Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.1A, 140-145
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
A Re-Interpretation of African Philosophical Idea of
Man and the Universe: The Yoruba Example
Michael Aina Akande
Department of Philosophy, Lagos State University, O j o, Nigeria
Received September 6th, 2012; rev ised Octo ber 8th, 2012; accepted October 23rd, 2012
The concern of this paper is to argue against Maduabuchi Dukor’s conception of African philosophical
ideas of man, universe and God as “theistic humanism”. Dukor’s submission is an anti-thesis of the
claims by many pioneer scholars in African philosophy who claimed that if Africans do not live in a reli-
gious universe perhaps one can affirm that their universe is theistic. But indeed the Africans’ perceptions
and attitude to life in their various manifestations reveal an idealistic metaphysical orientation without an
attenuation of humanistic elements. It is argued in this paper that Dukor’s philosophical idea of reality in
the African context though contributes to knowledge, it is in sharp contrast to African metaphysical theo-
ries such as Placide Temple’s theory of vital forces, Olubi Sodipo’s theory of mystical causality, Dagogo
Idoniboye’s theory of spiritism among others. Even Sophie Oluwole, who argues that the Yoruba idea of
morality is humanistic, still concludes that in moral issues the gods act as agent of sanction. In situating
the African idea of reality in context, the Yoruba example is used in this paper with a view to establishing,
contrary to Dukor’s “theistic humanism”; that reality among the Yoruba is better construed as “humanis-
tic theism”.
Keywords: African Belief; Theistic Humanism; Humanistic Theism; Yoruba
It is no news that all the continents of the world have one re-
ligious belief or the other. Most of these religious beliefs are
inadvertently tied to our views of life and the origin of the uni-
verse. It is good to note that not all religious beliefs are tied to
the idea of a supreme being, Confucianism, Buddhism, Marx-
ism, even Humanism have been labeled Godless religions.
Whether God is with us here or not, one can still ask is He
concerned with human well-being? What is his thought towards
the aspirations and desires of human beings who seem to play a
major role in the affairs of the universe? Our concern here is
whether the love of God can accommodate the love of man, or
rather whether obeying God or the gods can lead man to a suc-
cessful life of peace and harmony or whether human intellect
and experience are enough tools to solve all human problems.
Though most religions and their leaders would answer that
obedience to God or the gods would lead to good life for man
because God is both omnibenevolent and omniscient. However
most of these religious leaders do the contrary in the name of
God, their positions on various issues that concern human be-
ings have degraded man and put man in somewhat pathetic
situation, especially on issues like abortion, suicide, alms giv-
ing and war and the general notion of what goodness is. This
sparked of the religious opposition of the 20th century that led
to the pursuant of human ideals rather than theistic ideals.
Theistic Humanism to our mind, is the belief that the love of
man involves the love of God, here man dictates the value for
God to approve. While Humanistic Theism says the love of
God involves the love of man and as such God dictates the
value for man to approve. Theistic Humanism and Humanistic
Theism are therefore compatibilist approach to value judgment.
The main controversy between humanists and theists is primar-
ily ethical and epistemological as we suggested above. How
one answer the question what is the source of value? Will de-
termine where one belongs.
Those who said Theism and Humanism are contradictory see
man purely from the physical part and see God as purely a
spiritual being without the thought that humans could possess
two personalities: body and soul, physical and mental. Though
there is no finality on the issue of human personality but if hu-
man are composed of both body and soul, the human soul
would have a way communicating with other souls, which the
soul of God is one. This would afford us to know the will and
plan of God for man and the universe. Also, it is possible for
God or the gods to live by human rules, though this may raise
certain epistemological and metaphysical problems like issues
of superiority in intelligence and ability. Instead of holding to
the above position, we would rather say that it is possible for
God to approve rules made by man for man. One cannot ade-
quately discuss this issue without taking into consideration the
roles of religions and religious leaders who are supposedly
God’s representatives on earth. The various interpretations of
what God or the gods want, and what their natures are have
generated vain controversy. Their views about whether God is a
man or woman, white or black, short or tall, big or small, would
not be important here because this is subject to cultural affilia-
tion and bias. Rather we shall take the personality that is moral
and epistemic: omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, etc.,
which are mostly common in the descriptions of God in most
Maduabuchi Dukor argues in his book Theistic Humanism of
African Philosophy that though Humanism and Theism appear
contraries yet both can be true in Africa and Asian cultures. So,
it is possible, to maintain the existence of a personal God and
still believe human interests are important (2010: p. 100). The-
istic Humanism is therefore, a dualist’s explanation of the roles
of man to himself and the universe. This paper maintains this
dualist conception, but attempts to show that African philoso-
phical idea of man, universe and God is “Humanistic Theism”
rather than “Theistic Humanism”. This is so because, one, we
believe Dukor missed the essence of the controversy between
humanism and theism. Two, he misinterpreted the sort of rela-
tionship between humanism and theism. For a proper under-
standing of the issue we shall make clarification of some im-
portant concepts.
