*This series of posts represents the melding of what may be the two most prevalent topics of conversation in my day to day life – two topics that are also deemed mutually inappropriate to speak about. Oddly, this is possibly the first time I’ve focused solely on this combination unto itself, and as such I do not expect the thoughts put forth here to be conclusive or exhaustive. As an American citizen, I’ll mainly address Christianity. As an American citizen, I’ll mainly address race in black and white. As neither black nor Christian, this may even be conjecture and speculation, but beyond being merely opinion, it is my perspective – one that might not be quite as “on the outside looking in” as it may seem on the surface.*
There is no denying the connection between race and religion. The most basic observation is that each “revealed” religion was geographically specific to a particular ethnic group or “nation.” The fact that the revelation was bestowed upon this select group usually implied some sort of divine appointment. As for claims of superiority, what more needs to be said if the creator(s) entrust(s) you alone with the rules to the game?
While this may not necessarily apply to race (or its popular connotation) in particular, it does apply to an exclusive group, which starts the ball rolling.
One must also take into account the chronological context of these belief systems’ conceptions. This is a time in which the concept of societies– large groups of humans living together –interacting with other societies and building a global society is a burgeoning experiment (a condition that may still be valid). This is a time in which “others” are out to get what you’ve claimed (ditto). This is a time to stick to your own – a time of extreme xenophobia.
But what happens as religions spread outside and beyond their original boundaries? What implications do they carry with them for people who are the very outsiders that, by the religion itself, those who were “chosen” were originally separated from? I first seriously pondered this when discussing the Christian treatment of death, which is quite appropriate, because few conditions of humanity are so closely tied to religion as death.
Many of the funerals I've been to were for young black men. These funerals achieve more in the aim of rejoicing the departed’s “crossing over” than mourning his life. Here's where I'll mix politics with religion. In a social context which suffers a disproportionate amount of tragedy, the religion's message of hope is much more, well, hopeful. Raised on the religion given to their ancestors (slaves) so they'd behave, faith's power to pacify is second nature. Living a legacy of injustices, the message of later redemption is particularly strong.
Of course, once brought into perspective, this makes adherence to the faith that much more contradictory and maddening, but it can also provide some explanations.
People who live a life of privilege merely see an eternal afterlife as an extension of sorts, minus some annoying nuisances.
People caught in a struggle see it as a release – a final end to misery and actual reward. Just the very thought of the possibility of such an existence is a respite in itself.
The latter is remarkably similar to the Jews who formed the religion. The former is reminiscent of the Romans (and later Church) using it to control power.
Let's just think of some of the things that come to mind when we think of wide-scale white Christian-based events: Crusades, Inquisitions, Dark ages, witch hunts, genocides, etc. For those who may want to pick, I'll limit it to American history: witch hunts, genocides, slavery, misogyny, segregation, discrimination...
Compare that with the only (to my recollection) Christian-based event led by American blacks on a massive scale - the Civil Rights era protests.
From this we see how multi-faceted the religion is, and how it can be contorted to conform to the needs of the "believer," and the way the religion is viewed and used by its respective followers.
The subjugated see the message of peace and retribution. The subjugators latch onto the xenophobia and themes of God-willed supremacy. Hope vs justification, or, more specifically, Hope (and how it’s justified) vs (hope for) Justification.
Part Two »