The city in the sun

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All the money in the world

Is a movie about a man so rich, all he had was money. He died holding a painting. There was no one, repeat no one, to help him. But I go ahead of myself.

We are told Mr. Getty was so rich, no one individual before him had been as rich as he was in the entire universe. He is a great art collector, though, I think sometimes people fleece him and sell him fakes. He has no love for humans. He sees them as pests or as out to take his money.

Getty in order not to pay tax registers his empire as a trust fund. He gives no money to charity. In fact, he gives no money to no one. In his house, should you want to make a phone call, there is a pay phone in the lobby for your use.

Maybe the wife left him. I can’t recall what happens to her. For the son, the less said the better.

As for the daughter in law, she is great.

The grandson gets into trouble, or rather, trouble follows him. He is kidnapped by some outlaws who demand $17mn as ransom. When the money is not forthcoming, they sell him to an ‘investor’ who demands $7mn. The mother doesn’t have this money. The grandfather on the other hand could have raised this money without a sweat but simply refuses to do so.

The old man says everything and everyone has a price. The only struggle in the world is to know what that price is.

In order not to be a spoilsport, I will stop here and recommend you watch the movie. If you have watched it, you can weigh in below.

Practical atheism?

That’s not what one gets when they read this post by Fr. Jerry. It is like he has created straw men against whom he has argued almost successfully against, where almost is the keyword.

Whereas the problem of evil is a serious challenge to the being of an all loving and powerful god, I don’t often hear, as the priest claims, of people who say they no longer believe in god because there’s so much evil and suffering. That, I think, is a creation of the good priest. It’s true the crucifixion has little appeal but that is not reason enough to be atheistic.

The priest says, and I haven’t seen the memo

As a rule, atheists invoke the supremacy of science.

which is not supported by fact. Atheism, being limited to lack of belief in deities, does not need any scientific claims to buttress it. There have been atheists throughout the ages when science was not advanced as it is today. I could argue, on the contrary that atheism really is about rationality. You do not need to invoke any scientific principle to question the lack of evidence for deities.

He goes ahead to say

True atheists view science as a means by which to solve certain technical problems, to make life easier, or to reduce suffering.

which may mean only true atheists resort to science. The not true atheists don’t rely on science or they don’t exist.

The good priest tells us the christians know it is god teasing them with mystery. This is a claim made without any supporting evidence. We must take the priest’s word for it.

The priest, having told himself the universe must have a creator, throws a swipe at the atheists and tells us

Atheists typically explain creation with the purported science of the big bang theory. Matter was contained in a capsule the size of a walnut, and Bang! the universe began to expand.

which is interesting given, first, that the idea of a big bang has its origins in the works of a catholic monk and two that several scientists have explained the term big bang was used as a place holder. The atheist can have no opinion on the big bang or origins of the universe without contradiction.

The good priest, however doesn’t stop at the big bang. He tells us

After eons of evolution, an amoeba became a fish, a fish became a lizard—and down the line—finally, a monkey gave birth: not to a monkey, but to the first potential atheist.

and one is made to ask who taught him evolution. Was his teacher this bad?

He tells us, the christian believes, god created the universe ex nihilo. But he doesn’t stop there. He lies. He says

But Adam and Eve wanted to play the part of God, to tell God what good and evil is.

The good book doesn’t at any point claim the two ignoramuses wanted to tell god what is good and evil. This is not possible since they only came to know of good through eating of  the tree of knowledge of good and evil, a tree which, if it was planted in the garden is all god’s fault. There was always the option of keeping the seeds in god’s pocket or not mentioning it altogether. But the priest is not interested in reason, no, he tells us

Original Sin, therefore, is the choice to become a practical atheist—to claim the authority of God on our own.

Let’s not forget that the idea of original sin is a creation of the church of Rome. And nowhere do we read in the bible Adam and Eve claiming the authority of god anywhere. To call them practical atheists for eating a fruit, is to me an insult to human intelligence. Adam and Eve, if they existed, did not need persuasion to know there was a god. It was impossible for them to be atheists. I mean, for fucks sake, they lived next door to god.

