Among the global commons, starting from the earliest known times, are beliefs that cut across geography and cultural settings.
Among the global commons, starting from the earliest known times, are beliefs that cut across geography and cultural settings. The most important of these is that there is God, or a higher extra-terrestrial power that oversees earthly human behaviour and protects the interests of particular people.
This belief is critical to the formation of cultural uniqueness that separate one people from another and comes up as a result of deep search for origins, which translates into identity.
The search starts as an education exercise in which elders instruct their young using “oral traditions”. They teach history, which embraces cultural values and relations with other human entities. With religion arising from “faith”, the people have history, identity and sense of value for which they would be willing to fight unto death.
In each religion, irrespective of the setting and people, God had four attributes that became articles of faith. First, God was all powerful and the beginning of everything. Second, God tended to be specific to a people or to natural phenomena. This attribute explains beliefs in many gods, who at time would engage in heavenly conflicts that might descend to people on earth. Third, God tended to get angry and to let bad things happen as punishment for the wayward activities of his human creations. Fourth, God has the attribute of forgiveness. This explains human tendency frequently to beseech God to forgive trespasses and, as Pope Francis argued, protect them from evil temptations. This was true in pre-dynastic Egypt before 3200 BC, and is still true in 2020.
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Over time, religions evolved annoying contradictory habits that deviate from their original intents. They are big and small, consolidated and fragmented, focused and disoriented, full of the pious and the con men. In religious consolidation, imperialists imposed their narratives on the conquered.
As a result, two dominant religions and their derivatives have seemingly annoyed God. First is the Hindu religion originally from the Indus Valley, associated with the Dravidians. Hindu spin-offs, with roughly 1.5 billion current followers, include the Buddhists, the Jains, and the Sikhs. Second are three Abrahamic Faiths that claim spiritual connectivity with Abram/Abraham who reportedly lived around 2000 to 1800 BC in modern Turkey/Iraq area, Egypt, and Palestine. These three are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, and collectively command a religious following of roughly 4 billion people. Christianity was a spin-off of Judaism, and Islam was derived from both Judaism and Christianity.
Instead of religious consolidations bringing global harmony, they engaged in protracted violence in what Karen Armstrong termed Battle for God, leading to Fields of Blood in the name of, and splits within, religions. In the process, religions encourage and condone destructive cults that frequently incur the wrath of God.
He then sends pestilence and He seems to have done that with coronavirus (Covid-19). This has led to a global “lockdown”, plummeting economies, and causing unimaginable disruptions everywhere. African countries, least affected by coronavirus, have been quick to turn to God mainly because, as John Mbiti claims, their people are “notoriously religious”.
Under President Uhuru Kenyatta, Kenya has led the way. Uhuru invited the clergy for prayers at State House last week. Many recall once when the president publicly prayed for rain and the heavens opened up and drenched his audience. The State House “celebrants” were Hindu, Muslims, and different Christian denominational officials. Denominations that sometimes disparage each other’s religiosity sat together; Evangelicals, Catholics, Akorino, Methodists, Muslims, Hindus, Adventists, Presbyterians, and Anglicans. The congregation comprised of State and public officials and prominent people of the Kenyan establishment. The fact that it had power rivals sitting awkwardly next to, and not acknowledging, each other was rather comical.
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In beseeching God to exercise His fourth universal attribute, to “forgive”, Kenyan religious, civic and political leaders acknowledge that they deserved God’s wrath. Being the first country to acknowledge its collective failings, Kenyans hope that God will do something positive. Whether they use churches, mosques, temples, synagogues, or face Mount Kenya, they have “faith” that God will exercise attribute number four, forgive their trespasses, and remove the coronavirus pestilence. In the meantime, they pay attention to science” which, as Paul Feyerabend claimed, is a form of religion.
Prof Munene teaches History and International Relations at USIU