Theology Thursdays: How Foreign Religions Ruined Our Societies By Adeniba Adepoyigi And A Response By Toyin Kinoshi
Opinion stated by Adeniba Adepoyigi
At the heart of African religions is what I have termed "instant justice". This is to say that religion and the administration of justice work in tandem and are inseparable. Punishment is ritually administered to anyone who offends against the social order in accordance with time-tested religious edicts, and as a result, no offender can escape punishment irrespective of his or her position in society. Among the Yoruba, for example, Professor Akinjogbin noted that even the Oba (King) could not escape punishment. According to him, "when an Ooni (Ife King) was no longer wanted (i.e. had offended), people demonstrated outside the walls of the palace, the chiefs met at the palace gate, sent words to the King that he or she was no longer wanted and would henceforth refuse to answer his or her calls. At that moment, the "calabash of death" which contained a powerful charm would be opened to the King and the sight of the charm killed him or her. (My italics to highlight the point made by Oyeleye Oyediran that there were female Oonis and other Yoruba Kings as well, for example, Ooni Oliwo).
Thus, in African religions, it is not only that justice must be seen to have occurred, it must occur. There is no such thing as "unsolved" cases. The name of God is collectively invoked for protection and to punish those who transgress against the social order. When an offence occurs and the perpetrator is unknown, word is sent out for the offender to voluntarily confess and make reparations. And where a confession is not forthcoming, the necessary rituals are performed and the appropriate punishment visited on the offender.
The other side of this, of course, is that for uprightness, there are huge rewards, which again are administered in tandem with the practice of religion. Only "untainted" and "venerable" persons can occupy priesthood/administrative positions. The name of God is invoked to bless the upright with riches and good health. Every language group has a saying which goes something like this: "It is the upright who God favours while the evil doer is punished".
What you have then are societies built on religions of which the central pillar is justice. A child growing up knows almost instinctively that all actions have consequences in life here on earth. As a result, every child's first principle in life is to achieve success with dignity and honour. To transgress against the social order or engage in immorality will bring untold shame and misery not to him or her alone, but to the entire family and community. These are the standards fostered in the societies by the religions.
These are not "simple" societies as Western Anthropologists have untruthfully tried to portray them. On the contrary, they are highly advanced societies with multi-layered and complex roles and divisions of labour, sophisticated political and social institutions buttressed by religions built on the tenet of justice. These societies engender supreme confidence, security, and self-worth in their inhabitants. Is it any wonder that prior to the proliferation of foreign religions in our lands, Africans saw themselves as "masters of the world"?
Some of us who are old enough and had the good fortune of experiencing life when our African religions still had some influence would quickly relate to what I am saying here. For example, in all the twenty years that I lived in my town with a population of about 20,000 people at the time, only one case of murder occurred and it was from a domestic dispute. I give this example to illustrate the high level of security and orderliness that permeated the society at that time, thanks to our African religions.
Let us now examine the foreign religions in comparison with our African religions which are built on the tenet of "instant justice" so as to comprehend the disaster which they have wrought on our societies. I'll choose Christianity with which I am familiar. We know that Christianity is anchored on a number of doctrines of which the major one is "pre-judgement". This doctrine is based on the belief that God has already decided on the "saved" and the "damned". The total number of the "saved" has been decided and sealed. However no one can know whether he or she is one of the "chosen" or the "damned" until judgement day (i.e. after death). Central to this doctrine is the belief that good character or faithfulness is not the only route to salvation. A sinner can still be among the "chosen" if appropriate and proper persons intercede on his or her behalf.
The doctrine of "pre-judgement" in the religion of Christianity should not be confused with the belief of pre-destination found in African religions. In the African pre-destination, it is the path charted for a person on his or her journey through this earth by Almighty God. How and well one navigates this journey becomes one's responsibility. But importantly, this pre-destination can be revealed to the person here on earth through the appropriate rituals. In fact, it is mandatory in many African religions that these rituals be performed by one's parents early in life so as to guide and assist the individual on his or her earth journey. And most crucially, it is possible to alter or improve one's destiny by dint of good work or by the removal of identified obstacles through rituals.
We can thus see that the ideas of facing the consequences of one's actions, and that one's destiny can be revealed here on earth and is therefore in one's own hands, the central pillars of African religions, are totally absent from the doctrines of Christianity as explained above. In contradistinction to African religions, the doctrine of "pre-judgement" in the religion of Christianity is based on the tenet of "deferred justice". And as legal practitioners would say, "justice delayed is justice denied". It becomes even more burdensome when one considers that "deferred justice" can only occur after death and that a sinner can still get salvation if other persons intercede on his or her behalf. It is therefore safe to say that the doctrine is devoid of justice. One can easily imagine the lawlessness and immorality that would flourish in a society anchored on such a doctrine.
