A Bird

If I was a bird, I will

sing for those in despair.

I will fly high into the heavens and

 

send a petition to the gods.

Perhaps I will build my nest high

up in the midst of twigs and enjoy peace.

 

O, wind of the heavens,

redeem all venomous serpents

who dare the falcon’s flight.

 

And grant wings, I pray thee,

to those poor flightless rats

Who suffer the serpent’s wrath.

 

© 2014. Tawia Tsekumah.

 

Advertisements

Is Religion “Emotional Positivism?”

 

1

Rastafarianism is a religion that emerged in Jamaica in the 1930s. Their membership has grown into millions all around the world. Its popularity was made possible by legendary reggae musician Bob Marley and many others. Marley often praised their king, Ras Tafari, in his songs and advocated the daily smoking of marijuana and the growth of dread locks. Rastafarians believe in most of the teachings of the Bible; they also believe in reincarnation. Although Christianity is now the predominant religion in Sub Saharan Africa, the red, yellow and green in many African national flags is derived from the Ethiopian flag.

One of the major criticisms I have always heard as regards Rastafarianism is that they worship a dead Ethiopian king. They call him “His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie,”  “The king of kings,” and “The Lion of the tribe of Judah.” And many people despise them for that. Rastafarians still consider the African continent their true home and the “promised land.” But why descend harshly on them? Aren’t all the prophets of other religions dead yet still being worshiped? Is Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha and Confucius not dead yet are still being worshiped? Why criticize Rastafarians for worshiping a dead Ethiopian king? I think the difference here is that the said king – prophet of the Rastafarians – was a black African coming from Ethiopia.

The Rastas, as they are called, believe the Ethiopian king to be the direct descendant of King Solomon and Queen of Sheba in the Bible, thus Emperor Haile Selassie being the last prophet after Jesus. His Leadership qualities are also praised worldwide. But what does Rastafarianism teach us about faith? Why the Ethiopian King? These are the key questions we need to ask. To subject religion to logical analysis is a waste of time. The source of all religions is emotions.

Religion is the direct opposite of logical positivism. It is positivism embedded in the emotions and I will tell you why. When Mussolini of Italy invaded Ethiopia (Then Abyssinia) for the second time in May 1936, the Ethiopian king, Ras Tafari, initially went into exile but returned five years later and with the aid of British forces successfully repelled the Italians. This was a major “undoing” for all sufferers of the slave trade. Many Africans, especially in the Caribbeans, were very joyous and they believed that the king could not possibly be human. Therefore in my understanding, to have a positive view of every experience – to focus on the victories not the failures – to allow positive energies but not the negative, all in re-channeling of the emotions to a good use, that is what constitutes a personal religion. Organised religion still remains a hoax.

To live with the knowledge that one was taken from his homeland as a slave and sold to work on a plantation is a really painful thought. It even creates spiritual problems. But if now it was said that the Ethiopian king had been able to crash the Italians, an imperialist nation, then the Emperor must indeed be an incarnate of God. This, I believe, is the brief psychological journey that led to this new religion. It is an inspirational story attempting to “undo” a grave harm and it is no different from stories of exile and triumph in the Bible. Ethiopia remains the only nation in Africa that has not been tainted by colonialism.

As regards marijuana as a sacred herb, it is always said that everything God created is good. If the herb was not good would God have caused it to germinate? According to Rastafarian doctrines, many governments have criminalized marijuana because it makes people rebellious to authority. All governments aim at controlling the masses and marijuana, as a herb of enlightenment, obstructs that. Hence it is illegal to smoke marijuana in most countries.

Babylon (a metaphor for the civilized world of evil, exploitation and domination) will eventually fall to pieces and all Africans scattered abroad, as a result of the slave trade, will return to Africa and be ruled by a single union government. This is a Rastafarian prophecy. Let’s see if it will be fulfilled. But for now, please let’s leave the Rastafarians alone. All religions have their faults.

