A Brief Review of
Why Africa Matters.
Paperback: Orbis Books, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]
Reviewed by Laretta Benjamin.
I have always been intrigued with the continent of Africa. From the silly and false stereotyping days of Johnny Weissmuller and Tarzan (for those under 30 you’re probably asking “Who?”), to the days of “Amistad” and “Roots”, to the amazing Wildlife Parks and reserves, to the more recent developments in Rwanda and Sudan, there’s been much about Africa to think about. Africa’s incredible and breathtaking beauty, its fascinating mix of peoples and cultures, its sometimes violent and almost unbelievable history are all powerful draws to the mind, heart and imagination. Certainly there is much we can learn from all human history in all places – but I do think that maybe author is correct in thinking that in some ways there might be some particular things that can be seen and learned from the story of Africa, its history, its people, its ancient beginnings.
Having never been to Africa and having always been on the “outside looking in”, it’s easy to be armchair quarterbacks. We always should be careful in making our judgments from a point of observation and not involvement. I am reminded of the old story of the blind men and the elephant. Each blind man touches and feels a different part of the elephant and all have different conclusions as to what an elephant is like (for those who remember the story there was a wall, a rope, a trunk of a tree…the blind men never put it all together to come up with an accurate picture). I’m afraid that’s probably where I am. I’ve read about different things, different events, different parts but am unable to put it all together into one accurate picture of Africa because so many pieces are missing in my head and my heart. If you only see the present, and omit the past and all the things that shaped and fashioned a particular thing into what it is now, you miss a big part of the story. And, as the author says, “most of us see Africa through Western eyes.“ This little book was helpful in pulling some thoughts and ideas together and drawing some conclusions. The author’s perspective into some of the history, culture and ways of Africa and the changes that have taken place there were pretty incredible. The author has most certainly poured his heart and soul into this book, although I would have to admit that as one committed to the Lordship of Christ and the Kingdom of God, there were some ideas and conclusions that I found a little disturbing and could not agree with (but I think, and I could be wrong, that the author might respond by saying that I am part of the problem without realizing it). Many of his critiques of Western Christianity and the negative impact it has had on African life are right on the mark; one example being the way we have institutionalized God and Christianity, removing His presence and impact on all of life.
The author uses the term “patches” in describing the ways we have divided ourselves from each other and the ways we identify ourselves on this earth: family patches, national patches, religious patches: “Each patch being obsessed with its own piece of the planet at different stages of development” (17). We find ourselves usually in competition or at odds with those in other patches – never seeing ourselves connected with each other. This seems to be one of his foundational thoughts as he builds his case that the life and spirit of Africa can speak to some of our destructive ways. I would certainly agree that the walls we have built around ourselves and our little groups and the ways we have separated ourselves from each other have come from our sinful humanness and not God’s love.
He also speaks of the African concept of ubuntu – “a human response to one another.” It speaks of generosity, hospitality, friendliness, caring and compassion. It means sharing what we have and that my humanity is caught up and bound up in others. It means “a person is a person through other persons.” Harmony and community are the greatest good. (32)
The author begins by using the symbolism of the Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse as a way to share with us his perspective on five things he believes are destroying our lives – things He believes Africa can help us address: religion, economics, politics, ecology and the media culture. He addresses each of these issues very fully and completely throughout his writing, and again, many of his thoughts, I believe, are right on. The systems of the world are oppressive, self-serving and enslaving.
It seems that within the author’s perspective is the idea that it doesn’t matter how “earthlings” come together as long as we come together. Our survival as “earthlings” on this planet is the most important thing. The purposes and mission of our Creator don’t seem to be considered. Of course I think I could hear the author saying to me “who determines that?” Should the author be reading this and I have misunderstood his words, I certainly make my apologies and welcome his correction.
I do believe that God’s love builds bridges and not walls. We as God’s people have failed miserably in that area. I do believe that if we would love God and our neighbors as ourselves that many things would begin to fall into place in our world. Things aren’t always as complicated as they appear. I do believe the wisdom of God is sufficient for every issue and problem facing this earth. I do believe God is building His kingdom – a kingdom here but not fully here, coming but not yet fully come. “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” Jesus established it (the kingdom of heaven is at hand). What the ultimate end will be and look like, I do not pretend to know. I do think Africa is an incredible creation of God and there is much the world can learn from its history and its culture of community and connectedness with each other and the world around them – Africa could probably speak volumes to West’s incredible individualism and consumerism that has led to a host of problems.
The author speaks about liberation and freedom from all the systems that enslave us – including religious systems. I agree humanity is an enslaved entity. I agree that the much of religion we have created ourselves and it is enslaving. I do not think that humanity can free itself because we are the problem. Human history has repeatedly shown that to be true. The only true freedom comes in Christ and the gospel.
Whether you agree with everything in this book or not , Mayson makes some good points and has some good insights into our world and its struggles. Unless I am misunderstanding him, however, I do not agree with his conclusion:
“We have discovered that Earthlings do not have to adhere to any specific beliefs about God or become this or that sort of Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, or agnostic in order to believe in the spiritual vitality of Earthlings. Theology can launch humanity into spiritual adulthood with a new vision that chases away the Five Horsemen of the Apocalypse with hope for humanity. People are relearning how to be Earthlings together without laying down any requirements about religion. The real treasures of what you believe or do not believe about a supreme being or heaven, or your ancestors or your guru can be taken into this transformed awareness of what life is about” (185).
I guess that means it doesn’t matter what you believe as long as you sincerely believe it and it somehow contributes to the good of humanity?