How Christianity played a part in the endeavour to eradicate African Spiritual Practices & a personal account of the modern day effects

This series is coming together in real time. I had a completely different topic planned for today that I was struggling to feel connected to. While pulling together source material I came across A LOOK AT COLONIALISM FROM THE SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVES OF AFRICANS by Raisa Cornelia Parnell, a thesis that I’ll be quoting from for much of this post. 

It’s no secret that right alongside the slavers and traders, were the missionaries. It’s also well known that Christianity has origins in or around 313BC in Ethiopia. The thing about life is that most things are nuanced and multiple things can be true at once. Christianity isn’t an exclusively European export nor is it necessarily negative. There is good & bad in everything. Nuance. Much of what determines benefit or detriment to others in the things we do is intent. What is the intent? A person can smile with you and engage in pleasant conversation in order to distract you for any number of reasons. Does that take away from the fact that in that moment you were enjoying that conversation? No it doesn’t. However, if while you were distracted they robbed you ultimately the entire experience was to your detriment.

“The Christian missionaries were much part of the colonizing forces as were the explorers, traders and soldiers. There may be room for arguing whether in a given colony the missionaries brought other colonialist forces or vice versa, but there is no doubting the fact that missionaries were agents of colonialism in the practical sense whether or not they saw themselves in that light.” - Walter Rodney, “How Europe Underdeveloped Africa inspired and informed several pre-colonial African revolutionaries,”

I’ve made a point to include the ways our ancestors' spirituality was deeply woven into their daily lives. In order to take control, Africans had to be removed from their customs entirely. For the powers that be, they were no longer human beings, they were property. Property has no use for belief systems and customs. As a commodity, our ancestors were forced to serve the needs and wants of the Europeans.

“Fifteen years following the Berlin Conference, the supposed imperative of civilizing non-whites was expressed in Rudyard Kipling’s poem published in 1899 in McClure’s Magazine entitled “White Man’s Burden”:

To seek another’s profit

And work another’s gain

Take up the White Man’s burden—

And reap his old reward:

The blame of those ye better

The hate of those ye guard—

The cry of hosts ye humour

(Ah slowly) to the light:

“Why brought ye us from bondage,

“Our loved Egyptian night?”

The idea of the White Man’s Burden was to better (“seek another’s profit”) an ostensibly backward people (anyone who was not white). The lines following this initial declaration reveal the prevailing attitude in regards to how such a civilizing mission would proceed. Kipling bemoans that the African people will come “slowly to the light” and would lament their release from “bondage.” In essence, Kipling believed that these non-white racial groups were so backward that they would be unable to comprehend the benefits of Europeanization. It was Kipling’s belief that Africans must be pulled toward the “light” in order to see the error of their, in his view, savage nature.” - The Philosophy of Colonialism: Civilization, Christianity, and Commerce

In order to fully remove our ancestors for their spiritual practices, it wasn’t enough to just share the gospel. Conversion was a requirement. European Christianity was the standard. A standard that was enforced. 

“Ako Adjei, in his contribution to Ram Desai’s Christianity in Africa as Seen by the Africans, points to the issue of teaching biblical history at the expense of African history: 

In the church African young men and women are taught to pay high respect to, and develop a sentimental attachment toward, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and may other biblical characters who, we all know, were all great men and women who made definite contributions to the long and painful history of the Jewish nation in the ancient world. It is ridiculous for an African boy or girl to be taught in the Christian church and mission schools to call Abraham or Jacob their father or to look upon Jerusalem as their holy city. But the mission schools do their best to impart this kind of education. African history is thus undermined, and the indigenous traditional culture consequently begins to lose its charm and its captivating appeal to the imagination of African youth (Desai, 1962. p.77).”- A LOOK AT COLONIALISM FROM THE SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVES OF AFRICANS by Raisa Cornelia Parnell”

“In Kipling’s poem, the lines, “Your new-caught sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child” refer to the European belief that Africans were heathens, resigned to live a life of savagery. Furthermore European missionaries called upon the tenants of Christianity to spread what they believed was a just and compassionate doctrine. In practice they were used to degrade the culture and society of the African people. Under the pretense of humanitarian theology, European powers strategically implemented Christianity as a divisive imperialistic tool.” - The Philosophy of Colonialism: Civilization, Christianity, and Commerce

In her thesis Raisa Parnell presents a few ideas as to why it wasn’t always difficult to accept Christianity for our ancestors. In some cases individuals were ostracized from the community based on cultural belief. Left without a community to fall back on, Christianity provided a solace. Another idea presented as that African spirituality was not able to explain why slavery was happening or how to end it. The idea of a Devil being responsible for all of the suffering provided reasoning.

