OPINION: Mr. President, Please Keep Your Religious Beliefs To Yourself!

Prayer, thanksgiving and fasting are no substitutes for hard work, creative thinking and visionary leadership. According to a GNA report on Ghanaweb.com posted on January 29, 2010, President John Atta Mills has declared Sunday, March 14, 2009 as a National Prayer and Thanksgiving Day and has therefore asked all Ghanaians to support and participate in it. In the news item in question, the president entrusted the nation into the hands of God and appealed to the Christian clergy to support government to put the nation on a sound spiritual foundation. President Mills was quoted as saying, all prosperous nations had very firm spiritual foundation thus implying that no nation has developed without having "a sound spiritual foundation" whatever that means. In this report, what President Mills implied was that �no nation has developed without being a strong Christian nation�. This is where my beef with the President lies. Before anyone starts calling me the devil incarnate, let me state here that I am a Christian but I would like to draw the attention of Ghanaians to an increasingly dangerous trend that is creeping into our national life. In this light I am a devil�s advocate rather than the devil incarnate. Religion is a deeply private matter and the president will do all Ghanaians a lot of good if he keeps his religious beliefs unto himself. He has absolutely no right to impose his religion on all Ghanaians. If he does that, he will be setting a dangerous precedent and all you may realize our next Muslim president (if we happen to have one) will turn Ghana into "the Islamic republic of Ghana" and introduce sharia law in accordance with his religious beliefs, when that happens , don�t say I didn�t warn you !!! That�s my greatest fear. If you are a Christian don�t think it is alright now but when an Islamic leader does that it is unacceptable. The President�s statement that "all prosperous nations had very firm spiritual foundations" is a misrepresentation of the facts. Actually nothing can be further from the truth. Japan developed without having any such spiritual foundations. In fact overwhelming majority of Japanese will tell you they have no religion. China is at the verge of greatness without professing any spiritual foundation. Perhaps the President had the United States of America in mind when he made this statement. Truth be told, let no one be fooled by the "In God We Trust" motto on the US dollar. Everything, America as a country did until recently was affront to Christian beliefs and the teachings of the Bible. The Bible states , God created man in his own image but America deemed it prudent to subject part of God�s creation, a section of its own population to over 400 years of slavery, denied them their basic human rights and brutalized them for daring to stand up to demand their rights. Wherein lies the "the sound spiritual foundations"? Today, let President Obama declare a national week of prayer and fasting and you see people will go to court to challenge that. What make countries prosperous are hard work, dedication and commitment towards a better tomorrow, creative thinking and visionary leadership. We are in the 21st century and manna will never fall from heaven. No amount of prayers, thanksgiving, fasting will put a state-of-the-art hospital in Accra and equip it. It requires planning, creative thinking, critical assessment of our priorities, then the will to carry through. Somewhere in 1998, then vice President Atta Mills cut the sod for works to begin on a state of the art modern international hospital to be constructed in Accra. It�s over 12years now , where is the hospital? Why wasn�t the hospital constructed? As a candidate when he fell sick, he had to seek medical treatment in South Africa. Major Quashigah recently died in Israel but he was a health minister in the NPP government. They blew over $170 million on a presidential palace, and a further $290million on two presidential jets. Do we have to blame God for our failure to build hospitals, roads, upgrade our infrastructure, modernize our railway system to ease the burden on our roads? Do we have to blame God for scheming 10% off contracts, for running down Ghana Airways, for shortchanging Ghanaians on our oil even before we start drilling? We can pray all we can but if we don�t punish wrong doing and shame perpetrators, the next bunch of thieves are just lurking around the corner because they know they can get away with it. Religion is the opium of the masses and easy and convenience excuse for laziness. Religion is second only to corruption and tribalism as our biggest threat to socio economic development. WE DO HAVE A BIG PROBLEM ON OUR HANDS WHEN OUR LEADERS STRESS RELIGION OVER HARD WORK AS A WAY FORWARD. God never build bridges !!!! No. No, He never did !!!! No tax payer�s money should be spent on this so called national day of prayer and thanksgiving. The money used in organizing this event can provide good drinking water for a village up there in the north and cut down guinea worm infections which will in turn reduce the burden on our fragile public health delivery system. It will have a multiple developmental effect. It is just plain common sense and this is what God wants us to use our brains for. That�s why He has given us our own free will. God expects us to use our brains!! After all, God helps those who help themselves. So if all those pastors named in the news report, think this is necessary, they should mobilize funds from their own coffers to organize this. The churches indeed do have a social role to play and this could be one of them. I would like to see the churches get actively involve with fulfilling their social responsibilities by helping the poor, the weak, the handicapped, etc, in society instead of pastors paying themselves fat salaries, driving the latest luxury cars and putting on excessive weight, an unhealthy practice. Look at all the unproductive hours spend on all nights, in so called prayer camps, on fasting, and long and endless church services. Take a person who attends an all night church