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The nature of spirituality


Going green has been a universal fad for the past five years, at least, whether that is recycling, being environmentally conscious or whatever the change may be. But there is a religious element to all of this.

If you have seen the blockbuster movie “Avatar,” moved passed the debatable racial connotation, etcetera, etcetera, it also promotes a message of living green and loving nature. Depending on your interpretation, it was more than conservation. It sent a message that our ancestors and many spiritual people all over the world have been conscious of for centuries: respect creation; love nature, love creation, love God, and therefore love yourself.

Now, some would argue that “Avatar” promoted worship of nature. Regardless of the writers’ intentions, the movie reflects some African spiritual concepts worth exploring.

Common African spiritual concepts include being one with nature, respecting nature as one would respect the Creator.
In an essay entitled “African Traditional Religion: An Enduring Heritage” Kofi Asare Opoku, a professor of religion and ethics at the University of Ghana, explains that it is part of the African spiritual DNA.

“There is community with nature since man is part of nature and is expected to cooperate with it,” he writes. “The need to remain in harmony with nature often takes a religious form when features of the environment are personified. This is a way of remaining on harmonious terms with nature instead of living in isolation from nature or treating it as a mere object of exploitation for the satisfaction of human needs. Remaining in harmony with nature also means preserving nature…”
A misconception is that African spirituality is essentially a form of nature worship.

Faye Z. Belgrave and Kevin W. Allison, authors of “African American Psychology: From Africa to America,” explain that in traditional African religions, the act of worshiping God is in the form of recognizing and respecting nature.

“In traditional African religion, God (though not the Christian God) is the Supreme Being but not the object of direct ‘worship.’ Worship is directed at nature — trees, rivers, mountains, and rocks,” they write. “This does not mean that African religion is nature worship but that objects of nature are inhabited by spiritual beings who exist as intermediaries between God and humans, but who cannot be seen by the human eye.”

As a result, objects in nature are thus respected as they take on a spiritual meaning.

Our ancestors were never “going green.” It was a part of their being, their culture, and their nature. Respecting creation was respecting God. Some believe African Americans have lost sight of our spiritual genetic design?

Perhaps this may be a controversial argument, but it may be worth some thought. With the colonization of Africa and the enslavement of our forefathers, the inherent spiritual respect for nature has been either washed out or damaged by Westernized philosophies that have little to no regard for nature.

Toyin Falola explains in her introduction for “The Power of African Cultures,” that with globalization and the spread of Western culture, the continent of Africa and inevitably the world is being influenced to adopt a more disruptive culture that is counter to of ancestral traditions.

“Western education and contacts with other parts of the world will inevitably produce new knowledge and ideas that will reshape the society. The elite will continue to redefine the culture of leisure in ways that may even accelerate the pace of globalization and increasing Westernization on the continent. Many more will smoke, drink, and engage in reckless sexual practices and other habits that may shock members of the older generation,” Falola writes.

While much of traditional African culture has been diluted with more European ideologies in the midst of the slave trade, modern migration, and more, ancient African tradition and ancestral spiritual nature still resonates in the religious practices of post-colonial culture and within the Diaspora. It is a matter of identifying the African spiritual DNA within the individual. That is why going green is more than a fad, it is natural and a part of our genetic make-up. According to our African ancestors, when we respect and love nature, we respect and love God, and in return respect and love ourselves.