The priest to bring Jesus into the picture, tells us

Without a Savior to overcome evil, all of us would be condemned to the fires of Hell

which is  ridiculous. God creates hell so it can punish humans for small infractions that it made it possible for them to commit? If we believe the priest, without eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge, there would be no death. One must ask the good priest why then, does god send the two hapless fellows from the garden before they eat of the tree of life? Or are we to assume, the gods would have left them feast on the tree of life and become like them?

The Epicurean principle of “seek pleasure and avoid suffering” is seen by the priest as not good enough for a moral life. He says it can be argued that is how the atheist lives their lives. Sometimes one can withstand suffering, if it is for a short duration and the gains are greater, for example, the pain of having a tooth removed or a surgery to remove a growth. It is suffering for which no benefit can be accrued that we must question as rational beings, such as, what good comes out of the rape of a child?

One would think, if you listened to the priest only, that only atheists have abortions or are pro-choice. The good priest, not tired of attacking straw men, writes

To avoid personal suffering, antiseptic and murderous violence—where the screams are unseen, silent, and without legal repercussions—is permissible as a matter of “choice.”

I don’t know about you, but I am yet to hear of any moral absolutes set up by the atheists anywhere in the world. I was not around when there was a sexual revolution in the 60s in the US? Was it atheists who led it? But then again what is wrong with sexual freedom?

One wonders whether the priest is arguing for sexual misconduct, like the priests have been found to have been guilty of in several places around the world when he says

The practical atheist insists on the supreme value of choice and consent as the only proper boundaries for his sexual pursuits.

Are we to read this as an argument against consent?

I do not, for the life of me, know which atheist the priest has in mind. Maybe it his own creation. He writes

 [..]He may appeal to science—except when science interferes with his lifestyle.Then the moral principles of the atheist allow for the distortion of authentic science in pursuit of his pleasures.

How, tell me, is this statement by Justice Kennedy

“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

the true definition of original sin? Does it exclude the christian from defining his or her life as having meaning only in the belief and obedience to gods? Or does it stop the Muslim from deriving meaning from his belief in the supremacy of the Koran and hadiths? Is the priest trying to be a thought cop? He wants a situation where the church defines the concept of existence, meaning and any contrary opinion is heresy and ripe for the stake, as in the days of old.

One would think all the conflicts in the world are because people have been atheistic. The good priest not to be outdone in creating straw-men writes

Of course, the cumulative result of such uncompromising selfishness is what a comfortable atheist detests: injustice, conflict, hatred, murder. An honest atheist is unable to justify selfless acts of virtue. Without God, the chaos of an atheistic world would be normative.

Anyone who has read a little bit of history is aware of the many injustices committed in the name of god. The Catholic killing the protestant, both of them killing the Jews and finally, the Muslim killing all of them. To then pretend this is all because there are atheists is to tell a bold faced lie.

There is no paradox between there being no god and people being just, kind or loving. These traits are important for life in community. Societal life would be impossible if all we did was kill each other. We would be extinct. You need no gods to explain this. Common sense, which the priest seems to have quit its use, is enough to give insights into this.

The sacrifice of a soldier in battle is for most times stupid. Most often, soldiers go to war to fight people who have done them no wrong on the behest of some functionary who is having a beer or wine at their expense. That said, the soldier is trained to do just that. It would be thought of them as cowards if they didn’t make sacrifices here and there. It is expected that a father should rescue their child from danger. To say we only do this because of a god is to reduce all human feeling and response to belief in chimeras.

The story of the crucifixion is not one of love but of depravity. It is to make a virtue of violence. Besides, in the story, the fellow comes back. And if Jesus is a god as the catholic wants us to believe, then how does a god dying affect humanity?

While I agree we should reflect on our individualism, but it shouldn’t be replaced by belief in chimeras. It is must be about practicalities of life. We should see ourselves as members of a community with different beliefs and cultures and work towards living in harmony with one another.

