How theology based on a “one true god” cuts Black people off from necessary indigenous practices
Monotheism requires us to relegate our indigenous gods and spirits to the status of delusions, demons, & simple illusions
By DJ Ferguson
My mother, no stranger to emotional blackmail, had no hesitation in using it on behalf of her god in an attempt to reconvert me. “Don’t you think God (Yahweh) ever mourns?” she asked, hoping to get me to feel sorry for the possessive West Asian shepherd god whom I no longer worship.
Wise to her tactics, I returned with the question: “Do you ever wonder if the gods our ancestors worshipped in Africa ever mourn for us?”
“Of course not, because they don’t exist,” she said matter-of-factly.
Such callousness about the gods of our own ancestors in defense of the god of someone else’s is more pervasive than we might realize. In Black America, such sentiments can be found in the poetry of Phillis Wheatley as early as 1773:
‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.
In the current day, much of Black Liberation theology reduces African gods to those of Egypt, and them to a metaphor for oppression, evil, empire, bandage, slavery—something to be liberated from by the West Asian shepherd god—in the story of Moses and the Exodus.
Meanwhile, a growing body of archeological evidence points to the fact that the Exodus story largely consists of anti-Egyptian propaganda. We’ve leaned too long and too hard on analogizing between ourselves and the “children of Israel,” who went on to commit ethnic cleansing, cultural genocide of sacred sites, and enslavement of other peoples themselves in the Biblical narrative of their colonization of the “Promised Land.”
Some would pretend that respect for polytheism is tantamount to asking Abrahamists to betray their convictions, but this is not the case. Henotheism is loyalty to a singular god while not denying the existence and legitimacy of certain others. Monolatry is holding certain gods as superior to or in higher esteem than certain others. I could get along with Abrahamic religionists who worshipped in either of these ways, but I have an inherent problem with Black Abrahamic Monotheism.
The purpose of Monotheism, particularly Abrahamic Monotheism, as evidenced by interactions like mine with my mother and by the content of the sacred texts, is to cut people off from their indigenous sources of spiritual support, sustenance, and creation.
I’d call this Spiritual Natal Alienation. Black Abrahamic Monotheism requires us to relegate our indigenous gods and spirits to the status of delusions, demons, simple illusions or alternate forms of a foreign god, wrapping our epistemology within someone else’s myths. I can’t decolonize with people who could so callously believe and assert the merits of Spiritual Natal Alienation. They’ve clearly reached their Decolonial Limit.
It was largely my mother who, while growing up, imparted onto me her own love for Blackness, an appreciation for Black music, Black language, Black stories, Black suffering and Black joy. But her sense of humanity and worth came from the place she found for herself (and Black people as a whole) within the context of Christian cosmology. I, on the other hand, ventured beyond Christian cosmology, first during my initial deconversion from Christianity and even further as I studied African Traditional Religion/Philosophy. Where I’m going she can’t follow in her current state.
I mean no disrespect for those who have found ways to practice Abrahamic Monotheism and Traditional African Religions together, or have synchronized the two, but I don’t believe this god and his supplementary texts were designed to be syncretized. The Biblical narratives of Yahweh commissioning his own people to be sacked and conquered in response to their “idolatry” weren’t because Yahweh was totally replaced, but because he was placed alongside other gods.
Worship of certain deities may cross-pollinate throughout Africa and its peoples, but I don’t think Yahweh should be treated like the god of a neighboring African ethnic group. I believe placing him alongside our gods and forms of worship is ultimately corrosive to our souls and spiritual connections to our ancestors, gods, and native lands, because that’s his modus operandi.
He’s proven time and time again that as long as he’s involved he will be hostile to anyone who might compromise the size of his “flock” and will punish the sheep for refusing to be properly herded. Yahweh’s possessiveness outweighs his love. He’s made no pretence otherwise and when people tell you who they are, believe them.
I don’t believe any potential benefit: political, military, social, etc, is worth what our children or grandchildren will pay for us keeping this rooster in our spiritual henhouse. Some may argue that Christianity, Judaism, Islam, etc. have vital roots in Africanity that should be maintained cultivated lest we allow non-African peoples, particularly Europeans, to take over the religions entirely. I’m not concerned about Europeans or what others do with this form of religiosity. We don’t control non-Black people, they’ll “have” it regardless of what we do. My primary contention is that us “having” it makes us worse.
Ultimately, Black people’s attachment to Yahweh and his need to be of the “one true God” is but another borrowed institution from which too many of us derive our sense of “humanity.” But our source of “humanity” isn’t apolitical. Faith and religion has never been apolitical. We need to be willing to sacrifice even more if we’re finally going to be free of the Spiritual Natal Alienation that oppresses us, and connect to what can liberate us: spiritual connection to our gods, ancestors, and native lands.
“DJ Ferguson” is the penname of a Black American (Akata), demi-guy freelance writer who studied Philosophy at Ball State University. His work comes from a very metropolitan, midwestern place.