Author Topic: European Christianity and the Demonization of Africans  (Read 3084 times)


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European Christianity and the Demonization of Africans
« on: July 08, 2007, 11:26:54 PM »
European Christianity and the Demonization of Africans and Others


Festus Ikeotuonye

Quite recently I was discussing with a friend the uses of “Christianity” in Nigeria, since these days, it has become central to how most Southern Nigerians see themselves. We covered the usual topics of why Africans are increasingly susceptible to Western Christianity even though the Ethiopian and Coptic Orthodox Judeo-Christianity existed in African long before it did in Europe. We talked about how the numerous “pastors” that now populate the Nigerian landscape like ants are playing a key role in the erosion of the family, kinship, and clan through their “visions”. We all have seen or heard the “your uncle/father/brother etc is using juju to steal the good luck God intended for you” delusions peddled in Nigeria like that dirty liquid called “clear water”. By presenting the outgrowths of the structural and functional problems in Nigeria as merely down to “luck” and God’s intention skewed by Juju, the “pastor” is diverting people’s attention away from the ineptitude of their neo-colonial rulers and administrators. Personally, I don’t care what an individual chooses to believe because this is up to them. But if those beliefs are been used to mentally enslave a population who since the 16th century have been under siege by colonizing belief systems then it is no longer an individual issue. It becomes simply a social concern like drugs and narcotics. In fact to be blunt, if religion is the opium of the oppressed, the pastor is like the pimp and drug dealer in the hood. Funny enough they do dress the part and often want the “ghetto bourgeois” trappings of consumerism they see among their American “black rednecks” brethrens.

 This was precisely the “job” of the European missionaries during Colonialism/Christianization of the 19th century. Addressing the missionaries before they leave to “save” African “souls” King Leopold the “rubber (or better still, robber) baron” told the evangelists that:

“Reverends, Fathers and Dear Compatriots: The task that is given to fulfill is very delicate and requires much tact.  You will go certainly to evangelize, but your evangelization must inspire above all Belgium interests.  Your principal objective in our mission in the Congo is never to teach the niggers to know God, this they know already.  They speak and submit to a Mungu, one Nzambi, one Nzakomba, and what else I don’t know.  They know that to kill, to sleep with someone else’s wife, to lie and to insult is bad.  Have courage to admit it; you are not going to teach them what they know already.  Your essential role is to facilitate the task of  administrators and industrials, which means you will go to interpret the gospel in the way it will be the best to protect your interests in that part of the world.  For these things, you have to keep watch on disinteresting our savages from the richness that is plenty [in their underground. To avoid that, they get interested in it, and make you murderous] competition and dream one day to overthrow you.”
                            ------ Letter from King Leopold II of Belgium to Colonial Missionaries, 1883

Any how, I pointed out to my friend that the difference between the European missionaries and today’s African “pastors” is that the missionaries, as it is the case with Catholic reverend fathers had some theological training and are expected to make some sacrifice with regards to life style – the “pastor” is completely freelance. Besides, the European missionary was acting in accord with  the interest of his own culture, history or country but the “pastor” like the vulture is feeding on the remains of his own people left deeply scared by colonialism and “resource extraction” both by Europeans and their elite ruling African “boys” – the so called “internal colonialists”. In any case, the question is why Africans are so gullible to this same very old religious fraud format? Never mind that the Nigerian Lugardian system made “pastoral technique” a viable career option that has served many well materially. I, myself have been a target of those who want to recruit pastors on the basis of looks, Western influence, knowledge and the potential to attract many tides paying members on those basis. To cut a long story short, after discussing this issue for a while I and my friend came to the conclusion that the Christian concept of the “devil” (which by the way does not exist in Judaism – the religion of Jesus Christ) is responsible.

How? Well, in the first instance, the main preoccupation of most Nigerian Christians just like it was in Europe a few centuries ago is not Christ himself but the “devil”, “evil”, “demons”, “witches” and “principalities” etc. The devil was also the figure that fired the European imagination in the service of anti-semitism, racism and the denigration of African cultural practices. Walk into any Nigerian church (the Pentecostals especially) and listen in on the anxiety and greed driven prayers of members or the tides driven comedy of the pastors, the devil occupies a central place. The point is not to suggest that these people are “worshipping the devil” but rather that the history of the invention of the “black” figure of the “devil” will shed some light on the convoluted psychology and consciousness of the colonially produced Nigerian.

