Magazine article New African

African Gods Came Down to Earth: At a Time of Rising Religious Intolerance on Our Continent, Rather Than Waste Energy on Events outside Our Sphere of Influence, It Is Better That Perhaps We Think about the Things We Control-Like Our Attitude to Belief. Some of Us Believe the Drama of Religion Is Here on Earth

Magazine article New African

African Gods Came Down to Earth: At a Time of Rising Religious Intolerance on Our Continent, Rather Than Waste Energy on Events outside Our Sphere of Influence, It Is Better That Perhaps We Think about the Things We Control-Like Our Attitude to Belief. Some of Us Believe the Drama of Religion Is Here on Earth

Article excerpt

So what do we believe? At its most basic, do we think that there are truths that only one man can see. That his interpretation of the wonder and drama of the earth is the only version we should follow. And if we do not follow this hegemonic vision of the order things should be on earth-then we should be eternally damned.

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Do we believe this approach to truth and the social order that nurtures communities?

Or do we believe in a more flexible idea of truth--as an elder in my village once said, when talking about religion: "There is more than one way to the river--there is a quick route, it has risks but gets you there fast, then there is the average route, which is boring, but most of us take it because it eliminates risk. Then there is the long route which is beautiful--you see so much and are tempted often ... There are all these routes--you have need for them at different times."

There is a religious idea in Africa that I love--it involves the plurality of ideas and approaches and anticipates the idea of constant change and impermanence. Africans gods came down to earth--the drama of religion is here on earth. No condition is permanent. Wole Soyinka, one of the greatest contemporary thinkers, talking about Yoruba religion, renders this idea thus in a piece in response to 9/11:

"To address the world of the Yoruba, let us begin within human consciousness. That world repudiates the hegemonic tendency, as is demonstrable in its most fundamental aspect: the induction of a new living entity into the world and its dedication to the spiritual custody of unseen forces. A child is born. Quite early in its life, when the parents discern traces of personality, later to become known as character (iwa), this newcomer is taken to the babalawo, the priest of divination, who adds his tutored observations to the signs that have already been noted. The babalawo observes that it is a child of Osun, or of Sango, or of Obataia. …

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