One day after the date marking the 177th Anniversary of the Emancipation from Structural Slavery; every sober person, whether descendant of the ‘Masters’ or the ‘Enslaved’, ought to rejoice and be glad. Since, the liberation of one race of people, is liberation of all races of people; for one cannot enslave another and not be enslaved.
While the retelling of the terror that was struck in those violently ripped from their homeland and families of origin, twined to the indignities and inhumane treatment during the Middle Passage and the subsequent resettling in these foreign parts have a place; the grit of our fore-parents towers over those disgraceful realities.
Both oral and written records prove that, our fore-parents were a culturally rich people; with a spirituality that kept them glued, respectful of Creation and Community. Whether their spirituality was rooted in seemingly primitive ancestral/tribal or nature religions and or on the five pillars of Islam; Peoples of the Continent of Africa were not without culture, civilization or concrete spirituality. In fact, it was their spirituality and faith in gods or a God that sustained them in the worst of times and in the worst of conditions.
What were the truths or Truth that their spirituality or religion(s) taught them?
1) There was a Superior/Supernatural Being
2) Community was the place where true spirituality was to be shown, experienced and expressed in practical ways
3) Creation must be treated with respect and thus cared for
4) Nothing was to be wasted or squandered
5) Bad deeds disrupted the balance of life
6) Preparation must be made for life beyond physical existence.
No matter if there was and still is disagreement as to how these truths or Truth found expression/s, their influence upon the lives of our forebears was undeniable.
The classism that fuelled Slavery and massaged the egos of those with a superiority complex, attempted to diminish, denigrate and destroy all religious expression or experience not aligned to European Christendom. But, how were those who misinterpreted Scriptures, abused other members of the human family and themselves corrupted by greed; authentically to evangelize the ‘heathens’? How could they justify forcing an anonymous Faith on a People, that, was simultaneously and unceremoniously abused to reinforce a dehumanizing regime? How could our fore-parents wholeheartedly worship a God who was seemingly prejudiced, parochial, punitive and petty?
Even the Voodoo Priest Bookman rightly discerned, questioned, critiqued and vehemently challenged the God taught and seen through the tainted lenses of the ‘Master’:
“Hidden God in a cloud.
Is He there, watching us?
He sees all that the Whites do,
The Whitegod demands crime.
Ours wants good things.
But our God that is so good.
Orders vengeance, He will
Ride us, assist us.
Throw away the thoughts of
The Whitegod who thirsts
For our tears, listen to
Freedom that speaks from your hearts.”
However, these glaring spiritual inconsistencies and social anomalies; did not make our forebears ‘godless’. Rather, they made them suspicious of the ‘Masters’ projections on God; the God who seemingly creates, then devalues and degrades what was created. With a resolve and rebellious defiance, they clung for dear life to the ‘God’ they knew and experienced in the Continent of their birth.
It was resilient faith that sustained them in the darkness of evil that attempted to eclipse the sunshine of personhood. It was resilient faith that, undergirded them when forced to work unconscionable hours. It was resilient faith that, enabled them to maintain their sanity when; their wives, mothers, daughters and sisters were violently and repeatedly raped and their husbands, fathers, sons and brothers, deliberately displaced by moving them from one plantation to another. It was resilient faith that acted as a balm when their bodies were writhing in pain from whippings, or tortures in the ‘work house’ or bathed by the harsh elements. It was resilient faith that kept them singing, dancing and re-telling their stories of past victories that refused to fade from their memories or suffocate the joy for living.
Undoubtedly, Emancipation cannot be fully appreciated and or truly celebrated, without acknowledging the role of spirituality and religious moorings. So, even though Politicians and powerful personages joined the fight; it was Faith, along with preaching and teaching, firstly by Protestant Preachers that articulated the plight and poor treatment of the enslaved. For, it was not until the consciences of the Politicians and powerful personages were pricked by Biblical Truth; that their acumen opened and they researched and then argued passionately regarding the illegality and immorality of both the Slave Trade and Slavery itself.
Yes, it was the persistent proclamation of Protestant Preachers that got the attention of enslaved people too, who came to Faith abandoning the primordial truth for ‘Progressive Truth’. They searched the Scriptures daily and diligently to affirm what they always knew, that, they were of worth and value, not ‘nonhuman beings’ or ‘sub-human beings’; but HUMAN BEINGS. They were emboldened by biblical declarations such as: “In Christ there is neither male nor female; bond nor free; Jew nor Greek”, “For freedom, Christ has made you free” and “no man can serve two masters…” Thus armed with these and other Texts, they pressed their demand for Freedom. Their sense of value, humanity and urgency to insist upon their Freedom were all rooted in their Faith and historical religious experiences and expressions.
There is no true Emancipation devoid of religious moorings and any attempt to live in Freedom without Faith, is an exercise in futility and a definite implausible prospect. Since, “It is in God we live move and have our being.” So, while well intentional Politicians and powerful personages are rightly credited with passing the Emancipation Act, Protestant Preachers must also be credited for proclaiming Biblical Truth and dignifying the enslaved. Their proclamation resonated with the enslaved: “all human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and from one man all the families of the earth originated.”