service on a week day for example. He is useless at work the next day. He goes to work to sleep all day and his productivity is zero! But he collects his wage for no work done. And there are many all night church services all over the place on week days. Who do we blame for the sorry state of our economy then? It is sad when our leaders who are supposed to know better are the ones who are rather encouraging this silly practice. Common sense is rare and not at all that common. Common sense is a lot more critical to successful leadership than academic degrees. When I see leaders who promote religion over hard work in the 21st century, their imagery feeds a level of incompetence and hopelessness for the people they lead. Take the dusty road in front of North-Legon ultra-modern CEM Temple for example. It is a big disgrace to all leaders and members of that church and others like them. They dress elegantly and drive in flashy cars, but the word of God did not tell them that service to humanity is service to God? Do the fat offerings and tithes they collect from the ordinary man in the street go to God or the Pastors pocket. Remember that my Bible says our God is so close to us, yet you disturb the sleep of children of God in your community with the intention of praying to God. For lack of knowledge my people perish, says the Lord. I once counted over 55 churches within a five mile radius, It was 2 o'clock in the afternoon on a weekday and the church was full with people praying. The question I asked myself was, How do these people earn a living? Where is the productivity, how can the nation develop if most of the workers are in church? Jesus said give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is Gods'. But unfortunately the people of Ghana feel praying constantly even during business hours will give them the prosperity they crave and it will be like "manna from heaven". The same people don't understand how and why the Pastors are getting rich and prosperous, the answer? they are being productive in what they do and it is paying off for them, but we're blind to that and the President seems to have bought into that as well. If you have noticed, Ghanaians are always very prompt with their time when it comes to Church services but never for work or for that matter anything else. They can sit through 6 hours of evangelism but cannot stay at the office or the work place whatever it is for 2 hours without having to leave for a couple of hours because they have things to do. If we applied our attitude to Church to everyday life and our Jobs, productivity would increase and the prosperity would filter through and inward investment would come through because we'd be seen as hardworking and reliable. These investors see our attitudes and priorities and take their business elsewhere and we sit back and wonder why life is tough. In the said meeting with the religious leaders in the castle, President Mills was reported to have asked Bishop Charles Agyin Asare, head pastor of World Miracle Bible Church to pray for the victory of the Black Stars in the final game against Egypt in Angola which he did. But why didn�t we win? Because God doesn�t play football !!! He never did !!! Our constitution stipulates strict separation of state and religion and we must adhere to it. One annoying thing in Ghana today, is that our airwaves have been taken over by religious services and some shady religious figures all day. Just check the number of religious activities on the numerous FM stations, on TV , even on trotro. That�s a total waste of productive hours !!! These program directors in these networks should think of good educational programs in a fun way that can uplift the people and raise their living standards. Things like public health education, sanitation, programs that people by tuning in can learn a trade or something good and valuable to improve themselves and the economy instead of all these noisy church services and preachings on the radio and TV. This has become a complete nuisance to sane Ghanaians. Now being a pastor is the most lucrative vocation in Ghana no wonder there is mushrooming of so called churches and miracle tabernacles in the country. A lot of these so called pastors are nothing less than criminals. In recent years, I have lost count of the number of news items I have read about Pastors who have committed fraud, visa contractors, cocaine dealers, wife snatchers, pastors fighting among themselves and invoking "antoa nyamaa", fake miracle performers, con men ,pedophile pastors, adulterers etc, etc Another one of our obsessions in Ghana today and which the radio stations and TV stations perpetuate is useless political gimmicks wrongly called "political discussions" or "political debates" in all the morning shows on FM stations and TV. Where I live, political discussions and debates are carried out in a very civil and polite manner. You can disagree without being insulting nor rude, and no name calling. It always end with concrete policy alternatives, advice, healthy criticisms, and fresh policy proposals all aimed at moving the country forward. But what do we see in Ghana , political debates turn into bickering, slash and burn, using rude and non printable words on air, on so many occasions it degenerates into fist cuffs. How can we entrust our destiny into the hands of people who go on air and insult each other in a language that our children are not supposed to hear? They pour profanity and invectives at each other and then expect God to come down from Heaven to transform their country into a paradise. My goodness. TV stations and Radio stations do play or should play a critical role in our national development effort. They do influence public opinion and must use their influence to touch the lives of listeners in a positive way and spare us the crap of religious preaching everyday on air and the senseless political fights on air. Credit: Ben Ofosu-Appiah, Tokyo, Japan. The author is a public policy expert and policy strategist. He is also a political and social analyst based in Tokyo, Japan. He welcomes your comments. 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