Table of contents
- Existence of a Supreme Being
- The Presence of Evil
- Mediators between Humans and God
- Religious Practices
- Belief in Forgiveness
- Belief in Life after Death
For centuries, African traditional religions have been characterized by different stereotypes and labels. Among them are idolatry, polytheism, animism, fetishism, totemism, ancestor worship, primitivism, paganism, and barbarism (Ayantayo 24). One of Nigeria’s indigenous religions which are practiced by the Yoruba ethnic group, for example, has been widely associated with witchcraft and worship of ancestors and spiritual beings (Ayantayo 43). Accordingly, the religion continues to face extensive opposition and criticism from religious groups and political entities that seek to obliterate the belief system (Ayantayo 45). Regardless of the focused efforts, Yoruba’s aboriginal religion continues to adapt and survive. In fact, it is estimated that approximately six percent of the Nigeria’s population continues to follow the traditional faith (Case 11). In spite of the widespread criticism, evidence shows that there are various similarities between Christianity and Yoruba’s indigenous religion.
Existence of a Supreme Being
Like Christians, Yoruba indigenous religion followers believe in a supreme being who created the universe, mankind, and other living creatures. The Christian God is described as loving, faithful, righteous, powerful, compassionate, and merciful. Similarly, the Yoruba supreme deity, often referred to as Oludumare, possesses the same attributes (Peel 623). It is common for the believers to associate Oludumare with characteristics such as omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, and benevolence, which Christians often use to describe their God.
Besides shared attributes about God, both religions have comparable beliefs about His manifestations. In Christianity, God exists as a trinity: God the father, God the son, and God the Holy Spirit (Dallavalle 3). On the other hand, in Yoruba religion, Oludumare manifests through lesser gods such as Mawu, the goddess of the moon; Olokun, the deity of the ocean; Odudua, the divine being of fertility; and Oya, the supernatural being that controls the storms (Ayantayo 43). Moreover, there are spirits, and ancestors.
The Presence of Evil
Christians and Yoruba religion believers recognize the presence of evil and suffering in the world. The former attribute the issues to various reasons. For example, suffering is as a result of mankind’s erroneous actions. It is also commonly associated with God’s punishment of sin (Johnson 410). On their side, the Yoruba also opine that pain is a punishment for sin or wrong doing (Peel 625). Some actions, such as violating taboos and social norms, are also believed to cause ancestors to curse the living through illnesses and hardships. Individuals found guilty of major ethical or legal violations in the Yoruba faith are often forced to undergo rituals as a means of purification and transformation.
The two religions have also associated evil and suffering with the existence of an evil being. In Christianity, it is called Satan. According to the Bible, Satan was an angel who disobeyed God and was cast out of heaven. It is supposed that he roams the earth enticing people to commit sin (Johnson 412). The Yoruba society also believes in an evil being named Esu. According to Ayantayo, Esu is a trickster deity who generates confusion and evil in the world (40). Besides, the Yoruba also consider that spiritual beings inhabit the universe. Some of them are regarded as evil and responsible for the misfortune, illness, and death in the world. It is also common for the Yoruba to associate pain and suffering with witches and sorcerers (Ayantayo 27). They can harm others using their mystical powers.
In both religions, pain and suffering can be overcome through a connection with God. Christians believe that staying connected to God through prayer and devotion will save an individual from evil and suffering (Johnson 440). Similarly, the Yoruba seek for forgiveness and restore harmony in their communities (Ayantayo 38). They use methods such as sacrifices, rituals, prayers, and libation.
Mediators between Humans and God
Both religions believe in the existence of an intermediary who communicates with God on behalf of mankind. For Christians, it is Jesus Christ (Johnson 411). For the Yoruba traditional religion, the Orishas or head guardians act as mediators between God and the community (Case 1). The mediatorss include Yemoja, the goddess of rivers; Sango, the deity of thunder and lightning; Osanyin, the divinity of magic; and Ogun, the god of war (Case 12). It is also believed that individuals who died in previous generations become ancestors (Ayantayo 43). They act as intermediaries between their living descendants and the Orisha.
