. However, in African religious thought God is distanced from the task of moral affairs because the task of moral retribution and maintenance of effective moral norms is usually performed by spiritual agents of much lower standing—that is, “by spirits of various sorts, by ghosts and even by human practitioners of spiritual arts.” Other characteristics that show the contrast between (Western) Christian thought and African Traditional Religion, according to Green, are the nonexistence of concepts of heaven and hell in African Traditional Religion, the lack of messianic expectations and hope, and the absence of eschatological thought with God “stepping in to right all wrongs or to punish wickedness.” And although African Traditional Religion affirms the continuation of life after death, where the person is believed to join the spirit world of the ancestors to continue life in some ways similar to the life before death, this belief does not constitute a hope for improved existence or for ultimate reward and punishment since a person’s moral depravity or moral rectitude “[does] not count in the beyond and whatever penalties or rewards those may bring have no bearing on life after death.”. Featured Image: Edo people, Queen Mother Pendant mask, circa 16th c.; Source: Wikimedia Commons, CC0 1.0. There are As judge, God is understood to uphold this standard by ultimately punishing its violations and by rewarding the righteous (usually in some eschatological domain). This revision of a standard text ( LJ 7/75) provides an excellent overview of native religion in Africa. That is a beautiful picture of women in African society. A Summary of: John Mbiti’s contribution to African theology by Kwame Bediako Subdivisions of the article-text: Mbiti’s theological approach (on page 367) Theology as the embodiment of the Gospel (p. 370) African traditional religion and culture as praeparatio evangelica (p. 372) Mbiti… University of Notre Dame, McGrath Institute for Church Life This order, established by God, guides the functioning of the universe, preventing it from falling into chaos; and it ensures the continuance of life and the universe itself. Mbiti emphasizes that Africans view the universe religiously. All life, power, and existence flow from God, and by “right of their primogeniture and proximity to God by death God has granted the ancestors a qualitatively more powerful life force over their descendants.” Who constitutes the world of the ancestors? Editorial Statement: This essay is a slightly modified excerpt from the section "Evaluating African Traditional Religion: The Descriptive Task" (98-107) in Fr. Rent and save from the world's largest eBookstore. Africans believe in the existence of a mystical, invisible, hidden, spiritual power in the universe. Notre Dame, IN 46556 USA. Neither of these world religions is seen as providing any revolutionary impetus to either traditional or colonial societies. The spirit medium is required to possess moral probity and integrity. In most cases, the earth is conceived as a living thing, a goddess, “Mother Earth.” According to Mbiti, the earth is symbolically viewed as the mother of the universe, while the heavens/sky are seen as its male counterpart. Written expressly for the middle grade struggling reader, the series does not contain strong language, edgy themes, or dysfunctional families. 4 John Samuel Mbiti was a Kenyan-born Christian religious philosopher and writer. In fact, family is the main theme of these titles. Check out the new look and enjoy easier access to your favorite features. And one particular Latino family is the focus with their uncanny knack for finding humor, hope, and colorful personalities--even in unusual circumstances. John Mbiti, a prominent Christian theologian from Kenya who helped debunk entrenched ideas that traditional African religions were primitive, giving them … An important preoccupation of Mbiti’s work has been to show that knowledge of God and the worship of God have been staples of African life from the earliest times on the continent. Those to whom this power is accessible can use it for good, such as healing, rainmaking, or divination, while others can use it for harm, through magic, witchcraft, and sorcery. Some of the ideas from Mbiti’s works are pertinent to our discussion here: Africans believe in a hierarchy of beings, from the ultimate being, God, to lesser ones, divinities, spirits, the living dead, human beings, animals, plants, and inanimate beings. Rooted in the belief in God as the Creator, Africans believe in various dimensions of the created universe, such as visible and invisible (the spiritual realm), heavenly (skyward) and earthly (and in some ethnic groups there is a belief in the underworld). Human beings maintain active and real relationships with the spiritual world, especially with the living dead, through offerings, sacrifices, and prayers. John S. Mbiti explains that though the knowledge of God as the Supreme Being is not Observing this moral order ensures harmony and peace within the community. The ordering of the universe and its continuance depends on God. dation apart, however, Mbiti is quite right when. Thus, everything is not completely unpredictable and chaotic because of this order. On the whole, Mbiti’s African … These act as a link between God and the human community. African religion’s behavior is centered mainly on the human person and his or her life in this world, “with the consequence that religion is clearly functional, or a means to serve people to acquire earthly goods (life, health, fecundity, wealth, power and the like) and to maintain social cohesion and order.”. This order, according to Mbiti, is knowable to humans, by nature. in Africa. The Cosmos Traditional Africans believe that the cosmos was created by a Supreme Being, God. The spiritual medium is the physical embodiment of the religious retributive order in which Africans know themselves to stand.”. While the universe has a beginning, many Africans believe that it does not have an end—either spatially or temporally. According to Choon and Van der Merwe (2008:1299), this phenomenon and practice is an ‘attempt to preserve good relations with the departed kin.’ The practice and the involvement in ancestral rituals should be seen as religiously motivated. To understand African tradition, one needs to understand the position of African Traditional Religion on God, the human person, and creation. The fact that there are no written scriptures by the votaries of African traditional religion, does not in any way mean that the concept of the Supreme Being does not exist in their ontology. Other spirits with a significant role in maintaining the African traditional moral world include ancestors and lineage spirits “who operate in specific social contexts where their will is expressed through misfortunes,” and some other spirits “who do not act directly but who rely on human agents to effect their will.” These spirits underlie the power of spirit mediums who, as mediators between space and the human world and by virtue of the moral authority this confers, are able to arbitrate between living human beings. Specifically, by reflecting on the wonder and magnitude of the universe, they came to the conclusion that God must exist: they posited the existence of God to explain the existence and sustenance of the universe. Thus, it is because of the existence of this order that different communities have worked out a code of conduct. After that he served as Director of the Ecumenical Institute Bossey, of the World Council of Churches near Geneva, Switzerland. As I have discussed elsewhere in Morality Truly Christian, Truly African, for example, some African societies are so conscious of the implications of crossing the line on some ethical matters, like adultery, incest, and murder, that anyone who engages in these acts is considered automatically to be putting the very survival of the community in danger. Secondly, there is moral and religious order. The symbol can be found throughout Ghana. This is the destiny of man as far as African ontology i s concerned ."' According to African traditional religion, ancestors serve as intermediaries between their families and the divinities. All rights reserved. Canon Professor JOHN MBITI, an Anglican priest from Kenya, taught Theology and Religion for many years at Makerere University in Uganda. This practice, no matter how limited it is, again shows how untenable the blanket assertion is that African moral traditions are those of abundant life. Second, Africans believe in a moral order given by God, stipulated by the ancestors in the past. In this second edition, Dr Mbiti has updated his material to include the involvement of women in religion, and the potential unity to be found in what was once thought to be a mass of quite separate religions. This hierarchy is also evident in human society, where there are chiefs, clan heads, family heads, older siblings, and so on. It was nearby. This paper discusses the contribution of Professor John S Mbiti to African theology and African Philosophy. Mbiti makes this point too when he stresses that “the majority of African peoples believe that God punishes in this life.” Although God is concerned with humanity’s moral life and upholds the moral law, “there is no belief that a person is punished in the hereafter” for his or her wrongdoing in this life. Some of these myths explain the origin of the universe, the nature of the relationship between creation (including humanity) and God, and the source and cause of the human predicament and of evil in general; they also provide “a synopsis of the forces comprising the African moral conception of the universe.” Religious rituals provide a means by which the community seeks redress and repairs wrongs that have been committed and that call down calamities and afflictions from spiritual beings—all this to restore the status quo ante or even “to maintain the existing good status quo that society or an individual may be enjoying.”, In the hierarchically ordered world of African Traditional Religion, God is the ancestor, par excellence. sub-saharan Africa is one country with one religious belief and practice. Thus, to assert as Mbiti does that there are “no secret sins” or that “something or someone is ‘bad’ or ‘good’” only according to “outward conduct” is too careless a statement to make. Rev. Mbiti portrays traditional African religions as essentially monotheistic, despite a plethora of divinities and spirits. According to Paul, (2004: 2) ATR is the indigenous religion of the Africans which was handed over from one generation to another by word of mouth until recent attempts at documentation. Taboos and customs cover all aspects of human life: words, foods, dress, relations among people, marriage, burial, work, and so forth: A part of this belief in the moral and religious order is belief in the invisible universe, which consists of divinities, spirits, and the ancestors (the living dead). He contends that although African Traditional Religion generally refers to God as creator and sustainer of the universe, morally good, omniscient, and caring toward humans, “yet even where this is held to be true, the high god in Africa is very often regarded as distanced from human affairs.” And even when he is considered benign, “the high God is morally otiose, having little direct retributive relationship with humankind.” In some situations, the high God is cast in unfavorable terms as one who creates and who kills. It also offers a useful and up-to-date list of books for more advanced reading, questions for ... African Religion is Found in Proverbs Riddles and Wise Sayings, Belief in Spirits Helps to Explain the Universe, The Meeting between African Religion Islam and Christianity, Religion Pays Attention to the Key Moments in the Life, Appendix B Books for Advanced Reading on African Religion, An Introduction to African Religion (2nd Edition). These are “the pristine” men and women, the originators of the lineage or clan or ethnic group. Mbiti says that: According to Mbiti, human beings have a privileged position in the universe. African traditional religion The faith in ancestors continued to be practised by many African Christians. Mbiti asserts that the “African religion is a written history in the hearts and