Not very many years ago, you could swear by the Ghanaian.
There were crimes you saw in this world and you could “thrust your hand in the fire” absolutely certain they could not have been committed by a Ghanaian! For sure, there are criminals everywhere - even in heaven, Lucifer, an archangel, sinned; but such was the fear of God so ingrained in Ghanaians as a people that, that was our national identity.
Only last week, I told the story of how, in 1992 at JFK Airport in New York, I was waved on to board the flight without body search.
The security officer took one look at the bio page of my passport and muttered, “Ghanaian”! With relief on his face, he motioned for me to “Move on”. Meanwhile, all other African passengers were being thoroughly frisked and their hand-luggage nearly emptied for examination of content.
Piety was almost the national ID of the Ghanaian.
Sad to narrate, that is history. What I don’t remember is how long ago the change began to manifest, but I know that the call for a solution to the rise in the spate of crimes, blood-letting and corruption in our society intensified in the 1980s – correct me if you have an earlier or later date.
In the search for a solution, the majority of concerned commentators or observers had one voice: teaching of ‘Religious and Moral Education’ in schools. Ask any teacher or WAEC examiner: while hundreds of thousands performed miserably in all other subjects, the worst candidate in ‘Religious and Moral Education’ got a Pass.
And yet, as far as I recall, you could count among the “bad boys and girls”, a great number who were BK (Bible Knowledge) students.
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What am I driving at? I am making a point that the teaching of Religion is not the answer. The best religion is taught in church, the mosque or the temple, yet the terrain of criminals is littered with the names and pictures of preachers and teachers of holy writ.
Apparently the phenomenon has a long history. As far back as the 18th century, Noah Webster, the famous lexicographer, was counselling that “In selecting men for office, let principle be your guide. Regard not the particular sect or denomination of the candidate.”
That is my solution. Rather than ‘Religion’, I am advocating a course of study that will lay emphasis on ‘Principles’ and ‘Values’ of life, differentiating between religiosity and spirituality.
In my approach, there will be no mention of Buddha or Muhammed or Jesus or Akonedi. It will not be what these holy men (or women) may have said; emphasis will be on causes and effects; for instance, the fact that “When you sleep with your neighbour’s spouse, some other person will sleep with yours or someone you cherish very much, at some future date.
The emphasis should not be on belief systems – which themselves are tearing societies apart – but on achievement - the principles of life by which great men and women rise from obscurity to greatness, not because they are Christians or Muslims or Confucianists.
I am not by this advocating that it is only among adherents or practitioners of Christianity, Islam or Buddhism that hypocrites are found.
I will hasten to state, therefore, a little part of the history of African traditional religion and how traditional (call them “fetish”) priests in the early years of the Akan migration were so depraved that their character produced the Mfantse coinage, “Nananom Pow nyimpa na oyee”.
Alternatively, emphasis will also be how and why men and women fell from grace – the highest pedestal on which they stood – to the lowest depths of depravity and destruction.
Emphasis will be on what happened to otherwise good men who grew corrupt with greed or inordinate gain. We would be studying Mahatma Gandhi not because he was a Hindu but because of his adherence to the principles of life, including “Ahimsa”, the principle of non-violence to every creature.
In the classroom, the child will be taught that whatever he/she aspires to be in the future depends on what priorities he or she places on aspects of his/her life - the opportunity costs in life; for instance, the real cost of spending less time on books than fun.
Unfortunately, the maxim, “Examination favours the fool” was misinterpreted. Unknown to many of us, the “fool” was rather the one who spent most of his or her time on books instead of running to town without exeat, mostly to have a “good time”.
Out of school, as a young or full adult, the difference is in the time spent playing ‘game’ at night or the times of the day when you could profitably read a chapter of a book, or in night clubs.
My advice: Don’t find out the person’s religion; look for his level of spirituality.
This article has been prompted by news that GES is in the process of changing the syllabus for schools.
Just so that I am not misunderstood, I am a Christian. I belong to a church and a fellowship.