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The Africa Diaries: Of Atrocities and Religion 30 January 2007

Posted by VARANGALI in History, Theology, VARANGALI.

Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from religious conviction.
Blaise Pascal

For many, religion is by definition the purveyor of injustice: by legislating morality, it declares abhorrent certain behaviors, attitudes, and beliefs. Given fervor and authority, such behaviors are often repressed society-wide, introducing the possibility of state-sponsored atrocity. Hence the Crusades, the Armenian Genocide, the Spanish Inquisition, etc. I was reminded of this last week, peering at the slave dungeons of Elmina and Cape Coast in Ghana, and the chapels built right above.

Rudyard Kipling glorified the economic and political subjugation of India, and Stanley Livingstone and Arthur Rimbaud – among others – became the James Bond-like figures that idealized casual brutality towards Africans. Slavery, however, is one facet of the colonial era that no-one glorifies. Yet the Church stood by it, even sanctioned it.

I’m reminded of the freed slave Frederick Douglass, who noted in his Narrative that the cruelest and most violent slave masters were often the most church-going and closest with the clergy.

I have said my master found religious sanction for his cruelty. As an example, I will state one of many facts going to prove the charge. I have seen him tie up a lame young woman, and whip her with a heavy cowskin upon her naked shoulders, causing the warm red blood to drip; and, in justification of the bloody deed, he would quote this passage of Scripture – “He that knoweth his master’s will, and doeth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes.”
Frederick Douglass

Of course, it was the religious Quakers that would lead the Abolitionist movement that Frederick Douglass joined, and my guide in Elmina was as Christian as they come, asking the Lord’s forgiveness for the rapes committed by the resident priests of the slave fort. But religion has too often been just a handmaiden to authority: not just an opiate for the masses, but also the shackles and the whip.



1. Irving - 1 February 2007

This is one of the saddest facts of history. The blood of slaves calls out to God for justice and respite. The owners and the clergy of every religion who condone it and said nothing have much to answer for in this life or the next. And slavery is still very much alive among the Tuareg in the Sahara and in the Sudan and other parts of Africa. And forced prostitution is alive in almost every country in the world. It is a blasphemy against God.

Ya Haqq!

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