Faith & Forgiveness

I know many of my friends who will look at me with a side-eye for discussing my thoughts on God, but it is what it it is. I do believe in God, albeit not some bearded old white man looking benevolently upon us from on high. Here are three pieces I’ve written outlining a few things I believe.

This post is however a culmination of thoughts I’ve had over the years regarding my relationship with Christianity. Think of it as a new relationship with it.

Kobby vs. Christians

It was recently brought to my attention by someone dear to me that I speak with a degree of bitterness when it comes to Christianity.

I have heard this before: once or twice right here on this blog. But there was something different in the way in which she said it to me. She spoke in a tone devoid of the kind of self-righteousness, arrogance and judgment that made me leave Christianity behind in the first place.

She spoke with Love.

An Apology

I try to live my life guided by Love and when I am addressing Christians on this blog, I try to speak with Love. I do not apologize for my criticism of Christianity (especially here in Ghana): I humbly suggest that such criticism is both healthy and necessary. Who the cap fits, let them wear it. I do not always hit the mark however, and I would like to apologize to anyone who has ever been hurt by my tone.

Kobby the Christian

If I do feel bitterness towards Christianity, it is for two reasons: my experience of Christianity as a young believer and my observations of Christianity today as a not-quite-believer. Both are linked. I’ve spoken about my past before, but what I haven’t spoken on much is my own journey.

I was raised, baptized and confirmed Methodist, and I was what I would call a ‘cultural Christian’ by the time I was a teenager in Ghana. I talked the talk (said things like, ‘have a blessed day’), regularly attended church, prayed, fasted, sang in Joyful Way, attended Scripture Union, etc, etc.

All these things are things you cannot really avoid as a Ghanaian Christian though: society expects them from you. They do not require a genuine, deeper understanding of your faith. You are taught them since before Sunday School, all the way into your adulthood. I see many young people today engaged in such ‘Christian culture’. You see it all over their social media.

Those things do not Christians make though. At best, they are a foundation. A shaky one at that. Too many cultural Christians are not driven by the kind of Love that was so compelling that Jesus replaced the entire ten commandments with it. Rather, they wear their spirituality for all to see. It is something that they perform. Mostly in public. They judge. They are holier-than-thou. In short, they become the very Pharisees they were taught to despise.

Love is… HARD!

In my experience, Love is kind… but it is also difficult. It requires hard things of its advocates in real life situations. It requires you not to judge but to be tolerant of people who do not share your faith. Show them love and – who knows – they may actually come to faith. If not? That’s between them and God. It’s not for you to advocate against them, gossip about them, judge them or feel better than them. Who are you anyway? By the standards of Christian faith, your goodness is like a dirty rag in the eyes of God. I don’t care if you are even a pastor: who are you exactly to judge?

Love requires us to make peace with those who would argue with us. To not cheat in a society in which it is made very easy for people to have flings and affairs. It requires us to be kind to those who are unkind to us. Basically, it requires the practical application of everything in Galatians 5:22-23

‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.’

My foundations in faith were cultural. They were not personal. Yes, I prayed and such. But I hadn’t engaged with God as much as I thought. All those churchy things were for society. They were not for God. They were not even for me, really.

Leaving Faith Behind

In the end, I grew bitter about my experience of faith. My growing contempt for Christian hypocrisy lead me away from Christianity – from Christ – as a whole, especially as I started engaging with the world beyond faith. I discovered people of other faiths and what they believed and I realized that their faiths made sense too. Far beyond signs and wonders. I came to understand – for example – from a Jewish perspective why Jesus was not the Christ, in a way that no pastor had ever explained to me without putting a Christian spin on things without knowing it. I dated a Muslim girl I fell in love with because she was one of the warmest, most kind, most loving people I had ever met. I learned about her faith and I discovered that much of the hate-and-fear-fuelled things I had heard about Islam were gross simplifications.

Meanwhile, so many people told me that the problem was that I was going to the wrong church. So they would always invite me to their church. But in between the good, I would see the same things over and over. Judgment. Hypocrisy. Arrogance. Self-righteousness. Fear. Hate. Xenophobia. Again and again and again. Wrapped up in the clothes of faith and love.

Eventually, I attended Bible classes: such was the extent of my desire to return to faith. The Alpha course helped a little. The first time I attended, I met people who did not judge me for having doubts and for having some very troubling questions. Questions that asking in Ghana had people looking at me funny. About Paul. About original sin. About the Fall. About the translation of scripture. About books left out of the Bible. Et cetera. It helped a little. I decided to attend a second time. This time, I met judgment. People looking at me funny. I left and never looked back.