experiences of people.” As a result, it is quite difficult to make a comparison between the traditional African religion and the modernized African religion. ‘a trans-moral’ suspension of retribution in the face of self-confessed and inescapable human wrongdoing.” Green notes a similarity between this “deep structure” and that which has developed in Christian theology over centuries of effort at “grounding human moral striving in the face of the experiential difficulties that assault moral idealism.” In this Christian theological system, the idea of God as creator and sovereign expresses the moral requirements of impartial regard for all. This should make it clear why some African intellectuals would question the relevance of Christianity on the continent. In 1900 some 58% of the population adhered to “pure” African Religion. Written expressly for the middle grade struggling reader, the series does not contain strong language, edgy themes, or dysfunctional families. By Green’s own admission, and as we shall see later, there are as many divergences on the architectonic hinge of these deep structures—God, the human person, and the material world—as there are similarities. It is the most popular for decoration and can often be seen printed on cloth or stamped on pottery.The rapid spread of Pentecostal Christianity and fundamentalist Islam has greatly affected the role of indigenous religion in African society. It could withstand the high winds and rising water. Human beings are the link between the heavens and the earth, between the visible and the invisible universe. Mbiti'1 Undentanrllag or the Arricau View or Time As we present Mbiti's analysis, we must keep in mind that the sort of analysis (systematic, analytical, and categorical) to which Westerners would like to submit the concept being studied is tmknown in traditional Africa. She knew the old building was the safest place for her family. These are the departed, the living and those to be born. This power originates from God but is possessed hierarchically by divinities, spirits, and the living dead, and it is available to some people, in various degrees. Their significance lies in the genealogical positions and the rights and duties which derive from them.” Ancestors uphold right conduct by punishing moral violations, demanding respect and attention, and getting angry when not given due respect. African traditional religion is another source for African Theology. African Traditional Religion has grown out of the African soil. Both faith traditions have established a deep rapport around their fundamental element - God, he writes. Ronald M. Green of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, a non-African scholar of African religion, has also written about African Traditional Religion and about religion and morality in Africa. He has useful insights to add to our discussion and in many ways corroborates the statements other scholars like Mbiti have made about African religion. The vibrancy of African Traditional Religion in these two aspects—theological and moral—creates a unique opportunity for Christianity in Africa, one that, as Bediako points out has been lost to Christian theology in the West, “for a serious and creative theological encounter between the Christian and primal traditions.” It is therefore very important for African theology to ascertain the meaning of African Traditional Religion, both because of the service this tradition renders to Christian theology as “a dialogue partner,” and because the very self-awareness of the African theologian and of African theology itself to a large extent hinges on a proper articulation and appreciation of Africa’s pre-Christian past. Copyright © 2020 It does this by highlighting several scholars in … Paulinus Ikechukwu Odozor, C.S.Sp., is Professor of moral theology, the theology of the world church, and Africana studies at the University of Notre Dame. These intermediary agents include the ancestors, members of the community who at death become idealized. In other words, he shows that the sense of the divine was not something introduced to Africa by missionaries or by anyone else; that the knowledge of God in African religion was not much different from the idea of God that Christian missionaries preached in Africa; and, more specifically to our purpose here, that belief in God engendered a moral response that for centuries before Christian arrival in Africa directed moral life and interaction on the continent and among its peoples. They form a chain through the links of which the forces of the elders [now with the community] exercise their vitalizing influence on the living generation.” For Magesa, the ancestors are primarily authority figures whose being implies “moral activity” in that they are the maintainers and enforcers of “norms of social action.” Although they are entrusted with these roles in their relationship with humans, “any capriciousness of the ancestors is not taken kindly by the living, just as it would not be acceptable from any elder in society.” The ancestors are beyond reproach. He has been visiting professor at many universities in Europe, America, Canada and Australia and has travelled widely in many countries. With regard to the issue of offering one’s wife in generosity, this practice, as Laurenti Magesa has shown, applied to a very limited number of African ethnic groups, such as the Masai, and in very tightly controlled situations among friends within the same age group fraternity and on very limited occasions. It is not brought from outside. The living are the link between death and life. User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict. Last week, in a veiled comparison between African traditional religions and Christianity, which is the major religion in Jamaica, some of the key elements of African traditional religions were discussed using Kenya-born Professor John S. Mbiti, a well-known scholar and researcher of African religions, as the main reference. This is a universal belief among Africans. Unlike Christianity and Islam, African religion does not have a sacred scripture (Mbiti, 1969). So, basically, to speak of … The traditional