Black Spirituality Responding to Bogus Christianity Yesterday & Today

The so-called Christianity of slave times and places was living out a profound lie.  It was a religion of oppression, moral blindness and denial.  It was not that different from “religious” people today who ignore climate change and the suffering of Mother Earth, her creatures, and generations to come of human beings and other beings.

Deep in a pandemic winter, an unhoused Black man keeps his belongings close. February 3, 2021 photo by @Brownsvillain.

Reflecting on slave time religion, Dona Marimba Richards (also known as Dr. Marimba Ani) names the Black experience as a “nothingness” experience.  Nothingness was encountered less through meditation than through politics and degradation. Slavery stripped the African to the bone.

The African universe was disrupted…. The benefits of African culture were stripped away—not one by one—but brutally, in one sudden and total act. Family, language, kinship, patterns, food, dress and formalized religion were gone. What replaced them was the order of slavery. The objective of the new order was to demonstrate our lack of value.

Black hands arrayed in prayer, a posture of receptivity. Photo by Monstera from Pexels

Slavery was a system designed to dehumanize the soul of a people. It brought a people to a state of Nothingness.

Herein lies the miracle of Black existence in New Europe: out of “nothingness” we built a world. In an environment that denied Black being, we insisted on being.

Being triumphed over non-being—the forces of non-being brought forth hidden power and imagination from within the Black soul.

“A Subtlety,” Kara Walker’s meditation on slavery and its disfiguring wake. Walker’s sugar sculpture was exhibited in a Domino Factory. Via Wikimedia.

Oppressed by dehumanizing circumstances we still found something in which to recognize enough of ourselves to revitalize our souls—to create new selves. They took from us everything they could, but there was something left inside that the slaver couldn’t touch.

Key to this survival was creativity—creating “new selves” and a vision of the sacred.

We created a vision of the sacred in a spiritually barren environment…. We reached beyond European Christianity into the depths of this religiosity—this spirituality—and discovered the Divine within us.

By taking the drums away from slaves, slave owners were intending to disempower and disconnect Africans from their spiritual roots. It was live or die, survive or disintegrate, create or be annihilated. African Americans chose creativity.

Ayodele Casel explains: after their drums were stolen, enslaved people created a new form of percussive communication. The USPS issued stamps featuring Ayodele’s portrait. Uploaded by Tinabeth Piña, EMMY-winning journalist.

Expression was key to this spirituality—creative expression.

From the very first we gave expression to that Divinity for it was our humanity…. The expressions that emerged were our language, our music, our dance, our thought patterns, our laughter, our walk, our spirituality. These were the vehicles through which the African ethos expressed itself in America.

They attempted to isolate us, to cut us off from our source of spirit…. In order to survive spiritually, we had to create meaning. We had to create order in the midst of chaos…. we were forced therefore to create something different.  Some form within a modality compatible with the African world-view, thorough which we could make contact with the Source.

How different is this from efforts currently underway in states to strip the right to vote from black people?  And to endanger the right to vote granted by the 13th and 14th amendments and restored from Jim Crow racist legislation ?

Dona Marimba Richards, Let the Circle Be Unbroken: The Implications of African Spirituality in The Diaspora  (Lawrenceville, NJ: Red Sea Press 1992), 13f., 23.
Adapted from Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, pp. 240f. 
Banner Image: Dancers protest the death of Layleen Polanco, an Afro-Latina transgender woman who died in Riker’s Island jail when staff denied her medical services after an epileptic seizure. Photo taken on August 15, 2019 by @Brownsvillain.

Recommended Reading

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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5 thoughts on “Black Spirituality Responding to Bogus Christianity Yesterday & Today”

  1. Avatar
    Jeanette Metler

    If you are a truth seeker, you will undoubtedly discover that every religion and every culture has an abusive past. How one comes to know this reality is through the study of history. This history is part of the evolution of humanities collective consciousness… the awakening movement from a survival mentality at any cost, rooted in fear…. to the conscious co-creation of being and living in the reality of our interdependedness, our interreliableness and our interconnectedness, the beauty of our diversity within unity, rooted in love. Looking at our collective abusive past, although painful is an opportunity for collective reconciliation and healing. Through truth telling and the virtues of forgiveness, compassion, and mercy we can graciously begin to till the soil of the collective heart, mind and soul of humanity… planting new seeds of love, respect, and acceptance… that values, cares for, tends to, nurtures and cultivates what it is to be and live in right relationship with one another and the all and the everything of creation. This requires us to come together in solidarity, to be vulnerable, open and honest in our collective shared suffering of our past abusive history. The focus aught not to be placing blame, pointing fingers, evoking guilt and shame, which only makes our collective deep wounds bleed further …but rather our focus aught to be a co-creative effort of reconciliation and healing for both the abused and the abuser… for truth be told we’ve all been both, in our shared collective past history in our unconscious ways of relating to one another and the all and the everything of creation.

  2. Avatar

    This is powerful stuff. Matthew, thank you for pointing out that much of black culture was birthed as a response to all that had been a part of African culture being purposefully stripped away–for example that tap dancing was at least partly birthed because drums had been taken away from enslaved people .How impossible to have one’s essence–the drumming of the human heart–ripped away. It would be like taking writing implements (pen and pencil, a computer, the right to speak) from a poet, a novelist, an investigative journalist, or a playwright like me. The eradication of a culture, which European immigrants also did to this land’s native people is (if my understanding of history is correct) is one of the tenets of war: the invading army does not just murder the opposing army and desecrate the land; the invading army also tears at the fabric of the culture by raping the women, burning the written literature, demolishing the arts, and “re-educating” the children. That native people have held onto and continue to practice their religion and arts, that enslaved people held onto and/or created a new culture in this new country that honored their roots in the face of incredible opposition–these things testify to the strength of their heritage. Thank you for reminding us of the depth of the importance of cultural roots and practices as we try to understand those around us, for helping us to luxuriate in appreciation of the cultures that surround us.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Michele, Matthew is sooo right, and you too are right in your own further assessment of what happens when Imperialist-minded forces seek to destroy and replace another groups cultural heritage. It seems the age of Imperialism still continues to great degree even in our own time…

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