Academic journal article Journal of Intercultural Disciplines

Malcolm X and Christianity: Engaging the Criticisms and Moving towards an African-Centred Christianity That Can Advance Pan-Africanism in the 21st Century

Academic journal article Journal of Intercultural Disciplines

Malcolm X and Christianity: Engaging the Criticisms and Moving towards an African-Centred Christianity That Can Advance Pan-Africanism in the 21st Century

Article excerpt

Enslaving religion is a common theme in the curricula of most Black Studies programs. In particular, Christianity is often criticised for its role in the exploitation and domination of Africans and Afro-descended people throughout the world. From the period of enslavement in the Americas to colonial times in Africa and Asia, Christianity has cunningly been used to numb oppressed people's desire for freedom and to make them more accommodative of their oppression. This paper focuses primarily on Malcolm X's incisive criticisms of Christianity, but also incorporates analyses of essays, novels, and fictional films from the PanAfrican world. Building on these criticisms, it proposes the construction of an African-centred Christianity that articulates the experiences and aspirations of African people and fosters Pan-African unity in the 21st century.

The Criticisms

Malcolm X takes issue with various aspects of Christianity. First, he accuses Christianity and its agents of being driven by materialistic motivations in their so called benevolent missionary activities. He argues that historically, whenever white missionaries have gone to spread the gospel among non-white people, they have acted as the advance party for their colonizing governments. Manipulating Christian doctrines in order to disarm indigenous people of their cultural consciousness, missionaries prepared the ground for formal colonization. After reading widely while in prison, Malcolm X (1965) records:

I saw how since the sixteenth century, the so called "Christian trader" white man began to ply the seas in his lust for Asian and African empires, and plunder, and power. I saw how the white man never has gone among the non-white peoples bearing the Cross in the true manner and spirit of Christ's teachings-meek, humble, and Christ like. I perceived, as I read, how the collective white man had actually been nothing but a piratical opportunist who used Faustian machinations to make his own Christianity his initial wedge in criminal conquests. First, always "religiously," he branded "heathen" and "pagan" labels upon ancient non-white cultures and civilizations. The stage thus set, he then turned upon his nonwhite victims his weapons of war. (pp. 176-177)

It is this same notion of colonialism as a Christian civilizing mission that Aimé Césaire is highly critical of in his essay Discourse on Colonialism Just like Malcolm X, Césaire argues that Christianity has been complicit in the domination and dehumanization of colonized people. He criticizes the hypocritical and lop-sided doctrines presented by Western churches that endorse colonialism and other forms of domination. Césaire highlights the sheer capitalistic greed inherent in the remarks of one theologian, Rev. Muller, who declares that "humanity must not [and] cannot allow the incompetence, negligence, and laziness of uncivilized peoples to leave idle indefinitely the wealth which God has confided to them, charging them to make it serve the good of all" (p. 4).

Second, Malcolm X accuses Christianity of having futuristic notions of heaven and of the kingdom of God that are used to numb oppressed people's desire for freedom and make them more accommodative of their oppression. These futuristic notions attempt to blind oppressed people to the glaring material inequality between the prosperous white perpetrators of these notions, and the poor non-white people who accept them. In a seething critique of this paradox, Malcolm X (1965) offers:

My brothers and sisters, our white slave master's Christian religion has taught us black people here in the wilderness of North America that we will sprout wings when we die and fly up into the sky where God will have for us a special place called heaven. This is white man's Christian religion used to brainwash us black people! ... We have embraced it! ... And while we are doing all of that, for himself, this blue-eyed devil has twisted his Christianity, to keep his foot on our backs. …

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