Clarification of the Concepts of
Theism and Humanism
Theism is the belief that God or a supreme being exists, who
is the maker and the controller of the universe and everything
within it. There are different variants of this belief with differ-
ent supporting arguments. This God is the reason for the as-
sumption that human beings have both a spiritual and a physi-
cal part with “a supernatural destiny” (Manuel Velaquez, 2005:
p. 279).
There are various strand of theism: Monotheism, Polytheism,
Pantheism and Panentheism. According to Spinoza, a pantheist,
God is a whole that gathers up into itself all that exists. He be-
lieves that there is only one substance, a single connected sys-
tem that is all-inclusive, and that this substance is God or Na-
ture. In such a system as Spinoza’s there is no question of
whether theism is compatible with humanism or not. (Honer,
Hunt & Okholm, 1999: p. 141) Though this idea is also mono-
theistic, it differs from traditional monotheism that severs the
relationship between the physical and the spiritual. No wonder
Dukor accuses the Western religions as responsible for the
controversy because they are traditionally monotheistic (Dukor,
2010: p. 100).
Humanism is a philosophy that is man centred. In humanism
God is replaced by man. Though there are different definitions
and perspectives to humanism, however, the common denomi-
nation is that man is “a source or center of values.” (Honer,
Hunt, & Okholm, 1999: p. 145). This Protagorean saying that,
“man is the measure of all things…” motivates early humanists
to seek refuge in the capacity and intelligence of man in solving
their immediate and remote problems (flood, earthquake,
drought, famine and moral).
The opposition between early humanists and theists cannot
be separated from the activities of church fathers and religious
priests in sacrificing man and his aspirations on the altar of
religious injunctions and beliefs. This opposition has led to a
new form of religious approach known as Religious Humanism,
which can be separated from Theistic Humanism. Also, the
roles of modern science and technology that show-cased the
efforts of human beings to unravel mysteries and create condu-
cive atmosphere for good life, created early form of humanism
called secular Humanism.
However, the controversy between Humanism and Theism is
the question of whose interest or value should be paramount?
Theism answers that God and Humanism says Man. It is the
resolve of this paper that a merger or middle point is possible,
that is one can provide a synthesis between this contraries;
where both interests can be achieved.
Why Is There a Relationship between
Man and God?
A quick look at African cosmology and the myths of creation
painted a beginning when men and God were together but be-
cause of the attitude of man to assert himself against God’s
instructions, God separated himself from the earth to avoid
man’s disturbance. When God retires to a distant place in
heaven, the onus is on man to care for himself and the universe
which he inhabits. This is also illustrated in an ifa corpus where
the divinities attempted to assert themselves and they told God
to abdicate his throne and allow them rule for a period of six-
teen years. God assented to their request but advised them to
start with sixteen days in the first instance. The gods were
happy and by the eighth days of their ruling everything stopped
working. On the sixteenth day they apologized to God and re-
stored his throne back. According to this story, immediately
everything came back to normal (Okedairo, 2006: p. 41).
Part of human efforts in the affairs of the universe is the con-
stitution of governments and societies or groups to take care of
their affairs and everything that concern their well-being: regu-
lation of environmental and social activities for the proper
workings of nature.