In other words, to understand the minds that are predisposed to certain forms of attachments don’t look at what they say about what they are doing because that is always contradictory, rather look at what their actions say about their claims of piety and all what non. Just look at the case of Ted Haggard, the former president of the American Association of Evangelicals and pastor of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colorado; and also a founder of the Association of Life-Giving Churches. Ted was having methamphetamine driven gay sex all the while he was preaching fiery anti-gay sermons just like Jimmy Swagger another evangelical caught in the act he constantly preached against. Of course Jimmy Swagger blamed the “devil” for his “sins”. The issue here is not simply “hypocrisy” since this is typical in the history of Christianity; rather the way many doctrinal jingoism in Christianity allows people to project their own inner beasts on other people, histories and cultures through the image of the devil.

Here is a brief history of how the “devil” was invented and used through out history, especially in Europe. Note that the igbo word “ekwensu” does not belong or appear in any igbo indigenous religious practice. The worshippers of ala or ani, a female deity, and the only deity that is common to all igbos do not have “ekwensu” in their entire ritual and rites vocabulary. The Yoruba word Èsù suffered the same fate as the igbo word “ekwensu”. African traditional religions like ancient Judaism do not have an embodied incarnation of evil. But Christianization and Westernization have prevented many Africans from knowing their own history thus, the distortions, confusions, historical amnesia and gaps exploited by those deploying the “pastoral technique”.



Max Dashu

    Early church fathers gravely discussed the nature of demons and their powers. Augustine devoted many chapters of The City of God to them. He condemned rites aiming \"to cleanse the mind by the invocation of devils.\" [Book 10,10] His De Doctrina Christiana also forbade consulting demons, advancing the notion of pact with demons. This idea later assumed a deadly importance in the witch-hunts.

    The original Greek word daimon meant a guardian spirit or divinity. Hellenistic and Roman literature is full of references to women who invoked these beings, especially Thessalian, Thracian and Sicilian witches who were reknowned for their magic arts. Churchmen also believed in the efficacy of magic, but they opposed any invocation of pagan deities in the belief that they were evil. Ascetic monks in the Syrian and Egyptian deserts fought against the spirits who appeared to them, and explained their forbidden sexual fantasies as temptations by female demons. Medieval priests\' belief in succubi began with them.

    The priesthood drew other ideas about demons from the Jewish apocryphal Book of Enoch, which recounted how great angels rebelled against God and fell from heaven. The Latin name for the prince of these expelled angels was Lucifer (\"lightbringer\"). Theologians made him into an anti-god subsuming everything pagan, heretical and rebellious. In the 1200s and 1300s, the Church persecuted heretics as \"Luciferans.\"

    In the Hebrew Bible, Satan is the \"Adversary.\" The name Satan appears frequently in the Christian testament. Greek christians translated this name with their word diabolos, \"accuser.\" This became Latin diabolus, Spanish diablo, French diable, English devil and German teufel. Early christian art often represents the devil with animal attributes associated with pagan spirits, especially reptiles, bats and goats.

    Another important thread runs through the imperial Church\'s conception of the Devil or demons in general. The Epistle of Barnabas called the devil \"the Black One.\" [Russell, 114] Church historian Theodoret claimed that a black demon had tried to prevent a Syrian bishop from burning down a pagan temple. [Cohn, 68] For St Jerome, blackness was linked with the devil. [Russell, 114; Wedeck, 93] St Macarius the Younger saw demons \"like foul Ethiops\" flying around some monks. [Lea, MTHW 67] and a demon cast out of an image in the Acts of Barthomew is described as \"like an Ethiopian.\" Pope Gregory \"the Great\" wrote that black demons carry the evil off to hell. [McColloch, 61]

    As early as the 4th century artists painting the temptation of St Anthony show the devil as a demonized black man, and naked black devils appear continually in major works of religious art such as the Book of Kells, the Stuttgart Gospels, and various Spanish manuscripts. [Francoise, 189]

    Conversely, the clergy frequently used whiteness as a symbol of moral purity. In Ireland the christianized Brehon laws described Patrick as \"the man of the white language,\" while Irish sources shortly after his time refer to \"the black laws of paganism.\" [Condren, 62, on white language] A racist association of blackness with evil became embedded in Church symbolism, and over centuries it spread across Europe.

