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WHOLENESS


WHOLENESS
Wholeness is an idea that is highly theological. Jesus Christ was man and God at the same time. That one person had the nature of God and the nature of man, He was God made visible and he was man, the victim of our sin. Yet he did not draw a rigid dichotomy between his God-head and his humanity, He was at the same time both. He was whole, not truncated. This concept of wholeness is found very clearly in African traditional religion. To the African the rigid dichotomy between the sacred and the profane, the secular
and the religious, the material and the immaterial, is artificial. A human person is a composite of spirit and body and must be treated as such. If he were body alone, he would be a brute animal. Were he only spirit, he would be an angel. He is a human being precisely because of the inseparable combination of body and spirit. Hence disease does not affect the body alone, it has to do with the spirit also.

Politics is not divorced from ordinary life. Whatever a person is doing in the ideal traditional set-up, he is involved in religion. Religion is part of life. It permeates a person's life from cradle to grave. A person is born into a religious atmosphere and from his conception to his death, there are major religious rituals to mark the major turning points of his existence.

There is little doubt that many of the problems of the world today stem from the artificial barrier we have placed between the religious and the profane. We no longer see human beings and phenomena in holistic terms, as undivided unity.

We speak of and deal piecemeal with, economic problems, political problems, moral problems, instead of thinking in terms of human problems. In the last analysis, every problem is a human issue not easily amenable to dissection. This is a theme that African traditional religion could enrich universal Christianity with.

SYMBOLISM
Following on the idea of unity in phenomena, is the very important concept of symbolism. Symbols are indispensable in any religion. Jesus Christ himself can be said to be the Sacrament of God. He symbolised the Father's love for humanity but he also symbolised human being's response to that immense love of the Father.

Some clever scholar has shrewdly described Jesus as the first audiovisual aid! The point is that coming in contact with Deity is not in the normal course of things. Deity has to be reached by means of a kind of bridge between humanity and Deity. The bridge may be words, gesticulations, objects, postures, signs, etc. These are not the reality itself. They are symbols which give us an idea of the reality. The are the connecting links between the seen and the unseen. Every religion has them. Indeed, it would appear that without symbols, religion would be impossible. The sacraments are very concrete examples of symbols and their use. In the sacraments, we use objects and words to stand for a spiritual reality and to cause it. We are proud to use flags, college blazers and crests and insignia of office.

Flags stand for patriotism and in a way cause it: we salute flags, fly them half-mast to show grief and on ships to indicate country of origin. College blazers and crests indicate and sustain loyalty to the alma-rnater. In all African cultures, symbol play a vital role in the life of the people. Our culture is a symbolic culture. We find symbols in our dances, in our language, in our art and craft, in our institutions such as marriage and chieftaincy - everywhere. There was a time when the Church rightly emphasized the importance of symbols; but the present Western world has inherited a host of symbols that appear to he meaningless to it. Having lost the true meaning of symbols, it is no wonder that the Western world is also gradually losing the sense of religion itself. The Church itself is a sacrament of the risen Lord. The Church symbolizes Christ and his salvific activity among us, and at the same time makes Christ present to us. Here again, traditional religion could be a challenge to orthodox Christianity and could enrich the latter enormously.


SACREDNESS OF LIFE
One other concept vital to African traditional religion is that of respect for sacredness of life. Life is held to be sacred. To give birth to a child is on the part of both the man and the woman, the greatest thing that can happen to a human being. Life must be given, life must be lived, life is to be enjoyed, life is to be whole, life is to be honourable, life is to be long and peaceful. Therefore, in the true setting of the African, willful abortion or even contraception was a rarity, if not an impossibility.

The modern world plays around with life. The modern world, placing the cart before the horse, equates good life with productivity and ingenuity. It has lost the sense of the true humanity of the person. It has allowed itself to be dominated by crude technocracy. We are in the civilization of science and technology. While nobody can deny the importance of these in our lives, it must be obvious that science and technology without humanity are simply tyrannical. Wrongly handled, they are capable of destroying the whole of humanity. But, of course, life without the use of science and technology nowadays would be, in some ways, impotent.

