The motivation of religion is to move one towards a goal that is both individual and community-centered. Maslow defines this goal as “self-actualization”. Self-actualization is the highest need of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Religion does this by setting rules for everyday life while explaining why these rules are important. If a Religion does not do this it is failing to fulfill the needs of its followers, causing it to be detrimental to society.
Self-actualization is a process that involves one to be more comfortable with reality, such as being an “open” person. An “open” person accepts the world as it is; doubt, uncertainties, and new and familiar things are easily tolerated. Self-actualized persons accept the disappointments of one’s self and others. One who is self-actualized is not limited by convention. Self-actualized persons are creative. Self-actualizing persons can focus on problems in an objective manner. A self-actualized person is secure and self-sufficient. Self-actualized persons are appreciative of the world around them. One who is self-actualized experiences mystical feelings involving compassion and empathy. Self-actualized persons allow themselves to have deep interpersonal relations. Self-actualized persons do not discriminate. Self-actualized persons are ethical. A self-actualized person’s humor is usually spontaneous and thoughtful, although it is not antagonistic. There can be many roads to self-actualization, but the most common is the path of religion. Religion can be used both for the guide of a society toward self-actualization, or for the manipulation of society towards a negative state. The bias of church leaders can alter a religion, but a religion that is corrupt from the beginning can be devastating to society. Religion should support one in the way to self-actualization, but it should also let one discover self-actualization as an individual.
Religion must motivate its followers. Religion should motivate its followers by setting certain goals that they should meet and dealing out punishment when the goal is not met. Umofia does this by giving rewards when goals are met, such as titles when one is prosperous and wise. Umofia also guides the less mature to prosperity by tradition; do what has worked before and you will be happy.
Tradition is one of the many things that keep religions alive, but it is sometimes harmful when trying to lead one toward self-actualization. Self-actualization involves the development of an individual in a society, not a herd of mindless drones continually doing what they have been for centuries. The road toward self-actualization cannot be achieved alone; society needs to play a part. This is why religion is a group-centered establishment. Tradition will give most members of society a reason to continue practicing a religion, however it is not an acceptable reason for a self-actualized person. There must also be content behind the traditions of a society in order for the common citizen to be lead toward self-actualization. The reasons for the traditions will allow the person to explore the meaning of their society’s lifestyle.
When Ekwefi had borne children and none had lived she named each new child with superstitious names: Onwumbiko- “Death I implore you”; Ozoemena- “May it not happen again”; and Onwuma- “Death may please himself”. She did so because people in the past had done so. It was done without considering the reasons behind it, only tradition. When the superstitious names did not work Okonkwo took the most recent baby that had died to a medicine man. This medicine man then proceeded to mutilate the child with a razor. This was said to get rid of the ogbanje, or a “wicked child who, when they died, entered their mothers’ wombs to be born again”. Clearly, tradition does not lead one toward mental clarity. Tradition states that twins should be left in the Evil Forest. The members of Umofia do this without questioning, and this has an effect on Nneka. Nneka had borne four sets of twins, and she left Umofia to join the Christians because she was afraid that her next chilren would be twins also. Tradition will confuse people into believing myths and superstitions. Tradition makes one comfortable because he does not have to use new methods; he does what has been done before. This is not always correct. When Ikemefuna was to be killed Okonkwo was told not to play a part in his death. Okonkwo interpreted not killing this boy as ignoring tradition and being a coward. Okonkwo could not be called a woman, as tradition would have it if one were weak, so he went along to kill Ikemefuna. This proved unhealthy for Okonkwo; he felt very uneasy and depressed after he got back. Tradition without reason confuses those without answers. Christianity does not contain as many traditions within the religion, but it is a reason for younger generations to continue practicing the tradition. Okonkwo obviously has not developed deep interpersonal relationships or empathetic feelings; he is not progressing towards self-actualization.