The aspirations and interests of human beings are the posses-
sion of means of survival, attainment of the values set by soci-
ety and the preservation of the universe for the survival of the
future generation of man. But events and incidents in society
especially Africa, proved the inability of government and con-
sequently man to solve the problems of life. The man to man
relationship did not help much. What we witness is the exploi-
tation of man by man. The subjugation and oppression of the
poor by the rich, and most importantly the disparity between
work (effort) and wealth (success). Success in the human soci-
ety is hardly determined by hard-work or resilience: someone
may be rich today and become poor tomorrow and vice versa.
Human intelligence therefore seems inadequate to solve all
Fortunately also, Africans see God as the creator of the uni-
verse who has the interest of his creature at heart. The anthro-
pomorphic conception of God painted HIM as omniscient, om-
nibenevolent, omnipotent, etc. God in this light can do all
things especially if humans call on him with prayer and sacri-
fices. So, human beings (especially the disadvantaged, who are
the masses) turned to God for provisions and protection. Need-
less to say here that in the anthropomorphic view of God hu-
manity is not lost because the essence of God is the use of his
powers for human progress. But the issue is whether God has
holistic view of the universe or whether he takes particular
interest in individual events and happenings in the universe.
The problem between individualism and holism resurfaced here
in the sense that there is a need to determine whether the inter-
est of the whole is tantamount to that of the individuals in the
society or whether the pursuant of individual interests would be
to the benefit of the society. And it has been shown in experi-
ence that individual interest at times conflicts and it is in the
society’s interest that such conflict should dissolve. So, it is
possible for society’s interest to be achieved while that of the
individual is lost.
For the above reason, some philosophers have argued that
theism is not compatible with humanism, because theism is
God centered (holistic) while humanism is man centered (indi-
vidualistic). God is above man with the attributes of omnis-
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 141
cience, Omni benevolent and omnipotence; He takes a holistic
look of the universe and as such may not take the immediate
interests of man into consideration, if it would affect his overall
plan for the universe, since man is not the only occupant of the
physical world. Africans feel otherwise because the hope re-
poses in the provisions and the judgments of the gods or God is
stronger than that reposed in man. Dukor’s submission by the
understanding of this paper is that Africans believe that man is
the source of value, i.e. man makes the rules that God would
approve. But this paper is an attempt to show that contrary to
this, Africans believe that God makes the rules that human
would approve. Godwin Azenabor (2010: p. 40) while analyzing
Placide Temple’s position on African Philosophy writes that:
A stronger force normally influences the weaker or infe-
rior and the latter is more or less at the service of the
stronger. The superior can influence the inferior directly,
while the inferior can influence the superior only indi-
rectly. It is this ontological relationship among life forces
that do not permit the Africans to see things in isolation.
Maduabuchi Dukor (2001) sees the inclusion of humanism in
theistic belief. Which means that one can hold the belief that it
is better to obey human values in all things and still feels the
interests of God is indispensable, because the interest of God is
not against that of man. According to him, the idea of theism
and humanism is jointly and inseparably applicable to African
culture. Dukor writes that: Theistic Humanism is based on the
belief that Theism and Humanism are both compatible and
harmonious elements of black metaphysical and epistemologi-
cal world-view (Dukor, 2010: p. 100). But in his interpretation
he gave pre-eminence to human value over and above theistic
value. Also, Sophie Oluwole (1984: pp. 14-25) argues that val-
ues in Yoruba culture are product of human rationality. She
supported her argument with the allegory of the snail and the
tortoise. In that story, the Tortoise was the in-law of the Snail,
but when condition of life became terrible for the tortoise, he
decided to go stealing from his in-laws farm. One day he was
caught and his in-law decided to put him to shame by tying him
to a tree near the footpath that goes to the market. The belief
was that he will be chastised for this wrong act. Though, he was
blamed while the people were going to the market in the morn-
ing. Surprisingly while they were coming in the evening the
blame came on the Snail. The lesson here is that the Yoruba
holds a relativistic theory of value based on human predicament
and suffering.
While one did not dispute this, one can still argued that the
source of that value judgment is a product of their religion. A
great look through ifa corpus which stands as the holy book of
the Yorubas also attests to this relative attitude of value judg-
ment, knowing fully well that all of those market men and
women are devotees of one god or the other.
