Race & Identity
My Unique Journey from Christianity to Syncretism
Welp, I'll be the first to admit it.
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Like most 90s babies, I was born on a church pew and basically grew up in the choir stand. I was indoctrinated at an early age, so Jesus Christ and the Bible were all I knew. I found comfort in prayer, fasting, and biblical verses that motivated me to find my purpose in life and to live “holy”.
Now I must admit, as a black "pastor's kid" (but also a proud nerd), I was terrified to admit my concerns. As a little girl in bible study, I can remember vividly sitting in kid's church side-eyeing the teacher when she said, "Jesus loves you" while glancing up and seeing a framed portrait of an icy white Jesus that looked nothing yours truly. This and all the other the alternative facts I was being fed began to rear their ugly heads and something just didn't add up. These conflicting ideas created a constant battle in my mind about my inherited faith.
As I grew older and wiser, my cynicism grew as well as I studied slavery and how my ancestors were emphatically force fed Christianity as a public relations tactic in order to validate the enslavement of a whole race. In 1654, slavery was established in Virginia and 388,000 human beings were brought to the United States through the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade (this being the souls that survived the horrifying voyage). This atrocity ripped whole families of displaced Africans from their own ancestral homeland, beliefs, native language and religion.
Biblically speaking, the text does absolutely nothing to condemn the practice of having slaves. Saint Paul wrote,
“Do not threaten [your slaves], since you know that He who is both theirMaster and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with Him” (Ephesians 6:9).
Although the Old Testament goes on to encourage slave masters to treat their slaves “well," passages like this don't criticize the practice of slavery and were in fact used throughout the 16th to 19th centuries to substantiate the explicit brainwashing of my ancestors into total submission and an undying loyalty. Most likely, the reason for this blatant moral discrepancy is that the Bible was written during a time when slavery was considered perfectly normal since it was common placed.
With all the cold hard facts staring me in the face, I had crucial decisions to make.
Should I abandon Christianity as a whole or keep blindly a practicing a religion that was used to enslave my ancestors?
Honestly, truly, the choice was extremely hard for me because in my heart believed in God, his power and his predestined plan for my life. Nothing felt better than praying and talking to God. Also, if I did denounce the religion, where do I go from there? What would I practice? What will my family think?
I decided that the only way I was going to know for sure what I innately wanted, was to do the proper research and try my best to piece together my ancestor's religion, one fact at a time. So for a little over 10 months, I researched everything there was to know about African spirituality and the statistics were staggering.
According to the U.S. Religious Landscape Survey conducted by the Pew Research Center focusing on Religion and Life, nearly eight and ten African-Americans, 79 percent, say religion is the very important in their lives, compared with 56 percent of the general U.S.Population.
African-Americans are essentially the most religiously committed racial group in this country.
The term "Afrophobia," coined by Dianne Diakite an associate professor at Emory University's religion department, is black and brown people's inherited fear of things related to African culture. She said that this phenomenon is a direct consequence slavery and colonialism.
Historical records indicate that most black churches and missionaries of the19th century understood African religious traditions as a threat to the moral and cultural uplift of black communities and described anyone practicing those religions as barbaric, primitive and savage,” Diakité said.
My mind was blown when I realized that all major religions that are practiced today come from some form of African spirituality. We as descendants of slaves, we were and still are being deeply miseducated into thinking that any form of ancestral ritualistic practices are forms of “witchcraft” and are evil.
I researched the widely popular forms of these practices including the Ifa Yoruba, the Orisha, Santeria, and the negatively characterized religion Voodoo, which is really spelled and pronounced Vodun. These are thriving religions practiced all over the world that center around human's connection to nature, spirit and our ancestors. Everything is a part of the whole, so knowledge is indeed infinite. The new age teaching of “universal cyclical forces working for your good” is directly derived from African spirituality. Some examples of spiritual virtues include respect for parents and elders, raising children, generosity, being trustworthy and honoring your ancestors and the Orisha frequent, if not every day.
Our ancestors are part of your DNA, molecular structure, and communicate with you through people, nature and life's occurrences.
Today, I currently practice a form of syncretism, which is a merging of different religions cultures and schools of thought. On Sundays, I still attend church or I listen to some form of spiritual exhortation virally whether it's my favorite pastor, life coach, or simply a TedTalks. How I connect with God is through prayer, meditation, reading the Bible and allowing God, to speak to me and through me in forms of encouragement, chastisement but most importantly love. Nature is also a form of church, so I tend to meditate in parks, gardens and even lakes in order to connect with the whole.
I honor my ancestors and the Orisha, by lighting candles, burning sweet incense all while singing a song to them or just thinking of with a grateful heart. The most impacting change I have made is my deep acceptance that I will never know it all, so I don't long to anymore. I have a greater understanding and love for myself and I try to project that love every day to every person I encounter. Judgment is a thing of the past, so my future has gotten brighter. Hopefully, more of us will take the time to research our rich past in order to create a better present. We are truly a beautiful and resilient people with an even more beautiful heritage. My prayer is that one day we all collectively view it that way.