The Ghanaian culture of asking questions and having a critical relationship with Faith
Asking questions is essential for our survival, learning and progression in life. Societies all over the world encourage people to inquire about their environment and culture. In pre-modern and modern societies in Europe and other parts of the world, conventional knowledge and religious instruction were never questioned until the 18th and 19th centuries where emerging thinkers began to challenge the status quo. The post-modern era with its accompanying advancement in scientific enquiry opened the Pandora box for questioning conventional knowledge, creating distrust for religious authorities and faith in particular.
In many African societies, there is respect for the aged and the elderly. They are believed to be the repository of knowledge, wisdom and the custodian of customs and traditions. They are consulted on every issue that confronts society. However, the acquisition of certain customary knowledge are deemed sacred and kept within closed circles among kings, chiefs and elders in the community. A young person may be encouraged to ask questions but there is a limit to their enquiry. Because of the sacredness attached to some customary knowledge, a person is not expected to question the authority of the elderly or challenge the authenticity of what has been passed on to them as tradition, but to accept them as truth. This level of control maintains the status quo and ensures peaceful co-existence within society. One area of control is in the domain of faith or religion. Faith or religion was seen as the glue that held society together. Questioning faith or religious authorities was seen as weakening the fabric that held society together.
The situation in Ghana was not so different from what was happening elsewhere. Storytelling was one of the means by which children were encouraged to asked questions. It was a way of training them to think critically. A Ghanaian proverb which says the one who asks does not miss his or her path gives credence to this fact.
However, the cultural orientation of some Ghanaian societies discouraged asking questions. There is an extent to which an individual with a probing mind can ask questions. Questions bothering on faith, human sexuality, death and the after-life had limited scope of enquiry. There is a Ghanaian adage which asserts that if you examine the eyes of a corpse you would discover worms. Meaning one would discover some unpleasant details if he or she is keen about investigating a particular phenomenon. This proverb, for example, is two-sided. Whereas on the one hand, it is encouraging a careful investigation into a particular situation to achieve the desired result, it is also a warning to the enquirer to tread cautiously bearing in mind the adversarial outcome of certain kinds of investigations. To a large extent, this has been one characteristic feature of some Ghanaian societies over the years.
With the passage of time, the picture painted above cannot hold true in our contemporary Ghanaian societies. This is due to the massive wave of globalisation which has impacted the country with its accompanying means of acculturation of other cultures. Young people all over the country are openly raising questions about a number of issues especially with regards to their faith. The social media platforms have become avenues where people openly share their views and challenge traditionally held customs, practices and taboos. This has resulted in some traditional values giving way to innovations and adaptations. In addition, access to university education, the influx of Ghanaians abroad pursuing further studies in various disciplines has also contributed significantly to the growing culture of critical enquiry. There is a growing critical mass of the Ghanaian populace that no longer takes conventional knowledge hook, line and sinker.
The recent apologetics seminar organised by the Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in collaboration with the University of Ghana Chaplaincy Board and the Legon Interdenominational Church strongly illustrates this point. The event dubbed RECONSIDER aimed among other things to reach students and faculty members with the credibility of the gospel by providing a platform for answering the heartfelt questions of participants. As a team, we had a number of expectations. Top on the list was that through the power of the Holy Spirit, people would come to the saving knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Secondly, to show that it is possible to know the Lord with our mind leading to a faithful commitment to him with our soul and our heart (Matthew 22:37), clarify doubt and correct misconceptions with the hope of helping the thinker to believe and the believer to think. To the glory of God, it was refreshing to see many people reconsider their stance with respect to their faith and over fifty people making a commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. It was obvious, at the end of the five days that having a critical engagement with our faith clarifies doubts, corrects misconceptions, deepen our convictions and helps us to make a meaningful commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ by knowing what we believe and why we believe it. It also came to the fore that the church in Ghana needs to revamp it evangelistic style of telling people what to believe to use apologetics to undergird its evangelistic efforts by listening to the heartfelt questions of the people and present the gospel to them in a winsome way.
Written by Ibrahim Baidoo | 2019