Though, some theistic beliefs tend towards absolutism which
is incongruous with the relative notion of human needs, this,
sometimes, results into fundamentalism on the part of religious
leaders and followers but there are others that are appropriate
for human emancipation. We think here that, African (poly)
theism does not harbor such absolute ideals for the following
reasons: One, because of the opportunity of choosing among
various gods, two, because the gods are believed to have their
own limitations, yet this limitation supersedes human intelli-
gence. The gods are aware of human needs that are necessary
for their development. They are also aware of the power of their
adherent to protest and rebel if these needs were not met. This
shall be made clear in the exposition of African beliefs about
God and the universe.
The African Conception of God and the Universe
God is one controversial figure that human beings have to
contend with his existence or otherwise. There are various ar-
guments that point to the existence of God, some based on rea-
son while others on mythology. Whichever we hold, it is borne
out of different experiences of man within the universe.
The issue of whether Africans have philosophy or not is be-
fore this century a closed debate, because African scholars and
philosophers like Odera Oruka, Bodunrin, Moses Makinde,
Sophie Oluwole have in their different ways substantially show
philosophical ingredients embedded in African myth, folklores,
proverbs, and wise-sayings. (Dukor, 2010: p. 89) The issue now
is what sort of philosophy can properly be labeled African?
There have been different interpretations as to what it is,
many of these are monistic in nature: theistic, religious or hu-
manistic. However our concern is on Maduabuchi Dukor’s
interpretation which sees African Philosophic tradition in the
same line with Indian philosophy (Darshana) and Chinese phi-
losophy (Confucianism). In his view, this philosophy can be
named Afraa which he called Theistic Humanism because
though it harbours myths and religious world-view, it is gov-
erned by the paradigm of modern science. (Dukor, 2010: p. 91)
His notion of African philosophy as Theistic Humanism opens
the way for a new study of African philosophical idea of man
and the universe from the dualist angle.
In the Yoruba mythology, God exists because the workings
of nature and the force behind it are not in the hand of any
mortal man. And due to the regularity exhibited by nature Af-
ricans assume that God exists. The Akan of Ghana call him
Odomakoma: he beyond whom there is nothing, the Yoruba
refer to him as Olodumare or Eleda: the father of mystery and
creator respectively; to the Ibos of Nigeria, God is Chukwu: the
great source (Okedairo, 2006: p. 41). But since nature is so
verse with different aspects, God needs the services of helpers,
who can handle these aspects. So, he has some lieute nants, who
were given the task to see to the regular workings of the uni-
verse. However the delegation of duties to our own mind can be
as a result of the rebellion of the gods and their agitation to be
given responsibilities as stated in the earlier story, which sug-
gested that God listen to the complaints and voice of its people,
if properly channeled.
While Orunmila is the god of divination and knowledge, it is
the duty of every devotee to inquire from Orunmila the knowl-
edge of life especially as it pertains to their own existence. Also,
there is Ogun who is the god of iron. So, all those who work or
earn a living by the use of machines and iron would incur his
grace and knowledge for success in their endeavour.
The farmers have Orisa Oko to thank and make supplications,
while Sango is the god of thunder and justice. In Yoruba my-
thology, all these gods were sent by Olodumare from heaven to
order the earth and populate it. And, as long as they are suc-
cessful, there is no need to call the Supreme Being except to
thank him for making his servants or divinities available for
human emancipation.
Though these gods are heavenly beings, they were also his-
torical beings. The orisa, (gods) according to Okedairo are
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
numberless, some journeyed from heaven, some were revealed
by oracles and others deified or canonized on account of their
lives (2006: p. 43). That is why they have both spiritual and
physical representations. These divinities are, therefore, not far
from the affairs they govern. They lived among the people and
impact on their lives directly. Olugbon, Aresa, Alara of Ilara,
Orangun of Ila, Ajero of Ijero, Sango, Ogun, were kings who
ruled their people with virtue and as such became divinities.
Unlike the western idea of angels who are not historical beings,
even Jesus Christ that came as a human being, is still seen as
God himself who simultaneously occupied heaven and still
lived on the earth. And most of his deeds are miraculous be-
cause he gets things done by mere pronouncement or fiat.
Such deeds like those of Jesus were not attributed to any of
the Yoruba gods, who mainly depend on herbs, roots, leaves,
practical things, even the use of incantations is not potent
without the use of charms and amulets which are physical ob-
jects, to help their people from their problems. This is signifi-
cant because these physical objects use for transforming human
lives are within the human universe, and as such readily acces-
sible even if the gods are no more around.
