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Monday, April 18, 2011

3. The World-View Implicit in African Traditional Religion

While examining the objects of belief in ATR, we have already seen that traditional Africans believe in the existence of God, the divinities, other lesser spirits and the ancestors. Below these beings are humans, animals, plants and other inanimate objects. All these realities are believed to exist in a hierarchical order established by God who is the Source of all. In this
order, the human being is at the centre. Two things can therefore be said of the traditional world-view of the Africans, namely, that it is permeated by the spirit and that it is anthropocentric. It is a spiritual world-view because all the spiritual beings are believed to be constantly in action in the world of humans. It is anthropocentric because the actions of God and the other spiritual beings are generally directed towards humans for their sustenance and well-being; and infra-human realities are thought to be ordered towards the promotion of human life. Things and events that may seem to be life-threatening are often seen as arranged either by divine wisdom or through the benevolence of the ancestors for the good of human beings, sometimes as a warning and sometimes as punishments for human misconduct. For this reason, extraordinary events are not taken at their face value. There are spiritual and religious experts who are consulted to decipher the hidden meanings of such events.
            All the elements in the material universe are believed to be intimately connected to one another and all of them are connected to God and to the other spiritual beings. Nothing is attributed to chance or necessity. In fact the concept of chance is alien to the traditional Africans. Rather than chance, they talk of unknown invisible causes. But the orderly arrangement of things is attributed to God: day and night, the seasons, the rhythms of life, the varieties and chains of dependence and so on. God is the ultimate source of harmony in creation. Humans, for their part, have a vocation to respect this universal cosmic order and any deviation is believed to be fatal. Being at the centre of a universe so ordered, the human being establishes a network of relationships, according to the hierarchical order of things in order to maintain the primordial harmony and equilibrium. It is immoral to upset this equilibrium and thus breach the harmony either in the human society or in the larger universe.

In a spiritual vision of the universe and Nature, the African soul has perceived the moral obligation to collaborate with the ordered harmony in creation so as to preserve that equilibrium which visible and invisible forces must maintain. It is from the Supreme Being the divine creator and author of order and harmony. It is therefore a sinful serious transgression to attempt to break or interrupt the free, harmonious and orderly functioning of the god-given peace which guarantees life, growth, survival in creation.[8]

            Bearing in mind this world-view and the essential features of ATR, let us now try to understand how peace is conceived in ATR.

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