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Wednesday, April 20, 2011

5. Conclusion: Prospects for World Peace from the Perspective of African Traditional Religion and Culture

In a world so full of injustice, so short of harmony among humans as well as between humans and God, the divinities, the ancestors and other beings in the universe; in a world where billions profess faith in God but few have any regard for the divinely established moral order; in a world where human blood flows constantly like steams and so many innocent lives are taken in many ways, some violently and some subtly; in such a world as ours today, what possibilities does African
traditional religion see for peace? How can humanity purify our blood-soaked earth? Where will humanity begin to make restitution and reparation for the injustices and the imbalance resulting from the permanent exclusion of the weak majority by the powerful minority? The picture looks so dark and world peace as it is understood in ATR may seem impossible. But it is not so. Adherents of ATR know that some injuries can never be fully repaired. With regard to the loss of human life, for example, the only complete restitution that could be made would be the restoration of the dead person to life – which is not possible. Hence, Africans readily admit that reparations and restitutions are in most cases only symbolic. What is important and indispensable is the admission of guilt on the part of the offending person, accompanied by a declaration of the readiness to make reparation and at least a symbolic gesture of restitution. For there to be peace in the world today and tomorrow, human beings must face the issue of justice; there must be some confession of guilt and some form of reparation. There has to be some form of ritual cleansing for every human life that has ended through the agency of human beings. When they disagree, humans must be prepared to reason it out rather than fight it out. Above all, humans must recognize their total dependence on God and their mutual dependence on one another.

It is often argued that because humans are by nature competitive and aggressive, there will always be wars as long as there are up to two human beings on earth. However, a closer study of human nature shows that humans are so constituted that they naturally seek the friendship and cooperation of their neighbours. By nature, the human person is an open being. This openness, makes the person constantly reach out to the other. Human beings are so made by nature that they can only realize themselves and their common destiny in collaboration with one another. The breakdown of this collaboration is a distortion of the natural order. The uneasy feeling that normally accompanies a quarrel or a fight may be a pointer to this fact. For it does seem that no creature feels uneasy in its natural state. If humans feel so uneasy when they quarrel or fight, it may be because it is not natural for them to do so. And what can be said of individual persons can also be said of nations,  and other groups of persons.

Competition and aggression are not quite the same, even though the former has the potential of degenerating into the latter. Competition seems to be the communitarian form of the person’s natural tendency to move beyond already realized goals. Human beings may be naturally competitive, but they are not naturally aggressive. Aggressive behaviour is often a result of the failure of reason, and extreme aggressiveness is sometimes a symptom of ill health. If today this aggressive behaviour has become so widespread and so institutionalized, the cause has to be sought not in human nature itself but in the unbridled greed of some. For, as Frank Buchman rightly said: “There is enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.”

The sharing commanded by African traditional moral norms is capable of keeping competition healthy and preventing it from degenerating into aggression. Rather than force Africans to abandon their traditional moral and religious values of sharing and communion to embrace the individualistic and aggressive attitude of some other culture, the rest of the world should learn these values from the Africans and humanity in general will be enriched. Is it possible to globalize some African moral and religious values, or are we resigned to a unidirectional globalization of values and non-values?
            I started this reflection with a prayer. I would also like to end it with a prayer, a rather short and dense one. It is a prayer of the Serer in Senegal which, in my opinion, sums up all that we have seen so far about the meaning of peace in African traditional religion and culture. It acknowledges that God is the source of peace; that peace means fullness of life in this world and in the world to come – a life that is long and deep, that is, based on real and not ephemeral values. Our concluding prayer recognizes that peace is a result of the harmonious co-existence of all human beings on earth, of all possible colours, and it asks for a spiritual guide (represented by a white hen) in our journey towards humanity’s final home, designated in the prayer as the sky.

May God grant us peace and health of the body,
Let the black and red people live on earth in peace
And live in the world to come in joyful heart
May our life be long and deep
And a white hen guide our way towards heaven (the sky)

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