Sodipo Olubi (1973) mentioned that in the Yoruba idea of
Cause and Chance, the belief of the Yorubas is that an event
happens ordinarily when it involves no human being but if a
man is at the centre of the event or if s/he is hit by fortune or
disaster, a god must have a hand in it, which typifies a kind of
occasional theory. Malebranche exposes that physical events
and mental events are parallel such that there is no interaction
in terms of causality between them but if God is willing at any
particular moment, he can produce what he will when either a
physical or mental event takes place. But because of the conti-
guity in time and space, we think that either a mental event or
physical event is the cause of another event rather than the will
of God. To the Yoruba (African) the ultimate causation of fail-
ure or success is therefore spiritual, not physical. Sodipo (1973:
p. 18) explained that the Yoruba ordinarily believe a coin
would turn head or tail and that the chance is 50 - 50 or 1/2. But
if there is a need to determine who will win a prize by the use
of a coin, then the gods or God must support the person who
got it right.
However, Africans believe that God do not just intervene on
occasion except you invite him by making sacrifices and pray-
ing towards the aspects of life you want him to. In addition to
being ministers and intermediaries of God, the divinities also
act as guardians and policemen of public morality (Idowu, 1979:
p. 47). And as agent of sanction they contribute to the obedi-
ence of the law as mentioned by Glaucon while reflecting on
the effects of the Gyges ring in the Republic (360d).
If an average Yoruba man makes propitiation and sacrifice
for intervention and his/her divinity fails to accede to his re-
quest, the Yoruba feels the divinity is useless, he can then go to
the Supreme Being to talk to his god or to override the god if
the god is unjust in his judgment against this follower. If by any
means it was discovered that the god acted unjustly, the devotee
has the right to abandon him/her and move ahead to some other
god. A Yoruba proverb says “Orisa bo le gbemi semi, bi o se
bami” meaning “if the god cannot help my case, he should not
make me worse.” God or the gods in African mythology do
have their own limitations and for this reason, it is not a style in
African religion to stick to one way of life. It is possible for one
god to succeed where another has failed. Service delivery is
therefore important to the gods. So, it is rare or impossible to
see a self- proclaimed atheist in traditional Africa.
The operation of Chance itself is interpreted as Cause in the
attempt to answer the question: why does this happen to me
now? Why are some individuals very fortunate and why are
some so unfortunate? The consistency of chance and the con-
sistency of cause cannot but have the same meaning to an av-
erage human being who is looking for a consistent explanation
of things in the universe. The consistency of chance must then
be a manipulation and the consistency of cause must also be a
manipulation. Since these manipulations are not verifiable
physically then they must come from either God or the gods.
Sacrifices to the gods at times yield no result because required
human effort is either lacking or inadequate. Also human effort
fails because of lack of prerequisite divination and sacrifice to
the gods. What some people therefore called chance or accident
does come from somewhere. Richard Wiseman (2003: p. 3)
confirmed this position in his paper titled The Luck Factor that:
People generate their own good fortune via four basic
principles. They are skilled at creating and noticing
chance opportunities, Make lucky decisions by listening
to their (intuition), create self-fulfilling prophecies via
positive expectations, and adopt a resilient attitude that
transforms bad luck into good (emphasis mine). So, what
we call chance is the inspiration or revelation man capi-
talized on to achieve his aims.
God is the “rewarder” of good and bad in the society. He is
also seen as the provider of wealth since he is the determiner of
human destiny, though human effort is required but this effort
is nothing if it is not in accordance with God’s plan. Dukor also
said that the issue with African Philosophy is that “it has to
start from the religious world-view of the African” (Dukor,
2010: p. 92). Going by the above submissions one can say that
African world-view takes its source from the belief in God or
the gods.
The Western Idea of God
The Western idea of God is torn among idealism and materi-
alism. In Anselm’s ontological argument, he proposed that in
the stratifications of beings there must be a being which nothing
greater than can be conceived both in the mind and outside the
mind. This being is called God. This ontology thus did not take
care of content or the personality of God. Following the same
rational tradition, Descartes postulates the infinite being from
knowing that there are finite beings.
