Maulana Karenga, Kemet and the African Worldview. (Los Angeles: Sankore University Press, 1986) 186 Pages
A Review By Ozodi Osuji
The term religion derives from Latin, religio. Religio is any effort to yoke one’s self back to whatever one considers being one’s source. Apparently, some human beings believe that they have a source (origin) outside this world and have always made efforts to reconnect themselves to that source. The source is generally construed as spirit, as opposed to our world which is a place of space, time and matter. Spirit is that which transcends matter.
Since matter is a place of death and dying, of mortality, spirit is a place of immortality and eternity, permanence, changelessness, timelessness, spacelessness; spirit is a world that is the opposite of matter and its mortality.
Apparently, people are in search of immortality and eternity and seem to get it in their conceptions of the spiritual world and its alleged God.
If there is a characteristic that define human beings it is their tendency to religion. In every human group there is always religion. Religion is found in all human groups.
Religion comprises of a series of rituals and ceremonies through which a people attempt to worship their God; religion is always a group, team thing hence is controlled by society and the powers that rule society.
On the other hand, spirituality is always an individual’s effort to reach his God and is not controlled by the group; the leaders of society do not control it hence it is a more authentic means of reaching ones supposed creator. The great mystics of all time, delineated by Evelyn Underhill in her book, Mysticism, were always individualistic in their search for God.
Priests serve society and are enforcers of social rules; mystics search for their higher selves and are not interested in upholding the extant social order.
If there is a human group without religion, without efforts to reconnect to their source they would not be human beings as we know them to be.
As we know human beings to be they are always in search of their source, their creator, their real home. Apparently, they believe that this world is not their real home and they want to return to their real home.
As it were, human beings see themselves as temporary visitors to our earth; they are foreigners, aliens in our world. Their real home is spirit land. Religion is those things they do in an effort to return to their real home.
That real home is the opposite of this world; therefore, the perceptual lenses we employ in seeing this world does not see the spiritual world. In our world we relate to it with our five senses, eyes, ears, nose, skin and thinking. None of those enables us to understand the spiritual world. That makes it necessary for most people to not know anything about the spiritual world for most people can only relate to their world through the five senses.
Some people, on the other hand, claim ability to shut down their five senses and tune into the operations of the spiritual world. They claim that when they ignore responding to stimuli from our material world they enter the parameters of the spiritual world and are able to understand it and later return to our world and try to translate the nature of the spiritual world to our earthly categories (and claim that they cannot really do so since it is difficult to translate one order of being to another but they try anyway).
We do not know whether what those who claim ability to tune into the spiritual world tell us about it is true or not. What is salient is that in every human group there are those who claim this ability; this is a worldwide phenomenon. Thus, in every group of human beings we find religion and religious practices.
Those belonging to one religion often find the religion of others strange and difficult to grasp. What is relevant is that these people are trying to reconnect to their source and we generally respect them and though we do not understand what they are doing leave them alone.
Only a fool says that there is no God, or that people who are practicing their religion are insane. Using the categories of psychiatry to examine believers in God there is no sign that they are insane; in fact, they are often the sanest people around (when their religion makes them to love one another and work for one another’s welfare, for what better can human beings do than love one another?).
The only thing is that pure reason based on the five senses cannot understand what religious folks say that they experience and most rational folks leave it at that and not try to ascertain whether what they claim to experience is true or not.
I do not know that God exists or does not and that is not relevant to anything for since I do not know who am I to tell a person who believes in God that his belief is not true? As for atheists they do not know that there is no God; they look at the evidence their five senses give to them and on that bases conclude that there is no god. Okay, that is their judgment and they are entitled to it.
Just as we accept theists we accept atheists (actually, atheism is a religion for it is belief in what one does not know is true; we do not know that there is no god so to say that there is no god is a belief, just as it is a belief to say that god exists), both have conclusions that agnostics do not understand. That is pretty much where things stand.
