AFRICANGLOBE – I want to look now at monotheism, the belief in a one and only god. To be more precise, the Eurocentric definition of it. What REALLY makes that concept so morally superior? What makes it more legitimate and righteous than the (so-called) polytheistic belief systems that came before? I’ll tell you, nothing.
And as if what I just said isn’t blasphemous enough, I’ll further argue that that specific definition of oneness – supreme singularity – filled a philosophical, not spiritual, need for a culture that came to understand relationships only in terms of absolute power. As such, the way that that culture misappropriated the spoken and written word made the “conventional” Christian ethic guilty of the same idolatry it accuses non-Christian faiths. They just repackaged it nicely and backed it up with weapons. Again, do not get angry at me, go and check out the history.
Well for the four people who are still reading, you know that is a conundrum. People will argue otherwise down to the wire because from the time we were small we were taught otherwise. We went to church for our minds to be chained by priests, pastors and Sunday School teachers – many of whom really meant no harm or ill-will – who put ideas in our head about sin and eternal surveillance dressed up as the “Heavenly Father,” the Merciful One who sits in judgement of us all if we turn away from “His” Word and of “His” “Son” Jesus who is His “only” begotten son. All this pitted against non-Christian faiths; the other faiths in the Old Testament especially came in for some serious condemnation (Bal, Golden Calf, Asherah and so on). Everywhere you can turn you are bound to hear someone washing their mouth on devotees of Hinduism, Orisa, Vodun, saying the ancient Egyptians was doing devil worship and so on. Most non-Christian religions were demonised because among other things these faiths comprised of a “polytheistic” array of many “gods” which were of course “false gods.”
We “know” that Christianity signaled the bringing of light to this morally decrepit world because within it and its central figure resides everything needed for salvation. Interlaced with that is the idea of the superiority of Christianity’s (and Islam is no different by the way, same cultural line) “one” book – as opposed to Orisa that is oral (no books) or faiths like Hinduism that apparently have too much books. Its book is the sum total of all knowledge and wisdom. All of that seeped deep down into our subconscious and even today many otherwise radical thinkers sometimes subscribe uncritically to this view.
Most of us were never taught and thought to ask specific questions about these “heathen” belief systems. We “know” these pre-Christian/Judaic belief systems were polytheistic, idol-worshipping cults because that’s what we were told. But ask the most vocal pontificators to write two paragraphs about Orisa, Santeria or the Nile Valley civilizations how the belief systems influenced daily living and interaction or the status of their women in the society. How and why was art and sculpture used? Ask them to tell you about who or what is/was the supreme being of Sumer, they cant answer it. Ask them if they’re aware that in many parts of Africa, including Egypt, and Asia there were no words in their languages for “gods.” Ask about Pharaoh Akhenaten who simply refined what was already taught. And then ask about the origins of the one-god concept in the Judeo-Christian tradition and to compare/contrast that to what is really found in the scriptural writings and you may get a blank stare or wonders if you are just trying to be funny (don’t believe me, explain that the word Amen is not Christian or Jewish, that’s a Nile Valley African title meaning “the Hidden Creator who is unknown,” check the responses).
So it’s no wonder that when that slick-talking, bible-waving conman Benny Hinn came to Trinidad and said he found a lot of voodoo here, I don’t know who was more pathetic, those who agreed with him or those who didn’t. The one thing most of them shared was an instinctive revulsion of non-Christian belief systems, specifically those identifiable with Africa.
Now for me, the near-atheist, its not really important one way or the other. But is it not just possible that these heathen, polytheistic belief systems did speak about a singular, supreme, divine force and it’s just that the various attributes or qualities of that supreme being were individually expressed and venerated? Is it not just possible that that approach better expressed the totality of the divine creator force? Isn’t it possible that with such a world-view it is somewhat easier to recognize and accommodate diversity among peoples, ideologies and behaviours? Is it possible that with such a world-view it’s somewhat easier to recognize women and nature on their own terms?
Well, clearly I’m asking rhetorical questions because most who have studied these beliefs have already given us the answer. Information from archaeologists and social historians suggest that in matricentric societies there appeared to be tremendous and sincere tolerance for diverse forms of thought and expression; often different faiths worshipped in the same temples. From divine concepts to daily interactions the blood tie (family) was predominant and the most important relationship was that of mother to child, guided by honour and reciprocity. In economic activities the process was as important as the goal if not more so. The passage “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” was copied directly or indirectly from similar wisdom teachings in Egypt. It’s a matricentric admonition found in many pre-Christian belief systems that diffused to Christian thought but made subordinate to the dominant patriarchy. In patricentry real diversity is intolerable; the most important relationship is understood in terms of absolute deference to the authority figure who is the father – the blood sacrifice taking prominence over blood lineage.
So I have news for all of you on that pious high ground: your religion is not nearly as monotheistic as you were led to think. And those “false” faiths are not as polytheistic as you were told. And the same way that traces of the “pagan” Sacred Feminine can still be found in what on the surface appears to be rigidly patriarchal “god” figures in the Old and New Testament, the same way that that monotheistic ethic has a hidden history. As a matter of fact, there is so much “paganism” in all three Abrahamic faiths that if you were to take out all those elements there’d be almost nothing left. The very word Christ is of “pagan” origin. Your refusal to examine the evidence does not make it any less so.
But I am not looking to go into that here; who want to delve further could check out the works of Charles S Finch MD, John G Jackson, Gerald Massey, Count Volney, the Rev CH Vail, Kersey Greaves, Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Yosef ben-Jochannan, TW Douane. All I want to do is throw out some things you might want to ponder over.
I am not necessarily faulting my Caribbean people. The fault lies in the way we and our forebears were deliberately “educated” in the schools and the churches from as far back as the colonial period. Now you know, if you want to warp someones thinking, you have to get them when they are young. And boy did they get plenty of us. From the colonialist perspective, of course, this was absolutely necessary. When your power is illegitimate you don’t educate the subjected; they’ll eventually challenge your position of power. Most of us would never question the narrow monotheist idea or even think you need to do so. Consider that even the very language and literature is composed so implicit and explicit messages reinforce the idea of divine exceptionalism. It is heavily dominated by that specific patriarchal cultural outlook that has coloured the interpretations of most things. Dr John Henrik Clarke used to say that the Europeans colonised not just the world but also world history and the dictionary: everything meant what HE says it meant.