African religions (or traditional beliefs and practices of African people) are a set of highly diverse beliefs that include various ethnic religions.. Generally, these traditions are oral rather than scriptural, include belief in a supreme creator, belief in spirits, veneration of the dead, use of magic and traditional African medicine. When we speak of African Traditional Religion, we mean the indigenous religious beliefs and practices of the Africans. Among the Chewa, according to James Amanze (2002:146) the ancestral spirits not only “Devoid of essential personal characteristics they represent the essence of what might be called structural personality. “Many laws, customs, set forms of behavior, regulations, rules, observances and taboos, constituting the moral code and ethics of a given community, are held sacred, and are believed to have been instituted by God.” Furthermore, a person acts in ways that are good when he or she conforms to the customs and regulations of the community, or bad when he or she does not. This is because a myth is a vehicle for conveying a certain fact or a certain basic truth about man’s experiences in his encounter with This revision of a standard text ( LJ 7/75) provides an excellent overview of native religion in Africa. They were trapped. Like Ronald Green, Magesa argues that African Traditional Religion is in the background of all African religiosity, both in Christianity and Islam, and supplies the basic attitude or worldview of most African Christians. Awolalu says ancestors…”are the guardians of family affairs, traditions, ethics and activities….They are regarded as presiding spiritually over the welfare of the family.”(Awolalu : … Mbiti makes a very controversial point when he claims that in African societies there are no acts that would be considered wrong in themselves. Dependence here functions like a two-way street, with the dead needing continued respect from and support by the living, and the living needing at least benign neutrality on the part of the dead. We will return to these issues later in Morality Truly Christian, Truly African, but for now it is enough to ask whether the similarities in the deep structure between the two religions are indeed as similar as Green suggests. He is married to Verena and they have four children: Kyeni, Maria, Esther and Kavata. According to Mbiti, Africans believe that God has ordained a moral order for humans, through which they came to understand what is good and what is evil, so that they might live in harmony with one another and safeguard the life of the people. For a more detailed treatment of this subject of God in Africa, see Mbiti 1982 and 1992. J ohn S. M biti is Professor of Theology and Comparative Religion in Makere University College, Uganda. It is best distinguished as ATR. Introduction Three religions dominates African continent: ATR, Islam and Christianity. "African Religions and Philosophy" is a systematic study of the attitudes of mind and belief that have evolved in the many societies of Africa. According to Clemmont E. Vontress, the various religious traditions of Africa are united by a basic Animism. Traditional African medicine is also directly linked to traditional African religions. Belief in the ancestors presents the idea of reciprocity in the African traditional moral world. The point can be made then, that a significant symmetr y From 2005 up until his death in 2019, Mbiti was an Emeritus professor at the University of Bern and parish minister to the town of Burgdorf, Switzerland. John Mbiti (1969:75) makes a distinction between two broad categories of spirits, namely, those which were created by God as such, and those which were once human beings. He was an ordained Anglican priest, and is considered "the father of modern African theology". Currently he is part-time professor at the University of Bern, and parish minister in Burgdorf, Switzerland. Furthermore, the issue is whether a strict order of retribution cannot be tolerated if human ambition gets in the way of realizing enduring moral virtue and well-being. Thus, for example, older persons not only possess a more powerful vital force but a greater responsibility in society and more intense mystical powers. These laws are controlled by God directly or indirectly through God’s intermediaries. African Religions and Philosophy (1969) by John S. Mbiti; African Traditional Religion; Environmental conservation anchored in African cultural heritage by Bakanja Mkenda ; Ecological Implications of Water Spirit Beliefs in Southern Africa: The Need to Protect Knowledge, Nature, and … In the face of persistent human iniquity, God is believed to furnish means of atonement and forgiveness, “thereby tempering justice with mercy.”, However, although Christianity and African Traditional Religion share some striking similarities, closer examination of African traditional beliefs reveals that the contrasts are far more striking than the similarities. Inculturation, as we will argue later in Morality Truly Christian, Truly African, sheds the light of the gospel on cultural practices like this one to reveal what is sinful in them and to show that human beings, especially women, in this case, deserve better treatment than this. (1). Therefore, the universe has dimensions of order and power as follows: first of all, there is order in the laws of nature. Moral culpability is always on the shoulders of humanity.” The same hierarchy evident in the relationship between God, the ancestors, and humanity is also present in the relationship between the animate and the inanimate world, the former being superior to the latter. By and large, most African ancestral spirits belong to the latter category. African, religion is literally life and life is religion’ (Mbiti, 1997: 1-2). According to him, the belief in spirits and ancestors is the most important element of African religions. . “The Spirit medium is in many ways a subordinate agency within the layer of retributive order.” The voice and action of the spirit medium “connect the community with these moral and spiritual entities who help shape human destiny.
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