From the book: Freedom In Our Life Time by Anton Muziwakhe Lembede
24. A. M. LEMBEDE, "African National Congress and Churches," Umteteli wa Bantu, 29 July 1944.
In their spiritual make-up, the Africans exhibit indications of striking affinity to the people of the Orient, i.e., Asiatics. Africans are a deeply religious people. To them the doctrines of Christ, Mahomed, Buddha, Confucius, do not sound strange, queer or foreign. This explains our eager and ready acceptance and adoption of Christianity. It is a deplorable distortion of facts to say that Africans did not know God before the advent of the Europeans to this country.
By adopting Christianity we have not suddenly discovered a new God; what has happened is that our old conception of Deity has become clearer and better defined.
Our religious feeling is to be treasured as of supreme value in our national struggle, because, like the Israelites of old, we shall achieve national consolidation and progress only when we become conscious of our divine mission and destiny.
This consciousness has already revealed itself in the African National Congress. Most African churches have tgiven their wholehearted support to the Congress. As a matter of fact many oustanding Congress leaders have been ministers of religion, e.g., Rev. Mr. Dube,”Š45”‰Rev. Mr. Mahabane"”Š46”‰and many others.
Even today, in our Transvaal African National Congress, we have Revs. Mookie"”Š47”‰sic Tema,”Š48”‰Tantsi'”Š49and others. The African National Congress and the African Churches are inseparable. But today there is a great danger looming large on the far-off horizon. A hundred and one political parties are springing up like mushrooms. Some of these parties want to exploit the Africans’religious feeling for party purposes.
The Africans must be on the qui vive; they must watch carefully and resist these tendencies. Our religious feeling is a treasure of our souls; we have received it from our ancestors and we are constrained and in duty bound to pass it on, untarnished, to the coming generations.
25.A. M. LEMBEDE, "The Conception of God as Expounded by or as it Emerges from the Writings of Great Philosophers””From Descartes to the Present Day," M.A. Thesis, 1945. University of South Africa.
In 1943 Lembede registered for a M.A. thesis in Philosophy at the University of South Africa. His fifty-two page thesis, accepted in 1945, traced the concept of God from the Greek philosophers to modern philosophers such as Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Hume, Kant, Hegel, and William James. We have excerpted portions of his thesis that reflect his personal thinking on religion.
Chapter IX: Science on the offensive
"We thus arrive at the paradoxical conception of God as a gaseous vertebrate." ”” Haeckel
"Religion is the opium of the people."”” Karl Marx
At this stage it appears proper and fitting that we make a short pause and cast our glance aside and cursorily and briefly examine the influence of Science on the conception of God, especially because scientific ideas and outlooks permeate, to a very great extent, the speculation of modern philosophers.
Science tends to create or encourage a materialistic "weltaanschauung." We observe this phenomenon, for instance, in ancient Greece during the time of Democritus and other Greek scientists. We notice the same also with Hobbes in the 16th century and with the Encyclopedists in the 17th and 18th centuries. It is also the case with modern scientists. Hence science is often interpreted as being antireligious or atheistic. The devastating attack of science on religion is directed on or aimed at a personal God or anthropomorphic deity. It dismisses religion based on such a god, as a superstition, a myth, a relic or vestige of our primitive and barbaric past. It may be stated also that an attack on the human spirit or soul; or a materialistic interpretation thereof, has far-reaching repercussions in religion and the conception of God. Let us support our proposition by reference to some specific sciences.
(a)The Influence of Biology.
Charles Darwin (1817-1882.) is generally regarded as the founder of modern evolutionist Biology. In his study of plants and animals, Darwin was struck by the fact that in the whole world not two leaves or plants are the same or perfectly similar in structure, no two flowers, no two animals, no two human beings. Again, in nature, we find several species of plants or animals belonging to the same genus. To the genus man, for instance, belong Chinese, Africans, Europeans, and so on; in the same way, there are several species of maize, wheat, birds, cattle and so forth.