    [Graphic: Black devils in the Radzivilskii Chronicle, Ukraine, c 1050]

    Abbot Caesarius of Heisterbach wrote that the devil appeared \"in the form of a black man.\" [Grimm, 993] Johannes Monachus\' 11th century Book of Miracles depicts the devil as a \"dark Ethiopian,\" surrounded by many other \"Ethiopians,\" demons who fled howling at the mention of the christian god. [Wedeck, 100-1]

    All this flew in the face of the fact that Ethiopia had one of the world\'s oldest christian communities, centuries older than that of Germany. Other clergymen drew an African connection for the devil from the opposite end of the continent, writing that he resembled a Moor. In Spain, mozarabic manuscripts portray a Moorish devil locked in hell.

    The equation of darkness with evil was slow to take hold among the peasantry. In many areas the common people still worshipped a Black Goddess, and managed to bring her under the church roof despite its racist theology. The peasants conceived devils in terms of their own forbidden animal spirits and fantastic creatures. They had a special affection for their herb-garlanded, animal-eared Green Men, gargoyles, dragons, mermaids, horned and winged beings, male, female and even hermaphroditic centaurs. All of these were sculptured into churches by anonymous common stoneworkers, the original freemasons. But they were peripheral to the orthodox imagery, which included demonized Africans, triumphant Ecclesia and degraded Synagoga, and a panoply of patriarchs.

        [Graphic: Bestialized image of the African: as a devil-cauldron in which the damned are boiled, at Bourges cathedral]

    As early as 1022, the Church executed people for worshipping black \"devils.\" A group of heretics were arrested at Orléans, with some clergy among them. The very murky record says that they had been led astray by a peasant who offered them great strength and that the \"devil\" appeared to them \"in the guise of an Ethiopian.\" They were said to have visions and to be transported to faraway places, to carry torches in procession and chant the names of \"demons.\" [Moore, 9-10]

    Some of this lends itself to the declaration of Balduin of Thérouanne that the heretics secretly worshipped pagan gods. But the clergy also accused them of worshipping the devil in secret underground hideouts, where they put out the lights and abandoned themselves to orgies. They said that the children conceived in these blowouts were burned, and blasphemous host wafers made out of their ashes. This powder had the power to turn people into Manichaeans. [Russell, 313fn42, considers the writers making wild allegations of child-sacrifice, orgies and devil-worship -- Paul de Saint Pere de Chartres and Adhémar de Chabannes -- \"good\" sources, while Balduin is \"much less reliable.\"]

    After centuries of disuse, the Church prelacy had revived the old Roman smear of outlawed groups as ritual murderers who held orgies in secret conventicles. It had been applied to devotees of the women\'s mysteries, then to the Jews and early christians, then to christian heretics, especially Manichaeans.

    The study of early christian writers such as Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Eusebius of Caesaria and Jerome of Milan led to the resurrection of ritual murder and orgy charges in France. Around 1050, the Byzantine Michael Psellos claimed that the Euchites burned children and ate food made from their ashes, and that heretics held orgies. [Russell, 93, gives credence to this smear.]

    Diabolism was evolving into the main tool of churchly repression. The diabolist blood libel would provide an effective formula for persecution in the coming centuries. It was useful against both internal and external \"enemies,\" whether pagans, heretics, Jews and witches in Europe, or against dark peoples in Africa and Asia.

    Scapegoating of the Jews had already begun, with pogroms at Rouen, Orléans, and Limoges (in 1010), in Mainz and other Rhineland cities (1012), and in Rome. In 1066, a Spanish crowd killed a large number of Jews and crucified Joseph ibn Nagrela, and Frankish knights who had come to fight the Moors sacked the Jewish quarters. [Poliakov I, 36; II, 96]

    Copyright 2000 Max Dashu