still keep on smiling.

Note that in this post, I have tried to isolate those things which we can truly attribute to Christianity. I have left out values because our people had values and morals before the first
Christian missionaries arrived at our shores. I remember in secondary school, when it came time to elect prefects, we would look out for people with certain qualities. People who were humble, who upheld the school rules, people we could respect, people who were smart, etc. A lot of the people who possessed these qualities were devoted Christians so we thought that one had to be a christian to have these qualities. Now I realise that this is not true. There are many non-Christians, even atheists, who treat people as they would like to be treated, and who have integrity. And even if you look at our traditional system of leadership and rule, to become, say an asantehene, you ought to be thought to have some values and strong morals. So yeah, I would not count morals and values as one of those blessings Christianity bestowed on Ghana and Ghanaians.

In summary, not only has Christianity done us good by contributing positively to what we have (education, and community), it has also contributed immensely to who we are (charity, contentment, and hope)

But don't take my word for it. Do your own thinking and let's see what unexpected contributions you come up with. If you're a Christian, what good do you think your religion and way of life does for you and the rest of the country? If you're not a Christian, do you think Christianity makes any positive contributions? Is there anything we can learn from it? Like what? I look forward to learning from you.

Oh, ane please watch this space for "And He Went About Doing Good - Part 2" in which i'll write about the not so great contributions that Christianity has made to our country and our people.

Mad love to K.K. Yankson for helpful discussions and to PK Imbeah for inspiring this post.


  1. I've lived in Ghana two times for a total of 9 years, and loved the people, their spirit, their generosity. I think that Christianity became so important because it fit with the original Ghanaian character and look on life.

    One personal little event in my own life that illustrates this happened when I had broken my leg. I sat in the back of our car with the cast up to mid-thigh, waiting for my husband who'd run into a shop. A woman passed by, saw me through the open window and stopped. Stuck her head in the window and looked at me. "Oh, Madame!" she said. "I will pray for you!"

    She was a total stranger to me, but her concern for me was so genuine and her face so sincere, I can still see it now, years later.

  2. Nice one, I'll look forward to the next ones.

  3. Ameeeeeen, Ohemaa Esi!
    I like these deep contemplations of yours. I bet you are on a journey unto something life-changing!
    I am glad you are giving God a chance to reach out to you.
    The prayers continue, my dear!

  4. Great post, Esi. Your writing really gets to the core of what defines us as Ghanaians.

    I'm unsure about point number 2 though, on charity. The implication is that Christianity is what brought charity to Ghana. Although most of us have no idea of what a pre-Christian Ghana was like, given our social and cultural values, I would like to believe that we were our brothers' (and sisters') keepers before missionaries sailed down to explain that phrase.

    Looking forward to the next posts in this series.

  5. Esi, I predict a tenfold increase in the number of comments when your 'negative' post is finally put up. Not necessarily because Christianity has destroyed the cultural fabric of Ghana and turned is into mindless sheep (as many will purport), but because its simply more intellectually satisfying (particularly for the Western Educated) to take a stance against religion, than to argue in support of it. Where's the fun in that?

    But I will try nonetheless.

    Christianity in Ghana has done us little more harm than we would have done ourselves without it. Our feelings of inferiority in the presence of white people for example (heck, Chinese people too if we're going there) are as attributable to a white Jesus as they are to the flooding of our media with white Western entertainment. Our 'fa ma Nyame' approach to life is not what keeps us from facing and resolving our issues head-on. We spend all day and night in church not because we feel it is more important than pounding the pavement for a side-side hustle. We are the way we are because we do not have a society in which risk-taking necessarily pays off and there is no such thing as time-and-a-half for working extra hours hawking peanuts.

    I could go on, but this is not my blog so I'll end here. Thanks for bringing this issue up Esi!

  6. Sister Esi, How am I supposed to wait until your next posting to be a party pooper? I'm just bursting to say something so may I? OK, here are my rather snippy remarks:

    Bribery worked.

    So before Christianity we should assume that Ghanaians were not kind and loving towards others?

    Social clubs do the same thing.

    Contentment & Hope
    Be happy with nothing because a pie in the sky is waiting when you die.

    But wait..there may be something good about Christianity - I'm just not sure which version we are discussing!

