Functions of Doctrine in a Christian and African Perspective

Doctrine, in Ninian Smart’s dimensions of religion refers to the writings and textbook knowledge that people have regarding their religion. This is exactly what people believe about their respective religions passed on from the generation to generation. Doctrine is in fact, “the set of answers one has accepted to life’s profound questions. ” It intrinsically comprises what the ethical standards of a certain religion would have and it “directly affects” the behavior of its followers. The “symbolic and mythical” are given order by doctrine, since people cannot rely on abstract truths alone.

The main purpose of doctrine is to give “authoritative and sometimes systematic proofs that their religious reality and everyday reality is one and the same. ” It may also be said that doctrines are somewhat answers laid out by the authoritative body in a certain religion, to answer the questions of life. They are “logical” highly systematized body of religious knowledge intrinsic in religion. It is evident that when two opposing doctrines clash, “believers commit the most bloody atrocities in the name of their belief” and in the process stay true to the doctrines they uphold.

Certain aspects of the human life such as “death, suffering and change” are given light by religious doctrines, since it gives a foundation of belief to the religious follower. It may be said that people need something to hold on too, because these facts of life are much too grave for the ordinary human mind. In general, doctrines are “belief systems which provide answers to certain boundary/identity questions. ” What cannot be explained is therefore given light by religious doctrines, and this help in a person’s acceptance of life and its realities.

The functions then of doctrine are to “bring order and focus to myth and ritual”, “provide institutionalization of answers to the unexplainable”, “control boundaries of religious expression”, and “determine what is inclusive and exclusive in a given religion. ” African religion has been greatly questioned by early European explorers visiting the continent. Some Africans were actually even converted to both Islam and Christianity through these explorers. In modern times, African religion still continues to be dominantly pagan.

Dialogues regarding African religions have had certain difficulties since African “ethnic groups lack a term for religion in the Western sense as an entity or activity separate from everyday life. ” Africans uphold religion as a complete way of life. African religion also may become misleading, since doctrines per tribe differ in degree and belief, where it is only called “doctrines” for formality purposes. As most world religions, the African religions hold that there is one creator of the universe who withdrew and remains remote from the concerns of the world.

Believers do not directly talk to this god, nor do they offer sacrifices to him. Instead, secondary divinities are seen as ‘middlemen’ between them and their god. They are considered as “children of the god” or at least are held to be high ranking in their religious hierarchy. It should be noted that African “religions do not demand adherence to any single doctrine. ” The intent of these religions is almost always pragmatic, where “religious rituals serve as strategies for reinforcing life, fertility and power. Doctrine then for them is a set of practice and rituals that they do in order for them to survive.

What they believe in is that “the principal vision shared by African religions is that human beings must vigilantly maintain a harmonious relationship with divine powers in order to prosper. ” The goal of these religions is to control

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these divine powers for the betterment of their lives, and “ritual is the way to do so”. A practical way of looking at religion and doctrine is what comprises African religions.

Ritual then “ensures a community’s responsible relationship with ancestors who are guardians of the moral order, with spiritual forces within nature, and with the gods. ” Of course, for Christianity, it is a totally different story. Doctrine for Christianity is a way of life, yet it is not purely for survival. Rituals are present yet not in the same sense as African religion where they offer animal sacrifices and hold mystical ceremonies. Christian doctrine therefore is an ethical way of life, a compilation of the facts about the religion, compiled by the Catholic Church.

Christian doctrine therefore centers on the truth about God, Jesus and life. These are ways on how to live a Christian life which also teaches the way of Jesus. It may be seen as dogmatic, since the early doctrines were considered more of dogma than a religion that can help in a person’s salvation. These Catholic doctrines had been protested and continuously scrutinized by scientists and philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche. The Catholic Church has been known in its early years to have imposed a way of life to the Christians, implementing soul and even physical persecution in the name of sin.

The Catholic Church, though not changing the religious doctrines through time, adapts to the modern world of democracy and human rights. Persecution, like in Dante’s Inferno is not taught anymore, and was instructed to be uplifted because people follow not because they believe in the doctrine, but because of fear of persecution. Christian doctrine has now become a way of life for most Christians, deepening and rejuvenating their faith in their daily lives through it.

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