Here in Ghana, a primary topic of conversation is religion. If you meet someone new, it is likely that you will be talking about religion in the first five minutes. I  have had the basis of Christianity explained to me a couple times before class begins. I will not hesitate to say that it is extremely uncomfortable – especially because I do not share the Christian beliefs.

Many people have questioned me on my beliefs, and gone into detail about their own. When I explain that I do not believe in a higher power, they usually look flabbergasted and sputter “So, you don’t believe in anything?” I hate that question. It is always meant to be demeaning. I usually respond with “Actually, I am a firm believer in evolution.” Once I got particularly annoyed, and responded that I believed in Santa Claus!  I am not sure the person I was talking to understood, but it was enough to get him to change the subject. In reality, I believe in so much more than Santa Claus. I believe in love, in hope, in creating your own happiness, in passion, in integrity, in kindness, in honesty, and in a good sense of humor. I believe in over coming obstacles, in learning all you can, and in a positive outlook on life. I just don’t believe in a higher power. I am not religious. But I have beliefs. I have integrity. I have morals.   I have ethics. I live by them. I don’t need a higher power.  I know what the right thing to do is, and I try to do it.

When conversations about my beliefs versus someone else’s beliefs arise, I usually try to change the subject for fear of offending someone – but “they” (and “they” are usually Christians) are often quite persistent and, like I said, almost all of them eventually ask me “So, you don’t believe in anything?” It takes everything I have not to snap, “Don’t ask me stupid questions!” Interestingly, after our conversations about religion, most of the Ghanaian students just don’t believe me.  They end the conversation with,  “I know that you know there is a God.”

In addition to the high level of personal commitment to religion here, and the insistence on talking about it, there is also a huge religious movement on campus. Today it was the first day of “The Jesus Crusades”. There is a Jesus Crusades bus that goes all around campus picking people up to join in the crusade. Yes, the bus is out in the early in the morning.  Yes,  it is out late at night.  Yes, it is in front of the hostels I live in.  The bus parks outside the hostel (and other places on campus) and The Jesus Crusaders shout into a loud speaker about God, telling everyone that they are sinners, that they need to join the movement, and that they need to see the light.

When I went out for drinks with one of my professors, he asked me what religion was like where I came from. I explained that the town my university is in has more churches per square mile than any other city in California, but that I have been questioned more sharply and more frequently about religion here in Ghana than I ever have been at home.

The professor explained to me that he does not agree with the way religion is dealt with on campus. He said the Jesus Crusades just seem to be about causing noise, and they are really out to make money- not to actually spread the faith. He also told me about a huge controversy they had on campus last semester about students gathering in classes and leading prayers before lectures begin. (According to my friend Mie, her business class still opens that way. )

What I really appreciated about this professor was his ability to separate science from religion. He told me that he likes science because you can always question it, where as he could never question his faith. It is clear to me that many of the students here have a lot of trouble separating the two. When I asked my professor about the evolution class that is offered on campus, he explained that it often sparks some discomfort in the classroom. He also told me that sometimes, when he asks a question on a test, many students will respond with answers such as,  “It happens that way because that was what God intended.” That was especially troubling for him. Why don’t the students just leave the space blank if they don’t know the non-religious answer?

Overall, religion here is quite prevalent. I have been invited to a number of churches on campus, as well as some off of campus. I was genuinely interested in going until I heard a story about one Obruni going to church and being pulled up in front of the church and told to speak in tongues. That sounds incredibly uncomfortable, and even scary, so I now opt out of those invitations.

I will stick to sleeping in on Sunday mornings, and being as respectful as I can to everyone else.

I hope the Jesus Crusades will be over soon.  I’d like to sleep in this Sunday.