who knew

There was a direct link between anti-natalism and atheism.

The author of Ecclesiastes (my favorite book of the bible) wrote

4 Next, I turned to look at all the acts of oppression that make people suffer under the sun. Look at the tears of those who suffer! No one can comfort them. Their oppressors have all the power. No one can comfort those who suffer. I congratulate the dead, who have already died, rather than the living, who still have to carry on. But the person who hasn’t been born yet is better off than both of them (emphasis mine). He hasn’t seen the evil that is done under the sun.

And Nietzsche in the Birth of Tragedy writes

There is an old legend that king Midas for a long time hunted the wise Silenus, the companion of
Dionysus, in the forests, without catching him. When Silenus finally fell into the king’s hands, the king
asked what was the best thing of all for men, the very finest. The daemon remained silent, motionless
and inflexible, until, compelled by the king, he finally broke out into shrill laughter and said these
words, “Suffering creature, born for a day, child of accident and toil, why are you forcing me to say
what would give you the greatest pleasure not to hear? The very best thing for you is totally
unreachable: not to have been born, not to exist , to be nothing. The second best thing for you, however,
is this — to die soon.”

Since I find nothing odd in the observation of Silenus and Qoheleth, I am inclined to argue they make a lot of sense and while an argument can be made that all of us who write in support of anti-natalism do so only because we have been born, this argument doesn’t defeat the arguments for anti-natalism. And whether those who support anti-natalism are atheists or agnostics is not an argument against the position. It proves nothing. It is neither an argument against atheism nor against anti-natalism.

Allowing for a moment that most of those who support anti-natalism are atheists, is this an argument against any of the two positions?

Maybe, just maybe, we are like Kirilov in the Possessed who commits a logical suicide.

God said go yea and marry

No. I have made that up.

It does seem most people, especially religious ones, seem so hang up on sex outside marriage. Now, in an age when there was no formal education, girls got married almost as soon as they had their menses. Since virginity was such a prized possession, it made sense to marry off the girls young. But now with formal education, both boys and girls get married at later dates but no solution has been found for raging hormones. To solve this problem, this blogger has a solution

I don’t think a Christian woman should move out of her fathers house until she marries, especially considering the absolute sexual immorality we live amongst.

Rebekah is not taking any of you to hell. Maybe just say hello to her.

Have you been aware that you could be suffering from birth anxiety? There is such a thing as birth anxiety.

I didn’t know fundamentalists have been around for a century now.

Maybe religion is here to stay.

Happy week everyone.

individual African’s religious commitments

There has been a huge debate by others more lettered than yours truly on what constitutes African philosophy and going far as to ask whether such a description is even necessary, arguing for example, that there is no African math or chemistry or physics. You get the drift. I am not going to concern myself with that question here. Anyone interested in the discussions around it can look for works by Wiredi, Masolo, Odera Oruka, Oriare Nyarwath, Alexis Kagame, Lucius Outlaw and many others.

In his book, Sage Philosophy, Odera Oruka interviewed people he considered sages and transcribed their views on many subjects. In this post, I concern myself only with their views on death and god(s).

One saw death as a good because through natural attrition, space is created for others and thus avoiding overpopulation (I wish he read population data- there are more births than deaths p.a, at least in Kenya). He also believed that we are all part of one universal soul that is called god. Further, he says god is one except each people have their own name for god. This sage also said we all speak different languages because if we had one tongue, we would see ourselves superior to god- tower of Babel anyone?

There is, I think, Christian influence in the ideas of this next sage. For example he says about death being good because it is the work of god and further he believes in an afterlife arguing that to die is to be called by god.

Death is the end of man, says our next sage. And it is an evil. He goes so far as to say had we the power to evade death, we would. We try to put off our death through use of medicine and all. God exists as thought and does not have forms (Christians, Judaists and Muslims you have your work set out for you to explain how we are made in the image of god). There is a contradiction however because the same sage argues that god created the sun.

