Religion was always and is still, to a large extent, an integral part of the lifestyle of the many Ghanaians in the country
Over the years, every activity was a religious exercise, and the individual was left to relate to his or her maker according to how it satisfied the spiritual and material life.
The fact of the intrusion of Christian colonialists into the territories that became Ghana had very far-reaching influence on the impact of Christianity into social and public life as well as the developmental structure of the country.
The British colonial administrators being predominantly Christian, the activities of the Christian missionaries in a large portion of Ghana have resulted in the development of a dominant influence of Christian perspectives in social and public life.
For instance, only Christian religious holidays were accorded national character, while Islamic holidays were limited to only the adherents of the Islamic faith. Eventually, Islamic holidays were legislated into national holidays, though even now the traditional African religions and other minority sects do not have any special occasions accorded the status of even sectarian holidays.
Nevertheless, Ghana is constitutionally a secular state. Religious liberty is guaranteed, and all citizens are free to believe and manifest any religious faith.
National census figures place Christianity as the dominant faith at 68.8 percent of the population with Islam at 15.9 percent and traditional religion at 8.5 percent.
Only 6.1 percent reported having no religious affiliations. There are other smaller religious denominations, including such groups.
This notwithstanding the benefits of religion in the current dispensation cannot be ruled out.
The mental construct of belief in God or something is an invaluable psychological tool of mankind, it helps us to conquer our fears and instills hope in our very existence. Religion has been employed as a medium for both positive and negative things in human history.
Religion can be as a tool to incite wars, hatred, slavery, racism etc. and can also instill compassion, peace and love to increase development in human societies.
Religion has the ability to influence perceptions and behaviors of several parties on the development arena. Looking at the diverse contributions and ills of religion or religiosity the question now is how then it can be utilized for the greater good of all Ghanaians.
Although other schools of thought have held and still opine that religion has it down sides, it is very imperative to access its strengths rather than the weakness.
First through the religion, schools have been established to augment governments efforts aimed at educating the citizenry.
Names like the Methodist University, Pentecost University, Wesley Grammar Senior high School, Abetifi Training College to mention but a few are positive pointers that religion in which ever form has a key role to play in the developmental goals of the country.
Several districts in Ghana have Christian and Muslim mission hospitals which are founded by Christian or Islamic bodies.
There are also some healing centres that are Traditional. The people go any length in order to get remedies to their maladies when it comes to seeking for health, without considering the religious background of the healer or the provider.
For instances, there is a Christian clinic named Jesus’ Care Clinic at Besoro, a town in Ghana, where Muslims and non-muslims avail themselves for medical attention.
Furthermore, Religious pluralism has ensured and promoted love among the people.
According to Ayandokun, “as Africans, there are certain values that are part of our culture which we must cherish, embrace and continue to pursue. One of such is brotherly love among members of same community.
Africans live in communities and they are conscious of protecting each other”. Due to religious pluralism; the people accept the responsibility to treat others with courtesy, honour and without moving too far, one person is related to the other, which increases the bond of love.
This has promoted fidelity in their human relationships and has ensured interfaith dialogue. Interfaith dialogue here as a characteristic of religious pluralism is not about probing into who is right or wrong, but it is all about sitting down together irrespective of religious differences or diversities to discuss common issues together, to promote justice and peace.
The prevalence of religious pluralism has ensured and promoted peace among the various religious groups. Christianity, Islam and African Traditional Religion which are the main religions in Ghana emphasize tolerance and peaceful co-existence among persons.
The people tolerate each other without necessarily compromising their faith but being open-minded for interaction. In such an environment, different religious traditions do understand that they can do better than claim an absolute and exclusive possession of the truth: they should share their faith, common and different, and seek fresh ways of presenting their spiritual heritage to people of the world.
Religion also assists to shape the more fiber of society especially as some of the churches use their pulpits to caution the youth against enduring in some societal ills.
One must not quickly lose sight of the key role religious leader’s play during national elections like the 2016 general elections which elected Nana Akuffo-Addo as president.
These leaders say fervent prayers and use their various platforms to unite the nation in the face of seeming divisive utterances by politicians.
From the above and other examples I cannot cite, its abundantly clear that religion plays a key role in the development of Ghana, a reason the citizenry should not allow it become a force to disrupt the peace and tranquility of the country as has been the issue in other countries in the West African sub region.
Ghana must continue to be a shining example to other countries.
Columnist: Sandra Stevens, GIJ Student