African Religions and Philosophy Summary

African Religions and Philosophy Summary

Mbiti is a Christian clergymen from Kenya, and he begins by stating that although normal society tends to regard Africa as unsophisticated or savage even, in terms of religion that is simply not the case. The African world view is one with a deeply religious, participatory appreciation of fundamentally true religious principles. For instance, the African attitude toward nature is reverent and spiritual, and their commitment to tribes comes from their deep appreciation for human life and for the health of a community. Mbiti argues that part of the reason the world is so unfairly prejudiced against Africa is that most people believe that animalistic, native religions are unsophisticated and evolve through time to become more respectable. Mbiti argues that to reduce the African religions to nothing but folklore and magic is wrong and degrading.

Mbiti continues the discussion by showing that African people tend to view themselves in terms of a tribe, and they view time in terms of generations. This means that their religions reflect those virtues above things like individual success. The African sense of time, by virtue of this world view, is divided into legendary, ancient past (Zamani) and the more familiar past (Sasa). The idea is that time moves in a cycle, like the seasons of the earth, without assuming that time is linear.

He then discusses the ideas that despite their surface appearance, most African people operate like monotheists—although they do observe their pantheistic, polytheistic myths, but Mbiti argues that those are just ways of talking about archetypal ideas, whereas the individuals in that polytheistic culture usually understand God in a similar way to Christians. Africans are different, though, in that they understand the forces of the world in a spiritual way, and African religions also involve ghost stories and stories of demons or angels.

Mbiti explains that domesticated animals are often regarded as sacred in African cultures, and the animals in nature are taken to represent religious concepts, so a lion might be like God, and a snake might be magical. These cultures rarely think of God as accessible without the help of an intermediary, like a priest or a shaman. But they are deeply religious.

Mbiti continues by explaining the African view of the afterlife. Because they divide their time as short-term history and legendary history, there is a common belief that the soul of the dead will rest on the earth until the last person who knew him also died, at which time, the perfectly forgotten person would move on to be with the ranks of the dead, transferring from Sasa history to Zamani history. Mbiti notes that the African view of life doesn't involve an afterlife or a judgment.

Socially, the tribes are often superstitious. For instance, the entire community celebrates pregnancy and new life, but twins are often regarded as a bad portent. There are serious, life altering rituals and rites that mark a child's growth into an adult and the passing of the baton so to speak to the next generation. Girls transition through menstruation, and boys transition through difficult rites. Marriage is important in African culture, and divorce is rare and unaccepted. Shamans and medical tribesmen often use magic, invoking good spirits and revoking bad spirits. The most frequent rituals in Africa involve rain, because Africa is so dry and hot. Mbiti concludes this analysis by providing anecdotes from times in his experience when magic has been effective and miraculous, even through the idea is taboo to Christians.

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