Tag Archives: Christianity

The school chaplain, mathematics teacher, and some science students of Prempeh College.

No faith in science: a Homo sapien rights issue?

Evolution is accepted by 97 percent of scientists in the United States but by only 61 percent of the public, according to the Pew Research Center. A 2011 poll approximates that 14 percent of Canadians think that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years. In 2007, The Council of Europe adopted a resolution on the dangers of creationism: it “is worried about the possible ill-effect of the spread of creationist ideas within our education systems and about the consequences for our democracies. If we are not careful, creationism could become a threat to human rights.”

Africa is noticeably not playing a huge role in this discussion.

Ghana Education Services includes basic evolution in its biology syllabus for senior high schools. However, there is sparse data on public opinion.

Information from other countries indicates males with higher levels of education are the demographic most likely to accept evolution. With this in mind, I headed to Prempeh College, a prestigious all-boys school in Kumasi: they have produced the highest number of doctors in Ghana. Alumni include prominent professors, engineers, politicians and former President Kufuor.

The school chaplain, some science students and a mathematics teacher at Prempeh College.

“Everybody has the right to acquire whatever knowledge [they desire]… it makes the students more dynamic, having received from the religious point of view and then learned from the secular point of view, then the student can make an informed decision,” said Reverend Adomako, the school chaplain and government teacher.

Admittedly surprised by his liberal stance, I proposed a scenario to him: what if one of his students rejected Christian creationism?

“Me, as a minister who knows the right thing, I must use whatever knowledge which I have in order to convince student to change their mind… with reason. So it is up to me to prove that his or her view on that subject is wrong.”

Despite his firm belief in the Bible, he supports teaching both evolution and creationism. Eugene, 18, a hopeful surgeon, disagrees.

“We should be learning only creationism, because there’s only one truth. You can’t blend the two together.”

“I don’t think we’ll be able to answer the evolution question. Evolution is in contrast to what the Bible teaches: it says nothing was created out of love, but by chance,” added Richie, 18.

I raised the possibility that God created the mechanism of evolution, an idea that is increasingly popular in the West.

“The Christians who are embracing evolution… they’re getting it all wrong. They don’t know their Bible very well… if they want, we the Africans can teach the Bible to them,” offered John Danquah, a mathematics teacher.

“According to the Big Bang theory, the universe started at a mathematical point. That is nonsense… The Bible makes it clear it was God who created heaven and earth – science will never have any explanation for that,” he continued.

The conversation kept returning to the limits of science. Even if the origin of the earth is not known in full detail, is it possible for science to uncover it?

“It’s impossible. If it becomes possible for them to find out, they are getting to spirits, and science does not deal with spirit matters,” said Emmanuel, 17, aspiring engineer. “I believe religion more than science.”

As I interviewed the students, the Reverend and Danquah both made it clear that my efforts were futile because all the students agree with them.

They had a point, to some degree: approximately 63 percent of Ghanaians are Christian, and most Muslims believe in creationism as well. It is taught in Sunday schools, primary schools, and junior high schools. Most people I spoke with at Prempeh College gave me identical responses. Who would disagree with something so widely accepted as truth?

Manu, 18, an aspiring astrophysicist.

“I’ve learned that the world came into being through particles coming together and human beings evolving from unicellular organisms and progressing further to become who we are now… I do believe it. With evolution, we are able to learn more about living organisms.”

Like most devout Christians in the world, most Ghanaians believe in creationism. However, such a belief is an anomaly within the international scientific community, and it could be an indictment on the future of the nation’s scientific progress – it doesn’t have to be, Manu insists.

“Science and religion are not enemies. There are just some things that science is slow to understand, so religion [helps us] wait. Be patient, get knowledge, understand things.”

God’s word in Malawi

Worshippers line-up outside St. Montfort’s Parish in Blantyre to attend Sunday morning service. Photo by Nina Lex.

In Malawi, God’s word is everywhere.

Minibuses have “Fear God” scrolled across their hoods, salons signs are painted with “God is Great Beauty Salon” and restaurants menus read “God’s Tasty Foods”.

And it doesn’t stop there.

Questions about your religious beliefs are common among co-workers and friends – even from strangers.

God is also the answer to all problems.  As my Canadian co-workers and I were told, “You aren’t married? Because you don’t go to church” and “You are unhappy? You need Jesus.”

With another four months ahead of me here in Malawi, I longed to be a part of a community – and attending the Catholic Church in my neighbourhood seemed like the perfect introduction.

It had been 15 years since I last attended a church service and, even then, I only went a handful of times with my German grandmother. I dreaded those early Sunday mornings full of endless preaching that left me feeling little more than a cynical sinner.

I arrived half an hour early at St. Montfort’s Parish to attend the 8:30am English service.  A vast crowd had already formed outside the red brick archways. I held my breath and pictured myself going up in flames as I was shoved through the threshold of the church.

Inside, the church was simple: the walls were whitewashed and filled with wooden pews – a far cry from the over-embellished churches I had seen in Europe and Latin America.

The pews were packed and the aisles full. Smoke and incense filled the air and white and purple fabric was draped throughout the church celebrating September, which was declared by the Pope as “Bible month”.

I shuffled around searching for a seat and found the last remaining spot, front row and center, right beside a nun.

In Canadian churches, it always seems as though there is an abundance of free seats.  Here, even with five services on Sundays, the church is overflowing with worshippers. While 84 per cent of Canadians adhere to a religion, approximately 97 percent of Malawians attend church or are religious.