A better knowledge of African traditional religion could bring a corrective to the anti-life mentality which is developing in some parts of the world. It could provide a reminder of God's original intention in creating the human being to his own image and likeness. Contrary to the opinion of many non-Africans, it is a fact that even in the past, the life of human beings was not just got rid of without reason. Among the Asante, a person could be killed only by the highest authority and a person was killed when he had committed a crime that demanded the death penalty. The second occasion was when a chief or a king died. It was thought proper for the king to be accompanied by subjects since the belief was that he was going to be a ruler in the next world. These two occasions apart, the taking away of human life met with capital punishment. The earth was believed to abhor bloodshed. Even when one killed an enemy in war, one had to undergo ritual ablutions to purify oneself. These practices were religiously-based, and it is, indeed, a sign of present-day loss of a deep sense of religion that human life can be taken with impunity.

IMMORTALITY
Closely following on the concept of the sacredness of life is the concept of the immortality of the soul. These concepts are all interlinked. The person is a knit unit. He is body and soul at the same time. His dignity and his immortality are symbolized in the great respect that is held for his life. Death is not considered to be the end of man. It is believed to be a change of state. Death is a journey into a better world where a person lives for ever. In that world, the person is not just indifferent to what happens among the living. He is so alive that he is interested, and actually takes part, in the affairs of the living.

Flowing from this idea of the immortality of the soul is the notion of retribution. A person will be judged after his death in accordance with his deeds on earth. God, the judge, is just and will not look at persons but will mete out to each and everyone what he deserves. African traditional religion " told" the African all this long before Christianity reached the various regions of Africa.

The corollary to the concept of the immortality of the soul and the interest of the dead in the affairs of the living is the belief in the Communion of Saints. True, African traditional religion does not use the terminology "Communion of Saints". However, an analysis of the relationship between the living and the dead shows clearly that there is an affinity with Christian belief in this respect.

The living are stilt struggling. They have to meet the ups and downs of life. They have to overcome temptations and obstacles in order to be able to enter the world of the dead. The dead, on their part, are doing everything possible to assist the living to observe faithfully the injunctions that they have left them as a lasting legacy. There is, therefore, constant interaction between the dead and the living. It is for this reason that one African scholar has called the ancestors " the living-dead". The ancestors are approached in a human pragmatic way with problems. The African knows the answer can ultimately only come from the Supreme Being himself. But it is believed that the Supreme Being has left certain things in the hands of his lieutenants to deal with. It is his right to delegate.

Again, a close and objective analysis of the situation shows that there is a parallel between the Christian concept of the Church Triumphant and the Church Militant on the one hand, and the ancestors and the living on the other. It looks as if God, in his ineffable providence, has provided in the African soil a providential preparation for the seed of Christianity.

COMMUNITY
This brings us to the concept of community in Africa. This was made a special topic of discussion to African Bishops by Pope Paul VI of blessed memory.

The African lives in community. It has been said that Descartes wrote: Cogito ergo sum (I think; therefore I am). The African would say: Cognatus sum ergo sum (I am related; therefore I am). The African lives in community. His father is not just the person biologically responsible for his conception. His mother is not necessarily the woman who physically gave him birth. He may have as many as fifteen " fathers" and ten "mothers,,. In the ideal situation, each one of these would treat him as his biological father or mother would. Since he has several " mothers" and " fathers ", obviously he has many more brothers and sisters, nephews and nieces. In fact, in some African languages, the words " cousin," aunt,'' "uncle," do not exist. One's father's brother is one's father and one's mother's sister is one's mother. Therefore, the African family is very much extended. This is what Christianity is supposed to effect - extended families.

Baptism incorporates us into the family of Christ which has no racial or national or even continental boundaries. St. Paul would say: In Christ there is no slave or free man, no Greek or Roman; we are all members of his Mystical Body. Moreover, the African family comprises also the dead and the unborn. Therefore, it can never decrease; it can only increase all the time. Through marriage, other relationships are contracted which widen one's circle of intimate contact.