The Luo idea of god

Continuing from where we stopped a few days ago where we treated of African religion in general. We will now look at specific manifestations of the religious experience of different groups found in Africa.

Ogot (1964) notes that the original homeland of Western Nilotes is a difficult historical problem which has defied any satisfactory solution. What little is known is that about 1000CE they were living in the open grass plains of the present Equatorial and the eastern parts of the Bahr el Ghazal province of the Republic of Sudan.

The Luos, a Nilotic group, are divided into three groups; Northern, Central and Southern Luo and are found in Sudan, Ethiopia, Zaire, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. The Northern group found in Ethiopia and Sudan is believed to have moved the least as compared to their other kin who moved South to their present homelands in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda.

Studies show, that while the concept of god is similar in some fundamental ways between these groups, there re slight variations that have been attributed to changes in time and space as these groups moved and interacted with others along the way. The argument being advanced here us that a change in the way of life results in a change in the idea of god.

Ogutu (1975) informs us that to the Luo, Jok is the ultimate object of ritual and was worshipped at the chiefdom shrines which were either erected for the purpose or were unusual natural phenomena or outstanding landmarks in the landscape. In most cases, these shrines , those that were built, were the houses/ homes of the leader of the group. The function of Jok, we are told, was limited to the clan and chiefdom. They also believed that Jok rested where people wanted it to rest. One can see here that the god worshipped was still a local god, almost under the direction of its human worshippers. We see eventually, this god transformed to an omnipresent god.

In the same work referred to already, the author, referring to a work by Okot p’Bitek says sacrifices were offered at the chiefdom shrines to Jok (god) and to the ancestors and any hostiles ghosts were dealt with accordingly. It is evident there was some belief among the Luo of a life after death in some form. Where these spirits (ancestors) resided is one that I have not seen answered.

From Ogot (1961), we learn that to the Shilluk Juok. Jok is the greatest spirit, and creator and sustainer of the world and everything in it. He notes, referring to a work by Leinhardt, that Juok is conceived in trinity that is in spirit and body. While referring to an article by Hayley, he says Jok can be seen as a natural power permeating the universe, neither well nor badly disposed towards mankind, unless made use of by man. It can be said that Jok is a kind of impartial, impersonal, limitless and universal power.

Ogot argues that because the people believe the vital force, that is, jok, can only be received through intermediaries as the ‘spirits of the air’ or prophets. For this reason, it is expected that the ancestors or medicine-men, diviners should be treated with respect.

To the Padhola, another Luo group, Were (god) is conceived of as one Supreme Being that manifests itself as Were Madiodipo ( god of the courtyard), Were Othim (god of the wilderness). The name of god is never spoken, but always referred to as Jamalo ( the one from above) (Ogot, 1972).

It should be noted, in passing, that to the Central Luo, the idea of a god responsible for man’s suffering did not exist.

As I mentioned in the beginning, that the idea of god is determined in time and space, the Luo concept of god changed during their migration from a god that rested where the community wanted it to, to a god found everywhere (Nyakalaga). What merits comment here is that the sun and other stellar objects, as many others have claimed, was not worshiped as a god but rather was seen as a manifestation of god, that is, the sun as the eye of god.

While it is generally believed by majority of Kenyans that the Kenyan Luo have always been fisher folk, this is in deed far from the truth. Evidence show that they were pastoralists and agriculturalists and only adopted fishing once they settled around the lake region. Fishing became a religious activity centered on the fishing vessel.

It is to be noted, to the Luo, any doubt on the existence of god Nyasaye/ Were/ Jok was an absurdity.

The Luo of Kenya perceive god as  jachwech (moulder), nyakalaga (omnipresent) and jarit (protector). Unlike other groups, for example the Jews with their god of Abraham, Jacob and Isaac, the Luo see god as wuon ogendni (guardian of all people).  God is also said to exist in space (nyakalaga- everywhere present) and in time (wuon kwere- father of ancestors).

The cosmology of the Luo simply states that god moulded the earth. A creation ex nihilo is a concept they have no word for.