The idealist cum rationalist conception of God does not actu-
ally specify any attribute of God except that he is the first and
greatest being. And most Western materialists cum empiricists
abhor the idea of God. That is why Western philosophy tends
towards the scientific orientation.
The aim of Western science is to conquer nature and subdue
the earth as the bible commanded man in the beginning. All the
explorations and exploitations of other continents by the West-
ern world and inventions, attested to this position. We are not
saying that there are no inventions or scientific orientation in
Africa prior to Western civilization, even as this was present, it
was a science that is devoid of capitalist intent. This philosophy
believes that man has what it takes to change and maintain his
universe without having the intention for individual ownership
or commercial gain.
The Christian idea of God has great influence on the western
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 143
conception of God. The idea that God is omnipotent, omnis-
cient, omnibenevolent can be traced to the Jewish anthropo-
morphic conception of God. Here also God is not working
alone, he has angels and archangels who assist in the day to day
running of the earthly and heavenly affairs.
The intervention of God in human affairs is only warranted
in the receiving of inspirations and perhaps revelations where
humans have failed or yet to focus. Human beings by prayer
can also call for his help in the affairs of the universe, govern-
ment, or personal issues. Christianity (except Catholics) does
not allow supplications to angels except to God through Jesus
who is seen as both God and the son of God simultaneously.
What however is puzzling about these beliefs is the question
of freedom and determinism or the problem of destiny, of
whether destiny actually operates. If it does, is it changeable or
not changeable? And if destiny does not operate, what is the
role of God in the events in the universe. The question of des-
tiny in western idea of man and the universe has not been set-
tled. The events in the bible can be interpreted to support or
attack the question.
One is also fascinated by the Christian ethics summarized
through Biblical events by Joseph Fletcher (1966) as relativistic
but holding at the same time the laws of Moses which is abso-
lute and positivistic in nature. The Law of Moses, which is the
Ten Commandments, was summarized and reduced to two by
the leader of the Christian faith, Jesus as 1) Love God and only
him shall you serve; 2) Love your neighbour as yourself.
This reduction brought out the idea of theistic humanism as
exposed by Dukor. On one hand, humans are enjoined to love
God, which is theism while on the other hand humans were told
to love one another, which is humanism. This is Theistic Hu-
manism which to us is in consonance with Western orientation
rather than African.
However, the idea in theistic humanism to our mind should
not be to love (value) God and love (value) man at the same
time, but to choose which of the love (value) would accommo-
date the other. In other words, is the love (value) of God in-
cluded in the love (value) of man? Or is the love of man in-
cluded in the love of God?
The Idea of Theistic Humanism and
Humanistic Theism Exposed
Theistic humanism would be a humanism that accommodates
the love (value) of God or the worship of God. But it would be
like denying the power of God and at the same time accommo-
dating it. If this is the case, one needs to ask, if humans can
solve their problems, what role would God play? The answer
perhaps can be that God would be responsible for giving human
beings inspiration on problem solving or that he would serve as
an umpire, to see which human being is doing or not doing the
job of salvaging the common heritage (universe). The bible
says that a time is coming when God would deal with the de-
stroyers of the universe. But one can ask, is receiving inspira-
tion from God not the same as taking order of: thou shall or
thou shall not...from him? Western Philosophy mostly ex-
plained this by making allusion to human intuition rather than
saying that God is responsible for this inspiration. So, to them,
both human intellect and intuition are enough to solve human
problems rather than making recourse to a God or gods. But to
the average African man inspiration comes from God or the
Humanistic theism would involve the attempt to show that
belief in God and following his laws would result into good life
for man. Here obedience to God can result into man’s self-
description and realization of needs and interests. One can
blame human suffering on the disobedience of Adam and Eve
in the garden. And accept the explanation that until man returns
back to God there is no respite. God makes the rules in the in-
terest of man.
