African Foundations of World Religions. (Cover story/Religion)

By Biko, Femi | New African, April 2001 | Go to article overview

African Foundations of World Religions. (Cover story/Religion)


Biko, Femi, New African


Easter is in the air, so is the Hajj. But where is the Africans' celebration of their religion? In fact, they are said to have no religion, everything came to them from abroad. In a major series beginning this month, Femi Biko shows that religious thoughts began where mankind began. It is generally accepted that mankind began in Africa. It will, therefore, follow that religion began in Africa! But that is not what "the textbooks" say. Well, you may want to gird your loins, for we have something here for you. Our series will prove that Judaism, Christianity, Islam, etc, all have their roots in, or borrowed heavily from, African religion. Enjoy Part One.

For thousands of years of prehistoric and recorded history, Africa led humanity in the art of group cohesion and social organisation. The spiritual matrix devised by African societies provided the earliest substance of social and psychological cohesion known to man.

These later impacted heavily on the societies of Western Asia and the Mediterranean world in particular, and were thereafter elaborated into distinct but ultimately related systems. Now referred to as "religion", these psycho-spiritual systems have profoundly affected humanity's general way of being; its moral, social and transcendental "software".

Religious thought began where mankind began. Much like today's societies, the first nations had a need for purposeful communal existence and spiritual sustenance.

The distinction between that termed "religion" and that termed "spirituality" is a recent development, incompatible with the ancient archetype. It is ultimately an extension of the tendency to compartmentalise; a quest to satisfy the individual ego. In the final analysis, they converge; one pertains to the inner and the other to the outer form of the same reality. Both the personal and social dimensions of transcendence were deemed necessary to group cohesion.

The early societies thus devised appropriate "social contract", reflected through moral laws, the notion of the sacred, festivals, rituals and explanations of their personal and collective experiences and the world around them.

It is the intergenerational transmission of these that informs our universal conception of that which we call "religion".

By whatever definition, religion is an exclusively human preoccupation, attended to by its participants, their rites, cosmology, cosmogony and theological precepts.

Subconsciously, we tend to identify that which is "religious" through the presence of four basic factors:

* Accounts of origin/social legends.

* Moral laws/symbolic rituals.

* A college of priests.

* Futuristic/divine knowledge, of that which is yet to come -- "divination", "prophesy", "revelation ,etc.

Naturalism

It is possible to make sense of humanity's earliest recorded thoughts in art, sculpture and writing only by comparison with its earliest archetypes, the earliest physical environment that shaped man's consciousness from its most primitive origins to the stage of the modern man.

The early cultural systems and philosophies of Homo Sapiens were based on religious archetypes, established on the doctrine of gender polarity and founded on human responses to naturalism.

As such, we can accept that the thinking of pre-emigration African cultures in the ancient world would be profoundly influenced by their physical experience in the African nexus.

Early rock paintings and religious artefacts confirm that naturalism dominated human thought in the matriarchal era.

Nationalism was a by-product of patriarchy. In the evolution of culture, the "political religions" were to supplant the nature-based (or "pagan") systems.

With the global expansion of political religions, usually through conquest, the latter was labelled "paganism" and systematically applied as a pejorative term, denoting an inferior stage of thought.

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