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Oludumare: God in Yoruba Belief and the Theistic Problem of Evil

by John A. I. Bewaji


In the pioneering works in African religious scholarship by indigenous and Western writers, Idowu, Mbiti, Parinder, Ray, Tempels, and others, have shown that Africans are not so intellectually impoverished as to be lacking in a sophisticated conception of the Supreme Being. Such a Being is recognized and given a premier position or status in their religions. These scholars have also identified some of the attributes of the Supreme Being within the indigenous African religions that they have studied. Some of these attributes have been very similar to those projected in the Christian religious understandings of the Supreme Being–omnipotence, omnipresence, omniscience, benevolence, divinity, creator, etc.

Their works have provided starting points for further research and discussion, but most students of religions have been wont to ignore this aspect of their worthy contribution to scholarship, and have rather taken their works as definitive and beyond question. Even when contrary views are aired, the pioneering works of these first African theologians, religious scholars, and anthropologists are often cited as authorities to uphold a point of view that was fast losing credibility.

The African, particularly the Yoruba, about whom Idowu, Mbiti and others have written, unarguably, possess a conception of Supreme Deity. In fact, this Supreme Being has many superlative attributes, but the possession of these qualities does not lead to the type of impasse or contradiction that arises within theistic Christian religion; namely, the irreconcilability of the existence of God and evil in the universe. Staying strictly within Yoruba religion, these writers present Olodumare as Christian God, Muslim Allah, and Esu as Satan or Devil. That this interpretation is wrong and misleading in the consequences it produces is argued here.

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John Ayorunde (Tunde) Isola Bewaji is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy in the department of Language, Linguistics, and Philosophy at the University of the West Indies, Mona Campus. He received his Ph.D. in Philosophy at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. His recent publications include, “The Certain, the Evident, and the Problem of Criterion: Perspectives in Roderick M. Chisholm’s Response to Sceptical Epistemology” in The Philosophy of Roderick M. ChisholmLibrary of Living Philosophers, Vol. 25, edited by Lewis E. Hahn, and “The self as the locus of identity – A preliminary philosophical analysis of Professor Nettleford’s discussion of individuality in the Caribbean” in Caribbean Quarterly (December 1997).