African Traditional Religion (ATR) encompasses all indigenous African philosophies, worldviews, and religious practices south of the Sahara Desert. Though by no means a fixed religious system, sub-Saharan African cultures by and large share many similar views of God, the ancestors and spirits, honor and shame, magic and witchcraft, and rites of passage. While God is not considered to be near, or “close by,” he is nevertheless part of a hierarchical yet holistic spiritual world, mediated to humanity by ancestors and spirits. Moreover, spiritual power is bound to the material and physical realm. The separation between the visible and invisible is very thin, in some cases non-existent. The unseen world of ancestors, spirits, and magic orders the day-to-day experience of the African Traditionalist.
Although one should not presumptuously generalize about the rites and customs of each place and people, it is useful to draw out the contours of the beliefs commonly shared by African societies. This is so for at least two reasons. The first is the proliferation of America’s chief export to Africa — the prosperity gospel. The individualistic message of personal wealth accumulation from the hands of God by means of a false definition of faith has taken much of the world, but particularly Africa by storm. The second is the adoption of atomized, “a la cart” rites and beliefs from ATR by younger Americans. For example, the adoption of the Nigerian Ifá religion by Patrisse Cullors of Black Lives Matter (BLM) has a uniquely American flavor. It is useful for Christians encountering certain Ifá or other ATR rites and invocations at, say, a BLM rally, or in reading about them on social media, to investigate their origins as part of understanding how they are exploited in an American context. In this way, Christians might respectfully preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to their neighbors and friends.
This Postmodern Realities episode is a conversation with Journal author Anne Kennedy about her article in the current (Oct 2021) issue of the Journal entitled, “African Traditional Religion, Black Lives Matter, and Prosperity Gospel.”
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