Before the time of Darwin it was generally believed that such species had been separately created by God. Darwin set out to disprove this theory of separate creation of species. He pointed out that every individual or species possesses some variations which distinguish that individual or species from every other individual or species; and that these variations are beneficial to the possessor as they enable it to adapt itself to the environment and thus to survive in the struggle for existence against other individuals which do not possess those particular variations. The latter perish or are exterminated. Now these beneficial variations are, according to the principle of heredity, passed from generation to generation and become more accentuated in each generation. This is the theory of natural selection, by which new individuals and new species are evolved. Man himself has been evolved from lower animals by the same process. It is here where Darwin's theory becomes diametrically opposed to the biblical story of creation as narrated in, the Book of Genesis. Darwin's theory dismisses the idea of God who is a direct creator of plants, animals and man.
Haeckel (1899), basing his arguments on the theory of evolution,traces the gradual historical evolution of the human soul from the animal soul. He then goes on to denounce the anthropomorphic conception of God and points out that the personal anthropomorphism of God has become so natural to the majority of believers that they experience no shock when they find God personified in human form, in picture and statue and in the varied images of the poet in which God takes human form ”” that is, changed into a vertebrate. Although God is conceived as an immaterial spirit, yet He is not conceived to be incorporeal but merely invisible, gaseous.
(b)The Influence of Chemistry
Dr. Broad in his book "The Mind and Its Place in Nature" (published 1937) elaborates an interpretation of the human soul in terms or after the analogy of chemical compounds. If, for instance, one mixes hydrogen and oxygen in a certain proportion a chemical compound called water results. By the knowledge of hydrogen alone or oxygen alone no one could predict the fact that if these two elements are mixed in a certain proportion, the compound would be water. , This can only be known or learnt after it has taken place.
After water emerges from a certain mixture of hydrogen and oxygen, in a similar manner the human soul emerges from the chemical mixture of elements in the human body and brain. From the observation of the elements alone, no one could know that their mixture or combination in a certain manner would result in the formation or emergence of the human soul. ". . . The characteristic behaviour of the whole could not even in theory be deduced from the most complete knowledge of the behaviour of its components taken separately or in other combinations and of their proportions and arrangements in this whole.
If the soul of man is an emergent from or a compound of chemical elements, then obviously the idea of a God who created a man and breathed the soul into his nostrils ”” in other words a personal God and Creator ”” becomes superfluous. There is no place for such a god.
(c)Marxism, Karl Marx (1818 -1885) sought to explain the human soul and the economic institutions in materialistic terms. To him, the basic or fundamental reality is matter. Spirit or soul is a product of matter. "The material, sensuously perceptible world to which we belong, is the only reality. Our consciousness and thinking, however, supra sensuous as they may seem, are the product of mind, but mind itself is merely the highest product of matter."** Lenin says, "The world itself is merely the highest product of how matter moves and of how matterthinks."
The origins of religion and the belief in the gods is ascribable to two sources. Firstly, "fear created the gods." ”” the fear of the my sterious and apparently inscrutable and awe-inspiring forces and phenomena of Nature around us and the fear of death.
Secondly, religion is the instrument by which the well-to-do, privileged class (capitalists) lull to sleep and keep in subjection the lower exploited class (proletariat) in that religion teaches the proletariat to acquiesce in and be satisfied with its lot of toiling, misery, and dire poverty, with the hope of finding happiness and inheriting life everlasting in a legendary or mythical heaven. Religion is thus applied on the oppressed masses as a drug, an intoxicant, an opium. Marx exclaims: "Religion is the opium of the people" and Lenin adds: "This postulate is the cornerstone of the whole philosophy of marxism with regard to religion."* "No amount of reading matter, however enlightened, will eradicate religion from those masses who are crushed by the grinding toil of capitalism and subjected to the blind, destructive forces of capitalism until the masses themselves learn to fight against the social facts from which religion arises in a united disciplined, planned and conscious manner ”” until they learn to fight against the rule of capitalists in all its forms."** According to this theory, God is merely a complex of ideas engendered by the ignorance of mankind and by its subjection firstly beneath the forces of nature, and secondly, by class oppression. By spreading and disseminating scientific knowledge among the masses and by abolishing social classes, religion and belief in the gods will automatically disappear.
Dr. Diederichs criticises this conception of God and religion and points out that it deplorably overlooks another source of religion or belief, namely, the problem of human suffering which cannot be re- moved, abolished, or done away with, even in an ideal classless society. "Wat die Kommunis oor die hoof sien is die bronne van lyding wat in die individu alleen gelee is asook sulkes wat tot die wese van aile eindigheid behoort. Sal in die kommunistiese samelewing nie meer so lets bestaan as siekte en dood nie, sal daar meer so lets wees as sielesmart, gewetenswroeging nie?"
we can express our gratitude for our joy, hilarity, and mirth. "Behalwe die weg van lyding, is daar nog n' ander weg wat tot God voer nl. die weg van ons vreugde en van ons dankbaarheid."
