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Things Fall Apart

by Chinua Achebe

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Describe the differences between Christianity and the religion of the Igbo community in Things Fall Apart.

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Chinua Achebe elaborates on the differences between Christianity and the traditional Igbo religion in chapter 16. The white missionary begins by explaining that there is only one God and tells the clansmen that their numerous gods are nothing but stone and wood. The missionary refers to the clansmen as heathens because they worship false gods and tells them that if they begin worshiping the one true God, they will live forever in his glorious kingdom. In contrast, the Igbo villagers are polytheistic and believe in the power of their ancestral spirits. The missionary also attempts to elaborate on the Holy Trinity, which consists of God the father, the son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. This concept initially confuses the villagers, who wonder whether God has a wife.

Achebe continues to illustrate the differences and similarities between the two religions in chapter 21. Akunna attempts to explain that the natives also have a supreme deity named Chukwu, and the various objects they worship are minor gods that act as Chukwu's messengers. Mr. Brown responds by telling him that their Christian God does not need minor gods to help him. Mr. Brown also mentions that the Christian God is benevolent and should not to be feared like Chukwu. Overall, the main differences between both religions concern Christianity's monotheistic beliefs and the Igbo's polytheistic beliefs. The Igbo tribesmen also believe in the power of their ancestral spirits and do not initially comprehend the concept of the Holy Trinity.

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Well, given the massive differences between the Christian religion and the tribal religion, it is clear that the arrival of Christianity would greatly impact traditional religious norms. In Chapter 16 we are given a very clear explanation of the differences between the two different religions. As the missionary talks to the tribe through an interpreter, he answers their questions about his faith. Two questions in particular come up that show the differences, firstly focussing on the monotheistic (having only one god) element of Christianity:

At this point an old man said he had a question. "Which is this god of yours," he asked, "the goddess of the earth, the god of the sky, Amadiora of the thunderbolt or what?"

The missionary responds that the plethora of gods the tribe has are not gods at all, and there is only one true God: the God of Christianity. The next question deals with the worship of ancestors, as another member of the tribe asks how they will be protected from the wrath of these neglected deities and the ancestors if they worship this new god. Note how the missionary responds:

"Your gods are not alive and cannot do you any harm," replied the white man. "They are pieces of wood and stone."

This is greeted by hilarious laughter by the tribe, as to them their gods are definitely not harmless. However, these two central issues become incredibly important when we think about the impact of Christianity upon tribal religion, as we can see the massive gulf in understanding that exists between the two groups. The missionaries, by trying to impose Christianity, set themselves up against beliefs that go to the very core of the tribal religion and therefore create massive conflict.

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