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INDESTRUCTIBLE ELEMENTS


INDESTRUCTIBLE ELEMENTS

In African traditional religion, there are certain abiding principles which promote human values and good living. They defy time. These are the values upon which the Creator designed things in such a way that the African could survive. These are principles and values which have seen the African through difficult, sometimes seemingly impossible times in the past. These values do not die. They last forever and they are sublime.


IS DIALOGUE POSSIBLE?
Some have questioned the wisdom or even feasibility of the Catholic Church having a dialogue with African traditional religion Some have even contended that it is impossible for such a dialogue to take place. They argue that there are no structures, no personalities to deal with. In any case, African traditional religion is a passing phase. Social change will soon sweep it into total oblivion. The religion is simply disappearing, dying. People must be converted to Christianity and not be left in delusion. Some who favour dialogue, however nebulously they perceive it, only think in terms of conversion. African traditional religion must not be pushed aside because it is a friendly religion. Most converts from Africa are from it: for the rest it has not much to offer. When they talk about philosophical and religious principles, they do not think of African traditional religion.

The fact is that African traditional religion is not dying. Many of the values it enshrines are lasting values. They are not ephemeral, to be dismissed lightly. Christianity has been the worse for not taking this into account when it first made its appearance on the Black African scene in the 15th century.

African traditional religion still influences people's thinking. Many highly educated men and women in all walks of life, Christians and Muslims, are affected by it, though sometimes unconsciously. It can be said that traditional religion is present in many places in Africa, if at times it is to be found only in a different, sometimes subtle form. This being the case the need for the Church to " dialogue with African traditional religion becomes imperative.


DIALOGUE DIFFERS
Dialogue need not be the same for every religion. In one case like, say, Islam or Buddhism, it may take the form of encountering people, especially religious leaders, organising seminars and conferences, writing letters and books, exchanging visits. In the case of African traditional religion, the form it can and must take should challenge Christians to live our Christianity better. Knowledge and the use of African traditional religion, far from distorting the message of Christ, should enrich it.

If, as holy scripture says, everything was created in, through, and for Christ, then in traditional religion, Christ must be found in some form, no matter how embryonic or seminal. One is tempted to submit that Christ is found in African culture and religion in an overt way. It is inconceivable that God would allow millions of Africans of the past and of the present who did not and do not know the Christian way to perish for such ignorance. There must be a way in which Christ is present in African traditional religion.

It has been suggested by Dulles, for example, that Christ is there in the symbolic form. This is not the place to go into the in-depth analysis of the notion of symbolism. But such a proposition is, to say the least, interesting. We shall take up this issue of symbolism later when we consider it in relation to this discussion of dialogue with African traditional religion.




CONCEPTS
An examination of African traditional religion reveals certain concepts of God that stand out clearly as, indeed, Christian. We begin with the very concept of God. In Judaism, we are told that there is no God apart from Yahweh. So unique is Yahweh that no other God is called Yahweh. It is an impossibility to have a lesser Yahweh or a minor Yahweh. Yahweh is Yahweh and that is that.

He is unique, incomparable, superlatively high, almighty, and so on. Deutero-lsaiah would say unhesitatingly that there is no god whatsoever apart from Yahweh. All idols are the work of human beings and those who follow them are foolish. They are as useless as their idols. This is also the thinking of Muslims. In their case, the concept of God is clearly expressed in the first pillar of their religion. " There is no god but God".

In any African language, we find exactly the same situation. God has a name and there is no question of qualifying that name to apply to another being. The writer's own people call God Oyankopon. It is totally inconceivable and ridiculous to have a lesser or minor Oyankopon. The other spirits whom in English we would refer to as lesser gods, have their generic name: obosom (singular), abosom (plural), and specific ones. Mmieh, Kyenekye etc. The Ewe have one name for God, Mawu. They have a totally different name for the so-called lesser deities (Vudu). It will be unthinkable for a Yoruba to have more than one Olodumare or Olorun or for an Igbo to have a Chineke of any description other than their one and only Chineke.

The Supreme Being in Africa enjoys a status immeasurably higher than any other being's. He is the Creator of all other beings. He is designated by his own name or names. All others have their own names.

ATTRIBUTE
The confusion created by so-called modern languages like English, therefore, is a linguistic problem which is totally not of the African's making.

It is the English language that calls some creatures lesser gods or minor gods or divinities. A thing like that is unheard of in African traditional religion. The idea of the uniqueness of God is so central to Christianity that one would have thought that the African's linguistic sensitivity to it should have been adopted long ago and made use of to explain the nature and attributes of the Christian God. Apart from the names given to the Supreme Being of the African which he shares with none other, there are certain attributes which all African peoples assign to this Supreme Being as his sole prerogative. I cannot think of any other being in the world being called Toturobonsu (the fullest of completion). Tetekwaframoa (Eternal), Daaseens (The Gracious One), Birskyirehunuade (Omniscience), and so on, by my people, the Asante. What is more, these names and attributes speak more about what God actually does for us rather than what God is. They bring God into our life. God is of practical importance to the African.

This is where religion touches the African. God is the "Leaf" that covers the whole world ", God is the " Fountain of water that never dries up "; God is the " Source of full satisfaction " and so on. This is concrete and a little different from just saying God is good, God is powerful.

ENRICHMENT
Encounter with traditional religion, therefore, means Christianity permeating the culture and allowing itself, thereby, to be enriched in its attempt to evangelize it. This enrichment can take on many forms. African traditional religion challenges Christianity to re-appraise itself with regard to the many concepts which once were its pillars, but now are disappearing or becoming irrelevant.

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