 

In 1963, The Ethiopian King delivered the following speech to the UN: (an extract which inspired Bob Marley’s hit song “War” in 1976)

 

“……On the question of racial discrimination, the Addis Ababa Conference taught, to those who will learn, this further lesson:

that until the philosophy which holds one race superior and another inferior is finally and permanently discredited and abandoned;

that until there are no longer first class and second class citizens of any nation;

that until the color of a man’s skin is of no more significance than the color of his eyes;

that until the basic human rights are equally guaranteed to all without regard to race;

that until that day, the dream of lasting peace and world citizenship and the rule of international morality will remain but a fleeting illusion, to be pursued but never attained.

And until the ignoble and unhappy regimes that hold our brothers in Angola, in Mozambique and in South Africa in subhuman bondage have been toppled and destroyed;

until bigotry and prejudice and malicious and inhuman self-interest have been replaced by understanding and tolerance and good-will;

until all Africans stand and speak as free beings, equal in the eyes of all men, as they are in the eyes of Heaven;

until that day, the African continent will not know peace. We Africans will fight, if necessary, and we know that we shall win, as we are confident in the victory of good over evil.

The United Nations has done much, both directly and indirectly to speed the disappearance of discrimination and oppression from the earth. Without the opportunity to focus world opinion on Africa and Asia which this Organization provides, the goal, for many, might still lie ahead, and the struggle would have taken far longer. For this, we are truly grateful.”

 

 

Descartes’ Inconclusive Conclusion

hearder image

Rene Descartes was a French philosopher who is credited for coming out with the phrase “Cogito ergo sum.” Meaning “I think therefore I am.” And it was considered by him and his cohorts as the sole evidence of one’s existence. Descartes explains,

“[W]e cannot doubt of our existence while we doubt.”

That statement sounds incomplete to me or rather it’s a circumlocution. To know that one simply exists is not enough. We exist as what? Or I exist as what?

Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “Tarzan of The Apes” knew he exists, but did not know he existed as human until he came into contact with other humans. Therefore a person gets to know him/herself only through others. This is summed up in the Bantu adage:

“Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu.” Meaning a person is a person through other persons.

The problem I have with Descartes’ statement is that it is highly individualistic. Almost disregarding the existence of others because at this point he claims not to know or be interested in the existence of other humans. But knowing just a thing or two about oneself is not enough and even if we take this conclusion seriously, we can say that since human babies cannot be said to be involved in conscious thinking, we would be forced to conclude that babies do not exist: “I do not think, therefore I am not.”

Social psychologist can’t even agree a single definition of the self because what we call “self” is a very complex phenomenon. I shall therefore, in the following chapter, espouse my own ideas on the self and the some modalities of knowing.  Before we begin there are some things we need to keep in mind:

 

  1. To know is an unending process not a state of being.
  2. As long as we remain human, we cannot know everything about our(selves) nor the universe.
  3. Conscious knowing (explicit awareness) is the final stage of knowing.

There is always a part of the self that seem vague, and possibly remote from consciousness. It is only when it’s products enter consciousness that we recognise what it is. Whenever someone says “I” he is referring to the conscious self or the ego – all the memories he has about himself, immediate family members and others whom he has experienced. In psychology, we would call them objects. This consciousness then radiates outward to the outside world.

We (out of politeness, it should be I) have identified the unknown in the universe and the unknown within the self (inner world). Now conscious knowing only leads us to know about the outer world. I have said that the last stage of knowing is consciousness. Science limits itself to what is immediately perceivable or observable. That is why no matter how convinced one is of a theory, one is always faced with the burden of proof. Most geniuses felt the truth of their theories long before they could prove it. In their minds the invention had already taken place, they now only need to consciously communicate it. And it must be convincing. This is another mode of knowing – subliminal, you may call it.

In 1991, Chinua Achebe wrote, in response to the said dictum by Descartes:

“….a human is human because of other humans. Our humanity is contingent on the humanity of our fellows. No person or group can be human alone. We rise above the animal together, or not at all. If we learned that lesson even this late in the day we would have taken a truly millenial step forward.”

I think this is another reason why humanism is the way forward. Of course this is by no means a comprehensive and a constructive critique of Descartes but I am sure my point of the nature of knowing has been made.

Note also, for once I know that the diagram above is not all perfect. The core of consciousness which has in it animal instincts, is but not all animal. It alternates between the basic instincts and the unknown, almost divine. We shall revisit this later.