We may also add, and draw attention to, the words of the poet Guido Geselle:”Š50
"Daar huivert on ””
In 's menschen merg en midden, ””
De ziele haalt,
Dat knielen doet en bidden."
Chapter XII - Conclusion
"Rock of ages cleft for me." ”” Hymn
"Per omnia saecula saeculorum."”” Latin Prayer
I have now come to the end of my cursory survey of the ideas of great philosophers, from Descartes to the present day. Of course, I have selected only those ideas which to my mind illustrate or elucidate the conception of God according to the philosophical systems of different philosophers.
It should be mentioned, that several philosophers are omitted ”” not because they are unimportant or because there is nothing about God expressly stated or implied in their writings ”” but because there are so many philosophers that, to include them all, would perhaps make this dissertation undesirably long. I have, for instance, omitted Bertrand Russell who seems to find ultimate reality in the laws of pure logic and mathematics ”” laws which are valid and operate throughout the universe.
No mention also has been made about the philosopher Nietzsche who dismisses Christianity as slave-morality and holds that Power or the will to power is the ultimate reality or God.
Two propositions have been established. Firstly, that the growth and spread of knowledge and science is incompatible with or subversive of the personal or anthropomorphic conception of god. History repeats itself. What happened in ancient Greece is again taking place in the modern world. It is not necessary to elaborate this point any further as the preceding Chapters have made it clear and plain.
The second proposition is this, that practically all philosophers we have studied do not, in reality and in fact, deny the existence of God. They only differ as to the conception of God. The fierce strife among them is not raging on the existence of God, but on His essence. His qualities and attributes ”” on who He is; on the "What" of God and not on His "that," to borrow two words from Bradley. To Descartes God is a perfect spiritual being; to Spinoza, an all-inclusive universal substance; to Leibniz, a supreme spiritual monad; to Berkeley, an active creative spirit; to Kant, a guarantee of our happiness, freedom, and immortality; to Hegel, an all-inclusive Absolute; to Karl Marx, material economic progress; to Alexander, the whole universe in the process of creating deity, and so on.
The conflict between Religion and Science can be resolved. Religion and Science are not irreconcilably opposed to each other. Religion should remember that as the human mind progresses and explores uncharted regions of knowledge, human ideas are born, mature and "senesce." So that to keep up with the times, religion must be constantly brushing aside or discarding its old antiquated ideas, practices and crudities which belonged to the infant stage of the human race. Science, on the other hand, must refrain from its usual wild, dogmatic assertions about those things which we do not as yet clearly and distinctly perceive and conceive.
Epilogue God as the self-realisation of the evolving universe
"The consciousness of the divine may come to us as the law or direction of our life ”” the nisus of our historic and individual striving; the nisus . . . towards the highest level which we call God."”” Boodin
"The more deeply harmonised are a man's faculties of feeling and thought, the finer and more fundamental are his powers of achieving contact with reality."””Fausset
"Reality then ... is truly known to be a connected and self-cons is tent, or internally coherent system.",”” Taylor
After studying the God-idea as expounded by several great philosophers, I think I should, with modesty, state my own view ”” with modesty because "fools rush in where angels fear to tread."
God may be conceived, not as a person or thing; or as a perfect and already existing being, but as a state towards which the whole universe is gradually moving. This state is an absolute harmony of all the elements of the universe. The progressive movement is a gradual achievement of greater and greater harmony.
We know from our own human nature that things which give us the true and enduring pleasure or happiness are those which display or manifest the characteristic of being harmonious constituted, as witness the objects of art ”” a statue, a song, a poem.
The value of a great scientific idea or invention lies in this, that it brings about harmony in things or between things and ourselves, in the place of previously existing discord, disharmony and confusion.