  7. Esi Bonsam. Interesting one here. Hold of on the others.I will give my input for this in a few hours / After work. ahh nicee topic!!Esi leftist seems to be gravitating to the right!!!...hmm but I think she's is just preping us for the real deal :). I love your blog toooooo mech!. brb

  8. I think Christianity has given the ordinary Ghanaian the strength to persevere in adversity. In a way, it’s like what Prozac is to the west. Ghanaians don’t stress too much because "Gods time is the best". Its sounds peculiar and naive but it works so I can’t hate on it.

  9. Jobs
    Very many people will be unemployed were it not for the religious industry in general. Especially in the south the Christian churches provide a lot of economic support for various people. Kristo Asafo for example runs a whole industrial and farming complex mostly to benefit its members. A lot of young men and women in gospel music are also sustained economically by the sales of songs they write for performance in churches.

    Peace dividend
    There are enough religious people in Ghana who are calmed by the invocation of God's name. This is another way of saying 'Charity' which means most people are willing to let live when reminded of their religious belief. A lot of people thing this is a negative quality but arguably it isn't, especially in a place like Ghana where powerful people can get away with too much so that the weak may simply want to take the law into their own hands. The church also encourages a 'you too can make your million' as opposed to the easier option of simply stealing so that you now have 500k and I have 500k (worse than both of us having a million).

    It's easier to criticize than to praise, but I've tried:)

  10. So clarification...Christianity didn't bring a sense of community to Ghana. It has and continues to capitalize on it. The concept of n’boa (community living etc.) has been in existence since the times of our ancestors. Hillary Clinton's book it takes a village..etc. was inspired by Africa's 'indigenous' communal living culture. Etc. And you realize one of Okonko's qualms was about the sense of community could be capitalized on in a wrong way (things fall apart)

    So to the real deal.
    1) as a fanti man, Christianity has helped me by giving me a brofo dzin just like Mr.Bosomfield( in African Heritage) So that in oburoni land I can easily get an interview before they can see that I'm a bibinin.At this point my fante lyrics would have won the day!!

    2) It has helped us capitalize more on our indigenous superstitious culture even to the point which exceeds our "supposed" heathen ancestors. By this we can easily capitalize on denial and blame all our transgressions on the devil instead of applying common sense, hard work and being pragmatic. This is a very very good method of curtailing high blood pressure and heart attacks. Good for the health!!

    3) Christianity has been good for the Ghanaian economy!! at the current rate of 2 churches per day, a total of 14 churches are realized in a week in Ghana. Let’s assume 50% of the churches have the collection bowl for dollars and the other for cedis.The dollars alone generates $20,000 per Sunday per church good church. Do the math. Job creation for the "fitter" who fixes the osofo's( or churches) fleet of luxury cars, alot of expendable cash to drive the economy, more market for the after church "bofrot", pie, ice cream, wakye sellers etc. And we haven't even factored in Harvest, and other donations (including international donations)

    3) Finally (for now) as a Ghanaian, I never knew there was a church right on top of the cape coast castle (the slave dungeon) sad but true. I only learnt about it when Obama commented on this while being interviewed by Anderson Cooper. Sad again because I spent three years at (The School) in cape coast. My case is representative of many other Ghanaians out there. So the crux of
    the matter is that Christianity has helped us as Ghanaians to “forgive and forget", by this we have subtly but definitely lost touch with some sad but key aspect of our history. So even though the whole concept of trokosi and child slavery (which I believe was reinforced subtly by certain transgressions not truly addressed by the church because we have to forgive!! instead of address etc) in a sense contributes to part of what Africa/Ghana is epitomized as, now we are brave and humble enough to say y3 dzi b3 ma nyami!!! after all, more international aid will come into the country and drive our economy!!

    aahh so Esi Bonsam I'd look forward to the others even though I will double I think you should seriously look into a type of TV show where there will be an open forum to congregate to discuss stuff like this. Sort of like that show a while back on GTV. (Teen Beat) though we are not teenagers anymore.

  11. Maame Esi! Doing her thing with topic. It's a big topic that is confusing, complicated, heart-wrenching and infuriating, all at different moments. I appreciate your bravery. I just have a quick comment, which some comments have touched on in one form or another: In saying that Christianity has provided us all of these things, I would most certainly have to be convinced that none of these things (education, charity, community, contentment) existed before colonization. Otherwise, I'm just not sure how to engage the rest of the conversation that would follow :S Hope that made sense.

    P.S. I'm still really sorry I missed you my first time around, but I have good news, will email ya :)