A “Survival Ethic” And Tailored Morality

1048 words - 5 pages

In a number of African Traditional Religions there exists a varying sense of morality. In Mama Lola author Karen McKarthy Brown states that Vodou morality is a “survival ethic.” Brown goes further and states that morality in Vodou is tailored to the situation and to the specific person or group involved. Brown elaborates by stating that Each spirit has a moral pull, but no one spirit prevails in every situation (Brown pg.242). One of Brown's best explanations of why this is so is because there is no Golden age in the past and no heaven in the future so nothing is valued higher than survival of oneself and the survival of one's group. (Brown pg.242). Furthermore, Vodou is not a religion that ...view middle of the document...

When looking at how the spirits both help and sometimes lash out on practitioners this clarifies how even the spirits morality and function varies. These Vodou spirits mirror the full range of possibilities inherent in the particular area of life they preside over (Brown pg.6). By not understanding this varying or tailored morality some observers portray the Vodou spirits as demonic or that Vodou is a religion without morality (Brown pg.6). It's not that Vodou has no sense of morality it is that morality in Vodou is fluid and not concrete.
Vodou morality varies from each practitioner and in every circumstance. Virtue for both the Iwas and those who serve them is less an inherent character trait than a dynamic state of being that demands ongoing attention and care (Brown pg. 6). Virtue is also achieved by maintaining responsible relationships, relationships characterized by appropriate gifts that are tangible like food, shelter, money and gifts that are intangible like respect, deference, love (Brown pg.6). Brown shares, when things go as they should, these gifts flow in continuous, interconnected circles among the living and between the living and the spirits or ancestors (Brown pg.6). In the ongoing cycle of prestation and counter-prestation, each gives and receives based on their place in the social hierarchy, that exempts neither the young child nor the most aged and austere spirit (Brown pg.7). Moral persons are thus those who give what they should, as defined by who they are (pg.7).
In relation to how morality functions within the Vodou religion there also exists a wavering morality within the practice of Santeria. In Santeria the Yoruba revere ancestors because they recognize the community of the present must look to the past for moral example (Murphy pg.8). Another way the ancestors are present in Yoruba life is in the depths of the human soul (Murphy pg.10). The Yoruba believe that...

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