Christians and the Yoruba society have comparable religious practices. For example, in Christianity, prayers, songs and dance are used to praise God. Similarly, the Yoruba honor their deities through the same acts. However, unlike Christians, they have numerous ceremonies and rituals that are performed to protect and improve health, increase productivity, remove evil spirits, obtain wisdom, and prepare for pregnancy. Both religions give offerings and gifts to God as a means of appreciating the Lord’s blessings in one’s life. Moreover, the Yoruba offer bird and animal sacrifices (Ayantayo 38). They are supposed to help appease angry spirits and seek for forgiveness.
Besides having similar religious practices, both religions have designated places for worship. For Christians, the church is secluded for prayer and worship. For the Yoruba, special shrines are acceptable (Ayantayo 24). It is believed that God dwelt in those shrines. They are often located in caves, forests, and mountains.
Christians and the Yoruba also have religious leaders who lead people in worship. In Christianity, they include prophets, pastors, priests, elders, and priestesses. Yoruba traditional religions also have priests, priestesses, and prophets who are responsible for divining, healing sustaining peace and harmony, and organizing different rituals and festivals.
Belief in Forgiveness
Forgiveness for sin is an important theme in Christianity and the Yoruba traditional religion. In the Bible, all individuals will be forgiven and saved because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Christians are required to confess their sins, repent, and seek restitution to attain God’s forgiveness. Penance in Christianity can also be achieved through fasting and prayer. In the Yoruba faith, followers offer blood sacrifices (Peel 626). They are supposed to be necessary to seek forgiveness for wrongdoing and to ask for favors from God and His divinities.
Belief in Life after Death
The Yoruba and Christians believe in a life after death. Based on biblical teachings, the soul leaves an individual’s body after death. If the deceased was righteous, his or her soul is considered to ascend to heaven and live an eternal life. However, if the person was sinful, his or her soul is cast to hell to languish in an eternal fire. Similarly, the Yoruba believe that an individual’s soul returns to Oludumare after death to offer accounts of one’s deeds on earth (Peel 625). It either resides in the sky with other mystical powers or, otherwise, it is reincarnated and reborn as a human or an animal. Those whose souls stay in the sky become ancestors who influence the living, and sacrifices must be made to them to gain their support. Various Yoruba practices, beliefs, and religious experiences show the group’s thrust in an afterlife. For example, it is common, for the followers to pour libations to the ancestors, summon the names of the deceased during disputes, and interact with the dead in dreams. It is believed that ancestors are always watching (Ayantayo 43). They do it to ensure that their living descendants preserve their fore fathers’ way of life.
In spite of the similarities, Christianity and Yoruba religion differ in a number of concepts, including the idea of animal sacrifices. The Yoruba belief system advocates for the bird and animal sacrifices whenever people gather to worship God. It is supposed that the animal’s blood appeases God and angry spirits that might harm the believers (Peel 623). On the other hand, Christians do not offer animal sacrifices to placate God. It is considered that Jesus Christ’s blood at the cross was the perfect sacrifice that pleased God. However, they can offer animals to the church where they can be reared to generate income.
Furthermore, Christianity and Yoruba religion differ on matters regarding symbolization of God. It is common for followers of the Yoruba belief system to carve images, symbols, and masks that represent God and the lesser deities. On the contrary, Christian teachings forbid making of any symbols or idols that represent God. Exodus 20:3-5 prohibits believers from making or worshiping an image of anything in heaven or in the universe.
It is also worth noting that the two religions differ regarding the presence or absence of spiritual books. Christianity is based on the teachings and the moral codes highlighted in the Bible. The Yoruba faith, on the other hand, lacks spiritual books (Dowd 620). Its teachings are mainly oral, and they have been passed down from one generation to another (Ayantayo 24). For this purpose, stories, myths, legends, folktales, rituals, and ceremonies were used.
For centuries, major world religions and political groups have focused efforts to eliminate indigenous religions with claims that they are pagans, polytheists, idolatrous, barbarians, and primitive. In spite of the resistance, African traditional religions continue to be practiced by a considerable number of Yoruba people in West Africa. In spite of apparent differences on the concepts of animal sacrifices, a belief in lesser gods, and veneration of ancestors, Christianity and the Yoruba faith share similar beliefs on the idea of a supreme God, existence of evil and suffering, presence of mediators between God and humans, the belief in an afterlife, and the forgiveness of sin.