Titled religion: the complex equation of acceptance between man, god-gods and materials


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Inaugural Lecture



Delivered By


Professor of Religious Studies


9th of December, 2009

This inaugural is dedicated to All of Humanity

who have given Total Acceptance to Fellow Humanity

thus removing inhumanity of man-to-man

be it in Religion


elsewhere it may be within humanity.


The Visitor to the University, His Excellency Engineer Adebayo Olusegun Oni/His Representative,

The Chancellor, the Pro-Chancellor and other Members of Council,

The Vice –Chancellor, Prof. James Oladipo Kolawole,

Deputy Vice Chancellors (Academic and Administrative),

Principal Officers of this University and of other Sister Institutions,

Members of Senate,

Deans of Faculties and Heads of Departments,

Professors, Your Royal Highnesses and Chiefs,

My Lords, Spiritual and Temporal,

Academic and Professional Colleagues,

Staff and Students of UNAD and Other Institutions,

Distinguished Guests and Friends,

Gentlemen of the Press,

Great Ladies and Gentlemen.

I. Introduction

I.1 Background

It is with thanks and gratitude to God and in all humbleness that I stand here this 9th day of December to give this inaugural lecture, the second from the Faculty of Arts, Department of Religious Studies, after a break of fourteen years as the first was given in March 1995. Many things, religious and otherwise – have changed dramatically within the time. One of the many changes is the rate of proliferation of Denominations and Religions. (Jemiriye, 1998c & d)

The rate of proliferation of new Denominations and Religions the world over is not only alarming and embarrassing, but is leading to a heavy doubt as to the truthfulness, genuineness, effectiveness and proclamation of any of the Denomination and Faiths. (Jemiriye, 1998f). The current wave of high emotionalism is often characterized by such fanatical claims like faith-healing for all, speaking in tongues, missionary activities, over simplicity of faiths, wealth for all, prosperity theology and heavy material accumulation by the leaders at the expense of their trapped or half-informed members. (Jemiriye 1989)

Experiences at joint programmes, where all these denominations meet show that a case needs be made, and that it needs be made urgently, for what Religion should be. In many ecumenical meetings, the highly emotional groups always feel that their mode (religious, language, prayer or worship) is the right and must be imposed on other groups. Order of Service are often lousy or noisy and with little or no reason – theological or contemporary – to back such order. This calls for a rethink on Religion! (Jemiriye, 1998f)

Most unfortunate is the fact that Religion is the only field, where the incompetent is allowed to self-license his/her self as whatever and allowed to fool, deceive, lead or mislead the simple or less matured people. The law of the land protects the most foolish or ignorant person in any community from being operated upon by a carpenter. (Jemiriye ) The law requires competence in surgery before the individual can perform such a feat called operation. But Religion allows anybody to claim-arrogate any power and fantasy to him or herself, collect any group of people and form a religious organisation!

Unavoidably, Religion has conveniently become the only field where the unschooled, untaught, incompetent, self-asserted, self-graduated , self-licensed, self-canonized and self-justified is allowed to practise in the name of god(?) thereby making a quark, shame and mess, if not a complete nonsense(?), of their so designated god! (Jemiriye, 1998f)

It is noteworthy to say that any wholistic and consistent God or god will not just give the ability and knowledge-competence-in medicine, physics, French, carpentry, mechanics and cooking to just anybody! They need training for competency in these fields. For permission, competence and license in these trades a certificating body must accredit level of competence, hence qualification. Such bodies are Trade Master Councils (Local or global, e.g. Tailor’s Association for sewing, Nigerian Medical Association for medicine, Nursing and Midwifery Council for Nursing, COREN for engineers). But in Religion anyone can wake up and self-license him/herself with fabulous title(s) and overflowing robes! In the complex resultant situation the discordant tune of “tax the Churches” and “You have no jurisdiction over Churches” is only normal, expected and to continue until what the norm for Religion – as a profession – is set. (Jemiriye, 1998d)

Most disturbing is when these self-styled, non-articulate Religionists, start bamboozling people with fraudulent claims like “You are talking from human knowledge” and that “you do not have the Holy Spirit” etc. (Jemiriye, 1989) This lecture is, therefore, a call to basics. It is a call that some fundamental questions be asked. It is a call that asserts that experience of any person is as valid as that of any other person on earth as it is the word of one person against another. It is a call that any deceit, regardless of the covering cloak of “a faith” be refuted. It is a call that the how of Religion be well known, taught, dispensed and embraced. The questions of how and why must be adequately answered in all their ramifications, including the use of emotion, clichés and undeterminable experiences of vague assertions. These are part of the complexities of Religion.