African Americans were kidnapped by their fellow Africans and sold to Europeans and shipped to the Americas (from the United States to Brazil). Africans are found in the two Americas and the Caribbean Islands.
Africans were first brought to Brazil in the early 1500s so they have been in America for five hundred years (four hundred years in the USA…where they were brought in 1619, to Jamestown, Virginia, USA).
African Americans were brought in as slaves. Their slave masters made sure that those from the same tribe were dispersed so that only strangers could be around each other. This was to prevent the Africans from developing a sense of unity hence organize insurrections (still, Nat Turner and other slaves did mount insurrections in the 1830s).
The slave master made sure that the slave lost his religion, his language and culture. For our present purpose, the slave master destroyed the slave’s culture, which includes his religion and language. Worse, the slave master refused to admit the slave to his own culture and language, afraid that education would make the slave know too much hence challenge the slave master’s rule over him. The slave master got to keep the slave ignorant to prevent him from learning that it is unnatural for one human being to lord it over others.
(Both Adolf Hitler and White Apartheid South Africans learned their criminal terroristic behaviors from white racist Americans; both said that Africans are not to be educated lest they know too much to challenge the unnatural rule of white folks over black folk.)
Human beings mostly learn by observation so Africans learned a bit about their slave masters culture, language and religion.
Over time Africans in the Americas, folk who had their own African religions (it is estimated that 20% of them were Muslims when they were kidnapped and sold) lost their peoples religions and became Christians (whatever that may mean…are white Americans Christians, and if as Arthur Schopenhauer said that they are not Christians, if by Christianity we mean those who love and do not exploit people, how can slaves imitate their Christianity?). Until recently it can be said that almost all black Americans were Christians.
During the 1930s some African Americans living at Detroit, Michigan recognized that Christianity, their religion, is the religion of their slave masters. They said that that religion was meant to enslave them. Certain passages in their bible, such as Paul’s advice to a slave to obey his slave master, were used to justify slavery.
Elijah Mohammad concluded that Christianity is the religion of slave masters, and since he saw slave masters as devils the religion of devils. Elijah Mohammad believed that Islam was a religion for the black man. Thus, he founded the Nation of Islam, a Black Muslim group.
Many black folks left their Christianity and flocked to Islam. They actually believed that Islam is the black man’s religion!
But as these things always turn out, they soon learned something about Islam. Islam was founded in 610 AD by an Arab man, Mohammad. Mohammad and his Arabs are Caucasians (Semitic people are white people).
More importantly, Arab Muslims practiced slavery. In fact, they had been buying African slaves since about 700 AD, a full eight hundred years before the founding of America.
Indeed, the Portuguese learned about slavery when while searching for a sea route to India in the 1490s they ran into Arab islands in the Indian Ocean and saw Arabs using African slaves on their plantations. When the Portuguese got to Brazil in 1500 and could not use the native Indians to do their work they came to West Africa to buy African slaves. That is to say that Arabs taught Europeans about using African slaves.
Thus, Islam is also the religion of slave masters. In fact, more slaves were sold to Arabia than to America. Most Arabs today are mixtures of black and white. That is why we tend to see Arabs as nonwhites; it is because they mixed with Africans. Originally, they were as white as other Europeans but one thousand years of mixing with their African slaves changed their color to what it is today, mulattto.
For our present interests, Islam is the religion of slave masters. Christianity is the religion of slave masters. Now, those black Americans who did not want to participate in the religion of their slave masters, Christianity, have no place to turn to; they were caught between a rock and a hard place!
They looked to Africa for help. Africa is composed of about 3000 tribes; each of whom has its own religion.
African Americans came from many West African tribes, from Senegal to Namibia. In the Americas Africans from different tribes were deliberately mixed so that African Americans are now a product of many African peoples genes.
