Two recent stories have come out in Ghana which most rational people will read with despair.

The first is an update on a man whose penis disappeared, got a vagina, got impregnated by another man, and then gave birth to a baby. All without surgery! It was obvious the story was fake from the start but the full details were not reported then. Even the update has a misleading title: Priest’s Penis Turns to Vagina – it didn’t. It’s actually a story of the theft of a baby by traditional priest, Nana Kwabena Bennie. All the other nonsense was a smoke-screen for the crime. But the baby’s mother believed his explanation. The priest’s motivation was probably to boost belief in his powers and maybe he had plans for the baby.

The second is an update on a self-styled prophet, Segbene Xenodzi Furguson, who said he would kill himself if former First Lady Nana Konadu Agyeman-Rawlings lost the internal NDC elections, showing how seriously he took God’s word. When Nana lost with only 3.1% of the vote, delusion led him to announce that she had really won. He claims an internal meeting made the decision to change the vote and announce Mills as the real winner. Xenodzi has stood for assemblyman in his district, has a rather embarrassing blog and website (no I’m not going to promote them here), apparently writes and publishes a low circulation newspaper and promotes himself as the Last Jewish Prophet.

Most right-thinking people would not take these people seriously and yet many do. Many look to them for leadership. These two are, perhaps, extreme examples but there are many more who subtly defraud and cheat using distorted theologies that are not so easy to spot. It begs the need to license or regulate those who wish to present themselves as Men of God who have bestowed upon themselves the title of pastor, prophet, bishop, and so on. Who is entitled to hold these titles?

The government has claimed it is concerned but its response is to ask the police to arrest charlatans, to ask the media to agree on how to cover religious issues and to ask religious organisations to regulate themselves.

How are the public supposed to spot fakes from real pastors, or the police for that matter? What does a real miracle look like compared to a fake one? How do we spot greedy pastors from needy pastors when they ask for our hard-earned money? When churches cannot agree on an interpretation of the bible how are its citizens expected to do so?

Perhaps the issue is wider? Why do the public so easily believe obviously untrue stories? Why is there such a tendency to explain everything in terms of a spiritual world?

In my opinion it’s necessary to introduce a healthy skepticism into the public’s mind. That’s not going to come from the religious leaders and it’s not going to come from teachers who are often the worst at promoting uncritical thinking. The government have indicated the job is not theirs.  Ultimately, it’s down to you and me to spread the word anyway we can. Perhaps we need an organisation? Some of us are talking about it.