Religious relations must move from “tolerance” to “full acceptance” regardless of self-justification, self-pity, sentiments, self-aggrandizement and subtle, hidden but unspoken wish of preference for one’s version of Religion. These are parts of the complexities in the study of World Religions. (Jemiriye, 2003b)

For achieving the goal of presenting Religion as the complex equation of acceptance between man, God-gods and materials, this lecture first looked into the discipline called Religious Studies where relevant definitions are given. The second examined characteristics and properties of Religion. Here issues of Religion in the affairs of man are treated. Third is the issue of problems within Religion. Recommendations are then given as the fourth part of the lecture. Conclusion and Acknowledgement rounded up the lecture.

I.2 The Discipline called Religious Studies

Some issues that are covered in the study of religion include

  • Interpretations, representations, misinterpretations and misrepresentations in Religion (Jemiriye, 1983)

  • Choice of words, sacred texts, language study – Greek, Hebrew, Latin, Arabic

  • Representation of actions/acts/of others such as Akara on grave and flower on tombs – memorial

  • Polytheism versus monotheism (Jemiriye, 1983, 1997b)

  • African Religion versus Western Religions (Jemiriye, 1991)

  • Idols or icons? Deliberate put down! (Renwick, 1958)

  • Religion as a means of enslavement

  • Many fields of study - Academic, history, sociology, philosophy, textual studies, theology, comparative studies, etc

  • People not open to reason versus sentiment and emotionalism

  • Issue of civilization, old time till now, and a million other issues. All these show that Religious Studies involve many topics, areas and cover almost all aspects of human life. How the attempt is to be focused? Areas of possible specialization are more than four hundreds within Religious Studies and the number increases at an alarming rate.


1. Religion:

There are many attempts at defining the word Religion the world over. Attempts have been made from the angles of philosophy, sociology, anthropology, humanities, biological sciences and countless other fronts down the ages. (Jemiriye & Eniola, 2005) Idowu in his preamble in the attempt to define Religion wrote:

By now, everybody who is seriously engaged in the study of Religion has been convinced that to attempt a definition of Religion is an almost impossible, if not altogether impossible task: and every serious scholar is on the verge of giving up the task. (Idowu, 1976).

Idowu went further by writing:

J. B. Pratt report: Professor Leuba enumerates forty-eight definitions of Religion from as many great men (and elsewhere adds two of his own, apparently to fill out the even half-hundred). But the striking thing about these definitions is that, persuasive as many of them are, each learned doctor seems quite unpersuaded by any but his own. And when doctors disagree what are the rest of us going to do? (Idowu, 1976).

Also, that no consensus of opinion exists among scholars as to what Religion really is has been supported by Professor Erivwo who has aptly pointed out that, “Religion has so far defied any precise definition, a defiance that is perhaps, accounted for by the changing nature of the subject. It has not meant the same thing to all men! (S. U. Erivwo) (Idowu, 1976: )

Erivwo went further to show that more than fifty definitions of Religion are already written by Idowu and the subject was not adequately defined. The attempt here is not to reproduce the many definitions of Idowu or Erivwo, but to summarise that Religion to a large extent is the moment by moment consciousness of any person that is rooted in the belief in a Supreme Being – God – resulting in the totality of that person’s action, behaviours and utterances.

Idowu clearly expressed the closeness of Religion and life when he wrote about the Yorùbá thus:

The keynote to their life is their Religion. In all things they are religious. Religion forms the foundation and the all-governing principle of life for them. As far as they are concerned, the full responsibility of all the affairs of life belongs to the Deity; their own part in the matter is to do as they are ordered through the priests and diviners whom they believe to be the interpreters of the will of the Deity (Idowu, 1962).

With the above, Idowu has clearly demonstrated the inter-relatedness of Religion and the life of the Yorùbá, thus the relatedness to Yorùbá language and Yorùbá culture. In order words Religion as expressed uses language and the result is the life of the people that ultimately condenses to form their culture. (Jemiriye, 2004 & 2005a)

One side-issue to consider here is whether the focus should be “Religion” or “Religions”. Can the African Religion (in Nigeria for example) be merged with the foreign ones like Christianity and Islam? (Jemiriye, 2006a) For the purpose of this writing, all religious experiences of mankind will be regarded as one in the sense that their effect on language and hence culture are closely similar. As Awolalu aptly puts it,

I deliberately speak of African Religion (and not Religions) even though Africa is a large continent with multitudes of nations, complex cultures, innumerable languages and myriad of dialects. In spite of all these differences there are many basic similarities in the religious systems of the Africans. (Awolalu, 1979).

Thus this lecture will be looking more at “Religion” even though examples for consideration will come from different forms of Religions, but mostly of Yorùbá Traditional Religion (YTR).