Additionally, the African-American is likely to have his slave masters and Indian genes in him. Simply stated, the African American does not belong to any specific African tribe. Therefore, the religion of a specific African tribe may not appeal to him.
The African American is now a different tribe of Africans, actually a different human tribe; they belong to the tribe of new man; they are made from composite of Africans, Europeans and Indians; the African American genetically came from all over the world, he is the new human being (in the new land).
If Christianity, Islam and specific African tribal religions cannot appeal to African Americans and they still want to have religion, now what do they do?
Why not found their religion? Alas, folks do not just get up one day and found new religions; folks tend to want old religions for they want that which has been around for some time and the older the better.
Old religions kind of give folks a sense of doing what their ancient ancestors did and therefore must be correct in their practice. The older a religion is the better it is seen.
So, instead of founding their own religion, as one would expect African Americans to do, they went to Egypt in search of an authentic African religion for them.
First, they convinced themselves that the civilization of ancient Egypt was a black civilization (see Chancellor Williams, The Destruction of Black Civilization; John Jackson, Introduction to African Civilizations; Cheikh Anta Diop, The African Origin of Civilizations).
True, the original Egyptians were black, there is no argument there. Egypt was started by black folk then Caucasians entered and eventually took it over and gave it their own culture. Arabs took it over around 640 AD and gave it their Muslim religion. Before the Arabs, Hyksos, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Christians and many others ruled Egypt and gave it their religions.
So what was the religion of the black Egyptians before the various foreigners imposed their religion on them?
African Americans think that they have found out what ancient Egyptian religion was. They call it Kemet. Some of them, particularly Karenga and Jacob Caruthers, have written books on what they consider Kemet philosophy is. They have told us about this supposed ancient African religion and its Ma’at morality (there are forty-two principles of Ma’at, sort of like the ten commandments of Christians).
It should be noted that there is no place where this philosophy is written down in ancient Egyptian writings; Kemet is thus put together by African Americans. If you like, Kemet is a reconstructed religion.
The founders of Kemet, African Americans, are looking at Egypt from a period removed from it by 5000 years.
As we all know, when we talk about the past we invariably inject into it our present experience. The past is gone and is only remembered. The past of our childhood is almost always not what it was when we remember it in adult life.
The point is that what are now called Kemet religion and philosophy is a made up idea and not necessarily what ancient Egyptians had as their religion and or philosophy.
Be that caution as it may, it is still useful for African Americans to try to practice a religion that is not the religion of their slave masters. They ought to have their own religion.
Whatever a group of people do to try to reconnect themselves to their source is acceptable for who are we to criticize them since we do not know that there is a source or no source.
Let me say that I went to the library and checked out books on Egyptian religion and glanced through some of them and did not find reference to Kemet. I then did an Internet search on Kemet. I did not find anything on Kemet as ancient Egyptian religion.
The only thing on Kemet that I found was the writings of Maulana Karenga and Jacob Carruthers and their followers. In effect, it is these two individuals who are responsible for what they now call Kemet religion.
I therefore prefer to look at this religion as the religious ideas of Karenga and Carruthers instead of Egyptian religion. Karenga is the same individual who initiated what is now called Kwanza and called it African version of Christmas. During Christmas his followers celebrate Kwanza rather than the birth of Jesus Christ. Kwanza is interesting practice.
I think that Kemet is interesting ideas on religion but is by no means the truth. At any rate, who knows what the truth is when it comes to religion and philosophy? So let us then see Kemet as ideas on God rather than the truth.
Kemetic philosophy says that it is a body of ideas that embrace reverence for life. It believes that this reverence for life is what makes life able to persist on planet earth. It says that there is a creator called Neter, Atum, Ptah. This creator created people and apparently people return to him after they leave planet earth.
Our dead are our ancestors and they are back with our creator, Atum. The ancestors are those who lived before us and now help in teaching us to respect all life. They teach us to respect all human beings, and respect peoples relationships. Life must be sustaining life.