Another one of religion’s main elements is to explain occurrences within society. The reasoning behind this is simple; one must understand his environment before one can learn about themselves because the environment shapes who he becomes. The Umofians’ way of life describes common occurrences by myths: Ekwefi tells a tale of a tortoise that was foolish and ends up breaking his shell into pieces. This story explains why the tortoise has a rough patterned shell. These myths are not supposed to be taken literally, but they should be interpreted metaphorically.
Christianity is also based on metaphors. The Bible was written in such a manner that it could be interpreted many ways. This is both a good and a bad point. Because there is such a wide range of interpretation it can be used from generation to generation, and the metaphors can be applied differently as conditions change. However, this is also a downside. The wide range of interpretation lends itself toward almost all interpretation- good or bad. When a biased individual begins to interpret the Bible there is a great chance that they will warp the metaphor to fit their unique bias, whether it is based on race, class, or gender. When interpreted incorrectly, religious metaphors are harmful to society and anyone progressing towards self-actualization, whether it is through religion or independent of it.
Self-actualization also relies on the unification of people. When one is comfortable with others he can be lead, along with the others, toward self-actualization. It is comforting to take the road toward self-actualization with others. The group can comfort anyone who is questioning a certain message, explain why an ideal is necessary, and help one to fulfill the interpersonal goals of self-actualization. The citizens of Umofia are all united in their faith, which lets them focus on how to be better citizens and follow by their rules rather than focus on the contradicting religious beliefs of others. When Christianity was introduced into Umofia’s culture it caused some questioning of their faith. Their society began to slowly fall apart as the new religion stirred up new questions. Before Christianity had come along they were satisfied with their life and they were able to focus more on the goals of their faith. One of these goals is to be productive in society. Male villagers worked hard to become a titled man in the clan. This did two things; it gave them a reason to be hard working, and it let only the hardest workers become a leader. However, when a different religion was brought about they focused on how their way of life differed from these other people, rather than on how to make life better within the village. When Enoch knocked the mask off of a masked spirit the village did not know what to do. Enoch knocked the mask off of the masked spirit because he was confused. He was used to one way of living, and anything against it meant war. This was not the teaching of the church. When Enoch’s previous knowledge of “one way or war” and his confusion between the religions mixed he did things that he thought were right during the circumstances. Enoch was discriminating and was not focusing on his problems in an objective manner, therefore his actions were neither that of a self-actualized person nor one being taught to be self-actualized.
Judgement is another important factor of community life. Judgement is not an aspect of self-actualization, but it keeps the community moving towards self-actualization by punishing those who lead the community away from the goals of self-actualization. When a dispute in the tribe had gone unsettled a mystic court was arranged. This consisted of the titled members of the tribe to dress up as spirits and act as judge and jury. The spiritual figures enable the titled men to judge with as little bias as possible. When it is a supernatural being judging you, you tend to accept the answer easier than if it were a friend. Another aspect of judgement is punishment. Punishment is necessary within the culture to stop the members who may be leading others away from self-actualization. When twins are born they are punished. Twins are thrown in the Evil Forest because tradition, without reason, says they are bad. The Evil Forest is a form of cleansing. Instead of performing rituals or sacrifices to cleanse something evil the Umofians put it away into the Evil Forest: “Out of sight, out of mind.” When in the Evil Forest rituals and sacrifices can be performed to cleanse the perpetrator of his wrongdoing: “We shall make sacrifices to cleanse the desecrated land.”
The idea that there can be only one correct religion is wrong. Religions can peacefully co-exist. Most religions lead to self-actualization, but some lead to it different ways. The way of life in Umofia led the people by showing them what to do and when to do it, the Christian faith first outlines rules and gives examples of how to live and expects one to interpret these rules and guidelines to pertain to their life. The road toward self-actualization can be traveled several ways. The positive goals one may meet that lead toward self-actualization are easily hindered by small lapses of good judgement in everyday life. Maybe one day we will be lead by one who is self-actualized or one who can claim to be more self-actualized than a small chimp. Maybe not.