National Cathedral: Matters Arising or Rambling Thoughts on Religion, Politics and Our Development

National Cathedral: Matters Arising or Rambling Thoughts on Religion, Politics and Our Development

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Different individuals and groups of individuals have expressed divergent views in the debates about the “national cathedral.” The debates, often characterized by innuendos, name-calling and other distractions, sometimes take our focus from the key arguments advanced by the various individuals and groups.  It is not proper to call people names when they ask legitimate questions about governments and institutions that make the decisions that affect their very survival. We all are shareholders of corporate Ghana. It is “our nation”, “our motherland”.

The key question, in fact, is a simple one, should our government invest in a cathedral or in some other project that will directly improve our wellbeing. This is, first and foremost, a question about our development priorities, albeit with implications for religious relations. The crux of the citizens’ concern, however, is not religion unless we make it so.

Accountable governments are responsible to their citizens and they take responsibility for their decisions. If the government decides to contribute to or build a cathedral instead of undertaking some other project, then that is the decision it must live with. That being said, citizens who have questions to ask must be heard, both by government and those whose viewpoints align with the government’s position.

Some contend that a previous government “did same” (built an edifice) for another religion.  Others have argued that the previous government did not. Even then, using the previous government’s actions as a justification is worrisome, especially coming from an administration that claims it is accountable, open, different and caring. Are we building a society where governments will compete and be assessed on the basis of what they do or do not do for religious groups?

Questioning the role of a government in any project is not anti-Christian or anti-religion and it is not an attack on religion. In any case, we live in an age where every religion appears to be “under attack”, methinks. Therefore, the assertion that Christianity is “under attack” needs to be interrogated. The statement has become the standard automatic response to any view that appears critical of the Christian faith, a denomination or leader of a Christian group. When the assertion is not borne out by the facts, it becomes a convenient response that is uncritically plastered over concerns that may otherwise warrant reasonable responses. Sometimes, it is uttered as an excuse to avoid discussions. Nonetheless, it is a commonly used phrase in the exchanges on the cathedral.  Its popularity is probably due to a deliberate attempt to ignore a legitimate concern or a lack of awareness of the state of our world or both.  

So, is “opposition” to the cathedral evidence that Christianity is under attack? Every social institution (religion, family, politics, economics, etc.) is under intense scrutiny; think of one that is not. How is the scrutiny of the Christian faith different, when there is a hint of rebellion and “attack” on all faiths?

Globally, adherents of different religions/denominations (Muslims, Catholics, Protestants, Pentecostals, Traditionalists, etc.) are questioning aspects of their faith. Remember the “uprisings” within the Islamic faith? Some people (mostly non-Muslims) cheered because they saw it as the work of God. Today, Muslims are questioning hitherto untouchable aspects of their faith. The Catholic faith is under intense fire and it is compelled to confront the long neglected issues of abuse and corruption. Some are demanding the resignation of the Pope: who would have thought…? Iranians are challenging the Ayatollah. In the US, Evangelicals are criticized for their cozy association with their president whose policies and utterances are considered anything but Christian. Some leaders of the faith do not want to be seen with him. Across the globe, places of worship of different faiths are set ablaze. Jewish temples are sprayed with swastikas. Muslims are gunned down during prayers by non-Muslims. The cross of Christ is still a stumbling block to some. Traditional religion is under open and unrelenting assault.

Citizens are more aware and more engaged politically. They are frustrated as they see a link between their harsh lived experiences and the decisions by politicians and religious leaders.  They are concerned and suspicious of the relationships between religious leaders and politicians, and understandably so.  Consider this for a social experiment, you and someone you know can name a religious leader and/or a politician you cannot and will not trust. Think about that. Is this a basis for distrust?

Clearly, social institutions such as religion are evolving and religious groups must adjust and adapt to the realities of the day, including developing appropriate and meaningful responses to growing scrutiny, both from their faithful and from outside.

People do not question social institutions (and governments) because they hate them. There are skeptics, cynics and ‘haters’ out there, but to suggest that every enquiry is born of dislike or hatred is a bit extreme, l think. Even if they were, it is the responsibility of any government or leadership to respond to citizens’ questions, including the questions they absolutely do not like.

Perhaps the growing reactions, not to say “opposition”, to the cathedral, is an opportunity for Christians to demonstrate to the rest of the world the values that set them apart from other faiths. Without that, it would seem supporters and critics of the project are merely engaging in a screaming contest: the side that incites its supporters the most, uses the harshest and scariest weaponized discourse, and yells the loudest would win.

Politics and religion can and must work together to improve our wellbeing. Citizens must be encouraged to ask questions about development projects, especially when the projects are intended “for the people”.  Our national history shows that religious leader-politician relationship yields mutual benefits, even for selfish reasons. Remember, “That government did it for Muslims…. This government must do it for Christians”? We cannot use such precedents, especially if they were not right, to justify current decisions and actions.

We cannot deny that, despite our government’s ‘hard work’, the challenges we face as a nation grow by the minute, so does the citizen’s frustration.  The citizen’s struggle to eke out a living or survival is more wearisome, tedious and traumatic. For this reason, every decision or project, no matter how big or small, must inspire a modicum of hope, that it will make a positive impact in our material and general wellbeing. Sometimes, all a citizen/faithful wants is a thoughtful and sincere response that shows they are valued and heard. Their aim is not to attack any faith, much less their faith.

All religions have been and will be “under attack” because society evolves.  Religious practices, laws, behaviours of religious leaders, living conditions, needs of the faithful, etc. are in flux. It is understandable that adherents of a faith can look at all the situations described above and others and feel a hint of violence against them.

Furthermore, attack on a religion/denomination may come from within.  After all, this is an age of expediency and instant gratification, where some people want their religion the way they want their food served in a restaurant; in a manner that suits their taste and lifestyle. They are not necessarily keen on doing the decrees and diktats of their faith or its leader. In other words, they want to eat their religious cake and have it, too. They will practise the religion the way they want. They would like to change aspects of their faith to suit their lifestyles and to meet their personal needs.

There are myriad reasons religion is “under attack”. Perhaps every faith ought to self-reflect and…. Being critical of one’s faith or political group (and its leadership) must not always be misconstrued as a cynical attack.

Again, current events suggest that the demand for accountability (vigilance, criticisms, etc.) will grow. An increasing teledensity and corresponding easy access to social media is helping to spread different religions. At the same time, easy media access is putting religious leaders under a lot of pressure. They are constantly under a deluge of criticisms. Their utterances and actions behind and away from the pulpit are under all kinds of watchful eyes. It takes seconds to expose a bad deed and seconds to spread (good and bad) news.

In the debates about the cathedral, members of all faiths, especially Christians, must learn and practice tolerance. One of the most attractive (leadership) virtues of the Christian faith, to me, is Christ’s capacity to listen/entertain all manner of questions and criticisms, including those that were intended to humiliate him. His ability to provide thoughtful and respectful responses, often packed with valuable and timeless lessons, to the faithful and critics alike. I eternally adore His ability to have done so consistently and with glowing grace and matchless humility. Any Christian who attempts to demonstrate the quality of christlikeness gets my attention, not that that matters.

In sum, while the ongoing debate may seem like a small matter, it is not just about a religious edifice, it is about our collective destiny.  The climb towards our ‘better nation’ is tremendously arduous.  The path to our better future is rocky and foggy and paved with many ‘mispriorities’. We must get our priorities right. Informed, respectful and sincere engagement may get us closer to where we should be.

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