I love cathedrals, and by this I do not mean any ‘two by four’ ones that do nothing to awe and inspire. I have been fortunate enough to visit quite a number of them in Europe, and have always been very impressed.
My favourite is the Milan Cathedral, an imposing Gothic structure which was started somewhere in 1386 and took ages to complete. One has to crane one’s neck almost awkwardly to see the spires when standing at close range—they are that high.
The fact that the technology then was quite rudimentary makes the imposing structure all the more remarkable.
Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, and Cologne Cathedral in Germany are two other impressive edifices that speak volumes about the ingenuity of those who devised and then built them.
Recently, this country has been agog with the news of a national cathedral to be built, but then that is quite typical of what passes for public debate in this country, where issues develop wings of their own and subthemes, gossip dressed as fact and outright lies all pour into the cauldron, resulting in a heady concoction that poisons the body politic.
There is a considerable body of opinion that opposes any government involvement in the cathedral on the basis that Ghana is a secular state and the state should not be involving itself in church matters.
Others have no qualms about government facilitating the construction, but insist that Ridge is too central, with potential congestion issues and that in any event, demolition of property on such prime land to make way for the cathedral is borderline sacrilegious.
They reckon that enough government land exists at Aburi, Kintampo, Prampram, Kasoa and Amasaman, among others, for the national cathedral to sit comfortably, and that God does not need a mighty cathedral on prime land to bestow his blessings on us.
And they argue further that for a country that has challenges in education, health, sanitation and poverty, any state investment in the national cathedral borders on the grotesque. These advocates have collectively been referred to as anti-Cathedralists, especially on social media.
Now to the Cathedralists. They argue that the state is only facilitating the project by donating land and that it is the churches that will build the edifice, and that this is not the first time government is facilitating a religious project.
They say that the church has played such a seminal role in this country, especially in education and health, and it is, therefore, no big deal to be offered prime land for the construction of an edifice to the glory of God.
And they argue that just as the biblical light is not to be hidden under a bushel, so do they believe a magnificent temple to the glory of God cannot be tucked away somewhere behind the Dodowa Forest, and that it will be a tourist magnet and rake in foreign exchange.
So where do I stand in all of this? Well, to be quite honest I am quite ambivalent, enjoying being amused by both sides of the argument. For starters, I find the claim that Ghana is a secular state as faintly absurd. While it sounds wonderful to thus claim, it is so obvious, from our national anthem through our pledge through prayer at state functions et al, that in reality, we are secular only to the extent that we are not a theocracy in the mould of say Iran or The Vatican.
As for the argument of ‘grandiose’ projects in the midst of poverty, we have been through that with the National Theatre, the Conference Centre and Jubilee House. In any case, the claim has been made clear that government is not building the facility, only facilitating it.
And on congestion, I struggle to see how a cathedral, which is not going to be in daily use, will create vehicular and pedestrian congestion beyond what the Passport Office, for instance, produces on a daily basis.
Overall, I do not think both sides to the argument have sufficient facts on which to project their case, leading to a lot of groping in the dark.
Beneath all of the back and forth of the heat, I note what I perceive to be an interesting subtext. I think that the opposition to the Cathedral has become particularly acerbic in the light of how the Christian faith in this country has been perceived of late, especially with the rise of Pentecostal and one man churches with their message of prosperity, of the ‘bling’ high lifestyle of some of their pastors and the general commercialisation of the faith through the selling of holy water and anointing oil, as well as the ‘sowing of seed’ phenomenon.
Ordinarily, in a Christian-dominated Ghanaian society that holds religiosity and piety so close to its heart, one would have expected the cathedral to have enjoyed a smooth ride.
I do not think we have reached quite the levels in Europe and elsewhere, where religion is fast receding. I do not see the masses rebelling against religion in this country. Perhaps Karl Marx was right in arguing that religion is the opium of the masses, but such bold outbursts against Christianity in our country in some quarters speak volumes, in my view. Signs of the times?
Mr President, a quick one. If you ever consider changing the site of the National Cathedral, kindly note that the people of my hometown, Ankaase in the Kwabre East District in the Ashanti Region, will be happy to host it. Perhaps it is time to put my hometown on the map.