Ogot (1961) The Concept of Jok. African Studies, Vol 20 2.

Ogot (1964). Kingship and statelessness among the Nilotes. The Historian in Tropical Africa. 284-304

Ogot (1972). On the making of a sanctuary. The historical study of African Religion. 122-135

Ogutu M.E.G (1975) An historical analysis of the Luo idea of God. Unpublished Thesis, University of Nairobi.

 

African religion(s)

“I am an African, and I set my pride in my race over against a hostile public opinion”.

I find these words by Pixley ka Seme very befitting of the journey we are about to embark on. Abrahamic religions can be dismissed without further argument. This is not say volumes have not been written to prop them up as being the only true religion, an exercise which in of itself, I find very ridiculous. Why a religion whose writings are supposed to have come from the god itself to need apology, is one of those things that begs to be answered. Did the god do such a bad job that men and women have built careers and empires explaining away what the god meant to say or what it wants.

Most of the early visitors to Africa, because they didn’t understand the ways of the people, claimed we didn’t have a religion nor systems of government and this thinking justified among other things the missionary activities and colonialism.

While there has been much scholarship on African religion(s) by theologians and historians, most of this work remains in the sphere of academia. It is not part of popular culture. One can easily walk into a bookstore and find any number of books on Christianity or Islam and they are cheap too, it is not the same with books on African religion and I hope that it will get as much attention as other world religions.

One of the questions we hope to address in this odyssey is whether we should talk of African religion in the singular or religions. And here, the question is whether they are separate and competing religious ideologies or parts of a greater theistic whole that would support the idea of a central origin that spread out through Africa.

To start of, we define religion not only as the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal god or gods but as a process of human beings to reconnect with deity or whatever people consider to be a supreme being or cause behind existence. Further, it is argued that religion in its full form encompass ritual, myth and metaphysics. While the Abrahamic religions are monotheistic, the African religion is henotheistic, that is, god appears as personality, as nature and also transcending forms and names, beyond creation itself.

In talking of African Religion(s) we mean here those forms of religion that were developed on the continent of Africa by its indigenous peoples from ancient times, that is prior to the introduction of other religions from outside Africa. We must have note at this early opportunity that most African cultures have no corresponding word for religion as it is in the western world.

The difficulty that has been identified by scholars of religion in Africa is the absence of written material except for the Neterian Religion. We will not get into the dispute of whether North Africa is Africa or belongs in the middle East and whether the ancient civilizations thereof belong to Africa or Middle East. Religion in Africa is passed down from parent to child orally. So far as I can tell, I have found no African religion that was a proselytizing religion. Religion was a living aspect of life. There was no need to look for converts.

As I have already mentioned, African religion can be looked at as Polytheistic monotheism, that is, a system of religion presenting a supreme being and lesser gods and goddesses who serve the Supreme and sustain creation. It is this conception of religion that was earlier on referred to as henotheism. The proselytizing Christians and Muslims argued that monotheism is the advanced concept of religion. Yours truly thinks this is hot air. While there were conflicts between African nations, none of them have been ascribed to a difference of religious opinion as has been the case in most of history of Europe. It can be argued successfully that any religious conflicts on the continent can be linked to conflicts between Islam and Christianity.

The concept of revelation as is claimed by the Abrahamic religions stand in stark contrast to African religions, Hinduism and Buddhism that argue that which is transcendental and unintelligible cannot be related in words, as the intellect cannot fathom the true nature of the Supreme Being. While still on Western religion, we must note here that the claim by practioneers of revealed religions that observance of the tenets of their religions leads to piousness is unfounded and contradicted by the behaviour of missionaries and the general population that ascribe to said religious beliefs.

In concluding this introduction of the general layout of what we shall be looking at, I will mention that the idea of Trinity is of African origin. The three aspects are Amun– the unintelligible and hidden underlying reality which sustains all things; Ra– the subtle matter of creation as well as the mind and Ptah– the visible aspect of the divinity, the phenomenal universe.  So we say

He whose name is hidden is AMUN. RA belongeth to him as his face and his body is PTAH.


