a question about the Koran

the regular readers of this spot know our position on Jesus H. Christ.

they also know what we think of the bible and by extension religious books.

Muslims think of their religion as the only true™ one.

and of the Koran as coming straight from the gods.

the Koran in many places makes references to H. Christ.

can we not safely conclude it is just a mishmash of stories just as the other religious books, or worse?

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It was Phocion, the good

who Plutarch writes,

And when once he gave his opinion to the people, and was met with the general approbation and applause of the assembly, turning to some of his friends, he asked them, “Have I inadvertently said something foolish?

and while I haven’t said something foolish, I find myself in agreement with the populist Philipine president, Duterte, following remarks he made about god as reported in this piece.

They report he said, regarding Adam’s sin

“You were not involved but now you’re stained with an original sins … What kind of a religion is that? That’s what I can’t accept, very stupid proposition,”

and for all those freewillers, he asked

God created Adam and Eve only to allow them to succumb to temptation that destroyed their purity.

How do you rationalize such a god?

 

The historical origin of Christianity

There has never been a man that ever walked the earth in human form of any race, creed or colour by the name of Jesus Christ.

On the main, I agree with the above statement. What I find hard to believe is how Williams gets to this conclusion. He argues that Jesus is the apotheosis of O-Serapis who was in another age Ptolemy 1 (Soter). I am putting the horse before the cart!

It should be noted from the very word go this book is very Afro-Centric. His audience is Africans or people of African descent, not in the evolution sense which would make everyone African but according to common usage-Negroes. He is, by writing this book hoping to awake in them an awareness of how Judaism, Christianity, Islam – man made religions- as he refers to them have been and continue to be used to subjugate them. It is short on references but very big on claims. In fact, each claim he makes is a PhD dissertation on its own. So instead of dismissing it forthright, I think some of them deserve to be looked into a little deeply. I wouldn’t call it a scholarly work nor a theological treatise. The way to view it is as research questions or hypothesis in need of proof.

He starts by quoting a book, Dictionary of the Bible by McKenzie S.J who wrote

The writing of the life of Jesus has been the major problem of NT scholarship for more than 100 yrs; after numerous shifts of opinion, the consensus of scholars is that the life of Jesus cannot be written.

He says to get to Jesus we must start at 332 BCE with the invasion of Alexander the Greek into Egypt. On the demise of Alexander, Ptolemy I, Soter, takes to the throne and demands admission into the Egyptian pantheon of deities. The Melchite Copts made a composite god- Osiris and Apis- and gave the name Oserapis later Serapis. He says this development goes on till we get to Ptolemy V, Epiphanes (Eucharistos).
The next important event in the history of Christianity, he writes, are the five council meetings viz, council of Niceae 1, council of Constantinople, council of Ephesus, council of Chalcedon, council of Constantinople II.
The Donatist Schismatic Controversy, the Donation of Constantine and the strong statement by Arius he says are the three main reasons for the calling of the first council. He says there was never an Edict of Milan, that this is forgery or work of fiction to be precise.
Among the statements I find hard to believe is the claim that

If you are told about a Jesus Christ, Christians or Christianity before the council of Ephesus or Chalcedon (431, 451 CE) or of a Christian church before the building of the world’s first Christian church, the Hagia Sophia (531-537 CE) you are being misled.

Of the councils, the Council of Ephesus he says is the most important. It is in this council that we have Theotokos- Virgin Mary- installed following problems arising from the preaching of Nestorius and his followers. Serapis was also transformed to the Messiah (Christos) with the help of the Melchite Copts.

The council of Chalcedon 451CE among other things defined one Christ, perfect god and man, consubstantial with man, one soul being into two natures, without division or separation and without confusion or change.

If the foregoing hasn’t sent you to the library near you, the claim that the name Jesus came into being 1565yrs after the image and name Serapis were created in Egypt. The name Iesus was first applied to the icon during the Council of Lyons, 1245CE. To buttress his point, he does a brief historical survey of the development of the letter J.

Tertullian, Augustine were they Copts? The Clementine letters or the letters of Paul, if what we have today refer to Jesus, was this done after the fact? At what stage in history do we have a single book known as the bible as we currently have it?

I will end my post, as he ends his book, with a quote

To discover to the world something which deeply concerns it, and of which it was previously ignorant; to prove to it that it had been mistaken on some vital point of temporal or spiritual interest, is as important a service as a human being can render to his fellow creatures, and the most precious gift which could be bestowed on mankind.


The gospel of Thomas and the quest for historical Jesus

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.

Sex, morals and religion- an odyssey

We continue with our summaries of the book by Bethwell A. Ogot, History as destiny and history as knowledge. This is possible, to a great extent, because the chapters stand alone and can be treated individually.

A man revered by Kenyans generally but Catholics specifically, Cardinal Maurice Otunga, in 1998 termed calls for gender equality unchristian, ruled out the ordination of women as priests terming this ungodly and to crown it all, led a group of catholic faithful in burning condoms and books on AIDS prevention, and family life education.

The author tells us, starting with the ancient Chinese civilization, the basic form of marriage was polygamy. A married man, besides his wives, would seek entertainment in the company of ‘singing girls’. The grounds for divorce were; disobedience to parents’ in-law, having no son, adultery, jealousy of the husband’s other wives, leprosy, thieving and talkativeness. However, a wife who had no family to go back to wouldn’t be divorced or if, having married her when he was poor, he had become rich.

