A Philosophical Examination Of The Nigerian Religious Experience In The Light Of Andre Godin’s Ideas
The purpose of this paper is to examine the nature of the Nigerian Christian religious experience so as to see how it can enhance the worship of God by Christians in Nigeria. André Godin posited experience of the ‘other’ in the arena of faith, as the peak of all religious experiences. We then take a look at Nigerian Christians’ religious experience. We find out that this is a case for a re-direction and rechanneling of our religious objectives in such a way that they, though anthropocentric, do not anchor on the mundane, the finite, but on the metaphysical, the infinite – on God.
Majority of the humans in the world are born into one religion or the other. The environment in which we live is densely religious. As a result, one starts to hear, see and touch things about God very early in life. In the market, on the road, even in drinking houses you see and hear people talk about God. Even when you are in your house a loud speaker is at your window telling you about God.
As a child, and a Christian, you look at a corner of your sitting room and see an altar set up by your parents for the worship of God. Every morning you are disturbed from an early morning dose of sleep in order to say the morning prayers. In the school, before you settle for studies, you are confronted with a session of prayers.
These are what we call religious encounters, the conscious assimilation of which becomes our experience – religious experience. We start having these experiences very early in life, and as we grow up we internalize the one that appealed to us. This will be our religious affiliation. But the question rests on the possibility and texture or quality of this experience. Its all about whether these encounters are necessarily qualified to be called an experience and how we can come to that. Is religious experience possible? How do we encounter God? Can we encounter God directly with or without the religious experiences? What is the nature of the Nigerian religious experience? Is it possible to encounter God in the country’s religious atmosphere? What are the factors that underlie the Nigerians’ religious attitude? These questions summarize what we shall discuss in this essay.
Andre Godin, in his book, The Psychological Dynamics Of Religious Experience, gave a psychological insight to these issues. He pointed out the different aspects and dynamics of religious experience. In a very profound manner, he tried to show how they could lead one to or away from the profound reality of the individual which he referred to as the experience of God.
Mine is a philosophical exposition of this view, in relation to the religious experience in Nigeria (particularly Christian). Bringing out its relevance to Christians here in Nigeria, I will then make a leap, in a way of remark, to the way forward – from functional religion to the experience of God.
The first chapter is the introduction. The second chapter examines the notion and dynamics of religious experience, as was posited by Andre Godin. Chapter three is devoted to a philosophical analysis of the Nigerian religious experience (Christian perspective), in relation to the ideas of Andre Godin. Chapter four is an effort to reconcile the experience of God with the end of religion. In this chapter also we shall evaluate the whole essay.
1.1 Statement of the Problem
The word “experience” is very diversified. Often times we hear people talk about their religious experiences. And as each day passes we encounter people with one or more experiences, which can qualify to be called religious.
From the sharing in the public transports, market places, to the activities at the revival and crusade grounds, people have stories to tell about their experiences. Most times, these issues are made more confusing and complicated by the outward signs and changes (both physical and psychological) the persons exhibit. A “rough” man who had been a drunkard and a smoker now appears more sober and responsible. A girl who had been reckless and wayward suddenly becomes more modest and “religious”.
Consequently, one begins to wonder what these changes are all about. The questions now would be, “what brought about these changes?” what are they for? What motivated these people or what still motivates them?
It may be a motivation born out of a desire to see a wish fulfilled (functional religion), or a longing to meet, to encounter the otherness of God (experience of God). Then what could be said of the Nigerian Christian community with regards to this?
1.2 Purpose of the Study
The fact of the existence of religion is so obvious that any rational being can hardly ignore it. Its effects in the society are so conspicuous that it becomes odd and irrational to question its pervading presence. History is replete with the impact of religion in the life of people and the society at large. This fact is reiterated by Omoregbe when he affirmed that, “there is no other phenomenon which moulds and controls man’s life as much as religion does.” It has both sociological and psychological implications such that religious belief can have such a firm grip on people’s life as to impart a permanent change on them.
This is what Godin took up and explored. In his book The Dynamics Of Religious Experience, he tried to bring out clearly, from a psychological point of view, the motive behind those impacts and changes, which religion could have on people’s lives.
The concern of this study is to examine the dynamics of religious experience as posited by Andre Godin. Then we take a look at the nature of the Nigerian Christian religious experience so as to see how it can enhance the worship of God by Christians in Nigeria.
1.3 Scope of the Study
Having said already that the concern of this essay is an examination of the Nigerian religious experience in relation to Andre Godin’s ideas on religiousExperience, it is pertinent, therefore, that we limit ourselves to Andre Godin’s view of religious experience and some other related, relevant themes. Other authors will be introduced when necessary.
The first and major method we shall adopt in this work is expository. In the second chapter, we shall use it to explore Godin’s view on religious experience. This will help in a comprehensive understanding of his argument. Then again, we shall as well employ it in the third chapter to view the dynamics and nature of the Nigerian Christian religious experience.
Secondly, we shall adopt the method of critical analysis. This we shall use in the last chapter to make a philosophical evaluation and justification of the ideas presented in the course of the work.