I deeply admire the Christian "hypothesis" which has, for about two thousand years, helped to create harmony between man and his environment ”” material and human, for, it tells us that there is God who created heaven and earth and all that is therein ”” the ant, the lion, tree, sun, man, and all other existents. It teaches that God loves us. He forgives us our trespasses; that our souls emanated from Him and are immortal; that after death we shall live in eternal happiness with God in heaven if we have been good here on earth. These ideas give to ordinary men and women rest and satisfaction; they enable us to go on with our daily work and routine without worrying as to what all these things around us mean. I think all religions ”” primitive and modern ”” are an attempt to create harmony between man and the world, for in the long run we can only rest and experience satisfaction in harmony.
God is a state of harmony which the world is in process of realising. The highest achievement of this cosmic process is, so far, the evolution of man who is the best specimen we have, of the universal or absolute harmony, still to be achieved. There is harmony between human mind and body. Man's great task is to shape, mould, and render harmonious the elements or parts of the universe.
Science is concerned mainly with knowledge: religion, with feeling. Science and religion can be harmonised by right action. Now the perfect harmony of religion, science, and right action, can only be realised in the Absolute Harmony ”” God. Today these three entities are still far from being harmonised. We have knowledge, but we misapply it because we do not possess the right feeling. Sometimes we have the right feeling and true knowledge, but we lack power to act rightly, we lack will power.
The existence of matter or material objects as opposed to, or apart and separate from, mind, is due to our failure, so far, to create harmony in the world. Hence there arises the discord between mind and matter ”” the latter being the not yet assimilated part of the universe. The discord also between knowledge, feeling, and willing, or between science and religion, is traceable to the same cause, so that the conquest of matter by mind, as, for instance, in the annihilation of distance by trains, aeroplanes, radio, television; and the development and refinement of human feeling by higher and more sublime forms of religion and ethics and the right powerful action to create harmony ”” this is our highest calling.
A true system of philosophy, to my mind, must account for and explain all aspects of human nature. A philosophy which lays stress on either the cognitive or sentimental or volitional aspect to the neglect or exclusion of other aspects; or a philosophy which regards man as merely and purely cognitive and ignores or overlooks the volitional and affective aspects of human nature or pretends that these aspects are non-existent ”” such a philosophy, in my opinion, is deficient and inadequate. In man there is something of a blind force and the feeling of longing and yearning for something higher and better than ourselves.
Our great values, namely, truth, goodness, and beauty ”” themselves forms of harmony and ultimately one and single harmony ”” are, as it were, beacons pointing for us the way to Absolute Harmony”” God.
26. A. M. LEMBEDE, "African Nationalism and the Christian Church," ilanga lase Natal," 22. September 1945.
Africans are essentially a spiritual and religious people. They believe in the spiritual reality which is the foundation beneath the material phenomena of the visible world. Even in their old ancestor worship, Africans fanatically believed in the community and communion of the living and the dead. In other words they believed in the immortality of the human soul.
In their spiritualism, Africans exhibit striking affinity to the people of the East. The ascetic and mystical religious life of a Christ, a Buddha, a Confucius, a Hindu saint, a Japanese saint do not sound strange to the African.
Obviously, the materialism ”” the doctrine that matter is the fundamental essence the fons et origo, of the Cosmos and that spirit is merely a superfluous by-product of matter ”” will never be accepted or adopted by the majority of the African people.
We need Christianity for its sublime and lofty ethical values. Morality is the soul of society. Without sound morals a society must inevitably gravitate to low levels of beastly existence ”” so History teaches.
Some eminent thinkers have one-sidedly given prominence to or laid emphasis on the weaknesses, errors and imperfections of Christianity and designated it as Slave-morality "Opium of the people" etc. But to my mind, the essence of Christianity is not submissiveness, meekness, resignation to the sinister and base order of society characterised by exploitation and oppression of the underdog. No the essence of Christianity is Calvary, or the Cross ”” the ready willingness to offer and sacrifice one's life at the altar of one's own convictions, for the benefit of one's fellowmen. This is revolutionary doctrine. We should accordingly understand that the path of the Africans to their National emancipation and progress is the path of the cross and this is in many respects analogous to the path of Christ carrying the heavy cross from Pilate's Palace to Mount Calvary.
Africanism or African nationalism fully realises the importance of Christianity in our national struggle; hence African nationalism will protect defend and espouse the cause of Christianity. Correspondingly, it is the bounden duty of all African Churches to rally round the banner of African Nationalism. The church should do this for the sake of its own preservation; for there are satanic forces that have been unleashed in the world today with the malicious and malignant purpose of undermining destroying or demolishing the Christian faith and doctor.