“Because while it is certainly possible for one to convert to Christianity while ceasing to believe in their former beliefs, it seems as though animosity was the attitude one had to have against their former beliefs in order to be considered a Christian. The Africans’ former beliefs were not to be seen as simply something else they believed, but something nonsensical, evil; inferior. Ancestors were disrespected; shrines were burned and denigrated; sacred oral stories and tales were aspersed – all in order for Christian missionaries to believe the conversions of the African people.” - A LOOK AT COLONIALISM FROM THE SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVES OF AFRICANS by Raisa Cornelia Parnell

We can see the effects of the demonization of African spiritual practices until today. I was taught it, believed it, have seen it & experienced it. Young adult aged and largely secular black people will call things like the practice of manifesting demonic. But what if manifesting? Manifesting is simply a form of prayer. It’s textbook anti-blackness to believe that manifesting your desires is demonic. At this point the powers that be don’t have to do anything to enforce it. We weaponize it against each other. Much of it stems from fear. Instinctively, we know the power. They did too. Which is why it was imperative to try and remove us from that knowledge. But you can never take who a person is from them.

“Vincent Mulago, quoting Bishop Le Roy, speaks about the ambiguity of religious/spiritual terms and practices within the African context:

“ Africa, if it is involved in everything, is also confused with everything: with laws and received customs, feasts, rejoicing, mourning, work and business, events, and accidents of life. it is even difficult at times to distinguish it in practice from medicine, science, superstition, and magic. That is why there is no word to indicate religion in general; it is included under the general expression ‘customs’ – what is received from the ancestors, what has always been believed and done, the practices which must be observed to maintain the family, the village, the tribe, and whose neglect would bring about certain misfortunes – as we have often seen. (Mulago, 1991, p.127).”  - A LOOK AT COLONIALISM FROM THE SPIRITUAL PERSPECTIVES OF AFRICANS by Raisa Cornelia Parnell”

We are spiritual people. Even now we have customs that are not Christian that are just accepted in black culture. Things like not whistling indoors, not putting your purse on the ground, walking into the house backwards when coming into the house after midnight, pouring one out for the dead homies (Ancestor veneration), placing an open bible in a babies crib, tying a red string on a babies wrist, a newer one is not posting your babies face on social media until they’ve been christened or dedicated, not cutting a baby boys hair until he can talk… I could do this all day. Each of these practices are forms of spiritual protection and fall under the umbrella of “juju”.

As I mentioned before, there is good and bad in everything. Humans are not monolithic. Of course people have and will continue to use spirituality & magic for corrupt means. For me though? Stripping an entire people of their culture, teaching them to hate themselves and each other, r*ping, killing and pillaging entire communities and stealing their resources, forcing their children into schools where you allow them to practice none of their cultural customs, the list goes on and on and on. That is real evil.

So what does this have to do with afrofuturism? What does this have to do with going forward to the future for black people? 

My (intentional) spiritual journey started around 8 or 9 years back but of course it’s a lifelong journey. I was raised in a strictly religious home. My entire immediate & extended family are Seventh Day Adventists. My immediate family specifically was extremely devout. I was not allowed to do anything secular. If I listened to music it had to be gospel, no dancing, no nail polish, no makeup, no coloured hair, no going to the movies… I could be here all day writing the rules. I never felt a connection to the God presented to me. I was an intuitive kid, I knew things, felt things. But never when I sat in that church. I had dreams I couldn’t tell anyone about. I felt energy. I couldn’t sleep at night because of it but I would never tell. Instead I’d sleep with the blanket up to my eyes with the light on & get in trouble in the morning for having the light on all night. Lol. Without going into detail, I’m able to see at this stage of my journey the ways religion separated me from myself. From my true essence. There was no one I could ask or speak to open my mind to the world of spirituality. The only thing I knew was no witchcraft, no halloween & demons are real so don't get possessed 😅 Baby me with undiagnosed anxiety spent a significant amount of time worrying about being possessed by a demon. I was deathly afraid of ghosts or anything to do with spirits. I got up and left when my best friend at the time put on The Exorcist at her house. Never mind ever being exposed to the concept of ancestors as a beneficial thing. 

I believe my intentional journey began with doing vision boards, crystals & sage. 😂 The usual. But I kept going. I kept learning and unlearning. I begin the work of unravelling anti black programming which is a part of living in this world but is also tied to my religious upbringing. A few months back I listened to an episode of the Behind The Bastards podcast on John Harvey Kellog of the instrumental figures in early Seventh Day Adventism. Kellog was a whole eugenicist. 🙃 He and Ellen G White (a founding member), we had many books about her in our home as a kid, made it a point to go into disenfranchised black neighborhoods to “spread the gospel” when they wanted to expand their religion. Not to mention Kellog was a very strange and perverted man. All that to say at this point in my journey, there is nothing Christianity can offer me.

I found my liberation in spirituality. I found myself. I connected to my inner divinity. I’ve felt and seen Spirit move on my behalf countless times. I found peace in getting back to Spirit and the ways of our ancestors. I’ve found my purpose work. Venerating my ancestors has changed my life in tangible ways consistently. My personal brand of spirituality literally saved me. I say my personal brand because I don’t practice a specific African Traditional or Diasporic Religion. Be that as it may, with all I’ve learned I hold deep respect and reverence for these practices. From Ifa, to Obeah, to Lucimi, to Vodoun. I firmly believe our liberation as black people is in decolonizing our minds and getting back to Spirit.

- eleven 


How Christianity was spread to Africa x Parable doc

Behind The Bastards - Part One: Kellogg: The Great American Cum Doctor

The Philosophy of Colonialism: Civilization, Christianity, and Commerce

Christianity in Africa is not a Colonizer Religion by Jeff Oganga


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