individual African’s religious commitments in line with philosophy as apriori

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

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?

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On culture or culture wars

I stumbled upon this article and I have a few thoughts. But before I say my thoughts, we need to get a few things out of the way.

Culture has been defined as that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.

The author writes

They want to speak their native language, yet demand we accommodate them instead of learning ours too to integrate with us. They want only to have their own ways, never thinking they could embrace both our ways and their own. They want to use brute force and fear, rather than diplomacy to settle disputes. They want to treat their children as property as well, while we want to nurture them into becoming autonomous adults. This isn’t the whole of the matter, but many examples of how Western values and other values don’t quite mix as well… Many speak of a “culture war” between the West and many other 3rd world countries, and its true, we want one thing, they want another.

and first I laughed then I cried. The US is using fear around the world spreading democracy through the use of drones and fire power, but no, it is those going to the US of A who are using fear. Currently, there is an ongoing debate in the US of A around Roe Vs Wade and it is projected as fight on women’s bodies. I don’t for the life of me know what the good blogger is saying. And lest we forget, the FFRF exists specifically because in practice, the separation of state and church is lost on many Americans. She tells us western values and other values don’t mix. But what are these values?

It’s interesting that irony is lost to her. She accepts the cultural relativism thesis but then goes ahead to insist theirs is the only one that counts, that must count. There is no offer on her part to learn that of the other. Hers is the dominant one to be learned by force. Don’t you just love this!

She continues to write

People have given up the culture and language they were born into, lost everything just to come over to the West! Why?

and I am surprised things like colonialism didn’t reach her.

And we in the third world should be grateful because

Our science has lead to technologies, medical care, and progress that has decreased mortality rates across the board at all ages! We now can treat disease and illness.

as if there is American science of French science and African science. Knowledge is a product of the race. And maybe for her information, there are diseases that were unknown in some places until the white man showed up. As a cultural anthropologist, I think, a study of history is necessary.

Who knew that in America disease can’t kill you?

Compared to countries where slavery is still around, ethnic and cultural minorities and women are 3rd class citizens, a disease can kill you, infant mortality is sky high, people are slain for being “heretics”, dictators rule with an iron fist over the helpless people, corruption is rife, and so on and so on, Western values of democracy and equality and more technology to better people’s lives sounds a lot better for everyone!

There problem of death for apostasy happens in such places as Saudi Arabia which still remain bosom buddies of the US. Slavery happens mostly in Arabia. Dictators rule with support of armed forces and international partners from the west. And because she is a poor historian, some have been installed by the US after the overthrow of democratically elected governments. When it is in the third world, it’s corruption, but when it happens in the US, it is called lobbying or scandal like the Lori’s school admissions scandal. I am not saying we don’t die of disease, sometimes even preventable diseases or that we have governance problems, it is the ahistoricity in her claims that I contest.

There is a list of things you are not allowed to do, for example

  • We can’t impose our morality on them, yet they can on us when it’s convenient!
  • Even a more innocuous example, other cultures all over the world are allowed their own standards of beauty for men and women, yet we are criticized for having our own cultural ideal of beauty because that’s not “body positive”!
  • They can think freely whatever they want, and be defended by “cultural relativism” while our cultural ideas are scrutinized and nit picked to the max!

And honestly, I am lost. Who is this who is stopping Muricans from imposing their morality on others? My neighbour is asking what is American morality. I am even surprised Americans can no longer think freely what they want. These third world minions have crossed the line. They even police thoughts!

You have even been forced to tolerate the third world.

 Overall, the radical liberal snowflakes only have “tolerance” and relativism for what they pick and choose!

Who wants tolerance anyway?

And for further reading

 

Standing on the shoulders of giants

When one reads Mbithi’s African religion and philosophy, you get the idea among many of his claims that Africa was and is too religious. In fact, when I finished off the book, the thought that there would have been skeptics among our ancestors became so doubtful. So you can imagine the joy I found while reading Odera Oruka’s Trends in contemporary African Philosophy.

First, Paul Mboya, though not a skeptic had this to say

I believe God exists. But no one is capable of knowing what God is. Those who claim to do so are wrong.

Next, Muganda Okwako says

God talk is the gossip of the lazy. If god exists, he can only help god, not man(esp. the Africans). The black man should forget religious fanaticism and learn to try to achieve great things.

And finally, Njeru who said

I am not a Christian. Christianity I saw as the white man’s bluff, his witchcraft in Africa.

on why the watchmaker argument fails

We know the contrivances of human beings whenever we see them. If I should find a bicycle assembled, I wouldn’t have to rock my head trying to discover its source. Everyone who has seen a bicycle knows to what ends they are produced and by whom. We do not have the same knowledge for things occurring in nature. I cannot tell, when I meet an elephant that there was a purposeful designer who wanted it to crash plants.

To say something happened by chance, does not rule out a designer. It could have been experiment and this result was a chance result. It was never planned.

The theist has no reason to limit the being of the universe to this

The only possible explanation for the structure is that it was designed by an intelligent being, not some random physical process.

For what is intelligence? It includes

the capacity for logic, understanding, self-awareness, learning, emotional knowledge, reasoning, planning, creativity, and problem solving

many properties which would rule out the god of theism; an all knowing god can’t learn, reason nor plan. Such a god can’t be creative. We are told, for example if you believe the Abrahamic religions, that god said and it was. In a scenario such as this, the god need only wish and it is.

The question of how did the universe come to be is not made easier in supposing an intelligent designer. I could grant you a designer and ask why must we stop at one designer? If one argues from man made things to the universe, then we see that many things have components built by different people; someone a roof, someone windows and doors and another walls. So, then, we can be certain there is no contradiction in saying there is a designer for trees, another for elephants and another for fish and for all other million of things that exist.

I contend this blogger has not demonstrated his claim.

on death

In the last post on the subject, I did ask whether death is bad for us. Reactions varied from those who take the Epicurean/ Lucretian position, that death is nothing us or death like the period before our birth has nothing on us. Or take the position of Hariod that there’s no ‘I’ to be decimated by death. There is the further position that in some situations, death is actually a good.

The movie Solace explores this last position. Charles Ambrose has extraordinary powers. He is also a murderer on a mission. He murders are quick and from what we are told, painless. But his victims, he argues are spared extreme pain and suffering. Dr. John, the other psychic, tells him to stop playing god, he says about god’s work, he is unimpressed. In a chance meeting at a restaurant between Dr. John and Ambrose, he, John, asks if Ambrose knows or understands the value of the few hours or days to a dying person? That the prospect of life, even if painful is much preferred to death?

So the question we come to then, is, are there compelling reasons to justify mercy killing?