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?

19 Responses to “Religion: What is it good for?”

  1. What about James Cone on Black Theology…?

    check the excerpt here…

    also…you had me thinking about haitian vodou – and can someone say that the catholicism-vodou blend is merely a hybrid of the imperializing religion and a local form or can we say it’s a hybrid that is a different entity entirety…catholic symbols were in some ways used to mask and preserve the practice of vodou traditions…

    just some thoughts…


  2. Thank YOU FreeSlave, I thought it was just Me brother!

  3. Interesting and thought-provoking post!

    The first 2 paragraphs also reflects the history of Islam into the African continent.

    As I read your commentary, I also thought of James Cone’s: “The Black Theology of Liberation” which Elizabeth mentioned above.
    “I’m not saying churches don’t do good works, but good works and liberation are not the same thing.” James Cone wouldn’t agree. I recommend reading his book… it has a different, dare I say revolutionary, even Afrocentric view of Christianity. It re-shaped my religious beliefs in some ways.

    Stylisticly, I love your use of Charlie Parker (your Jazz influence coming through Lubangakene) and…. believe it or not…. your use of the Nazi symbolism (although I find it a little simplistic but it clearly makes your point).

    Nice work.

    Much love and respect.

  4. Thanks for all of your comments, family. I haven’t checked out Cone, but I would concur that only a revolutionary theology will do.

    Femi, I re-read your post this morning and it was heavy as hell. Thank you for that wake up call.

    Asa, we gotta work on this simplistic Nazi analogy. The point is that we live in a neo-Nazi state (check the Bush family linealogy for that one) with a tweak here or there, and they are running game in a similar manner. Any political philosophy, doctrine, or theology that makes peace with this State cannot be trusted. Anything that puts a cold compress on our heads as we take beating after beating from the system – without calling for flight from or destruction of THE system that’s dishing out the beatings…I’m not down with.

    Where am I going wrong?

  5. Lubangakene,

    You are not going wrong. I agree with your sentiments…. when I accept the way in which “you” see it. My point is, as Horatio informs Romeo: “there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt up in our philosophies” (maybe a little paraphrasing if not the exact quote…. but you get my meaning).

    Beliefs are just not that “simplistic”, whether social, political or religious. We tend to confine people as “one” thing due to a label and then we assume that all that follows from that label is true about that person (or organization). For example, I had a certain view of American evangelicals (i.e. Bush) until I read “God’s Politics” by Rev. Jim Wallis. Now I don’t agree with a lot of how he sees Christianity (from a white liberal standpoint) but I didn’t know there was a white liberal American evangelical viewpoint much different and opposed to the evangelicalism of Bush.

    Knowledge is power. The right knowledge makes one powerful.


  6. The Revolutionary that you seek is indeed on the seen. He is being shaped in the womb of the spiritual symbolic widow who cries in the wilderness for help. To some he is called ‘Jesus of the Ghetto’ and his arms are sretched out between Islam and Christianity. He will connect the Muslim, the Christian and the Israelite and melt the frame of false worship so that the only thing that remains is the “Khalifah,” or those who stand as human images of God Himself. Be patient Family.

  7. FreeSlave, I do agree that today’s Christianity is not the same as our ancient Kemetan Wisdom. This form of Christianity has been constraining, if not bondage as it is being presented today. It is the teaching of Paul and not Yeshua being taught today. In fact I believe much of the preaching (based on Paul) is in opposition to the one called Jesus. However, Black people cannot be be devoid of religion for lack of a better word. It was the power of the Vodou coming through Boukman and Cecile Fatiman along with the will of the people, that liberated Ayiti, destroying Napoleon’s army. Will itself could be described as Spirit, a Loa, a natural law. Even, the Loa’s are suggested in the name of Toussaint L’Overture who came after Boukman. This is why we see the symbols of “religion” in all of the Mathmatics, poetry, logic, astronomy and archetecture of the Ancient Kemetans, Black people cannot be devoid of Spirit, Loa, Goddess, God or whatever label people wish to use.. It is irresponsible, egotistical “reverends” who make deals with the negative spirits (Dubya and his ilk.) that are the face of Christianity today. The basis of Christianty are noble, yet not many practice them.

