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Ask a Theologian II

Discussion in 'Off-Topic' started by Plotinus, May 9, 2008.

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  1. warpus

    warpus In pork I trust

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    I think you mean the existence of Jesus, not the historicity... unless that's exactly what you mean ;)
     
  2. Dachs

    Dachs Hero of the Soviet Union

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    Since 'historicity' means the quality of being part of history, not myth or legend, then I think that both of those words fit, hmm?
     
  3. Eran of Arcadia

    Eran of Arcadia Stormin' Mormon Retired Moderator

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    Bagel shaped, at least.
     
  4. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    If it's just an opinion, then you shouldn't say things like "there is an innate contradiction between thinking and religious doctrine", as if it's an objective fact. You should say "In my opinion, XYZ, because I understand X to mean... and Y to mean..." or something like that. You keep on making audacious claims, and then when you're challenged, you qualify them by saying that you're using words to mean things that they don't normally mean, or some similar maneouvre. That's at best misleading and at worst just intellectually dishonest. What is the purpose of using a word in an unusual way without alerting anyone to the fact?

    At any rate, I don't see how you can say that faith and reason are compatible but different, and then in the next sentence say they're contradictory. If they're compatible, how are they contradictory?

    If two people mean completely different things by the same utterance, then even though they may both state the same utterance, they are not making the same assertion. When a classical theist utters the words "I believe in God" she means something like "I believe the following proposition to be true: there exists objectively an entity with the properties of omnipotence, omniscience, and moral perfection, who created and sustains the universe." But when a Christian humanist utters the same words, she means something like "I act in a way which exemplifies certain moral virtues or patterns of behaviour, such as altruistic care and love to others, and these patterns of behaviour are so deeply ingrained in my manner of life as to constitute an existential attitude." Clearly these are not the same beliefs, even though they may be expressed using the same words. So yes, you might say that "belief in God" is common to all Christians in the sense that all Christians would affirm "I believe in God" in some sense, but it would be misleading to infer from that that there is a belief that they all share, because the same words can express different beliefs.

    I'm afraid I can attach no meaning to such a use of the word "truth". It sounds like you're using "true" to mean something like "consistent", but if so, I don't see why this is an improvement over just using the word "consistent". I don't know what you mean when you say that religious truth contains a premise.

    What do you think "belief" means? You can believe something that you know to be true. Indeed, knowledge is just a kind of belief. I don't see the sense in asking what the "point" is in believing something you know to be true; if you know something to be true you just do believe it. It's not like you have a choice in the matter.

    Besides this, you're assuming that a belief is rational only if it can be proven to be true. Clearly this is a false assumption. It is rational, for example, to believe that the next US president will be a millionaire, since most US presidents are millionaires, but one cannot know this at this point in time. So it's not like a belief must be either rational and provable with certainty or irrational and illogical. If those were the only possibilities then it would be impossible to reason about anything outside the realms of formal logic and mathematics!

    Is emotion contrary to reason by definition? I don't see why. If I see a mugger approaching me in a dark alleyway, I will feel the emotion of fear, which will prompt me to run away. That also seems to be the rational course of action. So reason and emotion agree with each other at least some of the time - perhaps most of the time, since if emotions were not fairly reliable guides to action we wouldn't have evolved them. Perhaps that's what you mean when you say that emotion and reason complement each other, but in that case, I don't know what you mean when you say that they're contrary to each other.

