1.1 Background to the study

If the abridged Catechism of Christian Doctrine defines God as “The Supreme Spirit, who alone exists of himself, and is infinite in all perfection”, it becomes undoubtedly clear that God is essentially one since we cannot logically have more than one necessary being in the nature of God. So, to talk about polytheism for a religion that conceives God this way is to fall under the error of gross misconception. This situation is not far from a reality when we examine the various interpretations and conclusions made on the nature of God in African Traditional Religion. Often times, the argument is centred on the invocation of the ancestors and the divinities in this religion. Many an interpreter perhaps, being influenced by the Western prejudice, takes these divinities and ancestors to be on a par with the supreme God in the African Traditional Religion.

One cannot successfully and coherently posit that because African Traditional Religion has the divinities in the expression of its faith; it has automatically become polytheistic meaning that the conception of God in this religion is simply many without the idea of the Supreme Being who, in His nature and being, cannot be conceived as many. Supposing we assume that this conclusion is correct, why is it not applicable in the Christian religion where there are resemblances of its practices with African Traditional Religion? Christian religion is defined by majority as a monotheistic religion when it has many similarities in its conception of God and expression of faith with African Traditional Religion. For instance, in Christian theology, the doctrine of the Trinity stands as one of the irrefutable and dogmatic articles of faith which attract ex-communication from the “fellowship of the brethren” to anyone who rejects or questions it in view of abandonment. The doctrine of the trinity is that doctrine that stresses the belief in three persons in one God which rationally, will not be comprehensible. If the three persons have their individual identity and each of the persons is distinct from the other, how meaningful is it to hold that the three individual persons are one again? Not only this, Christian religion has in its doctrine, the belief in the angels and saints especially among the Catholic denomination which is the oldest and the most populated, organized and systematized group in this religion. The angels like the deities in African Traditional Religion are divine beings who are prayed to and are ministers to the Supreme God of this religion. Similarly, the saints are another category of beings in the divine assembly of the Christian religion. These saints who were once human beings but have attained the beatific vision, do not exist in idleness in God’s presence. They contribute to the good of the living by praying for them and overseeing their safety and protection in their journey and struggle to eternity where they (the saints) are.

The nagging question is, if all these are exhibited in the faith experience of Christians and constitute their belief, what really makes Christianity different from African Traditional Religion in its conception of God? If those who define the nature of God as monotheistic in Christian religion are aware of these situations in the Christian relationship with God, why is the case of African Traditional Religion different since it has the notion of a Supreme Being whose nature is even devoid of any triple or double persons as found in the Christian religion? Why is African Traditional Religion defined as polytheistic while the deities have the functions that are not too far from those of the angels in Christian religion and the ancestors not different from the Christian notion of the saints?

Since what is obtainable in these two religions are essentially the same, it becomes unacceptable to describe the nature of God as single in one and designate the other as many. Christian religion and African Traditional Religion are both essentially monotheistic. The slight difference lies in the nature of the monotheism. On this, we begin to hear of concepts like “diffused monotheism” by Idowu, “Monopolytheism” by Mbaegbu, “complex monotheism” by Nwafor and other such qualifications. Whatever reason that is placed around these concepts, what remains at the basis is that God in African Traditional Religion cannot be justifiably defined as polytheistic but a monotheistic God who functions and operates in his own chosen way with his ministers (the deities) in relation to those who invoke him. Very imminent is the awareness that the accentuated interreligious dialogue which the Second Vatican Council advocates cannot be successfully achieved if African Traditional Religion as is often the case with African matters, is studied with prejudice and as such placed as a low level religion. Dialogue yields positive result when truth is said in love but these virtues are often absent in most of the descriptions and representations of African Traditional Religion.

1.2 Statement of problem

The remarkable problem this research wants to address is the problem of Western anecdotal evidence and racial bias which are often applied on many matters regarding Africans including their religion. The designated of the nature of God as simply polytheistic in African Traditional Religion is one out of the many ways in which this prejudice has manifested. This hasty conclusion is devoid of in-depth research and investigation on African religion. Even when this investigation is carried out, it is not done without some interests; otherwise, why should many scholars be unperturbed in describing Christian God as monotheistic while the case is different in African Traditional Religion while both seem to have a lot of similar practices? If there is a very close relationship between Christianity and African Traditional Religion in their notion of God as one, where do justice and truth come in when one is conclusively described as polytheistic and the other designated as monotheistic? The unacknowledged and subtle part of the problem is that Christians especially the African Christians seem to be oblivious of the hindrance of this to the interreligious dialogue that is aimed at which definitely enhances the inculturation theology that African scholars promote.

1.3 Aims and objectives

The aim of this study is to make A Comparative Analysis Of The Idea Of God In The Western And Traditional Igbo Culture. If God is conceived as a Supreme Being in the two religions; and the idea of Supreme connotes singularity and incomparability, it follows then that these two religions are monotheistic in nature even thoughsome qualifications are often attached to the type found in African Traditional Religion. There is no doubt that when African religion is said to recognize the deities, the practice is also decipherable in Christianity.

1.4 Research methodology

The methodology that will be applied in this work is pure library research referring to text books, journals, magazines and other unpublished works of authors. The information gathered from these sources will be used to compare the monotheistic nature of God in Christianity and African Traditional Religion.

1.5 Scope of the study

Even though it is not indubitably acceptable that there is one mode of worship and approaches to God in African Traditional Religion, the truth remains that among the various expressions of this religion in different areas in Africa, more similarities are discoverable than differences. In view of this and owing to the fact that the nature of this research cannot allow for the description of African Traditional Religion in all the African countries, we have limited our scope to only the Igbo people of Nigeria. Then in our reference to the Christian religion, the Catholic denomination is chosen as a paradigm in this research.

1.6 Justification of the study

  • An invitation to scholars who want to promote Christian religion at all costs to engage in an unbiased investigation into the true nature of God in African Traditional Religion.
  • It will create a deeper and better knowledge of ATR which will evoke a proper interpretation of it and consequently aid its inculturation into Christian religion.
  • The study will enhance interreligious dialogue which the Second Vatican Council recommends and clamours for.
  • It will expose our youths whose little or no knowledge of ATR makes to view the religion as outdated; to understand its tenets, elements and belief systems.

1.7 Organisation of the study

In the first chapter, we shall define the various related terms that will frequently appear in the work. Also, the terms that can easily be confused with these related terms will be explained. There will be a review of works of others that are of relevance to this research pointing out the similarities and variances in views of the authors in relation to this study. The third chapter of the work will dwell on the exposition of monotheism in Christianity and African religion while the chapter before the last which contains the bulk of this study will compare the notion of God in Christianity and African Traditional Religion. The last chapter will summarize and conclude the work making recommendations and suggestions for a further research on this.

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