  8. BTW I just noticed my comment was just tossed out there without any sort of “hello, great post, here are some thoughts i had” preface…sorry bout that! I really enjoyed your post and was just in auto response…

    I agree with what you said about needing to call for destruction of this state…cone talks about the need to symbolically kill the “white god” because of this very reason…also he has some great thoughts on wrath and rage and how that must be understood not as wrong or pathological but as part of “god”s love…if we are to make sense of the way things are…we must believe that things are not MEANT to be this way…so we are on a path to liberation and god must be with the oppressed…

    i happened to transcribe some paragraphs for a friend i was writing back and forth with last week so i’ll post some here – but this is spec. on the wrath thing:

    p. 69 – 74)

    “Black theology, then, asks not whether love is an essential element of the Christian interpretation of God, but whether the love of God itself can be properly understood without focusing equally on the biblical view of God’s righteousness. Is it possible to understand what God’s love means for the oppressed without making wrath an essential ingredient of that love? What could love possibly mean in a racist society except the righteous condemnation of everything racist? Most theological treatments of God’s love fail to place the proper emphasis on God’s wrath, suggesting that love is completely self-giving without any demand for obedience. Bonhoeffer called this “cheap grace”:

    Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian “conception of God.

    …[interpretations that remove] wrath as a symbol of the nature of God…weaken the central biblical truth about God’s liberation of the oppressed from oppressors. A God without wrath does not plan to do too much liberating, for the two concepts belong together. A God minus wrath seems to be a God who is basically not against anything. All we have to do is behave nicely, and everything will work out all right.

    …Black theology cannot accept a view of God which does not represent God as being for oppressed blacks and thus against white oppressors. Living in a world of white oppressors, blacks have no time for a neutral God. The brutalities are too great and the pain too severe, and this means we must know where God is and what God is doing in the revolution. There is no use for a God who loves white oppressors the same as oppressed blacks. We have had too much of white love, the love that tells blacks to turn the other cheek and go the second mile…

    The interpretation of God’s love without righteousness also suggests that white “success” is a sign of God’s favor, of God’s love…But according to black theology, it is blasphemy to say that God loves white oppressors unless that love is interpreted as God’s wrathful activity against them…If the wrath of God is God’s almighty no to the yes of human beings, then blacks want to know where the no of God is today in white America. We believe that the black community’s no as expressed in the black revolution is God’s no, showing God’s rejection of the oppressors and acceptance of the oppressed.

    …We an know God only in relationship to the human race, or more particularly in God’s liberating activity in behalf of oppressed humanity. The attempt to analyze God independently of God’s liberating work is analogous to the theological attempt to understand human nature before the fall. The fall itself renders such knowledge impossible: there is no way to get behind the human condition as we know it to be.

    The limitation of human knowledge is equally true in regard to God as God is in se. We are not permitted to transcend our finiteness and rise to a vision of God unrelated to the human condition. If this is true, what merit is there in saying that God’s wrath is not a part of the divine nature? If God is a God of the oppressed of the land, as the revelation of Christ discloses, then wrath is an indispensable element for describing the scope and meaning of God’s liberation of the oppressed. The wrath of God is the love of God in regard to the forces opposed to liberation of the oppressed.

    Love without righteousness is unacceptable to blacks: this view of God is a product of the minds of enslavers. BY emphasizing the complete self-giving of God in Christ, without seeing also the content of righteousness, oppressors could then demand that the oppressed do likewise. If God freely enters into self=donation, then in order to be godlike we must give ourselves to our oppressors in like manner. If God has loved us in spite of our revolt against God, then to be like God we too must love those who revolt against or enslave us. For blacks this would mean letting whites crowd us into ghettos where rats and filth eat away at our being, and not raising a hand against them.

    This view of love places no obligation on white oppressors. The existing laws of society protect them, and their white skins are badges of acceptance. In fact, they are permitted to do whatever they will against blacks, assured that God loves them as well as the ones they oppress. Love means that God will accept white oppressors and blacks will nto seek reprisal.

    Black theology rejects this view, saying that those who oppress others are in no position to define what love is. How could white scholars know that love means turning the other cheek? They have never had to do so. Only those who live in an oppressed condition can know what their love-response ought to be to their oppressors. Their oppressors certainly cannot answer that question for them!

    This means that all white intellectual disputation about blacks and God is a religious lie. If oppressors themselves, who claim to be followers of the love-ethic, would actually practice what they preach, then the oppressed condition would no longer exist. There is something demonic about whites who have the protection of the state but advise blacks to go the second mile for them. They have not moved even an inch for blacks: how can they claim to be speaking from a common perspective called Christianity?

