The Endowments of African Faith

I have observed with some amusement, as the contest over religious freedoms and traditions rage on Ghanaian social media, that certain persons have tried, often futilely, to inject their own pet peeves into the whole affair. Some feverishly anti-God commentators have been taking pains to interject at every opportunity that all this cacophony is nothing more than a quarrel over ‘European impositions‘. They insist that we Africans have no connection whatsoever to Christianity, and that our devotions to such ‘foreign faiths’ are merely sad remnants of the colonisation of our mind. But are they right?

Strictly speaking they are not. If we are to treat the vast expanse of Africa as interconnected, without even bothering to go as extreme in our universalisation of African identity in the manner of, say, a Jonas Atingdui, we can still safely say that next to the Jews and Greeks, Africans were some of the earliest champions of the Christian faith.

It is intriguing that organised, ecclesiastical, Christianity actually arrived in England through the missionary work of St. Augustine, a Numidian African. And that long before there was any significant Christian authorities in Western Europe, Ethiopia (or Abyssinia) shared the honour with Armenia for organising the first state religions based on Christian dogma.

So, truth be told, Christianity has had very ancient associations with Africa. And in the case of Islam, it is important to bear in mind that those West African (or more pedantically, Western Sudanese) empires we all like to cite with pride, from Songhai to Mali, were heavily influenced by native enrichment of Islamic doctrine, and that it was in Africa that some of Islam’s deepest thinkers, like the amazing Ibn Battutta, cut their teeth.

Yet, one can still acknowledge that contemporary Africans have not done much to advance the Christianity in our midst towards profound scholarship or even great artistic pursuits. No Sistine chapel figurative motifs. Little in the way of original philosophy. And even the hymns favoured in our schools are often European.

So, as in many areas of our life, the tragedy is that we are not growing our endowment.

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