    I don't think it's true that the essence of religion is feeling and emotion. Of course that's what Schleiermacher famously argued (although he didn't really mean "emotion" when he talked about "feeling" - it was more of an existential attitude). But I don't know if many theorists of the nature of doctrine would hold this view today. The reason is that religious belief seems to incorporate both an emotional, personal aspect and also a cognitive one, and it's wrong to ignore either. You are right, for example, to say that religious belief is not simply propositional belief of a pseudo-scientific kind (if it were, then believing "There is a God" would be exactly analogous to believing "There is a Higgs-Boson particle"). It has an existential or personal aspect too, akin to believing in someone (as in, "Get help, Lassie! I believe in you!"). But at the same time, that's not all that it is. There is a propositional, cognitive aspect to religious belief as well; if there weren't, then we wouldn't have a long history of creeds and rows between self-proclaimed orthodox and heretics. A person who holds a religious belief does hold a certain proposition to be true - they don't just have a fuzzy feeling which they try to express in a doctrinal formula. For this reason I would not agree with the idea that religious belief is just about feeling and quite distinct from reason. I think it is far more complex than that. And, of course, it varies enormously, both between cultures (and religions) and between individuals too.

    No. The Sol Invictus cult wasn't invented until the third century AD. Christians had been regarding Sunday as "the Lord's day" since the first century.
     
  5. Bill3000

    Bill3000 OOOH NOOOOOOO! Supporter

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  6. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    I think that Plantinga is a very good philosopher, but I'm not convinced by that argument. If its conclusion is interpreted in a way that is strong enough to be interesting, then I don't think the argument supports it. Conversely, if the conclusion is interpreted in a way that is weak enough for the argument to support it, then it's not interesting. But this is not something I have read up on much.
     
  7. Ninjatrey

    Ninjatrey Chieftain

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    Is Lucid dreaming wrong in Christianiy?
     
  8. Huayna Capac357

    Huayna Capac357 Chieftain

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    No...you can't really stop it...
     
  9. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    I don't really see why it should be, unless maybe you mean some really naughty things you willed to happen while lucidly dreaming. In that case I don't think it would be viewed any different that fantasizing about these things while awake.
     
  10. Red Door

    Red Door Man of Mayhem

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    I am no expert on the psychology of dreaming, but couldn't the Church argue that if one is dreaming of lucid dreams, that obviously means that they are thinking these thoughts in a conscious state as well. (Meaning that the dreams come from the thoughts of the conscious state.) This would fall under the general sin of lust. I could very well be wrong, but that is one possible interpretation I could see coming.
     
  11. cubsfan6506

    cubsfan6506 Got u

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    If you don't mind me asking, what religion are you? (I know it's probaly been asked.)
     
  12. MagisterCultuum

    MagisterCultuum Great Sage

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    Are you addressing Plotinus? He is agnostic.
     
  13. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    To ask whether something is "wrong in Christianity" is a meaningless question. Some Christians believe certain things to be wrong and others believe them to be acceptable. Just look at the range of Christian views on sex - from Christians who live chastely with their spouses because they believe all sex to be wrong, all the way to Christian swingers.

    I have never heard of any claim that lucid dreaming is wrong, from anyone of any religion. I suppose one might argue that certain actions or decisions made whilst lucid dreaming could be wrong, because they would be deliberate decisions in a way which normal dream actions are not, but I don't see how simply lucid dreaming itself could be considered wrong.

    I don't think that lucid dreaming is a very commonly reported phenomenon before recent times anyway. There is a famous description of a lucid dream that Descartes had, but that is the only historical reference I can think of off-hand.

    Have you read the OP?
     
  14. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    Not as agnostic as me.
     
  15. pau17

    pau17 Chieftain

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    Is this out of time constraints, or are you just more interested in that area?

    Is comparative theology an active field?
     
  16. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    Both really - Christian theology is what I studied at university. I don't really have the background knowledge to have a chance of getting a decent grounding in other religions. Especially since my research these days is in philosophy, not theology, so it would be even more outside my subject area.

    Of course, although I think there are few scholars who have both the breadth and the depth of knowledge to be able to do it well. But this is not something I know much about.
     
  17. Agent327

    Agent327 Observer

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    I would think it obvous that what I express is my opinion; as much as it's obvious that what you express is an opinion.

    I don't see any objection here: I already stated that Christians all believe in God - whatever their definition (or lack thereof). Would you rather have me say "all Christians believe in God, but it's uncertain what they mean by it"? At any rate, it seems obvious that all Christians believe in God, just as all Muslims believe in Allah, and all Buddhists believe in Buddha.