These have been quoted so as to show that the attempt to defining Religion is no child’s play. That it is difficult should not scare any serious minded person away however. The attempted definition here given is therefore a summation of various ideas as collected and restructured by Jemiriye.

Religion is to some, a system of faith and worship with absolute rights, wrongs, no compromise and totality. (Berry, 1964: ). In another, Religion is pretence shrouded in deceit, ignorance, self-desertion, avoidance, relegation and no authentic claims. It is an opium of the people, an infatuated fantasy. In a more simple but general setting, Religion is the human quest for God. It is the search for, or response to God, god, Gods, gods, GOD or GODS by men. The content, form and practice of the quest (called Religion) is designed, directed, delivered, diverted and derailed by man himself (Jemiriye, 1996: ). Religion includes reverence, piety, personal commitment and serving God, god, Gods, gods, GOD or GODS with worshipful devotion. It includes conduct in accord with divine commands especially and believed by individuals. It is a system or systems of faith and worship in its many faces like the spiritual, organisational, financial and hierarchical. It is the professional practice or conviction of the existence of Supreme Being or beings or of supernatural powers or influences controlling man’s humanity, nature or destiny. Religion is a cause, principle or system of tenets held with ardour, devotion, conscientiousness and faith. It is a value of supreme importance in life, death and beyond. (Groove 1971).

In examining the attitude of people in rural environments, some can be described as ‘Religionary’ that is their vocation is Religion while others are ‘Religioner’ or Religionist. The Religionist is earnestly devoted and attached to Religion. In a sense the Religionist could almost be regarded as a zealot or fanatic. In another sense the attitude of some of the people in the rural environments can be called “religiose” – as excessively, obtrusively or/and sentimentally religious (Adelowo, 1995Inaugural lecture). These form what would be called part of their religious culture.

Other scholars in various disciplines have defined Religion from their perspectives. Some are: Alan Menzies sees Religion “as the worship of higher powers from the sense of need”. Schleiermacher sees the essence of Religions “as the feeling of absolute dependence.” Karl Max defines it as “the opium of the people.” Max Muller defines Religion “as a mental faculty or disposition which independent of reason, enables man to apprehend the infinite under different names and varying guises.” (Jemiriye & Eniola, 2005, 3-9, Cohen, 2003 belongs here as well).

In an inclusive statement, the Marian Webster New International Dictionary defines Religions “as the outward art or form by which men indicate their recognition of the existence of a god or of gods having power over their destiny, to whom obedience, service, and honour are due, the feeling or expression of human love, fear or awe of some super human and over-ruling power, whether by profession of belief, by observance of rites and ceremonies or by the conduct of life.” (Gove, 1976, Vol. II, 1918)

Taylor (1871) defines Religion “as a belief in spiritual beings.” Bellah (1970) sees Religions “as a set of symbolic forms and acts that relate man to the ultimate conditions of his existence. William James definition of Religion as “ … the feelings, acts and expressions of individual men in their solitude so far as they apprehend themselves to stand in relation to whatever they consider the divine” another outlook. (Jemiriye & Eniola, 2005; other books that belong here are Morris 1964, Morris, 1976, Smart 1963, Smith 1958, Watch, 1990, Lamid 1957 and Trueblood, 1957).

Every definition ultimately implies theories of reality and indicates the place that Religion should hold in the world of life and thought. In general, the definitions are a valuable contribution to man’s conception of Religion. In contemporary times, emphasis has been on the functions of Religion. Attempts in this regard have brought about a new range of explanations on Religion. These explanations can better be classified as functional and substantive definitions.

Religion has thus been defined comprehensively above as to cover possible spectrum of religious exposure and experiences that would be needed in assessing Religion – especially in terms of language, function, substance and culture. A careful study of the definition of Religion above, however, shows that there is a pattern within the lots of definitions. I have attempted to sum it up thus: Religion means a three point issue or phenomenon A, B and C, where A is related to C through B. A is a person or being, B is a form of relation like belief, conduct, faith, trust, etc. and C is a super being, God or god.


Figure 1: Defining Religion in configuration

In other words Religion is A function B to C. This is Jemiriye’s definition that attempts to simplify the many long-winded expressions called definition of Religion. (The signs used are of no full geometric identity.) (Jemiriye, 2003b )

II.2 The Superlative ‘Limitless’ God

Paul gave a comprehensive description of God in these words:

Oh, what a wonderful (marvellous) God we have! How great are his wisdom and knowledge and riches! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods! For who among us can know the mind of the Lord? Who knows enough to be his counsellor and guide? And who could offer to the Lord enough to induce him to act? For everything comes from God alone. Everything lives by his power and everything is for his glory. To whom be glory evermore. (Romans 11: 33-36, The Living Bible Paraphrased. Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois, 1972).

