In considering the history of colonization and decolonization I find one of the more interesting points behind it involves religion and struggles for power.
It seems when arguments over religion happen what is essentially occurring is that people are insisting that their power or understanding of God is greater than another’s. As if it isn’t enough that people seek power over each other. Insisting that there is an all powerful being backing them up seems to be the ultimate power trip and seemingly one of the best ways to keep people in line. As with most things when it comes to power struggles reliance on fear is one of the most tried and true methods for motivating people to do something, stay away from something, or justify virtually anything they want to. Using God to justify dominating others is a theme seen over and over throughout the history of colonization.
In considering present day events I see this power struggle continue. As a person of color who grew up in a conservative, white, Christian environment I have come to understand multiple sides of the US political divide. I grew up hearing ideas of how liberal politicians could one day take away the rights of Christians in the US to practice their faith. So apparently in an attempt to keep that future from becoming reality many Christians decided to become the persecutors instead of the persecuted. While self preservation is understandable (to a point) the projection that is going on with many Christians in the US today is incredibly duplicitous. One example that comes to mind is the right to exercise one’s faith. Freedom of religion is important to many of the Christians I knew growing up but for whatever reason these Christians think that same respect and freedom should not be extended to Muslims.
Going back to the history of colonization this line of thinking seems to have followed many explorers, and missionaries, to the places they traveled to. Robbie Shilliam points out in his article Race in world politics that racism emerged in a variety of ways including from religious and theological disputes. While some Christians would insist things like missions trips are motivated by love for others and concern for their eternal destiny (as I did when working abroad as a missionary) somewhere along the way many US Christians have turned this into a right to dominate and some have even turned inward and insist on looking out only for themselves and their interests. Might makes right. Our God is the most powerful and it is our right as his followers to make others see the error of their ways and also make them live the way he wants. This usually involves a fairly strict and literal interpretation of the Bible which leads to a whole separate issue that could be an entire post on its own.
From what I understand of the Christian circles I grew up in and around God can do whatever he wants because he is God. Unfortunately many Christians believe that as his followers it is our right to do whatever we want because God is on our side. For some Christians even if the things they want directly contradict the very Bible they adore they think they are still in the right. Wanting power is understandable. Being in a position of power is safe and often gives one the feeling that they never have to worry about being pushed around. Many Christians in the US today seemed to have made peace with the idea that using politicians to push our agendas is justified. Everyone else is on their own apparently. The ends justifies the means. And why is this justified in the minds of many Christians? From what I can gather based on personal experience many Christians live in fear of God’s condemnation and wrath. Most would insist that they are saved from eternal damnation but that doesn’t stop them from thinking God will harshly judge the US for its immorality (views on this differ) and so they still worry that God will hurt them in some way if they don’t stop others from behaving badly. Even worse their own salvation might be in question if they approve of things they think God/the Bible condemns. What God or the Bible actually condemns has been an ongoing debate from the church’s earliest days. What shouldn’t be in dispute is the command God gave to love others. Yet here we (the church) are debating what that actually means.
In the case of colonization many in Europe bought into the idea that they have the right to go out and conquer whether through ideas or armies. This mentality continues today though its way of enforcement may have changed. What may be part of the solution to this way of thinking? One point made by Patricia Hill Collins in her book Intersectionality is that decolonization must involve dismantling the formal legacy of colonialism by imagining and creating something else to replace it. My understanding as a Christian is that one thing God calls people to do is to lay down their power in service to others. If Jesus’ life is any example that responsibility is primarily placed on those with the most privilege and power. That seems like a good place to begin regardless of one’s personal beliefs.
One problem of course is what can or should be done about those who insist on abusing their power with little to no concern for those they harm? Even more directly, for me personally, what can be done to bridge not just the current political divide in the US but the divide between Christians who interpret following God in vastly different ways?
Collins, P.H. (2019). Intersectionality as a critical social theory. Durham: Duke University Press.
Shilliam, R. (2017). Race in world politics. In Baylis, J. Smith, S. Owens, P. and Shilliam (Ed.). The globalization of world politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
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