    Truth can be consistent, but also can be not. The same applies to falsehood. And religious truth always has the innate premise of being limited by being religious truth. An obvious example is the Christian truth of the existence of God. For a non-believer that may very well not be a truth at all.

    Your conclusion is flawd. First off, reason and reasoning implies the application of logic to a subject. As regards your example, it's a simple matter of statistical analysis, so no belief is involved: you can simply assume the next US president will be a millionaire. However, you can also believe the next president will be a millionaire because of prejudice. (Which would not be rational.) So it's possible to arrive at the same conclusion either by logic (ratio) or irrational belief. (I leave aside here that prejudice may very well have a rational basis.)

    No matter the variation between the multitude of religions, they all share an emotional content - and a strong one. One can reason oneself to the existence of a Supreme Being, but most believers do not; they just believe, period. That's not to say that one cannot arrive at the rational conclusion that a Supreme Being exists, based on reasoning (i.e. using valid premises).

    That's more or less correct. (Although it's interesting to note that it's not called "the Lord's day", but Sunday. Another matter is the absorption of 25 December - or solstice - as the birthday of Jesus, which is unknown. It goes to establish a pattern: the christianization of previously pagan holidays.)

    I'll sign off with a remark on an earlier comment to the effect that I seem to be very knowledgable on the subject of Jesus. Given the scarce records pertaining to the actual life of Jesus, that's not so very hard. If one brushes aside all the mythological stories on Jesus (christology), what's left is a quite vivid portrait of the person that was Jesus. (Which is not to say that christology cannot shed light on the subject.) Along the same lines it's equally possible to be knowledgable on the life of Buddha, Confucius or Muhammad. (Although the latter two actually left something in writing, it seems.)
     
  18. mankongo

    mankongo Chieftain

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    I was reading a very interesting book that was a collection of narratives of missionaries trying to preach Jesus to the people of the Zulu Empire under Dingane. The book was mostly about the attempt of the missionaries to find a suitable indigenous word for "God."

    They first were using Tixo, which is actually a Khoisan name for a trickster hero. When they discovered that Khoisan folklore contained evidence of more nefarious deeds attributed to Tixo, they scrambled for an alternative. They ended up using two Zulu names, Umveliqangi, which orinally referred to a sort of chief of the heavens, and Unkulunkulu, which means "great-great one" and was sometimes used in folklore to describe the first human being, who was very involved with the creation of the world.

    By using Unkulunkulu for their concept of God, they rewrote Zulu religion to be monotheistic. Missionaries operated under the assumption that "primitive" religions contain memories of the original Christian God. I think that many traditional African religions were reimagined as monotheistic. Before missionary contact particular beliefs may have been pantheistic or polytheistic, or conceived of a supreme being as having two genders, or acting more like a force or energy than a real person. And of course people probably had different ideas of how the earth was created or what the origin of death was, especially if they did not have a priesthood to standardize beliefs. But now, anytime you google a traditional African belief, you will read that "the Kikuyu believe in a supreme being called ngai" or "the Ashanti believe in a supreme being called Nyame," when Nyame could have originally been a concept more like the Hindu Atman, a name for the natural universe, or meant many things to different people before missionaries standardized its use.

    Anyways, one part of the narratives that really interested me was that the Zulus objected to many Christian teachings on proto-scientific grounds. Many of the missionaries, who I believe were Anglican, kept preaching about a concept of resurrection of the dead at Judgment Day. Most people thought the idea was ridiculous, and asked questions such as "Will we come back in the same bodies? Or different bodies? How is that possible after so many years?" They really weren't buying any of the ideas the missionaries brought, and questioned how they could be so sure of their teachings without any evidence or proof.

