Benin and Religion

A small Christian church, one of dozens in our town.

A small Christian church, one of dozens in our town.

Walking down the road recently I passed a Nigerian neighbor who asked me about my religion. Nigeria is an English speaking country so this conversation took place in English:

– Neighbor: Hello! You are welcome! (A typical Nigerian greeting.)
– Me: Thank you! How are you?
– Neighbor: Fine. Where are you going?
– Me: To Porto Novo.
– Neighbor: Are you going to church?
– Me: No.
– Neighbor: Are you Catholic?
– Me: No.
– Neighbor: Are you Muslim?
– Me: No.
– Neighbor: What are you?
– Me: I am Jewish.
– Neighbor: Jewish? I don’t know this. Do you go to church?
– Me: No.
– Neighbor: Why not?! (Said with equal parts alarm and incredulity.)
– Me: My church doesn’t exist here.
– Neighbor: But you believe in Jesus?
– Me: No.
– Neighbor: But you should! (A look of horror on her face.)
– Me: I don’t.
– Neighbor: I want you to go to church.
– Me: No, thank you.
– Neighbor: I want you to go to church. (Said in a very serious, motherly tone.)
– Me: Ok. I’ll think about it. Have a good day. (I was in a rush and this was my out.)

Many Beninese that I know take religion very seriously, spending a dozen or more hours in church each week, participating in prayer groups at home and attending large religious revivals. Discussing religion is not taboo. I have never been asked about my religion as much as I’ve been asked in Benin. When I tell people I’m Jewish, they are confused because they aren’t familiar with the religion. But they are happy that I have a religion.

Christianity, Islam and Vodun (or traditional religions) are the most commonly practiced faiths in Benin. Many Christians and Muslims mix traditional and Vodun beliefs into their religion, however, so its not uncommon for Catholics to meet with Vodun priests to protect their families from evil spirits.

There are more than two dozen churches within a fifteen minute walk from our house. The Catholic church is a huge, elaborate structures with stained glass and elaborate murals. Other churches are little more than a thatched roof and some wooden benches.

The Catholic church in the center of town.

The Catholic church in the center of town.

One of the larger mosques in our town.

One of the larger mosques in our town.

A Vodun shrine in our town.

A Vodun shrine in our town.

A Vodun idol in the sacred forest of our town.

A Vodun idol in the sacred forest of our town.

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