“No nation can win a battle without faith, and if our faith in our God is spoilt by our having to see Him through the eyes of the same people we are fighting against then there obviously begins to be something wrong in that relationship.”
Perhaps it would be redundant to rehash the accounts of the white missionaries’ first ingress in Afrika. But it is clear that in almost every colonised nation, the collapsing of the natives’ indigenous faith system is an integral process in the usurpation of the latter. In the opening quote, Steve Biko intimates that we cannot be of the same faith, or see our deity in the same eyes as our oppressors if we are to tip the scales of this multifaceted war against us. If being of the white man’s faith in any way positions us under the category of being complicit in our own oppression, then, it is easy to see why we continue to fight a losing battle.
Black Theology adequately or inadequately seeks to deal with this problem. Steve Biko says too many blacks are involved in the Christian faith, and thus “obviously the only path open for us now is to redefine the message in the bible and to make it relevant to the struggling masses.” In other words, to blacken the white man’s religion, to make its message appeal to blacks as an oppressed people. Biko describes Black Theology as “a situational interpretation of Christianity”, that which “seeks to relate the present-day black man to God within the given context of the black man’s suffering and his attempts to get out of it”. James Cone, who is the reference point on Black Liberation Theology, describes theology itself as “a rational study of the being of God in the world in light of the existential situation of an oppressed community…” In light of this, it is easy to see the limits in the argument for the rigidity of the Christian faith. In any culture, spirituality is immanently tied with the modus vivendi of the people who embody the respective culture. Therefore, if Christianity, or any other religion, introduces itself not as complementary, but as an imposition to the given culture, then we easily see the arrogance of the particular religion manifesting itself by the presupposition that the native culture’s way of faith is inherently erred. Theologian Ron Rhodes argues from a nonsensical position in his critique of Black Theology, in a nutshell, he contends that Christianity should not be made adaptable to anyone’s culture or situation, that “Culture must always take a back seat to the truth of God as revealed in Scripture.” Over and above any white person’s opinion on black matters having no bearing and no weight towards the struggle for our total liberation, Ron Rhodes’ position is fundamentally flawed.
Black Theology is just one of several efforts to cross-pollinate the colonisers’ religion with the colonised. There are many historically black churches that seek to merge indigenous ways of faith with the imposed religion, such as the Zion Christian Church and Nazareth Baptist Church to name but two. But one wonders if this approach doesn’t smack of the oil-water interface of racial integration. One wonders if this approach is not fundamentally problematic in the face of the realisation that we inhabit a necessarily anti-black world.
By Way of Conclusion
A people’s peculiar metaphysics is an important part of their identity, which makes fertile ground for a spiritual life to flourish. I adduce then that Christianity actually presents itself as a buffer against any real sense of spirituality for the oppressed, as it calls for the stripping off of their culture and ultimately throwing their identity into question. Perhaps this beckons for an iconoclastic call to save God from Christianity, our God, since it has become necessary to racialise God anyway. Perhaps free from the shackles of Christianity, can She adequately help combat continuing cases of gratuitous violence on black bodies. To help us fight the enemy, who continue to kill us on a whim, as demonstrated by the case of Dylan Roof in the States. To paraphrase Andile Mngxitama , we continue to draw strength from that which they gave us to divide us. It then perhaps becomes an important task for thought leaders to deal adequately and satisfactorily with the question of religion in the face of spiritually deprived blacks in an increasingly untenable situation.
by: Montsho Tiro