    One thin about the narratives confused me. I grew up as a Christian in the USA and I never heard of the concept of resurrection of the dead. The cosmology I was familiar with posited that when you die, you immediately join with God in Heaven. Your body is no longer important. Something does happen at the end of days and the world is finished, but there is no resurrection of dead bodies. I did some more reading and found out that resurrection of the dead was THE belief of Christianity prior to this century. At People were even buried facing east so when they were bodily resurrected they would face God. Mortuary science in the united states even became popular because of resurrection of the dead beliefs. Protestant theologians thought that there was some sort of "soul sleep" that the dead experienced before they were bodily resurrected and united with God on judgment day.

    So my question is, what are the Catholic and Protestant beliefs of the Resurrection of the dead, and how have they changed over time. Why is it that you rarely hear about the resurrection of the dead in Christian circles nowadays?
     
  19. Plotinus

    Plotinus Philosopher Administrator

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    JELEEN, I don't see much point in debating with you when you consistently use words to mean strange things that they don't normally mean. If you say that it is possible for two truths to be inconsistent, then you are quite literally speaking nonsense. If two propositions are both true then they simply cannot be inconsistent - that is a fundamental law of logic. Either you are saying something incoherent or you are using the word "truth" (or indeed the word "inconsistent") to mean something other than what it usually means - and yet you don't bother to alert anyone to this fact. So there's really no profit in discussing this stuff under those conditions.

    But I'll respond briefly to a couple of your points anyway:

    I don't think you understand what I was trying to say. The example of the president is certainly statistical analysis. My point was that this statistical analysis can produce belief. If I believe that the next president will be a millionaire because I have done a simple statistical analysis, then I believe this claim. This is not difficult to understand. Moreover, my belief is rational. And, yes, I could also acquire the same belief by an irrational method, such as prejudice. So you are quite right to say that it's possible to reach the same conclusion by either rational or irrational means. My point is that either way, the conclusion will be a belief. The word "belief" implies neither reason or irreason (if that's a word). It refers to a certain kind of psychological state, without saying anything about how one arrives at that psychological state.

    Incidentally, you seem to equate thinking rationally with thinking logically. I don't think that is right. Logic is a subset of reason, not the same thing as it. One can behave rationally without involving logic at all.

    There certainly was such a pattern, but your example is wrong. The solstice is 21 December. Under the Roman calendar, it fell on 24 December.

    Right - so how do you tell the difference between "mythology" and the truth? Do you really think it's as simple as all that?

    That is very interesting and I didn't know that, although I did know that divine names were typically taken from pre-Christian religions. For example, my girlfriend's parents are Isoko from Nigeria, and they are Catholics: they call God Oghene, the name of the supreme god in traditional Isoko religion. However, I would be careful about ascribing too much to the European missionaries in this regard. The Isoko, for example, Christianised themselves without any help from Europeans, and presumably decided themselves to use the name Oghene for the Christian God. This sort of thing happened frequently in Africa: indigenous peoples themselves spread Christianity (even when they didn't convert themselves, they might talk about it to other indigenous peoples). This meant that (a) when missionaries brought the gospel to new tribes, they usually found that the people were already at least aware of it, and (b) often European missionaries weren't involved at all.

    Those sound like pretty standard questions! I don't know if I'd call them objections on scientific grounds - more just basically rational grounds. There is an interesting work attributed to the second-century theologian Athenagoras called On the resurrection of the dead (it is not certain if it is by him or by a later theologian, perhaps from the third or fourth centuries), which addresses such questions and shows that people were asking them in the early days of Christianity too. You can read it here.

    Yes, you're quite right that the resurrection of the dead has traditionally been one of the central doctrines of Christianity. In fact the first Christian theologians of the second and third centuries, writing defences of their religion for a pagan audience, generally focused on only two points - monotheism and the resurrection of the dead - as if Christianity consisted of nothing else.

