Evil is one of the problems which have existed in African Societies for a long time, many people in different African localities have now and then been suffering from the catastrophic physical evils like; wars specifically terrorist attacks of Al-Shabab in Kenya and Somalia, floods, storms, drought, earthquakes, diseases some of which is now the part and parcel African Societies. It’s normal that in African Societies we hear of the prevalence of moral evils like; robbery, theft, deceit, corruption, murder, killing of albinos and the handicapped, it has reached the moment that Africans do ask themselves these questions, what is evil? why evil? and what is the source of evil?
Some African Societies maintain that; if the living dead are not properly buried, or have a grudge, are neglected, or not obeyed when they give instructions, it is thought that they take revenge and punish the offenders, thus following this line of thought evil is the result of man’s provocation to the living dead. The Nuer Society maintains that there is no act which is intrinsically evil, an act is evil if and only if God punishes that act, thus if one commits an evil act and he or she is not punished then his or her act is justified. This is to say that the outward manifestations are the ones that indicate something being bad or evil inside. This is the logic of the problem of evil in among the Nuer Society but still its practicability is seen in many African Societies today, that “Something is evil because it is punished, it is not punished because it is evil.” Most of African cities today are full of robbers, thieves, bandits, adulterers, corrupt leaders etc., one would find these being proud of themselves after having performed their mission successfully as if they were doing something legal, thus deep within this one finds that the only reason behind as to why are they proud is that they are not caught and punished in the course of their mission, so to say, to some extent in African societies “Something is evil because it is punished.”
On the other hand the Ankore maintain that God is the final principle of order and thus if He is the final and Absolute principle human beings cannot do anything to offend him neither can they feel guilt towards him, because the human being who is finite cannot do anything to devalue God who is infinite.
Therefore, with these some of the African notions on the Problem of evil, we first verify that Africans have no one thought on the problem of evil, and therefore here in this research we need to harmonize the African notion on the problem of evil basing on the notion of evil according St. Augustine and see whether it works successfully to the Africans.
Free will; The power to make your own decisions without being controlled by God or fate.
Onyame; God, the supreme being, the shining one
Okara; soul, the inner ego or self
Sunsum, Personality, ego, looks, individuality, the opposite of okra, soul, the latter being inner, the former outer or worldly.
Honhom; spirit of the highest form. (not ghost, or soul, or personality) that which a soul possesses allied to God.
Hyebea; destiny, decree of life, manner of life as ordained by nature or God
Abosom; plural of obosom, fettish or god
Bisanso; the economic damages
Bafu; the ordinary dead of the clan in among the Baluba who were not chiefs, these are not close to God after they have died.
Ba – Vidye;these are the founders of the clan, and heads of the line among the Baluba these are so near to God after they have died, they are spiritualized beings.
Ba-tata (ba-nkambo); the dead ancestors
“byamalwa”; the Baluba term for evil.
Nkrabea; destiny, fate, degree of life, kismet.
- Akan perspective
In his “Essay on African Philosophical Thought” in 1987 Kwame Gyekye explains the problem of evil basing on Akan perspective in Ghana, the solution of which seems to be on the same ground with that of St. Augustine’s solution of the problem of evil in the western philosophy. The Akan hold that there is one Supreme Being, the Onyame, this is the one who is responsible for the creation and sustenance of the world. Moreover, the Akan philosophy and theology hold that, Onyame is omnipotent and wholly good or benevolent, hence from there comes the question, if Onyame is wholly good what then is the source of evil? According to Akan tradition evil is not the creation of Onyame because saying that evil is the creation of Onyame it would be inconsistent with his goodness, then how do they explain the problem of evil? The Akan maintain that; in between the Onyame and man there lies many powers and principalities good and bad, gods, spirits, magical forces and witches, to account for the strange happenings in the world. The Vagusu give the same account maintaining that evil is the result of the spiritual being which was created good by God but later on it turned against Him and began to do evil.
According to Akan tradition, there are two major sources of evil, these are; deities “Abosom” and mankind’s own will. The deities were created by Onyame(God).Unlike Onyame these deities are held to do either good or evil i.e. they have the power of doing good or evil. Although these deities were created by God they operate independently of God, they operate in accordance with their own desires and intentions.