Evaluation and Conclution
All the while we have been exploring and exposing the ideas of André Godin as well as the Nigerian religious experience. It is pertinent, now, to make some evaluation so as to be able to take a stand. First of all, I will critically evaluate Godin’s view with what I have already mentioned about the Nigerian religious experience. Secondly, I will establish a standpoint in form of a conclusion of all I have been writing.
Having examined André Godin’s dynamics of religious experience, we found out that he posited experience of the ‘other’ in the arena of faith, as the peak of all religious experiences. This is not disputable. However, the confusion lies in his qualification of it as the experience of God. Now the question is, which God? When you talk about God you must know that different peoples conceive the concept of God differently; the Christians have their own conception of God, the Moslems have their own as well as the Confucians. There are even some religions, like Hinduism, which are said to have no god as their reference point. This is the more reason why William James’ definition is very important. He used ‘something divine’ instead of God, considering the controversial nature of the word ‘God’.
Nevertheless, one could not fail to see the Christian stand point from which he (Godin) wrote. But using the Christian God to mark the dynamics, which underlie every religious experience, makes useless and irrelevant the experience of those who conceive God differently, especially those who do not conceive him metaphysically. The Christian God is a metaphysical God. So what it means is that if one does not encounter the metaphysical being, one does not have the meaning, which is sought in the religious encounter of God. However, this is not the case because even the Hindus (who are said not have a metaphysical God as their reference point) derive meaning in their religion.
Again the way Godin painted the whole picture of functional religiosity appears to be keeping the institutional religions, somehow, in the black. It was as if the issue of animism or functionality in religion only arises as a result of their teachings. That may be part of the cause but not the whole truth, especially in the case of Nigeria. That is why I dedicated the second part of the 3rd chapter of this work to eliciting some of the reasons why there is the tendency towards interventionism.
This will also help in understanding the purpose of this work, which is to examine the nature of Nigeria’s religious experience so as to make for a genuine, more authentic experience of God in our religious worship. It is often said that the knowledge of the cause of a problem is about half of its solution. So I believe as well that the awareness of the above enumerated existential, cultural and psychological reasons or causes will go a long way in enhancing the solution to interventionism, which I see as the bedrock of all the mischief found in our religious worship today.
Another point that needs to be redressed is the functionality of region. He seems to disagree with the fact that religion is intrinsically functional. For the fact that religion is a conscious search for meaning in the metaphysical being brigs out the functional background of religion. The search for meaning is a search for something, a quest for self-fulfillment. In other words, the very foundation of religion is functional – a quest for some satisfaction in man. Hence Omoregbe puts it that ‘theology itself is also basically anthropocentric, for… it talks about God only in so far as he relates to man, his well-being and salvation”.1
On this standpoint, it then means that the experience of some people in Nigeria can be genuinely called experience of God. Whether they seek for personal fulfillment or not does not matter. What matters is that they seek such in a being that transcends space and time and this realization is capable of making a permanent change in their lives, giving it both meaning and direction.
The experience of God is the end of religion. Man is in constant quest for meaning, but the mundane things under the limits of time and space cannot proffer the satisfaction required in this quest. Therefore man transcends himself, transcends his environment to embrace the metaphysical. However, this recourse to the metaphysical is what Andre Godin refers to as the “experience of God”.
As a religious experience, it is always had in relation to faith, faith in the metaphysical God. But this metaphysical being, God, as it were, cannot be encountered directly and immediately. There is always a mediator. There is always a pre-history to it. Before you can talk of the experience of God, you must have conceived that God, somewhere, somehow. In other words, this experience has a long prehistory and this pre-history must be found in the context of faith. This is where the institutional religions come in. Every individual is born into one context of religious faith or the other. It is in this context that he will have his experience and his ability to experience God there depends on the solution of self-transcendence available to him there. If the religion is applying the egocentric horizontal solution, then that person’s experience remains on the functional level, and his experience remains immature. But if the individual is able to cultivate, from his religious background, the metaphysical theocentric solution, he is more likely to arrive at a full experience of God.
However, in this write up, in order to arrive at a full experience of God, we are not trying, to paint the institutional religions black, neither are we trying to cancel religious experiences not even to reject completely the issue of functionality of religion. The experience of God cannot be had in a vacuum; it must be had in the context of faith, and in the way we have conceived God in our experience in that context. More so, every religion is intrinsically functional to the extent that it is a quest for some fulfilment. C. Okeke also expressed this view on this particular point when he wrote:
In Nigeria, from one account of conversion to the other, we hear the same thing: “God did this for me, and he can do the same for you” which should not be discredited…2.
Therefore, the functional aspect of religion is not to be entirely rejected and obliterated. What we are establishing here is a case for a re-direction and re-channeling of our religious objectives in such a way that they, though anthropocentric, do not anchor on the mundane, the finite, but on the metaphysical, the infinite – on God.
Consequently, the experience of God would be readily available in Nigeria when our (religious) leaders channel their own goals of self-transcendence towards the metaphysical, and then, lead others to do so.
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