    It takes a special kind of reasoning to conclude that God’s love means that God is no respecter of persons in a society filled with hate, where some think they have the ungodly right to define the course of human history for all. Ungodly in their very relationship to blacks, they want to tell us what God’s love means. There is only one explanation for this attitude. They are white and can think only in white thought-patterns, even in reference to God. How else do we explain that the white theological view of God’s love invariably complements or shores up outrageous socio-political structures that want blacks to be complacent and obedient to white enemies? Can they really expect blacks to take them seriously?

    The oppressor’s view of God’s love is rejected by black theologians because they represent a people that shares Frantz Fanon’s feelings about the world:

    All the native has seen in his country is that they can freely arrest him, beat him, starve him: and no professor of ethics, no priest has ever come to be beaten in his place, nor to share their bread with him. As far as the native is concerned, morality is very concrete; it is to silence the settler’s defiance, to break his flaunting violence – in a word, to put him out of the picture.

    Black theology will accept only a love of God which participates in the destruction of the white oppressor. With Fanon, black theology takes literally Jesus’ statement, “the last will be first, and the first last.” Black power “is the putting into practice of this sentence.”

    Blacks cannot adhere to a view of God that will weaken their drive for liberation. This means that in a racist society, we must insist that God’s love and God’s righteousness are two ways of talking about the same reality. Righteousness means that God is addressing the black condition; love means that God is doing so in the interests of both blacks and whites. The blackness of God points to the righteousness of God, as well as to the love fo God.

    Paul Tillich, in another connection, has placed a similar emphasis. Though he refuses to say that wrath is a part of God’s being, it is to his credit that he hads insisted that divine love and justice should not be separated

    Justice is that side of love which affirms the independent right to object and subject within the love relation. [Because love is the reunion of the estranged, it] does not destroy the freedom of the beloved and does not violate the structures of the beloved’s individual and social existence.

    This means that justice is the structure necessary for the human expression of human freedom. To be God, God must protect both the freedom and the structure of human behavior. That is why Tillich rejects sentimental misinterpretations of love as emotion, which suggest that there is a conflict between divine love and its relationship to power and justice. The three are inseparable, according to Tillich:

    It must be emphasized that it is not divine power as such which is thought to be in conflict with the divine love. The divine power is the power of being-itself, and being-itself is actual in the divine life whose nature is love. A conflict can be imagined only in relation to the creature who violates the structure of justice and so violates love itself. When this happens…judgment and condemnation follow…Condemnation then is not the negation of love but the negation of the negation of love.

    What, then, can we conclude about the meaning of God’s love in a racist society? Using blackness as the point of departure, black theology believes that God’s love of humankind is revealed in God’s willingness to become black. God’s love is incomprehensible apart from blackness. This means that to love blacks God takes on black oppressed existence, becoming one of us. God is black because God loves us; and God loves us because we are black.

    Righteousness is that side of God’s love which expresses itself through black liberation. God makes black what humans have made white. Righteousness is that aspect of God’s love which prevents it from being equated with sentimentality. Love is a refusal to accept whiteness. To love is to make a decision against white racism. Because love means that God meets our needs, God’s love for white oppressors could only mean wrath – that is, a destruction of their whiteness and a creation of blackness.

    For black theology love cannot be discussed in the abstract. It must be concrete because black suffering is concrete. Black suffering is whites making decisions about our place in the world, telling us what we can or cannot do in society. Love must be brought down to this level, the reality of white inhumanity against the black community. As Fanon says, ‘ no phraseology can be a substitute for reality.’ That is why black theology says that God’s love is God’s liberation of blacks as expressed in black power.”


  9. Lubangakene,

    Elizabeth did you a favour, you don’t have to buy the book: James Cone’s: “The Black Theology of Liberation”. She provides an excellent summary of it’s treatise.

    I wish you heaven.

  10. Admittedly I haven’t read all the comments so I don’t know if what I am abut to say is addressed here.

    I am Black. I am a woman. I am saved. I think the problem most non religious people have with those of us who are saved is a lack of acceptance. I study and I did not come to Christianity lightly.

    I studied Islam for several years in my twenties. I studied Buddhism and several other lesser faiths. At the end of the day I agree that while I embrace my beliefs fully it is not my place to force others to do so. I think that the African-American faith is as unique and diverse as we are. I don’t for a second believe that religion is what lifts people out of “Auschwitz” as you put it.

