Thursday, July 22, 2010

varying concepts in Theology

found this book in the clearance section at Barnes & Nobles-The Watkins Dictionary of Religions and Secular Faiths and its been as interesting as i thought it would be.

religion is the most interesting subject i think one can study. hands down. i plan on studying it formally...sometime in the near future.... and it may sound ironic, but i actually have no belief in any god, gods, goddesses, god-like deities or supernatural entities.reading a book like this confronts you with the varying ideas of theology. they all have such fascinating perspectives on life that can tell you so much about their cultures.
for example, Deism takes the stance that god existed at one point in time, but has since died, probably soon after creation (or so, this is how i learned it in my philosophy classes. the website i gave describes it as basically Pantheism).
early in Hinduism the idea that god appeared after creation was present prior to the concept of the Hindu Trinity.
another book i'm reading, African Religions & Philosophy, talks about the concept of god in a number of different traditional (pre-colonial) African tribes. apparently many traditional African societies had some level of ancestor veneration at one level, and then a concept of a higher, more powerful entity that wasn't involved in the everyday lives of humans. they prayed to their ancestors, acting as mediums, or lesser gods to help them in their lives. when something huge was impending (like a war or severe drought) that needed the intervention of this higher, distant god, then they prayed directly to it. also, a number of them associated the idea of this higher god with something valuable to them, such as water. in many cases, the word for god is the same as their word for water (or so it is roughly translated).
this is a quote describing the way Rene Descartes changed the concept of god, mainly in Christianity:
"Descartes thus settled for a concept of God that was relative rather than absolute; we can only understand God to the extent that we are capable and in that process everyone has different aptitudes. Hence the variety of religious expression and experience."
although many Christians still hold the idea that their god is omnipotent and exists regardless who believes in him, Descartes still had much influence in modern Christianity.

quite interesting, right? for me, these variations in theology reinforce my idea that humans created god(s), but if you hold a belief in a god, then maybe knowing different ideas on god will give you a new perspective... on your religion, on others' religions and on the overall concept of god.

comment. think. question.
also, keep in mind that these "definitions" of different ideas about god are highly (and probably overly) simplified. the Hindu concept of god (which is both polytheistic and monotheistic) is one i'm still working on understanding and something that may never make sense to me. similarly with various traditional African concepts of god.


  1. i'm loving your posts on Hinduism. religion is a subject that holds a lot of interest for me. and yet i know next to nothing about Hinduism. i was born and raised a Muslim in an African country where everyone refers to African traditional religions as 'pagan' or 'devilish'. i remember been so surprised when i learnt about the concept of god in African traditional religions. i like to call it the ancestral link but it was so easy for me to accept the concept of god as explained in African traditional religions. you know the idea of there being a higher god who does not concern himself with matters of the earth, the lesser gods (orisha in Yoruba) and the ancestors.

  2. thanks! i deleted the other Hinduism post because it lacked direction to me. i didn't post any of my opinions on it, and i didn't make the distinction between whether that was a Hindu's perspective on the sexes or whether it was Hinduism's perspective....and it would take some research on my part to differentiate the two (although i know they're separate).

    i took a class in Asian Philosophies a while back and Hinduism is really one of the most interesting religions i've looked at. its in such contrast to Islam and Christianity. all the gods and goddesses and talked about as having sex quite often (orgies, homoerotic sex, masturbating, etc.). even the creation myth has to do with sperm from a wild sex making session. and things like homosexuality, transgendered, and gender-bending are looked at in either neutral or positive lights. it also is an evolving religion. in the class, we talked about how at one time, they didn't have the respect for the cow or for monkeys as they do now and how they morphed to accept the Buddha as one of their god's, Vishnu's, avatar....although Buddhists don't agree with it. its like an all encompassing religion. yes yes, definitely an interesting subject.

    and thats so interesting! i have a million questions. so many of the people in your area don't accept the traditional African idea of god(s)? is it seen as a sin to worship the Orishas? i know in West Indians countries, people are Christian, in one sense of the word, yet they still worship pagan gods and do pagan/voodoo rituals when someone is sick or needs a blessing. is it somewhat like that in Nigeria with Islam?

  3. Hinduism is amazing! but i must admit that i remain biased towards African traditional religions. i think you will be interested in this post on women in Hinduism,

    yep many of the people in my area don't accept the traditional African concept of god both in the capital (where i live, the city) and in my hometown (which is the equivalent of the 'country'). it is seen as a big sin to worship the Orishas but then again there is this dichotomy. i believe quite a few Nigerians practise syncrestism, they mix their imported religions with their traditional ones.

    speaking personally, i come from the part of Yorubaland that was invaded by the Fulani in the 19th century. the Fulani are known to be Muslims and have been so for a long time. i believe Islam may have already existed in Yorubaland before the arrival of the Fulani as i read somewhere that Islam used to be refered to in Yoruba as 'the religion from Mali'. regardless the presence of the Fulani must have aided the spread of Islam among communities that may not have been Muslim previously. this i know from reading history books however when it comes to my family history, i know that my maternal great-grandfather was supposedly a strong and devoted practitioner of the Yoruba traditional (possibly an Ifa priest) religion before he decided to 'repent' and even built a mosque. i believe he (my great-grandfather) had always identified as Muslim even if he didn't practice the religion till he decided to 'repent'. today in my hometown there are still people with Muslims names who practice the traditional religion and know next to nothing about Islam but i know none personally because (most of) my extended family is currently in the stage where everyone wants to practice orthodox Islam and rejects anything related to the traditional religion.

    yet there are still a number of people who hold this awe/fear/resentment for traditional religions. there are people here who may identify as Muslim or Christian but still sacrifice to their ancestors when something goes wrong or a (traditional) priest tells them their ancestors are upset. traditional rulers in other parts of Yorubaland (where i'm from we have an Emir) must subscribe to practices that are rooted in the Yoruba religion even though they may identify as Christian or Muslim. as it is, Nigeria has a seriously weird relationship with its denial and demonization of traditional religions. for an example see this,

    i was actually in awe when i found that some Muslims and Christians do participate in festivals and activities that are from our traditional religion. it was never heard of while growing up! at the same time i am worried about the future of our traditional religions especially when i look at the growth of fundamentalist Christianity and Islam here.