Tradition and I: What am I connected to?
Heavens or Earths? Lands and Seas? Blood or water? What links me to the past that curves upwards? As a Nigerian and Yoruba Christian, I am drawn in several directions. I am connected to the very short history and longer prehistory of this nation built on oppression and the formal cause of colonization that haunts its unity. As a Yoruba man I am connected to a heritage of blood and language, a tradition hidden from me by the forces behind both my national heritage and my religious heritage.
I am a Christian, meaning I have a heritage stretching to the Jewish Church in the first century, and by the “grafting of the branch”, to the pre-christian Israelite story and to the Hebrew patriarchs. My surname links me to the Fulani by some means unknown to me, and because of the only story I’ve heard concerning the surname, it links me to some familial Islamic past. I say all this because, despite all that I read, I cannot say I have much in common with the “western man” much white right-wingers talk about. Their centre is my edge, my edge is their centre. I (as of now) live in the former British colonial frontier. My existence is, to those countries, at best, a tool. Even our self-determination is governed by their categories. I cannot pretend to be a “pure African” free of the colonizers. That is an illusion. Not even the colonizers are free of us. We haunt them, they haunt us. I live their adopted Religion, shaped by it as much as we shape it in our very fragmented image. It’s not a lie to say Christianity and Yoruba culture have merged here, producing great syntheses and disfigured monsters in different measures, and yet I cannot see myself linked to my Yoruba side as much as my Christian side. For the modern Yoruba Christian, the founding myths are Christian first, not Yoruba. Christianity is a tribe of tribes, but it’s funny that the Religion that grants a sort of radical unity of tribes ends up destroying them. Cultures are not stagnant pools, they are as contingent as we are. Still, the tragedy remains. What is lost cannot be regained. We must move.
I cannot convert to my ancestral Religion. Why leave when all you need is here? Despite this, I cannot condemn my ancestral religion. My ambivalence towards it is an indication of the tension between Christianity, already so shaped by the categories of its missionaries, with the Traditional inheritance of African converts. My assessment of the situation is this: Colonization was a tragedy precipitated by human greed and motivated reasoning, on all sides. It is a tragedy that brought the good news of the gospel, but with it came a poison. The Traditional macrocosmos of my tribe is forever destroyed by it. We no longer live in that world.
What does one do with this information? I do not concede the racist and Metaphysically inept Theology that treats my ancestors as savages that needed the gospel or as “innocent” ignoramuses that were “ignorant” of the truth, as if the truth were defined by a historical manifestation. I confess with Ananda Coomaraswamy that the conversion of heart is independent of Religion, even if attached to it. Virtue is not exclusively Christian. What does the Christian offer that others cannot? Nothing, in my opinion. There is nothing in the Christian story that is not found in many other places, and we cannot afford to pretend otherwise. To pretend otherwise is to concede to the racists we say we deny. To pretend otherwise is to simply push the task of “converting the (innocent or evil) idiots/savages” to either our God himself or to no one. Either way, we acknowledge the premise that drives all empires in their building the city of man. So, what is a man like me to do, if he is caught in the thickets of traditions that melt and conflict?
I believe I should follow the light of my Soul, my Ori, My Guardian angel and Henad. I dare to “believe it all”, as Roland Hart says. I dare to see the kernel in the nuts. It is Christ himself that nudges me. The God of Gods has shown me his face in the Gods of Gods. His Virgin Mother has shown me the inner light of heaven in the faces of maidens and in the crystal rays of stars. The Sun displays their splendor. Their dance fuels my joy and stokes my sorrow. It is in my death at the edge of traditions that I see their core, their atom, in me.
The truth is this: There is no God but God, and every God is God. May they live forever and beyond duration or staticity. May you live in the light of their death and the darkness of their life. Amen.