Therefore, if we are commemorating the 177th Anniversary of the dismantling of Structural Slavery; we must also focus on spirituality and religious experience and expression. Why is such a focus necessary? Good question, it seems as if the descendants of the ‘White Masters’ are presently employing old tricks. Curiously, they too are cleverly declaring a false god and interpreting and promoting the exploitative actions of that god in ways that are most injurious to ‘Blacks’. The owners and Agents of the ‘Empire of Money’ are calculatedly devaluing ‘Blacks’ by disadvantaging them on every front. Money is being used to change Politics, Public Policy and ‘Popular Culture’. Money is being used to subjugate the masses by keeping them dependent, tied to the ‘New Masters’ for survival and conditioned to be suspicious of and scared to bind forces with others subjugated; in order to break free from their debilitating circumstances. Money has twisted the consciousness of many so that, what is right and wrong is no longer absolutely clear. Money has even changed how the Bible is viewed, how it is interpreted and proclaimed and how Religion is practiced.
Regrettably, unlike our ‘uneducated’ fore-parents, this ‘educated’ generation lacks the capacity, will and grit to protect and fight for Freedom in its varied settings.
The urgency of merely surviving has diluted the passion to live abundantly. Unlike our forbearers, who in the crucibles of life resorted to their Faith, digging deep into the well-springs of ‘God consciousness’; while engaging in hermeneutics (the art of interpreting). To our shame, this generation has ‘willy nillingly’ surrendered to the alluring of the ‘Empire of Money’ by recklessly abandoning Faith and religious moorings.
Spirituality is only a fad, religion is teased, taunted and then thrown away. Instead of us evolving, we have devolved, instead of us celebrating our Freedom, we struggle to be humane to each other, instead of us celebrating our diversity, we degrade the story and journey of others.
In wake of the absence of a healthy and soberly strong ‘God consciousness’; we kill, rob, harass, abuse, disgrace, demonize, disrespect, destroy and then discard each other. Without the glue of spirituality and religious consciousness, the united voice that, calls for justice by articulating the plight of the poor is silent and evil holds sway. Without the glue of spirituality and religious consciousness, lawlessness goes unchecked and violence wraps itself like a mantle around the necks of the masses. Without the glue of spirituality and religious consciousness, equality is snubbed by superiority, care is crippled by callousness and passion for truth is doused by perverted rhetoric and its twin political correctness. Without spirituality and religious consciousness, the poor are seduced by the ‘new Masters’ in the art of profiteering; and are pushed further into the ‘The Pit of Despair’. Without spirituality and religious consciousness, respect for life, family and property is disdained and “commodification” is reintroduced. Without spirituality and religious consciousness, hope is hijacked and helplessness produces hellish havoc. Without spirituality and religious consciousness, the “baseness” of human beings is revealed to the peril of all.
There is NO Freedom without Faith, for it is belief in a Divine Being that gives meaning to life and thereby, urges one to fight for life. There is no true religious experience in expression that does not promulgate love and love empowers the other to ‘be’ and to be the best; while living in Freedom.
The movements in this 21st Century away from spirituality and religious consciousness doesn’t speak well of our appreciation of /and or for Freedom. Since, it was the ‘God-consciousness’ of our forbearers that, empowered them to challenge, critique and change Damnable Regimes. It was the ‘God-consciousness’ of our forbearers that, made them diligent students, passionate social activists and patriots par excellence. It was the ‘God consciousness’ of our forbearers that, caused them to embrace and establish Nations where freedom is a nonnegotiable and an inalienable right.
How could these same Nations now undermine the very foundation on which they are built, and not expect to collapse? How could these same Nations erode time-tested principles and not expect their citizens to be confused and conflicted? How could these same Nations turn their backs on Truth and not expect to be in the paralyzing embrace of folly? How could these same Nations sow the ‘tares’’ of doubt, disrespect, demagoguery and down-right wickedness and not expect to reap the harvest of Destruction or eat the ‘poison fruit’ of Death?
Could it be that, the time has come for us to truly begin to honour our forbearers not merely with plaques, busts, streets or building naming; but, by tapping into the pool of healthy spirituality, instead of the polluted pond of ‘anti-godism’ and relativity? Could it be that, the time has come for us to unashamedly declare that, Freedom is born out of Faith – belief in the ‘Isness’ of God? Could it be that, the time has come for us to celebrate Freedom not merely with Festivities and Cultural revelling; but with true Piety that, makes us passionate about each other and for the insistence that, justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream?
If we make a conscious effort to tell the whole story of our journey to Freedom and the spiritual and religious moorings that, energized that journey; we will be empowered to do exactly what the iconic Bahamian Baptist Preacher, Rev. Dr. Phillip Rahming urges, “Let Freedom Ring, Let Freedom Ring!” But, this can only be done when those within our generation charged with Re-telling and Re-interpreting Divine Truth, lift up their voice armed with right Teaching, Righteous Impartation and Radical Convictions that, demand change.
For the impregnable Truth is this: Faith comes by hearing and this produces Action – that protects and preserves FREEDOM.