It is precisely for this reason that European countries, particularly Great Britain, in adopting Christianity as their state religion, embarked on instituting strict legal systems in which offenders were severely punished. Remember that until recently in Great Britain, even petty thieves were either sent to the colonies or hanged. These legal systems later developed into effective and impartial institutions which became the bedrock of their societies and are now the envy of the world.
In converting us to their religion of Christianity, the European colonialists devilishly used the doctrine of "pre-judgement" to control not only our minds, but our physical persons as well. For a start, we, as black people, were never in the reckoning when the numbers of the "saved" were being tallied by God. Wasn't that made clear enough? Listen to Didymus the Blind, a leading theologian of his time: "Those who fall beneath the stroke of God's sword are the Ethiopians (i.e. black Africans), because they all share in the malice and sin of the Devil, from whose blackness they take their name. The Devil is black because he fell from the splendour, virtue and spiritual whiteness which only those who have been whitened by God possess." So for early Christian theologians, blackness of skin colour was an indication or stamp of damnation. Our situation was even made worse by our idol worshipping, an abominable sin!
The only hope, and a dim one at that, we had for salvation was to submit ourselves, not to the religion of Christianity itself, but to the Europeans, being the proper and appropriate persons who could intercede on our behalf. Overnight, the religion of Christianity turned us into servants, and Europeans masters. In the "salvation panic", great and powerful men and women in their societies turned themselves into mere appendages and serfs…...if only the white man could place his hands on their heads and pray for them, perhaps there could be hope of salvation. Poor souls! To protect their privileged positions, the colonialists desisted from concretising an impartial and strict judicial system to ameliorate the effects of the doctrine of "pre-judgement" or "deferred justice", as they had successfully done in their home country, before they left our shores.
The European-educated Africans who inherited the positions of the colonialists, having patiently watched and noticed the tremendous advantages and privileges that accrued from the master/servant situation, resorted to perpetuating the myth of "pre-judgement" or "deferred justice" of Christianity and therefore also failed to institute effective judicial systems that would substitute for "instant justice", the central pillar of our African religions. A few of the discerning leaders could sense the impending doom and advocated a return to African religions and to fashion out of them institutions that would cater for the developmental needs of the societies. Alas! these were a small minority and they were powerless. They were quickly rounded up and imprisoned or killed.
And so Christianity and its doctrine of "pre-judgement" or "deferred justice" began to proliferate and the effects are what we see today in many parts of black Africa particularly in our dear Nigeria, ruined societies that are retrogressing daily. The religion of Islam, with which I am not familiar, may have taken a slightly different route but the effects are the same as evidence on the ground shows. The simple truth is, you cannot build or develop societies on lawlessness and disorder. And yet, these are what the foreign religions have brought to our societies. The shame goes to all those Africans who still dogmatically cling to these foreign religions which are responsible for ruining our societies. The ultimate shame goes to the African leaders of those foreign religions who are benefiting from selling untruths to their fellow Africans.
It may no longer be possible to wholly return to our African religions but there are certain things we can do to rescue our societies from continued destruction by the foreign religions. We may begin by mounting a sustained education effort aimed at exposing the untruths in the doctrines espoused in the foreign religions. In regards to Christianity, for example, we may want to educate the people that the doctrine of "pre-judgement" or "deferred justice" has no basis what-so-ever in religion. This doctrine was inserted into Christianity at a later date as a tool of control over large populations.
We could begin to say it loud and clear that everyone must face the consequences of their work and actions here on earth and that God has anointed no one to intercede on behalf of anyone in the bid to gain salvation. Everyone's salvation lies firmly in his or her hands. We should begin to press that, as a matter of urgency, a study curriculum be introduced to our schools on the history of our pre-colonial societies, their religions, how the societies functioned, and the principles upon which they were built. With these steps we may begin to re-make our true African character of fairness, hard work and respect for social order. This is the way forward.
Opinion given in response by Toyin Kinoshi
Foreign religions have ruined our society" so let's revert back to the old ways! This so-called democracy is bad for us, so let's adopt communism instead! The present representatives are not serving our interests, so let's have a national dialog with a different set of representatives (at least in this case we shall keep both groups of reps and pay them both to do the same thing!) The list is endless! It all boils down to the fact that we all seek quick fix to a problem we have not even defined; toss this and grab another that seemed to have once worked in some distant past or in some far away foreign country. It is all in the way we approach problems, and this article, to which I am responding, is yet another display of mental laziness!
