It may be laughable to think that Christianity may have been a factor in today’s perceived Igbo weakness. I wonder, but it could be true that the advent and wholehearted acceptance of Christianity began the downward spiral to what the Igbo society has become. The weakness could be from the abrogation of Igbo indigenous legal, education and trade systems and adoption of the Judeo-Christian systems. It could be from other reasons but let us attempt to look at the role of Christianity in Igbo weakness.
In looking at this topic, let us take some clues from Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”. In the book, Achebe described how the Igbo traditional religion and system succumbed to the introduction of Christianity to Igbo land. How the missionaries slowly but surely converted the Igbo people. There were resistances but that was not enough to stop in the tracks, the continuous evangelising and almost total adoption of the new religion.
In Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, The missionaries said, ‘We have been sent by this great God to ask you to leave your wicked ways and false gods and turn to Him so that you may be saved when you die’ It was a direct challenge to Igbo Gods and consequently Igbo people began to believe that Christianity is a solution to all their problems and thereby superior to the Igbo religion and its beliefs. Achebe continued, ‘Three converts had gone into the village and boasted openly that all the gods were dead and impotent and that they were prepared to defy them by burning all their shrines’ as the decimation of Igbo religion, culture, traditions and values began. These have remained in constant assault to near extinction.
Christianity, no doubt caused the rapid development witnessed in Igbo land but Igbo traditional systems had the potential to also evolve outside the imposition of the western systems which have continued to be in conflict with the Igbo traditional systems.
People easily grow and develop within their indigenous systems.
In Igbo land, people are often more confused to know the fellowship of choice which has caused some people to seem to be having dual religions. As the Igbo traditional religions are still in conflict with Christianity, other types of religion are being adopted that could cause more conflict and multiplicity of ideologies. Yet, within the Christian faith, there are many ideological differences which affect Igbo people in the unification of pursuits and purposes.
In the wake of the imposition of the Christian faith, the Traditional religion was roundly made outcast and invalid and inconsequential. People who identify with the Omenala as is known indigenously are often scoffed at. Some were stigmatised and made pariahs. Igbo Gods were cast out and all the negative attributes or occurrences were ascribed to them but some people may not wholly commit to the Christian God without also committing to the Omenala. Christianity would become a status religion where people seek refuge to maintain their class and be rated in the echelons having abandoned the ways of their ancestors or practising it clandestinely.
The people that matter wouldn’t easily identify with Omenala, it would be a dent on their image. Then proliferation of fraternities and Pentecostalism would create more religious fragmentation of the people.
Pentecostalism, a branch of Christianity, began to deal with the remnants of the Omenala by outrightly condemning all the Traditional institutions rendering them weak even to the extent of attacking the naturally made Igbo wine or juice; the palm wine. Palm wine was cast out for the sugar induced soft drinks which were served in occasions. Those who drank palm wine were seen as those awaiting the gates of hell.
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The weakening of the Igbo began to take root following these stigmatisations and condemnations that it became a route for many social degenerations to start.
Traditional Igbo religion abhors many things which Christianity seems to tolerate which gave people the leeway to act as pleased. The sanity, the hope for redemption and the staying away from sins as promoted by Christianity, is today eluding the people. There is near total neglect for positive social growth as many things that used to be abominations in Igbo land are today done brazenly in the belief of getting mercy and forgiveness. People are no more afraid that if they do wrong, Aja Ana – earth goddess or Amadioha will strike them down. They were presented with a God of mercy who forgives many and any type of sin. So, they go ahead to take people’s property, steal, lie, commit murder and many other social and spiritual aberrations.
In the wake of materialising the church, it has further caused Christianity to lose spirituality which was a strong component of the Omenala era.
These whittling down of Igbo spirituality and belief and adoption of vices have made the Igbo people weak. They can no longer fight the social vices, because Christianity taught them to offer the other cheek. They can no longer protect the environment and pristine biodiversity because they adopted ultra-capitalism and unbridled exploitation. They can no longer commune with nature because they have begun to adopt alien habits. They have become immoral, unsacred and unholy. They have lost their attachment to their culture and live in excessive individualism. They are losing “the role thrust upon them by history, of preserving all that is best and most noble in African culture and tradition” as Nnamdi Azikiwe stated.
It may not be solely the Christian faith making the Igbo to be weak, but the first conversion and the first intrusion into the Igbo life and systems came from Christianity. It was not also a perfect world in the times of Omenala but it brought the community together, engendered spirituality as the Igbo continued to carry out the role thrust upon them.
Today, the prowess of the Igbo has become in question. Sons and daughters of Igbo are more fearful than their known and legendary brave ancestors. Igbo people can no longer keep secrets; they have become more loud and emotional. They rather destroy what they have than sustain; from decimating their fauna and flora, to destroying their artefacts. From slowly killing their language to adopting values inimical to Igbo sustenance. From revering hard work to worshipping of money and elevation of voodooism. Yet, they marvel at those who preserve theirs. That Igbo weakness could be evident in the moral decay, abandonment of their culture and adaptation of values that will further keep Igbo weak. Even as the Western world is slowly turning their back on Christianity, the Igbo people would sit back and wait for miracles organised by preachers who revel in showmanship rather than spirituality. Ndi Igbo presently have no distinct religion that glue them together. They can easily be obliterated and forgotten. Henry van Til observed, culture is “religion externalized.”
Cheikh Anta Diop noted, “I consider culture as a rampart, which protects a people, a collectivity. Culture must, above all, play a collective role: It must ensure the cohesion of a group.”
As much as Christianity opened Igbo land up in terms of development, it also opened it up to its weakness.