Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme”: When Religious Beliefs Collide, and “Things Fall Apart”

“Neither of them succeeded in converting the other but they learned more about their different beliefs.” —Chinua Achebe, “Things Fall Apart” (1958)
 
Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme”:
When Religious Beliefs Collide, and “Things Fall Apart”
I guess that I have not succeeded in convincing my students in my literature class–in which we have read Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the most influential novel in the Anglophone Africa, written by Chinua Achebe in 1958– that the Igbo people of Nigeria are monotheists just like the Christians, Muslims, and Jews, they “worship” one God. Those how have written their final essay on the subject of religion in the novel or have done a comparative analysis of African traditional religion and Christianity as their subject of research have emphasized that the Africans are polytheists and believe in strange religious customs and traditions. (Not all of my students made that claim, but most of them do.)
Interestingly, in the story itself, there’s an important debate on the very nature of God in African theology, as well as what is deemed religious; this conversation about faith occurs between an important Igbo character and intellectual named Akunna and the British missionary named Mr. Brown who, along with the colonial administrators, came to “civilize” and “Christianize” the Igbo people. According to Akunna, Mr. Brown misses the mark and misinterprets both the nature of religion and the nature of God in Afrian religious tradition. Consider the following conversation:
“You say that there is one supreme God who made heaven and earth,” said Akunna on one of Mr. Brown’s visits. “We also believe in Him and call Him Chukwu. He made all the world and the other gods.”
“There are no other gods,” said Mr. Brown. “Chukwu is the only God and all others are false. You carve a piece of wood–like that one” (he pointed at the rafters from which Akunna’s carved Ikenga hung), “and you call it a god. But it is still a piece of wood.” The tree from which it came was made by Chukwu, as indeed all minor gods were. But He made them from His messengers so that we could approach Him through them. It is like yourself. You are the head of your church.”
“No,” protested Mr. Brown. “The head of my church is God Himself.”
“I know, said Akunna, “but there must be head in this world among them. Somebody like yourself must be the head here.”
“The head of my church in that sense is in England.”
“That is exactly what I am saying. The head of your church is in your country. He has sent you here as his messenger. And you have also appointed your own messengers and servants. Or let me take another example, the Disctrict Commissioner. He is sent by your King.”
“They have a queen,” said the interpreter on his own account.
“Your queen sends her messenger, the District Commissioner. He finds that he cannot do the work alone and so he appoints kotma to help him. It is the same with God, or Chukwu. He appoints the smaller gods to help Him because His work is too great for one person. “
“You should not think of Him as a person,” said Mr. Brown. “It is because you do so that you imagine He must need helpers. And the worst thing about it is that you give all the worship to the false gods you have created.”
“That is not so. We make sacrifices to the little gods, but when they fail and there is no one else to turn to we go to Chukwu. It is the right to do so. We approach a great man through his servants. But when his servants fail to help us, then we go to the last source of hope. We appear to pay greater attention to the little gods but that is not so. We worry them more because we afraid to worry their Master. Our fathers knew that Chukwu was the Overlord and that is why many of them gave their children the name Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme.”
“You said one interesting thing,” said Mr. Brown. “You are afraid of Chukwu. In my religion Chukwu i a loving Father and need not be feared by those who do His will.”
“But we must fear HIm when we are not doing His will,” said Akunna.” And who is to tell His Will? It is too great to be known.” (Things Fall Apart, 178-281)
For Chinua Achebe, Christian missionaries from Western countries who have set their foot on the “dark soil” of the “Black Continent,”  have misinterpeted African traditional religion (s) and, as a result, misunderstood the African people, their culture, cosmology,  and worldview. Achebe has underscored this phenomenon as one of the major failures of (historic) colonial Christianity in colonial Africa in the project of mission civilatrice and christian evangelism. Sometimes, the real enemy is within. Unhealthy religious ideology just like cultural supremacy can be an arrogant thing, especially in the case that when one’s religious confession or piety becomes the very hindrance that blocks communication and defers understanding between people of different religious persuasion. Arrogant faith could be the most dangerous weapon that destroys faith itself, and hinders  interreligious dialogue and religious conversion.
I wish my students would have read the passage noted above more critically and responsibly. Indeed, Chukwuka–“Chukwu is Supreme.”
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Holy Discontent: These Things Make Me Sad!

Earlier in a post today on Facebook, I wrote that “sometimes words fail to communicate what we want to articulate.” Although words still fail me, here are the things I have been contemplating about today (Language will always remain a fallible vehicle to clarify effectively the human mind, communicate adequately the human thought, and action):

Holy Discontent: These Things Make Me Sad!