Besides, the African values friendship greatly. In some cases, friendships are institutionalised to an extent where the bond between one and one's friend becomes even stronger than the bond between one and one's own blood sister or brother.

In the African social structure, therefore, we have all the ingredients that could go into the preparation of the Christian family soup. The pity is that this has not been fully recognized or exploited. I submit that the advantages and values of the nuclear family do not outweigh the benefits to the individual of the extended family - and this is an understatement.


HUMANITY
There is no doubt that African traditional religion promotes humanity. It deals in a pragmatic way with human existence. In that religion, we are each other's keeper. What you do concerns me and what you refuse to do is my affair. I can ask you, as a member of my society, to keep the religious injunctions of that society because I know that your refusal to comply with the religious rules of the society has effects that involve me.

African traditional religion pervades life. It is not a fashion. Neither is it like clothes that you wear today and change or discard tomorrow. Religion is like your skin. You take it wherever you go. Hence religion is not taught or learned as a classroom subject. Religion is picked up imperceptibly through imitation, observation, participation in religious rites and just being an African. African religion promotes human values such as hospitality, kindness, love, unity, gratitude, hard work and, above all, self-help. It promotes fidelity in human relationships. It moulds and shapes the characters of human persons.

FIDELITY
One of the most serious charges that can be leveled against a human being is that he is a traitor. In " advanced " so-called civilized nations, treason carries with it the severest of penalties, including death, even where capital punishment is otherwise abolished. One has to be faithful to one's pledge or obligations. African traditional religion lays the emphasis on fidelity. It stresses the horizontal dimensions of life. Once that is in order, it is believed that the vertical relationship of man to God will then be regularized. One is reminded here of what St. John says: How can you say you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbour whom you see? African religion insists on love of the neighbour whom we see as a prelude to, a sign and, indeed, a proof of, the love of God whom we do not see.

African traditional religion insists on faithfulness as a concrete indication of love: faithfulness to one's religious duties, authority, relations, civic obligations, etc. One who fails to be faithful and therefore does not love is described as not being a human being. He only wears the skin of a human being. A person who constantly and persistently causes havoc in society, thus betraying his people by exposing them to suffering, ridicule and disdain, is simply a beast, Many an African language has such a highly uncomplimentary expression to describe people whose behaviour is tantamount to treachery of the highest ideals of the society.

As these and others are the principles underlying African traditional religion, it is surprising that people should be speaking of the death or irrelevance of African traditional religion.

If this "death" or "irrelevance" were possible, it would be a tragedy to the whole of humanity. It would spell the final doom of the African already precariously hanging onto life under the stranglehold of oppression, domination, material poverty, hunger and disease.

The interaction or dialogue between Christianity and African traditional religion, therefore, should be centred on the areas where the enrichment of Christianity itself can take place. When this encounter takes place then the African culture itself will be further elevated to a plane higher than where it has reached. The exercise amounts to helping one's helper. For African traditional religion cannot attain to certain heights in religion. It was, for example, impossible for African traditional religion to have discovered the Trinity by itself. African traditional religion could not have attained the knowledge of the Incarnation. Suffering, for African traditional religion, is an evil. It is the cause of personal sin or some other people's wickedness. The love of the neighbour is entirely acceptable to African traditional religion. The love of the enemy preached by Christ is an entirely different proposition. These and others are beyond the grasp of African traditional religion, as, I suppose, they are beyond the grasp of many other religions, so-called world or great religions not excepted. The contention, therefore, is that African traditional religion should be allowed to be explored to assist in the process of the propagation of the Message of Christ.

In the process it will shed its ' objectionable' aspects, and will be able to help Africans to come to a level of finesse which can only be attained through the influence of Christ. Our submission is that it is when we make judicious use of African traditional religion that we can realize in Africa one of the noble visions of the great Pope Paul VI: "The building of a civilization of love."

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