It was reported in the news article Vice President promises closer partnership with the church, that Vice President John Dramani Mahama’s government would be working with Christian churches to ensure the youth become “morally upright and disciplined”.

It begs a number of questions but let’s just get the cynical jibe out of the way first – what went wrong with you guys?

My first thought on reading the report was to wonder why he felt Christianity was more suited to delivering morality then any of Ghana’s other religions.

Of course, I might be too hasty and his next stop might be his local mosque to make the same statement, then off to the Buddhists and traditionalists….but somehow I think not. I think this government previously betrayed their position of trust as custodians of the secular state and are doing it again.

The secular state allows religious freedom by not aligning itself with one religion. Past statements from the President, such as all Ghanaians should read the bible, show bias especially when exhortations to read the Qur’an are noticeably missing. In truth, they should not be making these statements in the first place which shows a lack of understanding about their function as Honourable Public Servants.

I then wondered why we felt religion was uniquely positioned to deliver morality. Is it merely because fear of an external authority forces people to be good? Most of us have gone long beyond these flawed arguments.

I think it was Daniel Dennett who discussed the relationship of religion to morality. He said that the religious reinforcement of morality was like the scaffolding around a new building. It is essential in the construction of the building but there comes a point where you no longer need it. Our society now knows that killing and stealing is wrong without having to read it in religious book first. I’m not suggesting we remove religion but I am suggesting that we no longer need it to, primarily, deliver morality.

I maintain the entire Christian morality project has failed in Ghana. We see churches becoming more aggressive in attempting to force it yet at the same time people complain immorality is increasing. I believe you cannot instil moral values in a vacuum and through fear.

Instead of teaching spirituality and a genuine understanding of theology, the churches focus on behavioural change. Behavioural change without inner transformation is temporal and bound to fail.

Some friends explained that morality, to many Ghanaian pastors, simply means no alcohol, no smoking and no sex outside marriage. With this incredibly limited understanding of what morality is, I would question their assumed authority on this issue. Could this be another reason why the project has failed?

Mahama’s comments were almost certainly political. In Ghana’s culture of enforced Christianity, he understood what was needed to maintain his status. His decision to make the announcement in the Assemblies of God Church, whilst the American treasurer was present, so was sycophantic as to be embarrassing.

What is clearly needed is a civic debate on what we believe morality is and how to encourage it. Religions, including the Christian churches, have a role to play in this debate. What we don’t need is politicised, knee-jerk responses based on old methods which have blatantly failed.