FILLING THE VOID THROUGH COMMUNITY – ARE WE READY?
Ghana is not in short-supply of disasters, natural or otherwise, and with each such event providing an opportunity to witness religious diversity in grief and mourning. On the 9th day of May in 2001, Ghana experienced one of our worst disasters at the Accra sports stadium. 126 lives were lost. From the presidency to various religious institutions, messages of solidarity flew in, with interfaith ceremonies creating a community to aid victims, survivors and their families. Funerals, burials, memorial services, etc took place in Catholic, Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal and Charismatic churches. Churches provided support in various forms at this point, including and most importantly an avenue to mourn the loss of loved ones.
It is at these moments, upon seeing the expression of faith in this manner of religious beliefs, a heartwarming show of community, that leaves me to question what humanists can do. Given that our numbers may be small, but by all indications rising, is there a mark we can make during such tragedies that will set us down the path of truly filling the void that we envision will exist a majority of the people leave religion?
Religion has had millennia of practice to develop and fine-tune its community-building apparatus and systems of traditions that go to the varying stages of life, including tragedies. I am in no means calling out humanists for our inability to quickly provide answers in this regard. I am calling in, on humanists, to recognize this as an opportunity. In times of tragedy, religion offers more than theology or divine presence, it offers community. If we are to be a viable alternative, if we are to matter to people, believers or nonbelievers, we need to create a sense of community.
During a tragedy and the few weeks or months that follow, the world seems to be out of order for most people and they start to seek a semblance of order to make sense of their pain. Humanists can listen and provide avenues for people to talk about their pain in rational terms. The Humanist Association of Ghana currently has one humanist celebrant who I had the privilege of having officiated my wedding ceremony. Most humanist celebrants are trained with a focus on weddings, baby namings; mostly happy occasions. It will take a lot more training to learn how to deal with grief and loss. We have to be looking at offering support in times of sorrow and loss; from tragedies to hospice care to divorce. We have to consider that the irreligious also need care.
For humanists to make our presence felt we need to consider having a continual presence in our communities, having a commitment to tactile rather than virtual engagement with people who are hurting. The persisting mindset of “each one for himself” in humanism, the glorification of individualism, is detrimental to humanism and dare I say an import foreign to our collectivist cultures in Ghana. I am because we are, a community that hurts when one hurts. Our times spent chastising religion for all its ills is better spent on developing infrastructure of our own, creating real-estate that provides comfort for the hurting masses.
In service to reason, we must not forget that we are also called to act with empathy. Using reason as a tool, we can provide service in compassion creating a community that cares and is cared for thereby creating meaningful and lasting connections.