Did anyone notice that Adeniba, the writer of the article, never once mentioned the name of at least one of the so-called African (?) religions to which he is advocating we should now revert, because back then we were living in splendor! He mouthed the name of God everywhere, but not the religion he is advocating we return to. I was hoping for at least one example.
Adeniba actually embellished who we were and the way things were back then. There is really no need to embellish; it is our history, and I am proud of it. But I'll be damned if I should have to lie about who we are to impress some unknown others! He has a lot of untruth in his article that I can't even begin to refute them all. But the only reason people would embellish their history might be because they feel inferior, inadequate, incomplete or they lack self-esteem. The way he described us in his article made me wonder, if we were that sophisticated politically (even though the only system of government then was monarchy!) and highly advanced (even though were mainly farmers, hunters, potters and folk singers, and we lived in houses of mud or leaves, some of which we still have in our compound in Abeokuta), why was it so easy for the British and the Arabs to convert us? I understand the Arabs used force, but did the British? Well, let me give you my own take and you decide!
From the remnants and the residuals of our history (I am from the junction of Ago-Oko, Ijeun and Oke-Itoku in Abeokuta!), we live in compounds with our extended families. In most families, as in mine, you will find many worshippers of various gods: Sango, Oya, Obatala, Ogun, Esu, Buruku, and some even worship stones, trees, rivers, intersections. The worshippers all have about the same reason for their choice of god to worship.
The reason for some our Nigerian religions, as I was told, was that some of these gods, like Ogun, Oya, Sango, Obatala and some others, were super humans and great warriors in their life time. We also believe in the Olodumare or Olorun, God the Father to you, the maker of heaven and earth and everything in between. But this Olorun or Olodumare is too powerful to approach/petition directly, so we thought that since these super humans must have been endowed for a reason by Olodumare (some folks have some other stories about this!) they could intercede on our behalf to Olodumare to answer our prayers. Hence the gods of the Yorubas! And Adeniba's so-called instant justice was nothing more than a mob rule! What would you call it when the alleged accused was summarily dealt with without the benefit of the doubt we now know today! And it is not true that all crimes were punished, then or now. People are always willing to intercede on behalf of others, or make it an all-in-the-family affair, and punishments are waived or lessened!
I shall not dwell too much on our history, but let me quickly point out that Adeniba's doctrinal example is that of the Jehovah's Witnesses, and it does not represent the views of Christianity. Christianity is not a religion but a relationship to God the Father through faith in Christ; it is that simple. One does nothing to earn such relationship nor does one have to change one's ways after the so-called salvation. But in order to enjoy God's blessings for one's life in time, one necessarily needs to undergo post-salvation epistemological rehabilitation. Which is another way of saying that, one needs to study/learn the Bible under the teaching ministry of Pastor/Teacher and the filling of Holy Spirit. That is, after salvation, we should begin to execute the Father's protocol plan for our lives, living the Christian way of life!
Even this road to salvation is different in the Christian world, depending on which religion (like Catholicism, Anglicanism, Seventh-Day Adventism, Presbyterianism, Seraphim-Cherubim Movement and so on) you ask. But a simple belief in Christ, a simple faith-response to his salvation call, simply accepting His election is my road and that is what I believe: my salvation comes from simply sending a positive signal to the salvation invitation of Christ. Al I need to do is to respond, "I believe!" and at that moment, I become a partaker of eternal live!
Now, I am sure Adeniba would like to know why in the world would I throw away my ancestors' religions (he did not even name one!) and accept a foreign one. Well, let me illustrate my decision this way.
My ancestors believed they could not approach Olodumare, God the Father directly with their petitions because He is too powerful. So, they asked (make supplications to) these super human beings, Ogun, Sango, Oya, Obatala and so on, to intercede on their behalf. But I was given another option in Christianity. They said that I could actually approach Olodumare, God the Father, directly with my petitions simply by invoking the name of Jesus, the Christ.
Now you tell me, suppose you had to see the head honcho of a major corporation, but you fear he is so inaccessible that your only option was to go through someone else whom you believe have some contact with him. Now suppose someone told you that the head honcho is actually very accessible, that no one would stop you from seeing Him, that you only need to mention one name when you open the door. Which option would you choose: go through someone else or go yourself?
