Christianity and African Traditional Religion (ATR)
Religion is central and vital for an Igbo person. No Igbo person exists in isolation from his/her community. An indigenous and traditional Igbo society is communal; it does not entertain any sense of individuality. But the coming of the missionaries broke into this communal bond with a new religion that threatened the traditional society when it began to exalt the individual soul. The Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, in his book Things Fall Apart, portrays a situation in which an African indigenous missionary (Mr. Kiaga) succeeds in separating a son (Nwoye) from his African parent (Okonkwu) so that the son can become a Christian and be saved. But alone? As the son leaves his parents’ house for the mission compound the missionary quotes the Bible, “Blessed is he who forsakes his father and mother for my sake…” Achebe’s story depicts a situation in which the family is utterly divided as a result of the parents’ or their children’s conversion to Christianity. At this point, things fall apart. The pivotal core of the traditional Igbo society cannot hold again. The majority of the missionaries saw African religion from within their Western understanding and concluded that it was heathen, anti-Christian, and repulsive. African societies started to disintegrate when traditional religion was attacked. A rift occurs between the family and the extended family. Instead of bringing reconciliation and understanding, Christianity in this case brings division. This is because converts were instructed to leave everything behind, including families, for the sake of the gospel. But the Igbo Traditional Religion looked at life in a holistic way. There was no contradiction between sacred and profane, hence many people were horrified when the first converts wanted to set themselves apart, away from other members of the community. This is why inculturation is important, as it enables the Igbo Christian to see and experience life in a holistic manner without doing needless violence to cultural values. The failure of the early missionaries to inculturate the cultural values of the people is the conundrum. The result raises some theological problems. In the attempt to ascertain a balance, most times, the Christians in Africa, particularly in Igboland, find themselves oscillating between Christianity and African Traditional Religion (ATR). The need for a reconciliation is long overdue. It is best given a lasting, concrete and a dialogical chance through inculturation.