Karl Marx once said, “Religion is the opium of the masses.” The German Communist Political Philosopher and Economist in a Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right (1843), observed that “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. By this assertion, Marx intended to set the premise on which the issue of wrong influence of religion could be addressed.
A careful analysis of the statement is a clear attestation to the situation we seem to face in the world today. Firstly, Marx observed that religion is the only means by which the oppressed could sigh. This is because religion offers the individual some hope that the bad situation would turn around. Then again he believed that the world is heartless and therefore religion, with its moral and spiritual tempo, gives a heart to an otherwise unreasonable world.
Then he indicated that the conditions mankind faces in life are so bad that they could only be compared to soullessness. It is this soullessness of the conditions of the world that has exalted religion such that it has indeed become an opium that drowses the senses of man such that one cannot think straight but allows himself or herself to be easily influenced by doctrines that do not seem to be reasonable.
This is why throughout history there have been many instances in which some so called preachers have risen to lead many people astray. Even though from the distance one can clearly see the mischief and error in their submissions, it is rather ironical that the people who follow such religious leaders see nothing wrong even if it leads to the ultimate destruction of their lives.
Mention can be made of Rev. Jim Jones, who supervised the suicide of over 900 members of his Peoples Temple at Jones Town in Guyana in the 1970s. Even when his wrong deeds came to light and he left the United States of America, most of the members followed him to Guyana where his activities worsened. After enslaving them for years he finally locked them up under armed guards and forced them to drink a mixture of cyanide. In the end it was only three people who survived having pretended to be dead without drinking.
Mention can also be made of Vladeci Sobreni Picano, a Brazilian Evangelical Pastor who was arrested for performing oral sex on his members. He claimed that the Holy Spirit had blessed him with sperms that are Sacred Milk. And so one’s problems would be solved if one sucks his pennies and gets portions of the sperms into ones stomach. And it is shocking that tens of people followed him without question and indeed sucked this ‘divine milk’.
There was, also, Pastor Lesego Daniel of the Rabboni Centre Ministries, Pretoria, South Africa who claimed that he could turn petrol into pineapple juice. His congregants were therefore forced to drink with the pretext that they had enough faith. According to reports in September 2014, he forced his members to chew grass.
Then comes Pastor Penuel Mnguni of the End Times Disciples Ministries in South Africa who feeds his congregants with live rats and snakes for deliverance. He also stomps on them and strips them naked as part of his healing method.
There is, again, this Tanzanian pastor who preaches by riding on the backs of some of his congregants because, according to him, he cannot preach the word of God standing on the ground. The list could go on and on.
So it is not shocking that in Ghana, one Bishop Daniel Obinim, Founder of the Godsway International Ministry claims he can change into all kinds of animals, steal money from banks for his congregants, take their passports from embassies, and so on.
This comes after he had confessed to sleeping with his junior pastor’s wife a night before the blessing of her marriage with the pastor. Among other things, this Ghanaian preacher is seen in video clips stepping on the stomach of a pregnant woman, lying on female congregants, etc.
But why does he still command such a large following; why have not people seen through his operations to see the error in his dealings? Perhaps it is for such situations that Karl Marx made that extraordinary remark. It is simple, that religion seems to have blinded us such that we fail to see the obvious.
The Rt. Rev. Samuel Noi Mensah, President of the Full Gospel Church International and a key member of the leadership of Ghana Pentecostal and Charismatic Council (GPCC) makes the situation more compelling. He insists that “the African is very religious and the Ghanaian, notoriously religious.” In an interview with the GNA over the issue, the Rt. Rev. said that the African seems to have attached so much fetishism to religion such that he always wants to see a physical representation of his belief. That may be why they are easily swayed by magicians and tricksters who parade themselves as men of God.
But where does the Government come in, and when can the state intervene to curb the escalation of such fraudulent activities? The Constitution of Ghana clearly provides the Ghanaian with freedom of religion and association such that any attempt to restrict those freedoms, amounts to a breech of the law. So we may have to look on while such misrepresentation of the scripture goes on.
I believe that in an attempt to revise the Ghanaian constitution, it would not be wrong to legislate that churches with anti-social characters and questionable doctrines be banned from our society, not to talk about having the power to revoke the right of certain pastors to operate if they clearly go wrong. In the wisdom of reality it would be better to curtail some amount of religious freedom in order to restore sanity to those who seem to be getting out of hand.
By Alexander Nyarko Yeboah