Letter to the Editor

Article excerpt


IN HIS ARTICLE, "IS IT TIME TO GIVE RELIGIONS A PUBLIC VOICE?" (INROADS 10), Gregory Baum argues that keeping religion within the private sphere amounts to "condemning to silence a significant portion of the population." He then puts this argument within the context of globalization, development and Westernization, reminding us that to many third-world intellectuals, especially those speaking from a religious conviction, Western-style economic development is a form of colonialism. While he is not explicit as to which religions he sees as offering an alternative to this domination and to the secular philosophy disseminated by economic development, it is clear that as a committed Catholic he includes Christianity among them.

This raises a question I believe worth pursuing. It is true that in sub-Saharan Africa, many churches became highly involved in the 1970s in both development and the defence of human rights. But does this allow us to see them as opposing rather than facilitating Westernization?

The basic elements of Westernization include an economic view of human nature, and a belief in progress, in the necessity and the universality of development, and in the supremacy of instrumental reason, which, together, can be described as the dissemination of modernity Is Christianity also a disseminator of some or all of these elements when it is involved in development in nonWestern countries? In field research undertaken in 1999, I analyzed the impact of Christianity on the moral values, social hierarchy and identity of the Asante people of Ghana.

In my research, I found that Christianity's efforts at development have several effects on the communities and the individuals observed (and interviewed). First, their social relations and the way they view themselves are becoming more individualistic. This is not surprising as Christianity is a monotheistic religion. In addition, a basic tenet is that all are equal under God, and "His Kingdom" is within all of us regardless of gender, class or colour. This radical equality is a direct cause of a loss of respect for traditional hierarchy structures such as elders in Asante culture. Interestingly, followers of traditional religions also point to Christianity as a culprit for the rise in criminality and declining morality among young people because the "Christian God forgives." This is certainly strange to hear from a Western perspective, since many Christians in the West claim that the rise in violence is due to the weakening of Christian morality.

A second impact of Christianity on Asante culture is that it is contributing, even more than development, to the erosion of the chiefs' legitimacy and traditional function as mediator to the world of the divinities. A chief's main source of legitimacy and authority used to be religious (dead ancestors and gods), but this source is being replaced by the capacity to develop materially his community through Christian-sponsored projects. …