Following this Akan way of thought, one question rises immediately and this is: Why should a wholly good God create a being which embodies in itself both good and evil powers? One possible answer would be that, it is not Onyame (God) who created the evil powers or actions of the lesser spirits but rather these stem from the free operations of the independent will of the spirit itself. But still this is not enough, if God is superior and omnipotent he can destroy these lesser spirits as well as the other powers and forces, God has the power to eliminate or control the evil wills and actions of the lower beings such as the lesser spirits and so to eliminate evil from the world. Then there comes a question that: Would it have been wrong for God to intervene in the evil operations of the independent free wills of the spirits in order to eliminate evil? To answer this problem, the Akan doctrine of evil holds that, if God had done so, he would have disrupted the free wills with which he endowed them. God would even be contradicting himself by retracting what he had previously confirmed good.
On the other hand, the Akan hold that evil also stems from “Man’s power of freewill” in which man tends to misuse his freewill ending up choosing and acting in evil ways. But if God is really omnipotent and really loving why can’t he intervene when he sees men using this freedom to choose wrong things and cause evil? Or rather can’t he direct their choices that they always choose good and avoid evil? If God chose to direct the human beings in such a way that they always choose good and avoid evil, there would be two effects as a result of this act.
Firstly; if God had chosen to do all this, human beings would act in a wholly determined way, without being held responsible for any act which they do since it is already planned so by God Himself. Secondly; this act would have led to the subversion of human rationality, which distinguishes human beings from beasts, as a result, human being and the beast would have no difference. Human beings would be made non-rational and hence less human, wholly without the ability to choose. Seeing this effect the Akan thinkers saw it better for human beings being created with rationality and freedom of conscience rather than being fashioned to behave like a beast. Therefore according to the Akan thinkers it is fair and just God to create us with rationality and freedom since these are the only elements which make us look real human, otherwise we would become beasts with our rationality strictly directed to one choice of good.
However, it is worthy to note that, this fact of “Man’s misuse of power of free will” as the chief source of evil is also present among the Ashanti in Ivory Coast in which we hear one of the Ashanti priests saying “God created the possibility of evil in the world, God has created the knowledge of good and evil in every person and allowed him to choose his way, without forbidding him or forcing His will on him”
Some African societies, give a different view on the problem of evil, that evil is not the result of man’s misuse of free will as Augustine says but evil has got its origin to the living dead whom after several years from their death, new generations emerge which no more remember them, and thus they become strangers in their families and people even consider them harmful and fear them, mostly, people fear them because they are strange. Some of these living dead tend to possess people and cause them maladies like epilepsy and madness. This happens if these people were not properly buried or they are neglected, or not obeyed when they give orders hence it is thought that they take revenge or punish the offenders. In this case its man who provokes the living dead to act in evil ways.
It is a common belief in some African tribes and societies that, it is evil for one to be proud of his material possessions like cattle and children if they are many, since this causes God to take away the cattle and children. This belief can notably be seen among the Nuer, who have developed this to the extent of maintaining that “The worst offence is to praise a baby” for them one should refer to it as a bad thing otherwise praising it, would lead to its death. Here in this occasion the offender is not the baby but the person who praises the baby.
This African Idea seems compatible with the idea of St. Augustine who says “what makes an evil will is the man’s unmaking and desertion from God” through pride one makes himself another god or creates another god for him, pride may cause of evil to man by making him misuse his free will to make him feel as if the creator of himself and turn away from God.
Some African societies like the Ankore society, do not feel if it is possible for human beings to offend God, since God being infinite man should make an infinite act to offend Him of which it is not possible for man to perform an infinite evil act simply because he himself is a finite being. These recognize God as the final principle of order, but individuals do not offend Him nor feel guilty towards Him. The same belief that God has no influence upon the people’s moral values is also held among the Azande, Akan, Swazi, Banyarwanda.
Africans also hold that “something is evil not because of its intrinsic nature but by the virtue of who does it, to whom and from which level of status” in human relations there is a much emphasis on the hierarchy which is partly based on the age and status, this hierarchy forms a ladder like structure with God at the top and the youngest child at the bottom, beneath God are the spirits and the living dead, and among human beings are the Kings, Rulers, rain makers, priests, diviners, medicine-men, elders in the household, parents, older brothers and sisters and finally the youngest members of the community. Authority increases from the lowest to the highest being.
Usually offences are committed following the principle of hierarchy, this principle maintains that; “As a rule, a person of a lower rank, status or age commits an offence against another person or being of higher rank or age.” Therefore by following this principle, offence gains more gravity as one gets up or ascends the ladder of hierarchy, the offence is most serious when done against the patriarchs, matriarchs, kings or other noble men. One may also offend one of the same status but never can one of higher status offend one of the lower status. For them what’s evil functions from the lower to higher level. So to say, if the witch for example bewitches a child this act places her in a lower level than the child.