    I'm surprised that you could have been brought up as a Christian and never noticed this doctrine, though. It is absolutely central to Paul's theology in the New Testament. Pretty much the whole of 1 Corinthians 15 is on this subject. Notice in particular:

    The "first fruits" thing is the key to all this. Paul was a Pharisee. The Pharisees believed that one of the signs of the coming of the kingdom of God, and the end of the world, would be the resurrection of the dead. Some other Jewish sects did not believe in this, the Sadducees famously amongst them. This is the background behind Matthew 22:23-33, where Sadducees quiz Jesus about the resurrection, obviously assuming that Jesus shares the doctrine of the Pharisees; Jesus' answer indicates that he does. So for Paul, Jesus' resurrection is a sign of the coming kingdom and the end of the world. But clearly the world hasn't ended, and indeed only one person has been raised from the dead. This is because Jesus is the "first fruits" (a horticultural metaphor: the "first fruits" are the very earliest fruits to ripen, indicating that a great harvest is on the way). He is, as it were, the pioneer. His resurrection is the original and the prototype, and all believers will share in it, because all believers are united to Christ, which means that they share in what happens to him:

    Paul talks about the death to sin in the past tense, but the resurrection in the future. In fact for Paul, both resurrection and salvation are always something in the future (if you had asked Paul if he had been saved, he would have said, "Not yet"). So because of the union of believers to Christ, they will share in his resurrection, which will come - as in standard Pharisaic eschatology - at the end of the world.

    Now later Christians combined this basically Jewish notion of the resurrection of the body with the basically Platonic notion of the immortality of the soul, a quite different idea which held that when you die your soul goes floating off to somewhere nice. The resulting doctrine was fairly well established by the end of the fourth century. It held that, at death, the body and soul are separated (this was a standard Platonic definition of death). The body decays and the soul goes off to a sort of foretaste of its final end. The soul of a Christian will go to God and enjoy a kind of partial vision of him, while the soul of a wicked person will suffer. Then, at the end of time, God will miraculously restore everyone's bodies and reunite their souls to them. Then there will be the final judgement, after which Christians will go to their eternal reward while the wicked will suffer in hell. In both cases, this will be bodily. Augustine goes on about this at considerable length in the final book of The city of God, which you can also read here:

    Subsequently, the doctrine developed so that there were a number of different places that souls could go to after death. Basically, heaven, hell, purgatory, and limbo. Purgatory is for souls who have been saved, but who need to be purified (ie, most Christians). Heaven is for souls who are so good they don't need purification, and they can go straight to the vision of God (ie, the saints). Hell is for bad souls (ie, heretics, non-Christians, etc). And limbo is for people like the Jewish patriarchs, who lived before Christ but were still good; there is also a limbo for children. After the resurrection and judgement, everyone would be sorted into just two groups - those going to salvation, and those to damnation. Confusingly, these are also often called heaven and hell, but they differ from the immediately post-mortem states in being physical places where people experience either joy or suffering in their bodies. This is the "new heaven and the new earth" described in Revelation 21.

    This is the standard, orthodox Catholic view of the matter. So you'll find that Thomas Aquinas teaches:

    And:

    Now the orthodox view was usually that the resurrection body would be physical, but it would still be rather different from our bodies now. This again comes from Paul:

    Some people had very "physical" understandings of the resurrection, where they largely ignored the "spiritual" aspect of this and imagined that the resurrection body would be much the same as the normal body. The (Pseudo-) Athenagoran treatise mentioned earlier takes this line. Others went the other way and had a very "spiritual" understanding of the resurrection body, according to which it would be quite unlike normal bodies. In the third century, Origen was most famous for taking this view, and after his death "Origenism" often meant effectively denying the reality of the resurrection. This was one of the main reasons that Origenism was eventually condemned in the sixth century and most of Origen's works destroyed, meaning that no-one really knows what Origen actually taught on this matter.

    The usual, orthodox view comes somewhere in between. Just as the risen Jesus could eat fish but also pass through locked doors, so the resurrection body would be genuinely a body, yet be transformed into something spiritual.

    Now you're also right that some Christians have rejected elements of this, especially the idea of the soul going somewhere in the period after death but before the resurrection. In the fourteenth century, Pope John XXII taught that the saints were not in heaven after all, and that no-one gets to enjoy the beatific vision until after the general resurrection of the dead. This was enormously controversial because if it were true then there was no point in praying to the saints, which was rather an important part of Catholicism at the time. His successor, Benedict XII, taught that in fact the saints do experience the beatific vision immediately after death, and that was the official Catholic view thereafter.