Finding Love

At that moment, I decided that I had been praying for years for clarity in my soul and I realized that I had been ignoring a message that I had been receiving again and again and again. All the people whose faiths I admired – Christian or otherwise – were defined by their capacity for Love, above and beyond that of the average man or woman on the street. The moment I decided to start living a life guided by the kind of Love that we instinctively know without reading books about it, I experienced peace. A real peace.

Returning to Faith

However, I always suspected that it would all eventually lead me back to faith. I don’t know why. I remember reading Brian McLaren’s ‘A New Kind of Christian‘ – given to me by a friend in Geneva – and feeling incredible excitement. Here was someone expressing my doubts and yet who had managed to stay within the fold. I devoured everything I could find online about things like the Emerging Church movement and the house church movement and so-called progressive Christianity:

  • A spiritual vitality and expressiveness, including participatory, arts-infused, and lively worship as well as a variety of spiritual rituals and practices such as meditation
  • Intellectual integrity including a willingness to question
  • An affirmation of human diversity
  • An affirmation of the Christian faith with a simultaneous sincere respect for other faiths
  • Strong ecological concerns and commitments

Yes, please: I’ll take two.

The Block

Ultimately however, I still could not describe myself as a Christian because I could not think of Jesus as ‘the way, the truth and the life’. I read ‘Mere Christianity’ and admired CS Lewis’ attempt, but found flaws in his lines of logic by chapter three. I have heard no argument that makes me feel that there is something inherently superior about Christianity as a religion to any other religion. After having actually engaged with them, I find it hard to take seriously any religion’s claim to exclusivity over the truth. Importantly however, I am committed to keeping an open mind, an open heart and open ears. I could be wrong.

So Why Engage?

Part of my continued engagement was because I missed two things about Christianity: ritual and communion. I don’t believe in being passive about what you believe in. Love in particular requires you to be active. This means being constantly reminded about it and challenged and such, and organized religion – at its best – has a great way of doing this. It keeps you on your toes. Or – at least – it can. The other thing it is great at is communion: connecting you with people with whom you share faith. Maybe its my Christian upbringing, maybe its human instinct, but I need these things. I miss them.

Ghana: Religious or Hypocritical?

By the time I moved back to Ghana from London, it became even more difficult to find a foothold on any kind of path back to faith again. Simply saying you do not go to church here is such taboo, much less asking the deep kind of questions I have. At least, it seems that way from the outside.

One thing that I humbly think needs to change in Ghana is how conservative we are about Christianity. I know there are those who would disagree and argue that ‘you can’t avoid the Cross’. The problem is that that is exactly what loads of people are doing here. Ghana is supposed to be the most religious country in the world. Yet – beyond church attendance – you cannot see it in our lives as a nation at all. Which suggests that we are the most hypocritical nation on earth. For me, I have always said that I will believe that Ghanaians are really imbibing faith when i see it on the road: when I see people drive in respect of the law and in respect of the dignity and humanity of their fellow man. No more blowing your horn as soon as the light turns green. No more forming third and fourth lanes. No cutting people off. No being on the road without a license. No hurling abuse at people. When we are so soaked in our beliefs that you can see it in the way we drive? Then we can talk about being religious beyond simply going to church.

There are so many different types of Christianity. And I don’t mean different kinds of churches all preaching what is ultimately the same conservative Christian message. I think it is very damning of us that the prosperity gospel is what we seem to have taken to rather than something as pro-poor as liberation theology. Both have their flaws but I don’t even see us critically engaging enough to discern something for ourselves. As Africans. At all. I intend to personally challenge this, especially if I find my way back to faith but even while I haven’t. I apologize in advance to anyone who may take offence, but I think it is the least I can do.

So Where Next?

A few of the things my friend told me – and the Love with which she told them to me (reminiscent of another friend of mine actually) – have helped me to course correct my journey. I have started discussions with people whose opinions I value whose faith I admire too. This new year, as part of a broader set of resolutions, I have decided on a few things:

  • A fresh start: I will recognize and shed the bitterness of my previous religious engagement.
  • Make more time for reflection, meditation and prayer.
  • Commune with fellow truthseekers.
  • Actively explore the Bible as imperfectly written but ultimately containing a Thread that I must find, pull out and follow
  • Read not around the Gospels but the Gospels themselves.
  • Give Paul a chance (this will be very hard)
  • Actively encourage critical engagement with faith in replacement of mere faith culture’ at Ashesi

Happy new year, everyone.

