What is the Worst Form of Poverty?

Is it Lack of Wealth, Health, Belief, Knowledge, Culture, Identity, or Hope?

“When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they…become capable of believing in anything,” said the English philosopher, Gilbert Keith Chesterton, when defending the need for God. Chesterton warned that the absence of God led to the poverty of strong beliefs. Strong beliefs form the kernel of any belief system.

Why do people need belief systems? Does any belief system have any survival value to human existence? Before answering these questions, there is a need to answer a glaring question: what is a belief system?

What is a Belief System?

I would start by describing a belief system according to sociology even though this is a platform for religion and philosophy.

A belief system is a group of values, ideas, myths, folklore, and taboos shared by a group of people, and serves to guide their behavior and social interactions with each other. The belief system also guides how each individual interacts with outsiders (or people who do not share his/her belief system). You can notice that I did not use the verb believe in this definition unlike the definition provided by Steven Aiken which defines a belief system as “a set of values, tenets, thoughts, ideas, etc., that a person or a group of people believe”. Also, I used the phrase group of people to show that a belief system applies to more than one person i.e a belief system cannot apply to only one person because it is created to be applied to a population of people. Equally, the definition I have provided reveals that a belief system is necessary to create a community. In fact, a community can be described as any group of people who share the same belief system.

In Kenya, a tribe can be defined as a group of people who speak the same language and share the same belief system. This definition of a tribe is unacceptable to linguists or sociologists because they define the tribe as a group of people who trace their origin to the same ancestors and speak the same language, though members of the tribe can have different belief systems e.g a Muslim named Mwangi Kamau and a Christian named Mwangi Kamau are regarded as members of the same Kikuyu tribe.

How is a Belief System Related to a Grand Narrative?

My definition of a tribe as people who share the same belief system does not group the Muslim Kamau and the Christian Kamau under the same tribe because the two men have different belief systems. However, in real life, the Muslim Kamau and the Christian Kamau can regard each other as members of the same tribe and they can interact with each other as tribemates (or co-ethnics). This reveals that there is a higher belief system that surpasses their different religious beliefs. This higher belief system that cannot be supplanted by any other belief system is called the grand narrative (or meta-narrative in postmodernism).

It is described as a grand narrative because it uses myth to validate its values, ideas, laws, and taboos, as well as justify shared responsibilities and obligations. So, we can say that the Muslim Kamau and the Christian Kamau share the same Grand Narrative, which makes them members of the Kikuyu tribe. In other words, the Kikuyu tribe exists because it has a grand narrative to justify its existence.

I have just redefined tribe as a community that shares the same grand narrative. In other words, a Kikuyu is anyone who believes in the Kikuyu grand narrative. This introduces a problem, what about blood ties? Can an idea supplant blood ties in identity formation? If so, why is there tribalism in Kenya? The answer to the last question is very simple. Kenya is a myth made alive by state power and executive laws, but it is not a grand narrative, and thus the tribal grand narrative reigns supreme over national identity. Now, to the question: Can an idea supplant blood ties in identity formation?

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Three morans dancing. Morans are young men of the Maasai tribe who are considered as warriors. CREDIT.

Christian Grand Narrative

Let us consider the community of Christians. What makes one a member of the community of Christian (otherwise called corpus christi). Consider the belief system.

Christianity is a religious belief system based on a set of religious texts (the Bible in this case) that contain the values, ideas, myths, and taboos, as well as instructions of what the faithful should do, in addition to how (s)he should conduct himself in daily affairs when dealing with non-Christians and fellow Christians. There are different denominations of Christianity, and each denomination is based on its own set of distinct belief system. However, all these distinct belief systems must conform to an overarching (or supreme) belief system that describes what Christianity is and what it is not. This supreme belief system is the Christian Grand Narrative.

All Christian denominations create their peculiar belief systems from this grand narrative. For instance, I describe Christianity as a merger of classical monotheism and Platonic transcendentalism, while Nietzschean Christians (not the descendants of Dr.Paul Museveni, Drago Museveni, and Pride Museveni in Andromeda) describe “Christianity as Platonism for the masses”. It is also important to note that Jews did not invent monotheism, that credit goes to the Greek philosopher, Democritus. In fact, before Ezekiel ben Buzi, Jews practiced monolatry and it was ben Buzi (or Prophet Ezekiel) who established monotheism among the Jews.

