Wednesday, February 17, 2010

All you need is Ubuntu Theology

by Harvey

In September of 2006, Bill Clinton was invited as keynote speaker at the Labour Party Convention in the UK. As expected, he gave a brilliant speech under the theme "All You Need Is Ubuntu," playing off the Beatles' song, "All you need is love." Until that day, Ubuntu was largely an unknown word in Britain. Many people wondered what it meant, and therefore it needed proper definition (which I think Bill did well). All the major papers run an article on Ubuntu in the ensuing days. One paper said, " [Ubuntu] is not left-leaning sudoku. Neither is it U2's latest album. Still, it is not fish-friendly sushi." Certainly, Clinton was not even talking about Linux.

Ubuntu is a long-standing African worldview (made popular by Desmond Tutu) that makes community the launching place for personhood (which in turn builds better communities and livelihoods, etc). Yes, in a nutshell, Ubuntu is built on the philosophy that says "I am because you are." Or, as some interpret it, "I am what I am because you are what you are. I need you to be what you are in order for me to be what I am."

Indeed, I know of the old days when this philosophy provided the rationale for the communal life in our culture. "You all need one another, even the strangers need you as much as you need them." Part of the initiation rites (rites of passage to adulthood) was to engrave it in the children's minds that without community, personhood is not possible. The rich need the poor just as much as the poor need the rich.

I can still hear the shaking voice of my great-grandmother, very close to her death at 95, passing on the wisdom to her many children and children's children that "If I am not, pretty soon you wont be also. You stop living on the day that you stop caring about others." That statement left an indelible upon my worldview.

Now, in recent years, a whole new genre of theology has come up, known as Ubuntu theology. The bringing together of Ubuntu and theology has caused serious implications to the field of theology, especially the Western theology that has been partly shaped by Descartes' individualistic "I think, therefore I am."

Margaret Obaga will be discussing some of these implications at this week's Mission and Ministry Forum in the Auxiliary Dining Room in the OCC at 12 on February 18. Come to hear more.


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