14 thoughts on “Faith & Forgiveness

  1. Wow. Kobby. I really wish we lived nearer each other. I’m in this EXACT place. I started writing this weekend about how I view God and Christianity! I share your remorse in the criticism that I’ve delivered in the past that has not been from a place of love. Returning to Nigeria, and reuniting with an old friend who sounds similar to yours in their own expression of Christianity has reminded me that I need to recenter, and continue to rid myself of the contempt (in my case, birthed from a need to survive some hateful messages I heard in the church growing up), I’ve been carrying for too long.

    Even though Christianity is not a faith I’ve chosen to invest in (Love is also my religion :), and I’m an eco-spiritualist at best), I have recommitted to my spiritual growth this year as well – intentionally seeking out community (“communion”) that is collectively searching, sharing, challenging, and loving. I’m also growing more open to the idea that this community *can* in part be virtual. I hope we share some space this year. Really moved by this post, your writing, and grateful for being able to share a moment of pause with you on your journey. Big love, bro. xoxo

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  2. Mr. Graham…Great post! I especially like that you mentioned ‘Logic’. I actually smiled when you mentioned C.S. Lewis’ ‘Mere Christianity’. I totally believe that you should embark on this journey on a very personal investigative level. But, I want to offer few suggestions on titles etc,

    1. ‘Orthodoxy’ by G.K. Chesterton. (You can get the pdf version online for free)
    2. ‘The Apologetics Study Bible’… (ermm, got my copy from Challenge Bookshop for a little over fifty Ghana cedis.)

    3. Ravi Zacharias sermons and open fora (on Youtube etc)
    4. Dr. William Lane Craig’s debates and answers to ‘tough’ questions (on Youtube and on his website Reasonablefaith.org)

    All the very best with your resolutions.
    Happy New Year to you too!

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  3. Hmmm…this has me wondering… Why isn’t faith alone enough? Can ritual and communion not be found in another way, without becoming a part of an ‘organised religion’? I still don’t have the answers and my feelings about this fluctuate, but with so many bad things done in the name of religion, I still can’t bring myself to sit in a church, mosque or gurduwara without feeling like that is not what ‘God’ meant by spirituality and faith…
    Thanks for sharing Kobby. Good food for thought as we enter the new year and inevitably make promises to ourselves about becoming better people…therein lies ‘God’ too.

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  4. I am an African and a Christian. Like you, I question so very many of the things I see that happen in the Church particularly the abuse of leadership in favor of personal gain. However, they do not shake my faith because I know we live in an imperfect world. I’m touched by your thoughts because you bare your soul in it. Clearly, you’re seeking in truth for truth. That’s what God wants: those who seek Him in truth and in spirit. From what I’ve experienced you’ll find Him. And when you do, it’ll be such a journey.

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  5. An excellent piece, I enjoyed reading it thoroughly specifically the level of honesty you display in your writing. Like you, I am a critical thinker and look at most things with a critical eye including my Faith, Christianity, The Bible and I am always seeking clarity and to enhance my knowledge and understand of anything I view with a critical eye. Inevitably reading this blog triggered a plethora of emotions specifically sadness, empathy, gladness and admittedly a little bit of annoyance but I think you kinda expected that. I also admire your tenacity in seeking out your truth.

    I was saddened that your ‘bitterness’ towards Christianity was caused, initiated and greatly influenced by your experiences growing up in Ghana and your experiences in more recent years. Which have tainted your view of today’s Christianity and Christians. I was born in Sierra Leone a Christian and spent the early years of my life there until the war drove us out so I was also baptized, confirmed the works. I believe I am familiar with what you call, ‘Cultural Christianity’. Although at the time it meant little to me, as I did not fully understand it, I am glad my parents put me through it, they planted the seed. These things for me I felt were instrumental to me having my own personal experience and relationship with God in recent years. It is a real shame that that which was originally designed to help ground you/me/one in Christianity had the opposite effect by that I mean uprooted you from the Faith and taking you away from the fold.