It is true the Jehovah's Witnesses, founded by Charles Taze Russel, believed that God, Jehovah, already has those whom he wished to save and they numbered 144,000, representing the twelve tribes of Israel (12,000 each). That was how Adeniba came about his doctrine of "pre-judgment," a misinterpretation of Revelation Chapter 7. Read more about JW and other religious cults in "The Kingdom of the Cults" by Walter Martin.
Even the JW do not believe that crimes go unpunished here on earth. I do not believe any religion does! So, I am not sure from where Adeniba got his doctrine of "delayed justice." He may be confusing the doctrine of eternal lake of fire at the Supreme Court of Heaven with this "delayed justice." But that does not mean that crimes in time go unpunished. One only needs to check the prisons all over the world!
I have heard and debated with people about the incidence with the drunken Noah and his sons, and how Noah cursed Ham, his son (actually Ham's descendants were cursed!), through whom, they say, all black people were begotten (I have a Bible commentary that said different!). Read the story in Genesis 9 from verse 20. I do not believe blacks were cursed, even though we behave as such some times, and Adeniba is surely exhibiting it!
Should Adeniba question/challenge any new, foreign or local, ideas introduced into our culture? Absolutely, and so should all of us! We should not surrender our faculty of independent judgment. But such challenge and the eventual conclusion should not be biased. That is, we should neither accept not reject a new idea simply because it is foreign, neither should we simply accept it because it is ours! We should judge everything rationally, and if the new idea is adjudged to be inimical to our existence or does not conduce to our advancement or progress, then by all means, we should reject it.
So, how have these foreign religions hurt our culture? Again, please recall that Christianity is not a religion; it is a relationship with God the Father through faith in Jesus, the Christ. Now, if some overzealous believers misunderstood or misapplied the doctrines of Christianity, whom should we blame: Christianity or the misguided believer? Just observe your street corner at home and also observe the type of cars parked there. I have been told the best and the most expensive car probably belongs to the pastor! Well, don't blame Christianity for that; blame the gullible congregation who donates money so the pastor could enjoy life while they suffer.
This is the how people have blamed everything on capitalism and democracy. But are they to blame or those who failed to adhere to the rational principles upon which these two systems are based?
Adeniba, like many others, perceived our predicament since independence, and erroneously concluded that these foreign religions are culpable. Another writer, Odi Maduneke, in his article, "The importance of ideology," also erroneously concluded, based on our improper working of our political system, that we should dump it and instead embrace Communism. Let me illustrate what I mean by erroneous conclusion based on faulty premise of improper working of a system.
When the Windows operating system first came out with a mouse, it was a nightmare for most users who have to learn how to work the mouse. I have heard of a user who, after turning on her PC, actually was expecting the mouse to move, as you would a live mouse when tapped. When the electronic mouse would not move even after a few taps, she placed a call to the Call Center to report that her mouse was dead! After a few back-and-forth question-and-answer sessions to ascertain exactly what the problem was (no one expected any user to simply tap a electronic mouse, so no one thought to ask what she did!) You can imagine the expression on the face of the technician when he actually witnessed what the user did. Now, who has a problem: the user or the system? We all have many stories similar to this, but you get the idea! And even when the system has a problem, we simply do not just toss it away and grab another one; we should endeavor to fix it.
Yes, our ancestors had a political/social system that worked for their time, but I would not today call it sophisticated or highly advanced (by what/whose standard?). And I do believe that whatever they had back then could be improved upon. Since we are their descendants, it is our duty to improve upon what they left to us, not just to perpetuate it simply because we find ourselves incapable of working a new system. Just as I am against the dark-age Sharia system, I am against perpetuating any system from the past that fails the test of time! I doubt if anyone, even Adeniba, would rather revert back to the old ways of our ancestors!
Any new ideas introduced into our culture should be tested for its benefits, regardless of who introduces it. We should not be a dumping ground; neither should we remain stagnant in the silly interest of maintaining our culture. We should wish to advance our culture by discarding those rituals that are no longer necessary and keeping those that are still beneficial.
But if Adeniba, or anyone else, wishes to return to worshipping our ancestral gods, then by all mean, I wish him well, but to ask everyone to follow suit requires more than " but these are our religions, the religions of our ancestors!"
Both opinion pieces in this exchange were published by Nigeria World. Adeniba Adepoyigi can be contacted at email@example.com. Toyin Kinoshi can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Adeniba Adepoyigi and Toyin Kinoshi
Thursday, February 3, 2005