Although Karl Marx wasn’t a fan of religion, he was not necessarily an enemy of it. You see, Marx saw religion as the deception point on which the poor were made to not just accept their state, but also not do much about it. Marx witnessed religion teaching the poor that they are meant to suffer here on earth, so they can enjoy in heaven. With the acceptance of this fate, they laboured in silence in anticipation of some future relief for which their only guarantee was their blind faith.
Many religious pundits have pointed to evidence of the very strong correlation between poverty and religion. The conclusion is that, the poorer people are the more religious they are. 24% of the world’s 2.2 billion Christians are in Sub-Saharan Africa, with the region accounting for one of the highest growth in the religion worldwide. It is also the poorest region in the world, with more than 48% of the population living on less than $1.25 a day, according to the World Bank.
Zero down to Ghana, and you will find a 94% religious, 71% Christian population, with about 8,000 churches on record as at 2010. Include the unregistered churches, back yard fellowships, mosques, shrines and street preachers and we might just be inundated with miraculous statistics. Why has there been so much growth of churches in Ghana, particularly in the last decade? Is it poverty?
In a recent study I did in Ghana, when I asked people what they thought was accounting for the growth of churches, I almost concluded that my interviewees were all Marxists. The unanimous theme in their responses was what Marx would think; people are turning to religion as “opium” for their hardships. But they took it all a step further, than Marx.
Imagine this. It is inherent in our culture to attribute our fortunes and misfortunes to some divine, superior being. Consequently, people who are poor and suffering are turning to religion so not to despair, something evident in Marx’s day. But what Marx didn’t see coming is that, others who are equally poor, but smarter are providing this religious outlet for those who seek it, and are enriching themselves in the process. I know this all sound a bit cynical, and too conclusive, but I am only reporting what some people believe.
You see, some people believe that starting a church today in Ghana is a lucrative business venture. When you succeed in winning membership, you are guaranteed regular income through offering, tithes and other donations. But beyond that, churches are now selling anointing oil, holy water, porridge, salt, soap and even sachet water in the name of “spiritual directions”. As it turns out, even some religious leaders believe that today, the kingdom of God is being sold as a commodity.
Today in Ghana, radio, TV, newspaper, posters, billboards and direct door to door advertising are utilised by churches to win customers for God’s business. What’s more, lorry parks, market squares, buses and streets have all become venues for preachers, and they do not end their day without directly asking apparent listeners to give them money to support God’s work, and people do. Unlike Marx’s day, these preachers actually promise to deliver relief from sickness and poverty, and guarantee prosperity, in this present world, here and now.
The business set up is clear. People are made aware of their needs, which are spiritually caused mishaps, they are offered (spiritual) products such as healing and prosperity, and there are some supposedly existing consumers (members) who guarantee and recommend the product’s efficacy (through testimonies). This is a direct replication of any traditional, marketing textbook sales process, on every level.
You may have your doubts, as I may. However, the fact that churches are creeping up on every corner in the country today must mean that there indeed is demand for them, or at least their supply is meeting some demand. With our weakness of fear not to be seen as anti-God, it may take a long time before we see some regulation for this growing market, which remains tax-exempt. As long as we remain a religion-dependent nation, this exploitation as some see it, will only continue to grow. And if Marx was not mistaken, as long as people do not feel the said economic growth “in their pockets”, this religion-dependency will deepen, and with it a cycle of demand and supply of religious services. Donkomi oo donkomi!