As is the case in many other African countries, Malawians have a profound and perpetual belief in God.

Christianity is the main religion in Malawi, with 60 per cent of Christians being Protestant and 15 per cent Catholic. Other sects include Baptists, Seventh Day Adventists, Anglicans, Church of Central African Presbyterians and Jehovah’s Witnesses, which was outlawed by President Banda and made legal again in 1995.

The second most prominent religion in Malawi is Islam, with 15-20 per cent of the population being Muslims.

Indigenous beliefs and religions make up about 5 per cent of the population.

David Livingstone first introduced Christianity to Malawi at the end of 1800 during the British colonialism. The religion spread quickly across the country, and until 2001, Bible study was an essential subject in Malawian secondary schools.  However, Christianity in Malawi doesn’t follow strict Western practice, as many Malawians practice Christianity alongside traditional African rituals.

This quickly became evident as the church service got underway.

“Satanism and witchcraft is everywhere,” warned the priest. “Witchcraft is in our country, communities, schools and families.  Even if you don’t believe, it’s there.  Jesus even had to face Satan. “ He then proceeded to explain the three stages of evil- 333, 666 and 999,

“The only way to combat evil is through the word of God,” he explained.

Although Malawi is deeply religious, you don’t have to go far to hear criticism of the country’s God-fearing ways.

One person I met blamed religion for making Malawians lazy, “because they believe God would solve their problems and the people will not help themselves.”

And many human rights organizations blame strong religious influence for Malawi’s strong anti-gay stance.

The United Nation recently produced its first brochure highlighting its position on sexual orientation and gender identity human rights, in response some African countries, including Malawi, led by the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) are fighting to define human rights regarding religion to exclude homosexuality.

However, the Zambian priest presiding over this church service preached about acceptance between Christians and non-believers. This church was also the “House of Everyone” regardless of their race or nationality, he announced as he glanced at me, one of the only “mzungu” – or white person – in the congregation.

Between hymns and much to the delight of the worshippers, the priest told jokes, referring to “the constipation and gas of religion”.

When the service ended, I left the church not converted, but with a smile on my face – and feeling a little more Malawian.

A Christian and a Muslim walk into a bar…: religious harmony in Ghana from a Muslim perspective

[pullquote]“The Qur’an commands us to live next to them, to be kind to them, to do justice to them.  We eat their food and marry their children.  They attend our ceremonies and we attend theirs.  Our children go to Christian schools.”[/pullquote]

In Ghana, there’s no questioning that religion plays a big role in things – it informs political decisions, defines cultural practices, and sets societal standards.  From billboards to taxis, religion is everywhere.  One of my preferred pastimes during the long trek to and from work is to see what kind of religious names cabdrivers have named their cars; so far, some of the best ones include Holy Spirit Makes Me Fast, God’s Chariot, and my personal favourite, Jesus Power.

It is thought that about 68 per cent of Ghanaians are Christians, and at least 25 per cent are Muslims, with higher concentrations of Muslims in the north.  Before we came, I was concerned with how this might affect traveling throughout the country; would Lin be hassled down south because she was a Muslim, and would my Christianity be accepted up north?  I had been keeping up to date with the happenings in Nigeria, the country most often compared to Ghana, where tensions between Muslim rebels and the Christian government have reached deadly levels in the past months.

Then I got to Ghana, and all of my fears were alleviated.  If there were ever a model for peaceful coexistence in a country, I found it in Ghana.  In Canada, conflict between Christianity and Islam, two religions with an uneasy history, is avoided mostly by exactly that: avoidance.  Muslims go to mosque, Christians go to church, and they generally don’t associate too much outside of a professional context.  There isn’t dialogue, there’s no framework in place to encourage religious harmony; religious tolerance is all that’s expected.

Not so in Ghana.  Here, Muslims and Christians live side by side, often in the same compounds, sharing meals, laughs, and as it turns out, family.

“In Ghana here, since we have been born our fathers have lived peacefully with the Christians,” says Alhaji Mohammed Abdul Wahab, Deputy Iman of the Ashanti Region.  “The Qur’an commands us to live next to them, to be kind to them, to do justice to them.  We eat their food and marry their children.  They attend our ceremonies and we attend theirs.  Our children go to Christian schools.”

When I press him about what the Qur’an says about sharing the Muslim faith, something that the Bible is very adamant about for Christianity, Abdul Wahab quotes me a verse from the holy text he has been studying for most of his life.

“There is no compulsory religion,” he says.  “I won’t force you to come on the right path.  It is open, and if you see it, you will come.”

It’s a startlingly refreshing perspective on such a historically volatile issue, one that has been the cause of many global conflicts for centuries.  I decide to poach the elephant in the room, and mention the Crusades, Israel and Palestine, 9/11, threats of Qur’an burnings in Florida, bringing it all home by pointing out the religious blood feud currently taking place a couple of countries over.

Abdul Wahab sighs.

“It’s not a religious conflict,” he says, contradicting everything and anything I’ve ever known about Christian-Muslim tensions.  “If you go down to the roots, you will find other reasons – tribal, ethnic, political.  People just want to mask things with religion, to hide behind it.”

“What is going on in the world, it worries us.  We don’t know what it will bring tomorrow.  But here in Ghana, we will continue to do as God commands.  We will continue to live in brotherhood.”

Imam Abdul Wahab says he considers Christian Ghanaians to be his brothers and sisters. The world could learn a few things.