    In the Reformation, most Protestants also rejected elements of the Catholic teaching about life after death. Luther rejected the doctrine of purgatory and so did most of his followers. Many Protestants went further and rejected the notion of the immortal soul going anywhere, which they held (rightly) to be Greek in origin and largely unbiblical. Matthew Tyndale, for example, wrote:

    So for them, what happens after death is nothing at all - you die and stay dead - until the final judgement, when God raises you up. In the twentieth century, views such as this enjoyed a renaissance, as many theologians sought to return to a more biblical, holistic understanding of the human person as an integrated body-soul complex, which rules out the possibility of the survival of a disembodied soul. For example:

     
  20. mankongo

    mankongo Chieftain

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    Thanks for the in-depth reply! I had been wondering about that for quite some time. I think the focus on the resurrection of the dead has changed probably due to the preaching of charismatic evangelicals, for whom the "believe in Jesus and go to heaven" message is simpler and perhaps more readily appealing than the "believe in Jesus and die or receive a partial vision of God, before the end times in which you will be bodily resurrected and experience a new heaven and new earth!" Popular media has also reinforced the more pagan idea of the soul going to heaven after you die, with all those st. peter at the gates comics and commercials.

    Also thank you for the links. Reading them makes me wonder, however, what sort of proofs were used by early theologians? How did they defend their positions. Did they claim to arrive at their dogmas through pure reasoning, extrapolation based on scriptures, inspiration of the Holy Spirit, or by talking with people who had had visions or prophecies and communicated with the divine. I know there probably weren't as rigorous standards of proof needed back then...but how would something like the Arian heresy for instance become so popular and accepted by people? If they didn't offer better proof than another idea, did they just offer better logic and reasoning?

    Some other interesting Zulu beliefs are that there is an underworld. In Shaka's time there was supposed to be an old man who was dragged away by a lion. After journeying a long way, both fell into a chasm and the old man discovered the land of the dead, which was just like the land of the living but upside down and reversed. Apparently he enjoyed his time with the dead but decided to return to the world of the living. His wife had seen him carried off and was already conducting his funeral when he got back. The old man told everyone his story, which astonished them. Naturally, he started a new career as a spirit-medium and herbalist. Shaka heard about his story, somehow corroborated it to be true, and gave him a reward. Now this story seems to fit with the pagan idea of body-soul duality, but another aspect of Zulu afterlife beliefs seems to differ from substance-body dualism. The ancestors sometimes are seen by people, as green snakes or a particular kind of lizard. These reptiles are never harmed, because they are visiting ancestors. I suppose there can still be substance duality in that belief system, and the Zulu traditionalist can believe that disembodied souls are in the underworld and can only appear in non-corporeal dreams and visions, while they can manifest corporeally as reptiles.

    Another funny thing about Unkulunkulu (I'm entertained by the cumbersome name, and I am partly Zulu) is that whenever a mother wanted her kids to stop pestering her, she would tell them to go out and call for Unkulunkulu to give them gifts. The children would rush out and shout for the whole afternoon for Unkulunkulu, while the mother would relax and enjoy her alone-time!

    African people are definitely the main spreaders of Christianity among themselves. In the early days, they were so iconoclastic to traditional religions that they would have made an art historian weep. When I was studying abroad in Ghana, however, most people who practiced traditional religion were also Christians! I did my research with a priestess of a traditional god, Nana Fofie; she was a Methodist. Her son, who played the drums while his ma was possessed with Nana Fofie, was a Catholic. They both rationalized that the tradition Abosom or deities, were in fact the angels or lieutenants of the supreme being. On the whole, it seemed that the 'mainline' denominations were more friendly with traditional religions, while the more indigenous and charismatic denominations were extremely hostile to traditional religion.
     
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