This post is informed mainly by the paper by Muata Ashby ‘What is Religion and what is an African Religion.

Who are the people?

In his defence following the first attempt to overthrow the government in Cuba, Fidel Castro, while talking about the people limits his definition to those who, for lack of a better word, are oppressed, the lowly paid and in a way those who believe they have nothing to lose but everything to gain if the regime should be changed.

Michelet and other French historians while talking of the revolution, refer only to the revolutionaries. They exclude the rich classes.

The same thing is seen in the case of Kenya. When the people are talked about, a certain group are excluded.

My question then is, who are the people?

Atheist experience in Africa(?)

It is while reading this post that the question occurred to me of what is the atheist experience in Kenya. First, works such as those by Mbiti add credence to the claim

that Africans are deeply religious and theistic.

I also think the main thesis of the piece, that

The way and manner that atheists in Africa are treated have largely been overlooked. What atheists encounter in the course of their lives has not been adequately highlighted.

Is largely true. Unlike the author, I have not had the opportunity to attend a large gathering of freethinkers or agnostics and atheists. Well, I have attended a beer drinking session organised by my godless friends but never a conference.

Those who have followed this blog long enough recall the furore over registration of an atheist society in Kenya that wound up being decided by the high court in the favour of atheists. Generally, however, it can be argued almost convincingly that atheists are invisible. It is however hard to tell if it is by design or whether it is as a result of mistreatment or a fear of atheists to speak up.

Because I am not a social scientist, nor am I going to do a longitudinal study of atheist experience in Kenya any time soon, the sample for this post is yours truly and the conclusions drawn from it cannot be said to apply to the general population.

In many instances when I have spoken of my godlessness, others have claimed it is a phase, while others think I am confused or worse still others think I am pretending. They convince themselves that I am a believer in their god, maybe even more devoutly so, especially since to some of them, my knowledge of the bible is superior to theirs. The explanation that I read it every so often just to be able to respond to their claims doesn’t cut it with many people.

My workplace is the best. I love my colleagues. While majority are christian only divided by the cult they have opted to associate with, religious discussions hardly feature in our interactions except when I am in my cheerful self and making fun of a thing or two about their beliefs.

While I have read of people who have been disowned by their families, especially America or whose relationships have broken down, I have no such fear. My immediate family is resolved to my godlessness. It bothers no one. My extended family has no such say in how I live my life, so there is no chance they would do something so drastic. Besides, how would they achieve their ends? Block me from going to my house?

What I would however hope for is to get more writings by African scholars on atheism from an African perspective. The Judeo-Christian and Muslim conceptions though interesting, are no longer attractive to me. I am interested in whether in the traditional African societies, atheism existed and how was it articulated? How did society respond to the claims of atheism or is it a western thing in the continent finding its foundation in the rejection of both the missionary and colonial overlord.

I am aware that some of the Kenyans who were at the forefront in the fight for independence, who had at first converted to christianity either quit or only appeared to believe while in public. It is also the case that some of the Independent African Churches were a repudiation of some of the teachings of Jesus, some to the extent of claiming divine revelation without the need for Jesus. These aspects should interest a cultural anthropologist which I am not. My interest would extend only as far as how they treated of houses of worship, if they had such or whether worship took place under sacred trees, stones or in caves. The rest lies in the province of social and cultural anthropologists.

In the next month or two I will read Nkrumah’s Consciencism (if I can find it) and his exposition of materialism as a philosophy. Two books by Okot p’Bitek Decolonizing African Religion and African Religion in Western Scholarship will also be looked at.

I think the thesis of the article attached above has some truth in it, considering for example the experience of atheists in Egypt, Nigeria and so on. But since a study or poll covering Africa hasn’t been done, we can agree there is much more work to be done. Asking atheists of their experience would not be enough. To be meaningful for our purposes, I do think it would be useful to also find out how the rest of society views us.

As a starting point, any atheist, especially of African descent and living in the continent should weigh in. Ark you are not counted :0