God belongs to the whole world and should not be worshiped everyday or every Friday/Saturday or Sunday as Muslims, Jews and Christians do but should be worshiped occasionally and for special reasons.

God exists because people talk about it. God is one and belongs to all people otherwise we would see discrimination in the distribution of such natural gifts as rain and sunshine (and earthquakes and tsunamis). This mzee’s idea of death is what I loved the most. I will quote

Many people argue that life is good and the better of the two. It is in living that mankind multiplies itself. And as we said earlier on, it is in life that man realizes himself as man. But I think that death is of greater gain. Death is eternal and everlasting in its nature. While life is a short-term process with an inevitable deadline and doomsday, death is a permanent state. In death, there is a completeness of being.

God is one for all people but should be worshiped occasionally when there is need. Peris adds that we each experience and interpret god in our own ways.

Simiyu Chaungo argued that death is neither good not bad. You have no choice on the matter, whether you want it or not, you die. He believed in the existence of a god and further that god could be the sun given that the sun shines its light everywhere. On religions, he said there is just some little truth in them but not much.

Mzee Oruka Rang’inya argued it is quite wrong to personalize god. It is an idea, a useful idea. To him, god represents the idea of goodness itself and to this end, it is useful as a concept. He believed that secularists were not right thinking people for religion had practical utility. Death is like how a farmer thins his maize farm. It gives the younger generation more scope and opportunity to develop themselves. The idea of heaven is fictitious. Upon death, life of man ceases.

To Mzee Kithanje believed there is one god for everyone and that the idea of many religions doesn’t make sense. God is like warmth and cold that brings life. He believed that the sperm of a man was hot and the ovum cold and the fusion of the two brings forth life, so is god.

Ker Mbuya Akoko said the Luo regarded Nyasaye as omnipresent and it is the white people who brought fragmentation into religion by bringing different denominations. He further says the Luo were wrong in thinking their Nyasaye was different from the god of the white people. He argues that their is one god because if there were many gods, there would be chaos resulting from each god pulling in different directions (I think he was not acquainted with Greek mythology).

And lastly Chaungo Barasa on the other hand argued that without man, there would be no god. He sees god as a filler for our ignorance. He says, and I quote

We do not have a particular entity, an external being called god. God then is a substitute for what is beyond mind (ignorance if you like. My emphasis). That is, if man were to pursue and realize the state of intellectual perfection, the mystery of god would be revealed.

I don’t know about you, but I did find the ideas of these men and women quite interesting to say the least. That some of them seem to question the existence of god as a physical being or entirely makes the argument put forth by the Late Canon Mbiti in African Religions and Philosophy that the African is deeply religious and where he is there is religion not entirely true. It would be of great intellectual interest if such interviews were conducted in the rest of Africa though I think we are time barred.

Happy Saturday everyone, free of the gods and fear of death,

A further comment on the problem of evil

First, the freewill argument as made here

I was stating that God allows us to have free will and for the most part, the world that we live in is what we make of it. This is a very clear fact when we talk about murder, theft, assault, etc.

is insufficient to dispense of the problem of evil. One can always ask what happens to the free will of those assaulted as it is obvious it is annihilated in the process. And the bigger question is what stops god from redirecting our will to more acceptable goals unless of course our interlocutor is willing to accept that war, theft murder in some unknown way serves the purposes of god, that is, they are god’s will.

This next quote seems to be making the argument of the world/ earth as a place for learning or preparation. He writes

Perhaps the suffering caused by diseases is necessary to draw us together, and we simply make it worse by utilizing our ability to choose not to cooperate with one another, then we blame God because things seem to be too bad.

which one is forced to ask why did god not stop disease carrying organisms from boarding the ark?

And here we come to the Leibniz argument of the this is the best of all possible worlds

The secret is that things could be much, much worse.

an argument which is easily refuted by postulating a world where there is no measles.

