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Enseignements catholiques

L'expérience et l'intelligence de la foi

I am Beninese but Vodún is not my culture

Publié par Adéchina Samson Takpé sur 18 Octobre 2022, 16:39pm

Catégories : #African culture(s), #African religions, #African philosophy, #African theology, #Voodoo, #Vodún, #Renewal of Africa

In recent years, there has been a movement for a return to African cultures. In Benin, this return is understood by some as a "return to Vodún“, because we would be of Vodún culture or Vodún would be our culture. In my opinion, this is an abuse of language, because Vodún is a set of cults based on a certain vision of the world. And not everyone who shares this worldview necessarily shares the Vodún religion. On the contrary, this worldview can accommodate any religion, as is the case here. Thus, there are Beninese who are Christians or Muslims, having integrated the Christian or Muslim faith into this worldview, which is generally referred to as 'dialectical panentheism'. This worldview asserts that God is greater than the universe, but that the universe is contained within God, even though He is distinct from it, that the divine interpenetrates the universe and at the same time deploys himself beyond it. The proof that one can share this worldview without being a follower of Vodún is that the person who officially supported the doctrine of panentheism and forged the concept is not a follower of Vodún or a Beninese or even an African, but a German philosopher named Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, in his work "Vorlesungen über das System der Philosophie" (1828). Moreover, the epithet "dialectical" should be noted, because in pure panentheism, God is not seen as the creator, but rather as the eternal force that animates the universe. In the worldview underlying Vodún, however, God is indeed the Creator. But this dialectical panentheism and the other aspects that derive from it (monotheism, vitalism, cosmic-theandric spirituality, spirit worship, ancestor worship, etc.) are not exclusive to Vodún and therefore do not imply Vodún membership.

 I was born into a Christian family that communicated to me the Catholic faith integrated into a worldview similar to the one described above. The discovery of the traditional African religions existing in our environment came much later, religions that worship deities such as Ògú, Shàànkponnon, Abúlúsí, etc. I heard the name 'Vodún' during my seminary formation and understood it to mean a form of endogenous religion in the south of the country. With research, I came to understand that the term was used as an umbrella: Vodún as culture or cult or philosophy or medicine or art or knowledge or tradition, etc. Vodún is all these things put together in an inseparable way because our people, and therefore also the people of southern Benin, do not understand 'Vodún' or 'Òrìshà' without its religious dimension. Vodún cannot therefore be considered, without its religious dimension, only as a culture or as a philosophy or as an art, etc. This would be speculation and abstraction, an abstraction that would have nothing to do with the reality or the concrete experience of our peoples. The words Vodún and Òrìshà and the realities they designate have intrinsically a religious connotation. If therefore Vodún, like other endogenous religions, is understood by our peoples as a religion or religious heritage, why would we want to attribute this religion to those who do not profess it or this religious heritage to those who have not received it? I am neither of Vodún nor Òrìshà culture. Even the alibi that we (Beninese or Africans) share the same worldview remains a confusing generalisation. For: 1) can someone who was born into a Catholic Christian family, baptised the next day into the same faith, and grew up and was educated there, really have the same worldview as someone who was born and raised in a Vodún family? 2) can people who have adhered - if sincerely - to religions based on different worldviews really still have the same worldview when there is a big difference between the two religious systems? 3) If we do not worship the same God (Christians worship the Trinity-God, others do not), if our conception of the relationship to the other is not the same (the Christian religion's insistence on love of the enemy is unparalleled), if we do not defend the same ethics or morality, if we do not have the same eschatology, are we really in the "same worldview" with such substantial differences?

In my opinion, the return to African cultures, which should not be a counterproductive work of archaeology, if such a return is to unite us, cannot be a "return to Vodún" but a "dialogue with Vodún" based on the virtues it recognises and promotes.  According to Barthélémy Zinzindohoué (2016, p.49), “the virtues of sincerity, honesty, fidelity to one's word, the sense of the sacred, respect for the state of consecrated life (…) the respect due to things and people to whom one owes respect, the price attached to the lives to be safeguarded, the aspiration to a life lived in plenitude and, in short, the mystique of radical obedience to the 'laws of life', are all values strongly supported by the religion and ethics of Vodún" and which can unite us for a sincere and edifying dialogue.

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