At school, I found the English of certain passages of the Bible superb and the teaching admirable. One of them was Paul’s address at the Areopagus. St Paul found the men of Athens very religious but ignorant of the deity they worshipped. I doubt whether we in Ghana know the God we worship.
Now is political philosophy the answer to our nagging problems? I still believe that we should take politics seriously and if we are religious, allow it to inspire our religious beliefs. I combined religion with political views even at school. When we left the secondary school at Achimota, anyone was illiterate who had not read the “Grammar of Politics” by Harold Laski, the Head of the London School of Economics and Chairman of the British Labour Party.
After school and at work I was excited by political and religious ideas which sought to promote the Kingdom of God on earth. But further exploration of the role and history of man on earth made me wonder whither I trod. I was fortunate to meet men and women of great learning and human insight who made me think and doubt. Eventually, I began to wonder whether political policies could promote progress by setting the forces of nature against the impulses of nature.
As Reinhold Niebuhr puts it in “Moral Man and Immoral Society”, “However much human ingenuity may increase the treasures which nature provides for the satisfaction of human needs, they can never be sufficient to satisfy all human wants; for man, unlike other creatures is gifted and cursed with an imagination which extends his appetite beyond the requirement of subsistence. Human society will never escape the problem of equitable distribution of the physical and cultural goods which provide for the preservation and fulfilment of human life.”
Can corruption in high places be contained?
According to Niebuhr, “There are definite limits in the capacity of ordinary mortals which make it impossible for them to grant to others what they claim for themselves”.
Are political leaders therefore naively ignorant?
Niebuhr maintains “That all social cooperation on a larger scale than the most intimate social group requires a measure of coercion”. And I will add “some lies” to force cohesion. I however maintain that we cannot but live together. And that is what our political parties should do, however difficult.
Reinhold Niebuhr has been described as “The greatest religious intellectual in mid-twentieth century America.” “Moral Man and Immoral Society” was given to me some time ago as a birthday present by Dr Emmanuel Asante and Auntie Comfort. Recently, I was privileged to have a long fruitful discussion with the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church, Prof. E. Martey and he referred me to Niebuhr’s writings and ideas. In spite of the waywardness of many who claim to be Christian leaders and throng our churches, I have great hope in the future, thanks to erudite leaders of the mainline churches such as Professors Asante and Martey.
I hope they will not allow themselves to stray, however little, from the straight path by political agents. Prof. Asante was right to maintain robustly that the Peace Council would not be swayed by political considerations. Prof. Martey was right to affirm that he would not accept any political considerations to head or be on the Peace Council. It was not an idle request. It was suggested to him and though later claimed that the message was a mistake, it was right to make his decline public. We need a strong and independent Peace Council to assist in the forthcoming crucial elections. Elections cannot in themselves resolve our problems but we should endeavour to make them hold the fort.
We have to find genuine political methods which will offer “the most promise of achieving an ethical social goal for society”. Our true religious, political and social leaders should accept their role and do their duty.