This final paragraph does not help the case of our interlocutor

The middle class tend to compare themselves exclusively to the wealthy and ignore the poor while doing so. In this way, they focus on how things could be so much better than they are, rather than appreciating how far from homeless they are.

especially if he holds it as true that god is a benevolent provider. Then we don’t need destitution. In fact, it is possible to imagine a world arranged such that there is no destitution. The christians and muslims already imagine it and name it heaven where they have constant supply of milk and honey.

In summary, the argument that this is the best of all possible worlds is weak as an argument against the problem of evil or in trying to establish the being of a god.

Capital punishment in Kenya

This author has on more than one occasion argued against the death penalty, arguing as others more eloquent and read than I have, that the death of one innocent person outweighs all the benefits to society achieved through the death penalty. There are many places in the world where the death penalty is still in the statute books. There are occasions I have been almost persuaded that having the death penalty is good so there is a way to deal with politicians and the corporate types who collapse banks with people’s savings and the like. I believe, however, that an active volcano would do just fine for this group of miscreants.

But I digress. Capital punishment was introduced in Kenya by the Brits (remember they came to civilize the Africans: sarc) in 1893. While it’s use was not so prevalent in the early days of the colonial state, it got to a crescendo during the emergency years and from what I have read, many Africans were hanged on very flimsy grounds, rules of evidence were swept aside and the conduct of the cases were such that the accused in many cases were not represented. In short, there was miscarriage of justice in the interests of the crown.

It appears also that its application was racially motivated or biased, if the comments of the District Commissioner for Nyeri is to be believed. In 1921, the DC is reported as having said

sometimes i wonder whether in this country, capital punishment is not inflicted on natives more often than is necessary to attain the ends of justice. (Hynd, 2012).

In my conclusion, my other argument for abolishing capital punishment in Kenya is because it is a colonial relic instituted not so much for the interests of justice but law and order.

Hynd S (2012) Toward a History of Violence in Colonial Kenya. The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 45 1 pp 88-101

Burying Okoth, reflections

I am using Okoth here to stand for the African. This, therefore, is a reflection on African customs around death and burial with specific reference to the Luo of Central Kenya. In the last post, I did ask who owns the dead and if it is possible for one individual to lay exclusive claim of the dead. These questions, I think, we will continue to grapple with for a long time to come.

In this reflection, I want to do the reader some justice by introducing Ken Okoth and Luo customs regarding death. I will then look at some scholarly articles on the conception of death in Africa and the associated rituals, the meanings attached to them and so on.

I want also at this point to correct some form of disinformation that has been repeated ad nauseum on twitter by unread Kenyans that burial rites was introduced to Africa by the colonizers that we all left the dead to die in the forests. While this is true for certain nationalities like the Kikuyu, the Nandi, there were elaborate funerary practices in many places in Africa depending on the social status of the dead.

It is necessary that we have a working definition of culture before we can proceed. It 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 or as the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively or the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society. It should be noted also that culture has these basic characteristics

  • learned
  • shared
  • based on symbols
  • integrated
  • dynamic

With definitions behind us, we can briefly look at how the Luos dealt with issues surrounding death. But first, a cautionary note. Paul Mboya wrote about Luo Customs in 1938, that is half a century after the colonialist first set foot in Western Kenya. I mention all this because it will be evident in a short while how culture is dynamic. And this is an important point.

When an old man died, Mboya tells us, the first wife stripped her clothes followed by all others in the homestead to signify the death of he that clothed them home. If however, the man did not respect his first wife, she would refuse to strip and had to be persuaded but the cat was already outta the bag. A pre-burial (buru) ceremony was conducted in the wilderness where the enemy was fought. The grave was dug in the centre of the house of the first wife, or if she had died, a small hut was built. Burial took place on the fourth day for a man and third day for a woman after which there were several days of plays, tugo, to celebrate the dead. There was a public dress for the widow(s) of the dead. During the mourning, if any of the widows had bracelets, these were to remain covered until on the day of tero mon (when a widow got a guardian).

