Religion: What is it good for?
Marimba Ani (Yurugu) discusses the process whereby the religious/spiritual rites of indigenous, independent peoples were attacked by a prosletyzing, imperialistic mob touting a proseletyzing, imperialist, Universalist, religion featuring an angry, jealous God that loves those who love Him. Heaven help those who don’t. Everywhere and fairly suddenly, pagans, gnostics, animists and other believers of tribal or folk religions became prey – prey to Christians who insisted that THEIR religion was the ONLY religion and all must bow to it. Practicing anything else was punishable by death. Small wonder that Christianity spread far and wide.
Why couldn’t Christianity co-exist with religious/spiritual practices that had never before asserted themselves as Universal, had never sought to force their practices down the throats of other independent people? Is there a connection between a people’s ability to practice a religion born of their unique locale and their true autonomy? So it would seem.
Black Americans are some of the most religious people on the planet; but our religion might as well be sushi. Its a great meal but its not our creation, not born of our creative mind. Its an adaptation of some else’s. And built into that structure are the seeds of the enslavement that we are still bound by. Those who argue that Africans were the forbearers/creators of Christianity cannot believe that what is being practiced on these shores is anything akin to what developed in Egypt, Ethiopia or wherever else in Africa it may have sprouted. The version of Christianity here is a white invention, designed to profit white people. And it does.
That being said: Is there a religious Charlie Parker, the brilliant alto sax genius, who has taken the white Christian instrument, taken the bar lines, chord changes, harmony, rhythm and put a unique, revolutionary African spin on it, that obliterates the Dixieland religion of his predecessors? Is there some religious/spiritual innovator who has adapted this white imperialist religion and made it a mighty tool for black liberation? I’m looking but I don’t see anyone or anything that fits that bill. Yes, we have TD Jakes, we have Brother Weeks and Sister Bynum, Jesse, Al. We had Rev. Ike, Father Divine; we’ve got some phat churches and rich preachers, but where is our Black Moses?
I’m not saying churches don’t do good works, but good works and liberation are not the same thing. Are the good works that churches – providing services to people in need who are victims of the system – simply helping maintain said unjust system? Or are these religious do-gooders doing the work required to tear down the system that keeps our people in a perpetual cycle of need? Pruning the flower beds in Auschwitz might be a good thing, but it is not revolutionary and it is certainly not what the emaciated victims of Nazism needed to escape the concentration camp; it only made living in the concentration camp more tolerable.
I submit that a true religion for black people (and I am not religious in the least), one born of our mind, soul, history, creativity, would have to be divorced from the oppressor who brought us here. We could not swallow the Father, Son and Holy Ghost, when we should know something of Isis, Osiris and Horus, when we should know why Isis couldn’t be allowed in the Christian religion and what that means.
Where are our Touissant L’Ouvertures, Nat Turners, Sojouner Truths, Harriet Tubmans, Malcolm X’s, Ella Bakers? These are our spirit guides, our High Priestesses and Priests. What good is a religion that keeps you on the plantation, a religion that produces spiritual midgets who can’t see anything beyond a bankrolls, clothes and hoes mentality – with a little charity thrown in to mystify the issue?