There are many things in this world that are very depressing to me, but the following fifteen issues are notorious:
1. The depressing living condition of the Haitian people in Haiti.
2. Politics in Haiti.
3. Politics in the United States.
4. The Race Problem in America.
5. The failure of Evangelical Christianity in America to care for the poor, the needy, and underprivileged families.
6. The unholy alliance between Evangelical Christianity and the Bourgeoisie class in America.
7. The failure of Evangelical Christianity to practice justice and be in solidarity with the oppressed and disheartened.
8. The disastrous effects of globalization and free market capitalism.
9.  The end of (spiritual) piety and the triumph of secularism and atheism.
10. The end of compassion and love.
11. The end of human hospitality and community.
12. The triumph of (social) evil in our society and the world.
13. The fear of the stranger and difference.
14. The desecration of life and dehumanization of people.
15. The continuous battle of people of color–black people in particular-in this country to acknowledge their humanity and show that they too count in America.

Dr. Joseph Talks about his new book on Soyinka’s “Radical Humanism and Generous Tolerance” (2016)

Dr. Celucien L. Joseph, Assistant Professor of English at  Indian River State College‬, talks about his new book on the Nigerian public intellectual, social critic, and esteemed playright Wole Soyinka, Radical Humanism and Generous Tolerance: Soyinka on Religion and Human Solidarity (Hope Outreach Productions, 2016).

My new book:Radical Humanism and Generous Tolerance: Soyinka on Religion and Human Solidarity

Dear Friends and Faithful Readers: I’m pleased to announce the publication of my new book, Radical Humanism and Generous Tolerance: Soyinka on Religion and Human Solidarity

Project Summary

Radical Humanism and Generous Tolerance: Soyinka on Religion and Human Solidarity (Hope Outreach Productions, 2016) Authored by Celucien L Joseph, PhD

List Price: $19.99
6″ x 9″ (15.24 x 22.86 cm)
Black & White on White paper
160 pages
ISBN-13: 978-1523393206
ISBN-10: 1523393203
BISAC: Religion / Comparative Religion

Book Summary

Radical Humanism and Generous Tolerance articulates the religious ideas and vision of Wole Soyinka in his non-fiction writings. It also analyzes Soyinka’s response to religious violence, terror, and the fear of religious imperialism. The book suggests the theoretical notions of radical humanism and generous tolerance best summarize Soyinka’s religious ideals and religious piety.

In response to religious violence and fanaticism in the world, Soyinka turns to the ethics and values of humanism as a better alternative to religious exclusivism and claims of absolute truths, and as a way to promote global peace, planetary love, and cultivate interreligious dialogue and understanding. Soyinka’s radical humanism is grounded in the religious ethos and sensibility, and the moral vision of the Yoruba people, as well as in the Western theistic Humanist tradition and secularism.

Through a close reading of Soyinka’s religious works, the book argues that African traditional religions could be used as a catalyst to promote religious tolerance and human solidarity, and that they may also contribute to the preservation of life, and the fostering of an ethics of care and relationality. Soyinka brings in conversation Western Humanist tradition and African indigenous Humanist tradition for the sake of the world, for the sake of global shalom, and for the sake of human flourishing.

Celucien L. Joseph, PhD (University of Texas at Dallas) is an Assistant Professor of English at Indian River State College.

The book can be purchased on amazon by clicking on the link below:

Radical Humanism and Generous Tolerance: Soyinka on Religion and Human Solidarity

Ten Theological Truths about God in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Briefly, here are 10 theological truths that all three Abrahamaic religions (i.e. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) confess about God:

1. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe in the unity (oneness) of God and that there is only one God (both Jewish and Christian theologians call that the doctrine of monotheism or “tawhid” in Islamic theology).

2. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God is transcendent and uncreated (that is, God has always existed; he has no beginning and no end. Theologians use the theoretical concept “aseity” to describe this phenomenon about God)

3. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe God is Creator of everything and Sovereign Lord of the universe.

4. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God’s knowledge of the present, past, and future is comprehensive and exhaustive.

5. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God created the first human beings: Adam and Eve.

6. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God created human beings to serve, worship, and honor Him.

7. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God is love, just, and compassionate.

8. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God cannot be known by human beings; rather, God himself has revealed Himself to humanity—through chosen individuals known as prophets.

9. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God has also revealed Himself through a Book; Jews call this sacred text the Hebrew Bible/Scriptures (Old Testament); Christians call it the Bible—which includes both the Old Testament and New Testament—and Muslims call their book the Qur’an.

10. Jews, Christians, and Muslims believe that God has reserved a judgement day in which he will judge all people, punish all evildoers, and rewards everyone according to his/her deeds.

* There are also great theological divides and differences between Jews, Christians, and Muslims about the same God they confess. For example, Christians believe God exists in three Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Christian theologians call this special aspect about God the trinity. Both Muslims and (orthodox) Jews reject the doctrine of the trinity. Orthodox Jews are still waiting for God to send the Jewish Messiah; Christians believe that Jesus is/was the Jewish Messiah promised by God in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament); and Muslims do not believe that Jesus is/was the Jewish Messiah. Further, Christians confess the full deity and humanity of Jesus; that is Jesus is God, and that God incarnated in the historical person named Jesus. Christians also believe that Jesus is the final revelation of God and that no one can come through God except through Jesus (that is Jesus is the only way to God). Both orthodox Jews and Muslims reject the finality and supremacy of Jesus. Muslims believe Mohammed, not Jesus, is the final revelation of God.

Happy New Year!