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In world's most religious country, humanists rally for secular space

A group of humanists is looking to find its niche in Ghana, recently ranked most religious in a survey of 57 nations.

By Chris SteinContributor / November 25, 2012

Moussa Toure Zeguen, (r.), a former militia leader, stands in church in Accra, Ghana, Oct. 21. In Ghana, ranked the most religious of 57 nations in a survey, a group of humanists is trying to find a foothold.

Robbie Corey Boulet/AP

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Accra, Ghana

In Ghana, where deeply held religious beliefs unite much of the population, a new group has formed around a shared disbelief in religion.

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The Humanist Association of Ghana practices a philosophy that is mostly unheard-of in Ghana, which a recent survey ranked as the most religious country in the world. Nonetheless, the group has already made waves in West Africa.

Last weekend, the association hosted humanists from across the region for a conference in the capital of Accra, where attendees listened as speakers discussed the impact humanists could make on West African society. Lecturers talked about how humanists can stand up for gay and lesbian rights and against traditional practices like witch hunts. One talk dealt with whether humanism is compatible with belief in God. 

“The humanist movement isn’t really about converting anybody or forcing anyone to think a certain way,” says Monika Mould, a member of the group. “It’s just about giving people a way to say, ‘I can make my own decisions and I can think my own thoughts.’”

Humanism is a philosophy based on emphasizing humans over deities or religious texts. While many humanists are atheists, it’s not required, and some humanists believe that someone can practice the philosophy while still being religious.

Nyame in many names

Nonetheless, humanism is seen as at best an oddity, and at worst an offense in deeply devout Ghana.

On the streets of Accra, everything from taxis to restaurants and real estate offices seems to be named after “Nyame,” the word for God in the local Twi language. The trend carries into politics: The country’s largest opposition political party has the slogan, “the battle is the Lord’s,” on their campaign posters.

A recent survey by polling firm WIN-Gallup International said that 96 percent of Ghanaians are religious, the highest percentage of the 57 countries polled. Nigeria came in second, with 93 percent of people claiming religion.

About 70 percent of Ghanaians are Christians, 17 percent are Muslim, and the rest belong to traditional religions or other theologies, says Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu, a professor of African Christianity and Pentecostal theology at Trinity Theological Seminary in Accra.

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