After several days of celebration and cleansing, bulls were slaughtered for elders, brothers in- law, and if the deceased was a wealthy man, a he-goat or ram was slaughtered for people from the homeland of his mother. If he had been a village elder, an elder was chosen on this day.

From the moment the family gathered in the house of the first wife following the death of the man, no one had sex. Nobody was allowed to go back to their houses until all the conditions set by custom were met. Then and only then did the bereaved members have sex.  At this point, I would just add that mourning period lasted from several months to a year and different ceremonies were performed in this period.

It is evident from the foregoing that among the Luo, there were elaborate ceremonies surrounding death. In a manner of speaking, there were no private funerals. The question of whether you had lived with your villagers or whether you had been estranged does not arise in death.

In Funerals in Africa, Jinra and Noret write

These events continue to provide crucial insights into the state of society, as they are integral to social, economic, religious, and political life. For Westerners, among whom death is normally a private and family affair, this is sometimes hard to fathom, but in the African context, funerary rites are oft en the communal event sans pareil, with ramifications going well beyond the events themselves.

The contestation of Okoth’s body and his cremation, can be understood, in the words of Jinra and Noret as representing social breakdowns brought about by religious changes, colonialism, urbanization, economic and others. Funerary practices should be seen as a link between the living and the living dead. We are told death is a crisis, it shakes the society and requires ritual treatment.

In The African Conception of Death: A Cultural Implication, Baloyi argues that the misunderstanding and conflict that
often arise in multicultural context especially the workplace, is due to the different conceptions of experiences
such as death, its cultural implications and meanings of the rituals performed during and after death. He notes, to the African, death is conceived not as discrete event but as part of the life cycle. The dead continue to exist among the living dead or ancestors. The dead live in community with the dead.

He writes

The mourning or grieving process cannot therefore be linked or limited to some time span in a discrete sense. It is for this reason that Africans take time off from work when their loved ones are dead, to perform rituals that eternally connect them to the deceased. Therefore from an indigenous African ontological viewpoint, death does not imply an end to life, instead, it marks the beginning of another phase of being.

In this sense therefore, death rituals become very integral parts of society living. They perform important functions of linking the two worlds; that of the living and the living dead (those recently departed and are still remembered) and are seen as important in maintaining balance and harmony between the living and the living dead. These rituals include, but are not limited to, bereaved family members shaving their hair, and the slaughtering of a domestic animal.

Baloye continues to argue that Ubuntu and Umuntu are ways of life of the African, that is, being-with- and- for-others. This being transcends death. He writes

Providing food to the masses of people who come to the funeral including slaughtering an animal is an Ubuntu philosophy imperative. The process of burying the dead, the accompanying rituals and the veneration of the living dead constitute performances and conversations as authentic.

It’s been argued elsewhere that nearly all African communities believed in burying the dead in their ancestral
land, where the spirit of the dead would join with the spirit world. Among Ghana’s Ashanti, families,
relatives, and members of the community would mourn at the homestead of the deceased (Owino, Bereavement and Mourning in Africa). He says the Luo usually buried the fruit of the yago (Kigelia africana) tree in a grave in the dead soldier’s homestead in the same manner they would have buried his body.

It appears to me, then, that the decision by Okoth and those close to him to consider cremation and a private funeral is an anathema to the people of Luo Nyanza and goes contrary to beliefs held by many Africans, however, since we can agree on culture being dynamic, a time may come when cremation will become part of culture. Maybe we will have public cremations, I don’t know.

Maybe, a new set of questions arise

  1. How do we reconcile the African philosophy of Ubuntu/ Umuntu with the individualized culture of the west?
  2. What compromises should be made between an individual’s wishes for after death and those of the community?
  3. Can the rituals around death be separated from the contestations around property inheritance to allow a public burial for a private individual?