Even when the limits are described in the superlative, with open ends, asymptotes and infinities, they all still form the concepts of particular expression – imposed limits of some peculiar type. Thus, it could be called the “limits” of the “limitless” God.

Psalm 19 declared the awesomeness of God, his Glory, acts, being, purity, comprehensiveness, his indescribability, pedagogical nature, super control, protection and deliverance, but again all these concepts are the limits imposed on this God by the Psalmist!

Discussing properties, attributes, limits of God have been interesting. Four passages about God in Bible are examples, but they often end up with man playing God or composing God or setting the limits of God to himself! From the four passages two additional points can be added.

  1. The God of the Decalogue – largely in the Pentateuch or the Hexateuch. He is creator, jealous, warrior God: “No one like you, majestic in holiness, awesome in glorious deeds.” (Moses – Exodus 15: 11).

  2. The monarchical concept of God – I Kgs 18: 21, 40, 46.

  3. The Psalmist God – Psalm 19

  4. The Pauline God Rom 11: 33-36.

God is all-wise v. 33

God is all-knowing – v. 34

God is all sufficient – v. 35

(Our Daily Bread, May 30, 2009.)

  1. The speechlessness of man in describing God fully shows the ultimate limit of man’s ability to describe/play God!

  2. The problem of nomenclature for the God-gods – monotheism, polytheism, descriptive names or proper names are understandings – reflections - about God’s activities man’s interpretation of God’s handy works.

God a potentate of time

Again part of the properties of God by some include

  • A sovereign, a monarch

  • An anointed majesty and

  • One who does not seek appointment or run for election

  • Ineffably –effable, capable of being expressed

  • God ineffably sublime

But these are anthropomorphic language relevant to the declarant only

II.3 Defining the God-gods

The combination of the alphabet G, O, D, and S have given rise to incredible amount of varied concepts, tensions, actions and results in the entire history of man’s world. The choices available include six major forms – God, Gods, GOD, GODS, god, gods and a combination like God-gods. The choice for the use of any or all of the variations is a matter of implied meanings put in each word and style. (Jemiriye 1998, 2000a, 2002b, these writings are of interest in this realm of God: Bonhoeffer 1966, Epega 1931, Hick 1977, Jemiriye 1997a, Kavanaugh 1970, Robinson 1965, Robinson & David 1963, Soulon 1976, Wilmore 1979, World Council of Churches 1994, World Bible Publishers, 1926).

A theological understanding that will not only make clear the meaning and usages but will be comprehensive and acceptable to all-Religions, human and discipline is therefore due worldwide. The attempt here therefore, is to examine the God-gods concept within a small setting of the world peoples – The Yorùbá, as an inlet for other people on the God-gods concepts.

The major problem in interpreting Yorùbá concept of God and gods is one of understanding the relations between the God and the gods – how is the God related to the gods? Is the tie of the God-gods one between equals, dependants or unrelated entities? In solving the riddle, considering all aspects of the Yorùbá concept of God and gods becomes unavoidable. The goal is to understand this relationship between the God and gods. This goal calls for efforts to employ the most appropriate terms in describing the God-gods concept and to bridge (where possible) the variance and gaps in the many present divergent terms. The Yorùbá have concept of Supreme God and gods and clarifying the relation is the task. (Jemiriye, 2006a, Jemiriye & Awosusi 2007a).

The gods are functional arms of the God, and having said that one is faced with the problem of defining what exactly is meant by gods, and by functional arm. These will now be looked into in detail. A major problem in this section is getting an agreement on what these objects of consideration are to be called. Should they be “God, Imale or Òrìsà”, gods, intermediaries, intermediary gods, divinities or spirits, deities, ancestors, media, spirits, nature Gods or simple Òrìsà? Like in the case of God above, each name leads to different theological position, thus making the choice of name very important, difficult and complex.. Bascom’s varied names used for this group include Ebora, Ebura, Imole and Òrìsà. (Jemiriye, 1983) It must be said that these terms are used by different writers to refer to a category of objects of worship that are not the Supreme God. These objects of worship get religious, ceremonious or loyal devotion and worship from the Yorùbá. These terms are generally used interchangeably without much fuss. To the average Yorùbá, whatever might be the difference in the terms are definitely not the main concern or obstacle to his understanding of what they mean.

The approach here is to take a performative or functional (role) name that best describes these objects being considered. This helps to clarify the shades of interpretations and misunderstanding that have arisen from terminological confusion, and between whatever might be the roles given to these objects. (Awolalu 1979)

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