Abrahamic Grand Narrative and Adam Ila’a – The Heavenly Man Made of Fire

Classical, medieval, and modern Judaizers use Judaism to validate Christianity, though they avoid acknowledging that the creation myth of Judaism originally stated that man was created of fire. This man (who had a body of fire) was called Adam Ila’a (or heavenly man), and he participated in creating another being – called Adam Tachton or AdamHa-Rishon or simply earthly man – using clay. Therefore, Adam was not created by God alone because his body was created by the heavenly man in his own image. This heavenly man is described as Adam El-Yon in Kabbalah after he was elevated into an archangel in Judaism (or archon in Gnosticism). The fact that Christianity does not acknowledge Adam Ila’a reveals that Christianity and Judaism have different theologies and creation narratives, but they all share a common grand narrative that can be called the Abrahamic Grand Narrative.

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Adam Ila’a was described as having a body of fire. CREDIT: The Modern Gladiator.

Revealed religions like Judaism adopt ideas from other religions. For example, Genesis 6:1–4 describes the Nephilim as hybrid beings born to human mothers but their fathers are angels. This approximates the ancient Greek heroes who were born of human mothers but their fathers were the gods.

In Book VIII of On the City of God Against the Pagans by Saint Augustine of Hippo, Augustine acknowledges that Platonism comes close to Christianity and even describes the similarities between Moses (the Jewish Law Giver) and Plato, but severely criticizes the Platonist, Lucius Apuleius, for stating that Platonic demons can be worshiped as saints who mediate affairs between God and Man. This association of Moses with Plato is interesting because it associates the supposed Jewish author of the Torah with a Greek sage. Another Jew who is associated with a Greek philosopher is Jesus, son of Mary, who is regarded as the Christ by some Christians. Did early Christians describe Christ as a Jew? In other words, was Christ Jewish? These questions are explored in Was Christ Born as a Jew or Was Christ a Greek Scientist?

Now, let us go back to the Body of Christ (or Corpus Christi in Latin).

Corpus Christi as Communitarian Identity

Let us consider a Kikuyu and Irish gentlemen who are Christians. The average Kikuyu man and Irishman have different identitarian grand narratives – the Kikuyu grand narrative and the Irish grand narrative. So, both recognize their Christian identity as an identity based on an idea, or do they? Can the Irishman and the Kikuyu man claim descent from the same person? If so, is this shared ancestor the ancestor of the first Kikuyu man (i.e Gikuyu) and the first Irish man (i.e Breogán)? In other words, can Christianity develop itself from a religious belief system into a communitarian identity based on blood ties?

Just as the Kikuyu claim shared descent from a man called Gikuyu and a woman called Mumbi, all Christians claim shared descent from a man called Adam (or Adam Ha-Rishon) and a woman called Eve. This way, the Christian Grand Narrative solves the problem of uniting disparate people with different lineages into a single community whose members can claim descent from the same male or female ancestor.

Now, consider the Kikuyu Christian who rejects the idea that Adam is his ancestor. Is he a member of the Corpus Christi? If not, why? If this rejection goes against the Christian grand narrative, then the Kikuyu Christian is not a member of Corpus Christi. However, if the Christian Grand Narrative is silent about this rejection, then the Kikuyu Christian is a member of Corpus Christi and can keep his two identities simultaneously – Kikuyu and Christian, with the freedom to choose which of the two meta-narratives becomes the supreme grand narrative.

As we have noted, a grand narrative plays a key role in the formation of identity and worldview. I will consider the role of grand narrative in sensemaking in a later post. For now, let us consider a question related to the information provided above – how is the grand narrative related to culture?

How is the grand narrative related to culture?

Let us consider 3 philosophical belief systems: Representationalism, Functionalism, and Interpretationism.

If a tree falls down in a forest in Ireland and you live in Nairobi, can you say that the tree fell down?

To be continued…

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