in one of my many interactions on twitter, I was presented with the challenge of writing my take on on individual African’s religious commitments in line with philosophy as apriori.
Disclaimer: I am not a philosopher in the sense of having a technical training in philosophy, but I can philosophize (everyone is a philosopher) or so I tell myself. That while the challenge was to give my take, I will not limit myself to my own thoughts but will reference a few philosophical works I am familiar and finally, this can be filed under a work in progress subject to improvement or deletion.
Second, I give the genesis of this challenge or rather the context of this challenge. In his book, Trends in Contemporary African Philosophy, Odera Oruka notes
Philosophy is apriori and as such gains the liberty to evaluate science without losing its credibility as a discipline.
Which I think is limited only to the field of science and not religion. It is my considered opinion that philosophy was hijacked by the early church to defend its absurd position and to make absurd beliefs appear reasonable to a small elite that could not reconcile what they knew and talking donkeys or transporter fish or virgin births and resurrections of the dead.
Before we continue, we need to know what apriori means? Britanica defines it thus
A priori knowledge, in Western philosophy (does apriori change with region? so we have a different meaning when we talk about Oriental philosophy?) since the time of Immanuel Kant, is one that is independent of all particular experiences, as opposed to a posteriori knowledge, which derives from experience.
I a argue religious commitments, whether African or otherwise, cannot be apriori. I did not, for example, come to the belief in gods apriori but from deliberate effort from my parents at home and my school teachers during Christian religious (mis)education. In fact, I can confidently argue that if deliberate effort was not expended in giving us religion, we would be without one.
To make this point, I will reference two schools of thought; one represented by Samuel BAker that argues the African is without religion and the other by Mbiti who argues the African is religious in all things and point out in passing brief critics of either view. In Wiredu’s Blackwell Companion to African philosophy, Oladipo notes that to S. Baker,
Without exception, they are without a belief in a Supreme Being, neither have they any form of worship or idolatry; nor is the darkness of their minds enlightened even by a ray of superstition. The mind is as stagnant as the morass which forms its puny world.
the African has no religion. In response to which, Okot p’Bitek argued that such entho-geographers looked in the wrong places in their search for what constitutes African religion and philosophy. To him,
the oral traditions of a people, as expressed through their songs, dances, funeral dirges, and material culture,
are what constitute their philosophy of life. To get to the religion or philosophy of the African, one has to look at daily conduct of affairs. In looking for a metaphysics, these scholars were looking at the wrong places and are guilty of trying to impose certain ideas alien to specific situations where they don’t apply.
And in response to this negative thesis by Baker, John Mbiti, foremost among the apologists for African religion(I don’t agree with some of his works) responded thus
Because traditional religions permeate all departments of life, there is no formal distinction between the sacred and the secular, between the religious and the non-religious, between the spiritual and the material areas of life. Wherever the African is, there is his religion: he carries it to the fields where he is sowing seeds or harvesting a new crop; he takes it with him to the beer party or to attend a funeral ceremony; and if he is educated, he takes religion with him to the examination room at school or in the
university; if he is a politician he takes it to the house of parliament.
Again, Bitek one of the foremost critics to Mbiti, in his pointed out that the absence of a word for ‘‘religion’’ in all African languages means that there is no special compartment that the African calls ‘‘religious’’ that is separate from the day-to-day participation in the life-process.
Oladipo also argues that this argument by Mbiti is ‘‘uncritical assimilation’’ of Western conceptual categories in African religio-anthropological, and in some cases philosophical, scholarship. It is further argued that in African traditions, morality is worldly, that is, the people’s conception of what is right and wrong is a product of ‘‘their own moral perception or understanding or knowledge’ and has nothing to do with the gods there being no religious founders or edicts to be followed. It can be said African morality is practical and pragmatic.
In concluding this post, I posit this question by Okot p’Bitek (on christianity but I think applies to the other revealed Abrahamic religions)
How could a religion that has little practical value and also seems in some ways to encourage asceticism provide a philosophy of life for living in the African world?