Opinion: Humanists Unite in Ghana
By Graham Knight for the Humanist Association of Ghana
Our country, Ghana, has been listed as the most religious country out of 57 countries polled; 96% of people say they are religious and apparently 0% are convinced atheists. The poll, the Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism, was conducted by WIN-Gallup International (not to be confused with the more widely known Gallup, Inc.). The survey is obviously questionable but it does highlight the importance of the issue in Ghana.
Believing in the existence of a god is inculcated from childhood through family, community, church and school. Questioning the existence of god is actively discouraged through the use of fear of the consequences and social ostracisation. It can mean difficulty finding work, developing one’s business, making friends and finding romantic relationships. The common perception is that if you do not believe in the existence of a god you must either be worshiping the devil or be an immoral person, not to be trusted.
School attendance is often not enforced and education above primary level can remain a luxury for many. In schools, religious control can mean scientific information about issues is omitted or it is openly taught as being false. Critical thinking and questioning is discouraged. It is therefore difficult to encourage people to think critically when their view of the world has been formed by their church, mosque or shrine and reinforced by their family and community and school. By the time they come across skeptical ideas, fear of the consequences of questioning received dogmas and the lack of critical thinking techniques can make people very hard to reach. Questioning dogma means challenging those you rely on for support, in a country in which government is unable to provide a safety net for people.
Non-believers in Ghana gradually started to discover they were not alone and came together, forming the Humanist Association of Ghana in February 2012.
This Association has been important because it has provided an alternative social network and community of like-minded thinkers, allowing people to explore ideas freely. Quite often, members have lost many of their friends when voicing their doubts about the existence of God, as friends tend to consist of fellow church members. Our association has provided an alternative network away from the intolerance of the churches.
A couple of months ago I became a part of a family of a very diverse group of people that I had thought were non-existent in Ghanaian society. Having lived all my life around people who would not encourage any ideas counter to the archaic, anti-scientific and non-realistic norms, the group serves as a safe haven to share my experiences and skeptical thoughts without being ridiculed. They give me advice and support whilst increasing my knowledge. - Emmanuel
We started a project called Freethought Ghana which runs a facebook page and holds a weekly meet-up in which we hope to encourage people to think about issues outside of the restrictions of religious dogma and culture.
Some of those in the Association have bravely come out as non-believers (some are still in conflict with their families as a result) and others are in the position that to do so would be suicidal. We hope that as the news of our existence grows this situation will change and that people will learn to respect the personal opinions and worldviews of others.
Encouragingly, we keep discovering new people and also learn that there are others who support our project in spite of the fact that they are believers.
We recognise we are battling against entrenched ideas and the power bases of those who have made careers out of seeking followers. We do not wish to eradicate religion from our culture but to show there are alternative ways of viewing the world and that asking questions and following the evidence is essential if we are to develop as a nation. Religion should not be compulsory but a personal choice. The free flow of ideas is essential in any democratic society.
The past five months have been a breath of fresh air as we have learnt the importance of ridding our minds of religious dogma (handed down from the days of colonisation), political agendas and out-dated traditions imposed upon our society for centuries. Surrounded by brilliant minds whose thirst for learning is never slaked, I am convinced that this energetic young group of humanists will make great strides in creating change and I am honoured to be a part of the movement. – group member Monica Mould
This year we are excited to be hosting Ghana’s first ever international humanist conference – “West African Humanism in Action” – and we hope this will highlight many ways to develop our work.
Global Index of Religiosity and Atheism