    I empathize with you because I also often ask and have asked similar questions and have similar issues with the Church and Christians i.e. self-righteousness, arrogance, judgment, hypocrisy etc. Often I am also looked at with disdain when I ask tough/difficult question… Almost like, ‘how dare you’ with little or no explanation accompanying the judgmental looks and stares. This irks me to no end. This is particularly common in Africa in my experience. My parents and I however often have debates. Without my own personal experiences and my parents willingness to engage in difficult discussions with me re Christianity and Christianity I may have fallen out of the ‘fold’ like you. Although, based on what you have written, in my humble opinion, I am not fully convinced that you are completely out of the ‘fold’.

    In the past when I have questioned other Christians’ attitudes and behavior I feel God is saying, ‘… what is your own with Tom, Dick or Harry’s attitude or what they are doing or saying. My friend I sent you to worship me and do good deeds etc. not to watch what other people are doing. Pay attention to me and only me.’ I’ve found that listening to that voice in my head has allowed me to focus and has helped me to drown out, what I call ‘the noise’. Admittedly it is hard, as there is so much hypocrisy and people explain things to suit themselves. I would like to point out that this is also commonplace in other religions too. I’ve just had to accept that they are human, and my spiritual journey does not depend on them. The one thing all human beings have in common, is that we all sin. My mantra is, ‘… don’t judge my sin I won’t judge yours’.

    I have not done sufficient research into Judaism and or Islam so I daren’t comment extensively on them but what is clear for me is that they all stemmed from the same tree. Abraham is the patriarch of Islam, Christianity and Judaism. We all believe in Abraham’s God so essentially despite current and historical divide we all worship the same God.

    Despite all your qualms with Christianity and today’s Christians I am glad that you are still committed to finding the truth in the Bible itself and pursuing your own experience and your own truth. I find the more I read the more questions I have. The more knowledge I acquire about anything the more I realize that I know very little and the more knowledge I seek. I have given up on having complete understanding and knowledge about anything. I just keep on seeking. What you are doing is actually very profound, because despite all your qualms you are essentially still, ‘seeking God’s face’ and have not given up completely. I admire that kind of tenacity. At the end of the day your/one’s relationship with God is your/one’s own business, only you/they have to explain to the creator. A very good read, Thank you. Good luck in the pursuit of your resolutions.

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  6. I don’t think I can express to you how much I appreciate this post. I find myself in the same position as you in terms of missing the ritual and communion but tired of the hypocritical “Christian faith”. I do believe that love is the most important concept which when understood and practiced creates a more tolerable society (of which Ghana is in dire need of).

    Just to add to everything I really do admire your thoughts and how you express them. Wish you came to Ashesi earlier because I would have loved to have you as a lecturer. My loss…

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  7. Wonderful post, to say the least. Your honesty is incredibly rare and incredibly needed. I think what I sometimes struggle with as a believer is how corrupted Christianity can be in the hands of man, no matter the country. From false teachers to abusive pastors to prosperity gospel to thieving ministers. And there are a lot of things in biblical Christianity that don’t make sense or feel good at face value. But at the end of the day, when I think back to myself, I still have the strongest sense of peace and resilience because of my faith, which wasn’t there before I believed. And it didn’t come through Ghanaian religiosity, whether on my part or the part of others. I definitely think Ghanaians miss the mark because they’re caught up in that religiosity so much, and it’s a shame because from truthful experience, real faith in Jesus can be amazing, enjoyable, intellectually stimulating, and actually transformative. I didn’t believe it would be any of these things when I watched Christianity from the outside (and I often laugh at myself because of it). Anyway, your earnestness is really encouraging and I hope you find your way to that fulfilling place of faith I’ve found, even if there are obstacles on the way. All the best =)

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  8. Best post by far!!!

    it felt like i was reading something i should have written, our journeys may not be the same but it seems we are at the same place. Very good to find out that its not just me having these issues with christianity and judging from the previous replies we all have similar views or perceptions.
    I havent read any of the books/articles you referenced and/or mentioned so i am going to get them. Next time i see you im sure we are going to discuss more than music.

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  9. Kobi
    In my opinion the very foundation of religious hypocrisy is the definition of faith. As a spiritual Christian I define it as the belief that you are loved by God as Himself with all His Life. (taken from John 3:16). Most religious hypocrites can barely give a definition better than faith is the substance of things hoped for. (from Hebrews). I also hated Paul as the doctrine of sola fide was attributed to him. But it was St Peter who said Paul was misunderstood that made me look closer. Apparently Paul believed faith (belief that God loves you) will express itself as charitable love ( you believing that you love your neighbor as yourself and that your neighbor loves you as himself too and acting it out).

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