To the yoruba (African), Destiny alteration is done by the at-
titude of the individual concerned. A good destiny warrants
obedience to God or the gods and good behaviours: conforming
to rules and regulations and using our powers to the benefit of
others. While bad destiny warrants disobedience and bad be-
haviours: disobeying rules and doing harm to others. Moral
rules in the Yoruba culture are aptly tied to taboos, where the
gods are the agents of sanction. So, the fear of sanction from
the gods who are ubiquitous engendered good character from
the people. Incidentally character (iwa) is personified as the
first wife of Orunmila the god of divination. This brought out a
kind of relationship or affinity between morality and episte-
The Yorubas believe there are 600 + 1 divinities. The addi-
tion of the 1 is to show the principle of elasticity by which they
account for newly deified orisa (god). The belief is that every
individual has the potential to become a divinity depending on
the use of one’s attributes. (Abimbola, 2006: p. 50).
The above point also constitutes the goal of education in
Yoruba culture. It has been argued that the essence of education
according to the Yoruba is to make a student become an
Omoluabi or Omoluwabi, meaning, the child of God or the
good child. And to become a child of God requires sound
knowledge and good character (obedience to rules, discretion in
state matters, wisdom and avoidance of extremes). In other
words sharing godly attributes is a prerequisite to take part in
state and societal affairs. This is expressed in the Yoruba prov-
erb which says ti omode bamo owo we, yio ba agba jeun
meaning if a child has understanding would be in company/
circle of elders.
This paper proposed that, other cultures may extract the at-
tributes of God as the Yorubas have done and take them as
factors (ideals) for development. God to us is all good, all
knowing, all doing etc. but believers’ behaviour these days
leaves much to be desired. With the rate of suicide bombing,
terrorist attack and corruption in Nigeria, and the confession of
religiosity, there seems to be a contradiction. The attitudes of
believers do not tally with the attributes of their God, who they
look unto as the idea of perfection or goodness.
This is not to say humans should strive to be omnipotent,
omnibenevolent and omniscient, but they only need to be good
enough to do things to enhance peace and social development.
Though we may have different idea of the road to peace and
development, no idea of peace and development can accom-
modate the killing of innocent souls and the looting of the na-
tions’ commonwealth. If we can’t be all good, we can be good
more than we are, if we can’t be omnipotent, one can be potent
in all his/her duties. This way of expressing our belief in God
would ultimately favour humanistic approach to life based on
our idea of God. This to us is Humanistic Theism.
Humans strive towards perfection and the ideals of God.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 145
Even humanism is an attempt to show that man is intelligent
(knows), powerful, and good. As we mentioned earlier human-
ism is a reaction against religious beliefs that endanger man and
suppress the development of his society on the idea that man is
powerless and ignorant and as such cannot help himself. More
needful than faith in God is that man can give love, justice
peace, and all his beloved values embodied in human relations.
It is not as if man has succeeded, but it remains as an ideal that
man should pursue.
Though one cannot say that God too has succeeded in pro-
moting these ideals but perhaps it is because we have not been
able to separate what God has done, from what religious leaders
and priests are doing and have done. But one can agree that if
there is any being who could possess these attributes it must be
a perfect being. Man, as it is generally agreed is not a perfect
being though he strives towards it. Humanistic Theism there-
fore, rests on the assumption that the interest of man is para-
mount, but the gods are agents of development who are there to
serve human purpose and needs.
This is why divination or revelation is important in human
life to determine the direction one can take. With a divination
oriented religion like the Yorubas, no Yoruba will attempt to do
anything worthwhile in life without consulting ifa, which ac-
cording to Bolaji Idowu, is regarded as “unfailing source of
comfort” (1979: p. 84). From cradle to death, ifa is the guardian
and guiding god that shows the way to peace and justice. In
every area of life, a god is there for the Yorubas to consult or
emulate in the attempt to succeed.
This paper has shown that humanistic theism like theistic
human is a dualist account of man and the universe which be-
lieve that the spiritual world exists as much as physical world
and that the relationship between them is mutual but the super-
natural is superior and as such the centre of value to man.
However, the supernatural takes into consideration the needs
and wants of human beings. In other words the gods exist for
man and his universe rather than for themselves alone. Only
that man must make sacrifices to the gods.
One can only hope that the intention of this paper has been
achieved in showing that Humanistic Theism as African phi-
losophical world-view is based on the idea of a benevolent,
potent and scientific God who is a paradigm for development; a
God who believes in individual potential and power, who
thereby delegated his duties to man and the gods. It follows that,
as we str ive to help others and become harmless to the universe,
we become candidates for canonization or deification.
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