The ancestors teach that life is good; life is essential; life is sacred. The ancestors teach us to revere life in each individual.
Karenga and company believe that they are helping African Americans learn to revere life. Apparently, they know that in North American ghettos (where white folks shunted Africans into) folks do not respect life; black folks kill each other as if they are rats.
Karenga and company want to help African-Americans to respect their lives and not destroy them. The African ancestors, the original people of Egypt, say that life is to be revered so revere life and do not kill yourself or other people.
Kemet believes that it is the religion of the flow of life living life. It sees Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Judaism as Aryan religions and philosophies whose only intention is to control people and worship a king (on earth and supposedly in spirit land). As Kemet sees it, these Aryan religions are false religions and only Kemet is true religion.
The Aryan religions and philosophies teach destructive behavior and are destructive of life whereas the Kemetic religion teaches reverence for life. Kemet is in harmony with the flow of life.
Kemet religion has a series of teachings which are almost always ranked in the order of sevens. For example it is says that human beings have levels of spiritual development ranked from the lowest level to the highest:
(7) Physical (6) Energetic/Ethereal (5) Emotional (4) Lower Mental (3) Upper Mental (2) Intuitive and (1) Divine Will.
Another series denoting human development has it as follows:
(7) Perception (6) Examination (5) Reflection (4) Knowledge (3) Understanding (2) Wisdom and (1) Truth.
Then there are the seven deadly sins of:
(7) Lust (6) Gluttony (5) Sloth (4) Greed (3) Wrath (2) Envy and (1) Pride.
According to Kemet, individuals are at different levels in their development and the teaching is aimed at enabling people to increase their level until they attain the highest level, Divine will; here, they realize that they are one with God and begin to manifest divine will on earth. It is said that the ancient Egyptians who built the pyramids used spiritual forces (levitation) to lift those huge rocks up and lay them on each other (modern lifting cranes are unable to lift the rocks that folks lifted 4000 years ago: how did they do it?).
On the whole, Kemet hypothesizes that Africans are a spiritual people whereas Europeans are a mechanical people. White folks are said to be at the lower levels of development: physical, energetic, emotional and lower mental and are able to manipulate nature, study science and technology but lacking in ability to understand spiritual matters (which is left to those operating at the upper mental, intuitive and divine will level).
All these are interesting speculations but as to their truth I am not in a position to ascertain.
As noted, this Kemet religion is the brain child of Karenga (he teaches African Studies at California State University, Long Beach) and Carruthers (he teaches Political Science and Inner City Studies at Northeastern Illinois University, Chicago) , two combative individuals known for their fighting spirit. Their ideas are worth consideration; however, as to whether they are serious ideas on God only the reader could judge for himself.
I am not in the market to buy any religion. I made up my mind long ago, actually, at age 14, that we do not know anything about God. I am an agnostic.
If I have religion it is science. Science is a methodological approach to phenomena that accepts only what is verified and discards all ideas that we cannot verify.
I do not see any evidence for what folks call religion and its gods. The God hypothesis, as Laplace said, is a luxury that I cannot afford. I accept only what I can verify.
If there is life after death it is probably in line with what physics teaches. Contemporary physics teach that there are probably multiverses and that there are probably people in some of those infinite universes and there may even be replicas of each of us in some of those universes.
The search to understand how multiverses work and the development of technology to tunnel our way to some of them is what makes sense to me.
In the meantime, if Karenga’s often disjointed and rambling writing about ancient Egyptian, aka African religion appeals to you, by all means accept it. Who among us is qualified to tell you what is true or false in the department of religion? To each of us his own ideas about God and after death life!
- The next review is Dr. Jacob Carruthers, Intellectual Warfare, followed by my concluding Essay (of the ten part series) on The Effects of Africans kidnapping and selling their people into slavery on Africans Psycho-Social functioning today.
July 6, 2012
Dr. Osuji can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org