Starting in 8th Century BCE India, the gods were no longer important. Hinduism and Buddhism sought new ways to transcend the gods, to go beyond them. The Buddha appearing in 538 BCE taught that the only thing that was important was the good life. To the Indian, platonic love was inconceivable. To them, Bethwell notes, love, if it existed, had to be consummated. Those who renounced love had to do so utterly and completely. He notes the Kama Sutra, a manual of etiquette, dealing entirely with eros still has some application today.

Moving to Japan, the author notes the attitude towards sex, marriage, chastity, adultery is more concerned with etiquette and manners than with religious beliefs or tenets. To them, he writes, sex is considered a minor matter but something good, part of the general human feelings which cannot be evil and subject to moralizing. The real aim of marriage in Japanese society is the procreation of children and thereby to ensure the continuity of family life. He adds any purpose other than this simply serve to pervert the true meaning of marriage.

Turning our gaze to Africa, we find in Egypt, a religion that was a fertility cult, with the earth as the female element and the sun as the male and their union beget life. Monogamy was the general rule. The position of the woman was exalted. Her security guaranteed be legal provision that a father could reclaim his daughter if his son in-law insulted, injured or humiliated her and demand return of the dowry.

Elsewhere in the Tigris and Euphrates Valley, arose the Babylonian civilization. They bequeathed humanity with the Hammurabi code which had a strong and direct influence upon Mosaic law, though it was considered more liberal and humane.

From here, we see the birthing of monotheism in Palestine with their god which they argued transcended gender but would remain essentially male and with it the demotion of the women. In Judaism therefore, women were not required, and therefore not permitted to become rabbis, to study Torah and to pray in the synagogue. To their credit, however, it could be sinful to avoid such pleasures as wine or sex, since they had been provided for man’s enjoyment. We must however note their obsession with female virginity and almost pathological fear that illegitimate children might be smuggled into a family, which saw them promulgate a law

A bastard shall not enter into the congregation of the lord.

Christianity through the works of Paul, its architect, Augustine of Hippo, Tertullian and contrary to other religions looked at already, regarded sexual relations outside marriage as a grave sin. Total abstinence was considered a nobler state than marriage. Gregory the great declared it was the lust of our parents’ flesh that was the cause of our being and to this extent, human existence was itself sinful. To Augustine, the originator of the doctrine of original sin, god had condemned humanity to eternal damnation simply because of Adam’s one sin. To Augustine, we owe the heritage of a religion that teaches men and women to regard their humanity as chronically flawed. Augustine writing to a friend wrote

What is the difference, whether it is a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any women?

Augustine was clearly puzzled that god would have made the female sex, after all,

If it was good company and conversation that Adam needed, it would have been much better arranged to have two men together as friends, not a man and woman.

Tertullian, writing before Augustine had already instigated women as evil temptress and eternal danger to mankind. He wrote

Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of god on this sex of yours lives in this age; the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway, you are the unsealer of that forbidden tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You so carelessly destroyed man, god’s image. On account of your desert, even the son of god had to die.

In 1059, Pope Leo IX formally insisted on the chastity of all priests. During the reformation and counter reformation, the celibacy question arose. Melanchthon preached against celibacy, Zwingli married at 40 being the first priest of RCC to dare do so in five centuries and Martin Luther married a nun. The Anglican church arising from the King’s lust for a lovely damsel, in this view, was conceived in sin.

Contemporary works on sex can be seen in the works of Kant who argued there is no way in which a human being can be made an object of indulgence of another except through sexual impulse. The conclusions from the work of Paul Fleischmann is that the substitution of sexuality for religious life constitutes one of the most prominent and pervasive elements of cultural pathology. The works of Freud are also important, at least, to the extent that he laid the groundwork for the liberation of the sexual aspirations of women from both an oppressive personal sense of guilt and the shame and humiliation of social stigmatization.

Of most recent publication that has had a great bearing on sex, morality and religion is the Kinsey Report in the late 1940s. Of the many conclusions, two are of interest to us

  1. The complete failure of orthodox morality- in spite of religion, moral philosophy, the influence of schools, church, mosque, temple and social conventions, it is obvious that human beings obey their sexual instincts to a far greater extent than the most pessimistic puritans ever hinted at. They noted that sex could not b sublimated. Fear of punishment or exposure made little difference to a person’s sexual activities.
  2. The rules of self-conduct were invariably influenced by personalities of those who set up the rules. The report shows, indirectly, that practically all the popular conceptions of sex morality are ill founded, hence, moral judgements are dangerous because they are unavoidably personal.

In his conclusion, the author notes contemporary evidence shows a progressive shift in attitudes. In all societies throughout the world, the prize of the virgin in marriage has given way to sexual enjoyment on the part of both sexes before marriage.

His last paragraph, below, is almost a lament. He writes

Where does all this leave us in Africa? We abandoned our Old Testament for other peoples’ Old testament, Torah and Quran. Now that our mentors are abandoning their gods and their rights, we are blindly following them in their wastelands inhabited by hollow men and women. A catalogue of indecencies now stares us in the face, including nudity, transvestitism, prostitution, pre-marital sex, extra marital sex, rape, incest, homosexuality, lesbianism and other emerging unnatural mode of sex.

He finishes by asking a question

How do we obviate this sexual rot that is threatening to deplete the human race? Perhaps Africa need a Kinsey Report to analyse all the popular conceptions of sex, morality and religion, before we can pontificate ala Cardinal Otunga. Perhaps Africa needs its own sex manual, its own Kama Sutra. Perhaps Africa needs its own sex text books, from which ignorant teenagers can acquire basic biological facts.