Following this line of thought the spirits do not offend against men, the living dead do not offend against men, the king or ruler do not offend against his subjects, the elder of the village do not offend against those who are younger or under him, and parents do not offend against their children. If it happens that parents do harm to their children it is not children who are to experience it as an offence because, parents being of higher status they cannot do evil to the children who are in the lower status, on the other hand it is the elders of the clan and other people of higher status than parents, who are to sense it as evil, because something is evil if it is harmfully done to those of the higher status than that of the doer.
- Evil stems in the passion
In his dialogue with Evodius, St. Augustine maintains that a law is not the basis for justification of an evil but rather evil is the basis for justification of the law. “Adultery is not wrong just because law forbids it; rather, the law forbids it because it is evil.”
“Augustine: Why do you think adultery is wrong? Suppose a pagan asks you.
Evodius: It is wrong because I would not tolerate it done to my own wife.
Augustine: What if one offers his own wife to another man is it not wrong?
Evodius: It is wrong
Augustine: Then tell me why adultery is wrong?
Evodius: Because I have seen many condemned in that crime.
Augustine: have you not seen also that many are condemned guiltless, think of Jesus and many other martyrs, then, look another reason.
Evodius: I can’t find the reason.
Augustine: the reason behind is passion, it is passion that is evil in adultery; If one has passion to commit adultery with one’s wife but there is no opportunity, he is no less guilty than if he were caught in the act.
Evodius: it is now clear that passion is the ruling factor behind every kind of wrong doing”
St Augustine takes passion the same as desire, therefore desire is the other name for passion. He tries to distinguish desire from fear, for him, one can commit evil, as it is for the case of killing, that one can kill another out of desire to grab his properties and another person can kill another out of fear that he might harm him. Here the one who kills another out of desire is sinful while the one who kills another out of fear is not sinful. Simply because the one who kills out of fear desires to live without fear and life without fear is something good hence no one can become sinful by doing what is good.
Furthermore, he gives a caution that doing things out of fear as it is for killing, incorporates people who are good as well as those who are evil. For example, if a slave kills his master out of fear because he treats him oppressively, he will quite be sinning because he had another alternative of reacting. But by killing him it simply shows that apart from desiring to live the life without fear, there is another hidden desire to enjoy the cake in the master’s house hence he doesn’t want to go away, thus he wants life without fear but in the master’s house and not outside. To answer this St. Augustine says that, reaction out of fear includes people who are good as well as evil and they differ in their ways of reacting, while the good one reacts by shifting his love from what cannot be possessed without fear to what can be possessed without fear; the evil one reacts by cutting down all hindrances which prevents him from attaining the goal.
“If someone kills a man out of desire to gain possession of something he is doing evil. But if someone kills a man because he fears that some evil may befall him he is not doing evil. Because whoever kills a man out of fear, certainly desires to live free of fear and whoever desires to live a life free of fear, he certainly desires good and consequently the desire is not blameworthy, otherwise we shall be placing blame upon all those who love what is good.
When a soldier slays an enemy or when the judge executes the criminal or when by chance the deadly weapon leaves one’s hand unintentionally and thoughtlessly, these are not guilty of sin in killing man. But suppose a slave kills his master from whom was in fear of grave torture, should we not term him a murderer?
It is clear that wrong doing becomes such only by passion or desire that is blameworthy. The desire to free from fear is the characteristic not only of the good but also of evil men, the difference is only that, the good men desire it by turning their love from what cannot be possessed without fear of loss, while the evil men bent upon enjoying such things securely, they try to remove whatever hindrances stand in their way. As a result, they lead a life of crime and wickedness which should be called death rather than life.”
- Where St. Augustine Meets Africans.
The problem of evil in this stance of St. Augustine has left the Africans divided since among them there are those, who agree with him that “evil is the result of man’s misuse of free choice” and still more there are those who do not agree with him in his solution to the problem of evil, and hence they have attributed the problem of evil to some other more causes. Apart from all these many African societies say categorically that “God did not create what is evil, nor does He do them any evil whatsoever; for example,The Ila hold that God is always in the right he cannot be charged with offence” because God who is ultimately good cannot create what is evil.Since God the creator of good is absolutely good, then, the creator of evil if at all is there must be absolute evil and we don’t have such a thing which is absolutely evil because evil exists in goodness, where there is evil there is goodness, thus evil must exist in something good in which it will diminish its goodness, evil cannot exist as an independent and separate being. There is nothing which is absolutely evil because evil destroys itself by destroying completely that which is good.
By Dr. Philip Mbithi Mumo
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