I recently read an article that said that the Black community is the most religious racial group in America. That’s not so hard to believe considering how much the church is a part of the African-American lifestyle—especially in the South. Now whether or not everyone who goes to church acts like a saint in his/her everyday life is a whole other topic.
But as I thought on the statistic and how I’ve come across so many people of color who are diehard Bible thumpers or just merely devoutly aligned with their faith, I thought back to something I learned in college. During one of my African Literature classes, I remember reading two important books: The first being Things Fall Apart by Nigerian author Chinua Achebe (1958), and the second being The Poor Christ of Bomba by Cameroon author Mongo Beti (1956).
While I may not recall the stories as vividly as I when I first read them, I do know that both novels detailed the European colonization of African villages during the Middle Passage. A big part of that story—especially in The Poor Christ of Bomba—was the introduction of Christianity to these “savages” and how religion played a major role in assimilating them to European ideologies and the institution of slavery.
Prior to this, the indigenous people of African had their own set of beliefs that guided them through their way of life. That was until colonization ripped through the continent and a new belief system was forced upon the people of Africa. Those who refused to be “saved” likely died for their steadfast belief in the heathen ways of their ancestors. In the minds of many colonists and missionaries, they were merely “helping” these poor souls to see the light that was Christianity.
The funny thing is, though, that’s it’s been well documented that during slavery times people of color were not even deemed as human beings and more like beasts of burden, but yet in still slave masters felt so inclined to “save the souls” of their property. I never recalled any stories of colonists trying to baptize cattle. So maybe somewhere deep down inside they did recognize a man, woman or child like their own standing before them, but just didn’t want to admit it. But I digress…
I’m sure some will argue me on this point, but my belief is that Christianity was used during slavery as a brainwashing tool to strip African slaves of their history and break them down mentally. They were already ripped from their homes, and literally dragged half way around the world to a foreign land where members of different clans, countries and dialects were culled together to do manual labor. Their birth names were stripped from them, their families were torn apart, and ultimately their varying belief systems that went back for generations were erased from their lives. In their place were European surnames, splintered allegiances to relative strangers that happened to look like them, and a brand new God.
This is what leads me to the question of whether or not Black people are worshipping the right God? Before crucifying me in the comments section, first hear me out. If my ancestors—whoever they may be as the average person of color can only trace his/her lineage back a few generations before history gets lost in the Atlantic—had their own set of beliefs that contradicted the teachings of Christianity, who is to say that what we as a people believe today is our true religion? If not for slavery, many of us wouldn’t even know let alone believe in the story of Jesus Christ dying on a cross for our sins. So if our great great great great great great… grandparents believed in the teachings of Yoruba or any other African religion before the Middle Passage, who is to say that wasn’t what we should be believing now?
African-Americans might be the most religious racial group, but is it possible that our faith is based on a lie? A robbery of truth? Could it be that the reason why we as a people are so religious is because that’s all we had left to cling to after everything that connected us to our true roots was taken away? And that even when slavery was legally ended that in this new world of opportunity, the only sense of community our fractured people had was to believe in the teachings of master just because everything else had been erased.
I’m of the school of thought that two arguments you will never win are those about politics and religion. The reason being because they are at the root of people’s belief systems and when you question someone on that you question who they are. It’s no easy pill for anyone to swallow when you ask them to rethink what they and they mama-n-’em have known to be the only possible truth for as far back as they can remember. But in the case of African-Americans as well as many Caribbean-Americans and Latinos, there was a time before when the image of God wasn’t a man with blonde hair and blue eyes. Their Higher Power embodied elements that reflected their own features and differed from what we now know today.
I don’t say/write any of this to throw stones at anyone’s belief system because it’s our God-given right as human beings to believe in whatever we want. We all have a choice to comply with or convert from the teachings of our parents, but I just wanted to point out that your parent’s parent’s parents may not have had the same luxury. So the Good Book you turn to and quote Scriptures from may not be the same one your ancestors relied on, but if it helps get you through the tough times the more power to you. Because it’s better to believe in something—even a lie—than to live a faithless life, right?
Just something to think about.
So, what do you think: Are African-Americans worshipping the right God? Are you surprised that people of color are the most religious racial group in America? Do you believe that that’s because of slavery’s impact? If you were able to find out your ancestor’s religion would you consider converting? What do you think would happen to your soul if you converted from your current religion to another?
Speak your piece…