Christianity has had a multifaceted impact on Africa, encompassing both positive and negative aspects. On the positive side, the introduction of Christianity brought with it significant contributions to education, healthcare, and social services.
The Dual Impact of Christianity in Africa: Christianity is the religious sect which is based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and his footsteps. Christianity is one of the largest propagated religions in the world having over two billion followers. People who adhere to Christian religion are referred to as Christians; being in Christ like. The doctrine of Christianity is founded upon the belief in the existence of an invisible and Supreme Being who incarnated in flesh and blood; lived like a human, suffered and was crucified and died, and resurrected from the dead after three days, as a fountain of salvation for humanity.
Christianity is the most dominant religion in Africa. The term “Christian” entails “followers of Christ”. The Holy Bible and the cross are two symbolic instruments of Christianity. The Holy Bible is contained with the history of life and interventions of God and His son Jesus Christ, and it is most revered as the holy book of Christians. Its content is said to be dogmatic; authoritative beliefs which are considered to be absolutely true and indisputable regardless of evidence or without evidence to support it.
Why the Spread Of Christianity?
There are certain reasons which appear to be a source of motivation to the Europeans for the introduction of Christianity in Africa.
One of them is that it would seem quite easier to exercise control and power over a group of people abiding by the same religion as that that of the government in charge. Since this was about the propagation of the existence of a supernatural being whose doctrines can only be accepted and not be questioned. The general acceptance of the religion seems that it would facilitate the general acceptance of the government in charge, at least for the mere fact that a good percentage of the citizens adhere to the doctrine.
Another is that it would seem that the practice of making efforts to convert more followers is an integral nature of the existence of any organization, religion inclusive. Therefore, the act of converting others to Christianity is an act of piety for Christians which is a natural cause of being a devotee. The Europeans had no better option that to preach that which they have and that which they believed in.
Early Christian missionaries believed and hoped for a reward in heaven if they successfully converted people. They also believed in saving souls from eternal damnation and winning souls for eternal glory.
The spread of Christianity in Africa helped European government to justify colonial expansion to their people. This is s part of the civilizing mission.
The introduction of Christianity in Africa is not without effect, both positive and negative. Its impact seems to have permeated through the key inherence of Africanism. Some of these impacts are highlighted in this article.
Impact of Christianity in Africa
1. Schools and Colleges: The first formal schools were set up by Christian missionaries. They comprise mission schools set up by European colonial states. There, people were taught to read and write. The missionaries themselves were involved in the management of the schools and training of students. Curriculums were formulated and teachers were recruited, and the financial funding of the schools was borne by the missionaries. Yet, their teaching was not restricted to the teachings about Christ.
2. Hospitals and other Health Facilities: The Christian missionaries did not come into Africa without plan for their survival. Their early missionary journey was not entirely a smooth one. Health incidences necessitated the need to establish hospitals and health institutions, which they eventually did establish.
3. Impact on African Deities and other African Cultures: Christianity came with its own ideology which was entirely different from the practice known to Africans. In fact, it seems that the primary purpose of European Christianity was to suppress and entirely abolish the African traditional religion. Of course many were converted. They did not come empty handed. They came with something; inventions, information, education, opportunities and many more.
If fact, it could be said that they entirely abolished the concept and practice of African deities. The few remnants which we still see today seem to be those ruling from their graves. On the fairer side, it seems that Christianity contributed both positively and negatively to our customs and traditions. It abolished certain customs which were barbaric, such as the Osu caste system and freeman theory, trial by ordeal, etc.
The best description of the effect of Christianity on African customs is that the African customs and tradition were placed in a position where they started ruling from the grave. However, African customs were not totally extinguished. Good numbers of them are still into full practice today or are still partially observed.
The customary marriage system; payment of bride price and all other incidences of customary marriage still subsist. Several cultural festivals proved more powerful that the Christian ideologies. The deities are still practiced today, but at its minimal compared to what it used to be.
4. Impact on political terrain: Christianity became like a pressure group, having considerable influence in the government of the day. Of course, European colonial government employed the instrument of Christianity as a religion to attain their goals, and not as though there was so much pressure effort to liaise Christianity and the government. There was considerable impact of the judicial systems and awareness of democracy.
Prior to the arrival of Christianity in Africa, Africans had their way of dispute resolution which was unfairly regarded as informal. For the meantime, trial by ordeal became abolished for being injurious to human existence. Trial by ordeal was an archaic practice by which persons accused of a crime could prove his innocence by his survival of extreme physical and painful tests. Other informal ways of settling disputes such as settlement by elders, deities, oath taking, etc, were preserved as they posed no outright threat to the society.
The impact of Christianity in this regard was that of improvement and restructuring. Christianity introduced a new organized system of government. Prior to the introduction of Christianity, Africans had their one governing system and policies. Meanwhile, Christianity also brought in development in various sectors of the economy. Many Africans were able to learn European languages which contributed in strengthening their political ties and synergies with other countries. Africans also got to learn more about their land and a reflection on their culture.
5. Male superiority: The Christian church played a considerable role in fostering the inferior status of women by providing a moral justification for male superiority. The Holy Bible which is the holy book of Christian religion is clearly patriarchal in its content. And by the fact of its dogmatic nature, its effect still points out till today, although a considerable reform has been attained.
The Christian doctrine placed women in a position where the male folks are superior beings. From various incidents contained therein, male dominance was implicated to be the custom of Christianity. Meanwhile, male superiority was not something alien to the African custom. In fact, one could say that the early Christians played along certain African customs such as male dominance, in order not to be seen as an outright threat to the custom, and by so doing, they were able to propagate their main cause which was Christianity.
But the general effect which male superiority has over the African custom is that of complimentary and strengthening. In other words, it strengthened the already existing male dominance known to Africans.
6. Impact on African Marriage System: Prior to the introduction of Christianity in Africa, Africa was knows to a polygamous marriage system. This is a system where a man has the freedom to marry as many wives as so desired. In fact, the number of women attributable to a man was a measure of wealth. Women were then seen more as chattels as opposed to independent beings.
There were incapable of bearing an independent existence. Women could not give a valid consent to their own marriage. They were merely married off to whomever the father so desired. Then was the era of child marriage/ child betrothal. Christianity however, came in with a different ideology and thereon introduced fairness to the marriage system. It did not however abolish the old marriage customs.
Christianity instead merely propagated a better view of marriage. Hence, the introduction of statutory marriage in connivance with the state. The fact that the state paved way for statutory marriage to be celebrated in the church made it more practicable and it propagated the more, the sanctity of marriage as a sacrament. The parties to a marriage thereon became bestowed with equal rights and obligations.
The impact of Christianity in Africa unarguably fostered considerable development. Amidst what seems to be negative impacts, the positive impacts are not to be left unappreciated.