Why Convert?

Why Convert? September 3, 2015

It’s a common complaint that Africans convert to Christianity not for high-minded religious reasons but for self-interested secular reasons. Drawing on the work of C.C. Okorocha on the Igbo, Andrew Walls disputes this way of framing the issue (The Missionary Movement in Christian History):

“Religion was always in Igboland directed to the acquisition of power; the gods were followed in as far as they provided it. So the combination of military defeat by the British, the desirable goods and capabilities in the power of the whites; and the association of all this with the power of the book now on offer to them declared the inferiority of the traditional religious channels. There was every religious reason to abandon them” (89). 

It’s a familiar style of thought: If Baal can’t send rain, why keep offering him sacrifices?

Walls offers an illuminating comparison with the conversion of Northumbria (from Bede) and the observes: “The impact on Africa of alien influences from the Western world produced an array of reasons within the traditional framework of thinking to seek for radical religious adjustment and change. The religious effects of a river dam, of a concrete building constructed over the abode of the water spirit, of an exodus of young men to work for cash, of a virus caught from incomers for which the local society has no immunity—these things are potentially more shattering religiously than years of preaching to a stable and satisfied society. . . . when situations arise for which the tradition has no answers, the society may be in danger of disintegration unless it can find either a means of containing the invading elements or a new rule of life to act as an alternative or supplementary tradition” (90-1).

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