    I believe that we must do that ourselves without using religion as a divider. If we are to look at Black America then we must put religion in its place. It is a personal expression of what we feel is greater than ourselves. There is no black moses. He doesn’t exist because we are not singular as a people.

    We have reached the place where my concerns are not necessarily your concerns and so forth. Therefore, how can we have 1 person to “let our people go”

    Authentic religion is not what will uplift black people.

    Recognizing our diverse nature (regardless of how it happened) and working together rather than doing “others” work for them by dividing ourselves based on faith.

    I can guarantee that if a white Lutheran, white Protestant, White catholic and a white Jew had a problem with oppression they wouldn’t spend time arguing over whose religion was best or authentic. They would work together to fix it because the problem affected them all.

  11. Thanks for all of the wonderful responses.

    I grew up Catholic – school, church, nuns, rulers rapping knuckles, etc, etc.

    I rejected it all. When I came to an understanding of a Higher Power, it was through feeling that God energy enter my life. No one spoonfed me, provided me with a story about God and how that relationship should be structured, etc.

    Religion, to me, is like living within the grounds of a compound, being told that that is all there is and being told, if you step outside of this compound, this thinking, this dogma, you will burn in hell.

    Now, I know that sounds extreme, but I have met people who are intellectually/emotionally incapable of thinking outside of what they’ve learned and seen within that compound. Certainly, not all believers are that extreme. But, the context through which most religious folks tend to view the world is through “The Bible.” This is sacred text. This is the Word – of God.

    It is a book, one of many; a book whose authors are not known for certain, and certainly it is a book that was at best “inspired” (allegedly), by Jesus (if Jesus existed), but not written by that Jesus.

    This book has been used to support enslavement, discrimination, imperialism, among other things. And its a rather confusing book. I find it amazing that people place their lives in conformity to such vague, confused doctrine, particularly when, there is a whole world of thought and experience and books that can provide much clearer insights into the mysteries of the world.

    I have a major problem running my faith through the Bible or any book. I have a problem, living intellectually, emotionally, spiritually cloistered behind the walls of religious thought, filtered through the Bible.

    One of my favorite musicians, Lee Morgan, is quoted as saying: “you live your life, you learn the technical aspects of your instrument and then you play yourself on the horn.”

    Religion seems to require that you play like classical musicians, play what’s in front of you and NOT who you are. Instead of integrating your spirituality into your life, your experiences, etc, it seems religion encourages people to squeeze and filter their lives and understanding of everything, through narrow doctrine, through, edict, through commandments and other sorts of myopic admonishtions.


    Miles Davis said: “don’t play what’s there, play what’s not there.” If we could only follow THAT dictum.

  12. wow..great debate going on here. free, you touched on something interesting when you said “Religion seems to require that you play like classical musicians, play what’s in front of you and NOT who you are”
    –from a general viewpoint, perhaps humans like that sort of ”order” because it ensures that they have a barometer to know what is good and bad. i do agree with you though, it can come across robotic but then again…religion is man-made so maybe we have just done this to ourselves!

  13. FS –

    I overheard some students at school the other day talking amongst themselves. they were the christian law students society. they were talking about how persecuted they feel by non-christians, particularly jews and atheists. (25% of my class is Jewish. a good deal of people I’ve spoken to are atheist.) I could hardly keep a straight face listening to them talk about how they felt so attacked by the atheists they’ve encountered in our class, and how they felt so excluded and marginalized because of the sheer existence of so many jewish students in our class. un-fucking-believable.

  14. “Religion: What is it good for?” Nothing! Without getting into any of the content of your post. All I have to say is nothing.

    I have given up on religion & now consider myself a nonbeliever. We continue to search for answers & never find them so fuck it.


  15. Ancient Future by Wayne Chandler.

    The Seven Hermetic principles of living are mentalism, correspondence, vibration, polarity, gender, rhythm, and causation…

    Changed my life.


  16. I’d have to say that my ideas about religion are distinctly unchristian. I’ve been wo’king at a blend of ancestor worship, the universe as abundant place where oppression tries to block her flow, the goddess as metaphor for our planetary existence and arbitrary doses of african orishas thrown in when and where appropriate. It fits my family to a T cuz it was made for us. Christianity wasn’t made for us and it’s been used to make things difficult on so many different levels for black people and for people of other melanin pigmented ethnicities including peoples of the First Nations, for wimmin, for the poor, for queers. It was a vehicle for spirituality that has been repeatedly used to do drive bys. Not cool.

  17. Thank you for this blog post I found it really interesting.

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