Evangelical Christianity and the Struggle for the Spiritual Soul of Haiti
Priye S. Torulagha
After the Haitians launched a successful Voodoo inspired revolution to gain independence in 1804, Christian missionaries poured into the country in an attempt to purge the country of the ancestral-based religion. It was unthinkable for the Christians at the time to accept the view that any other religion could be successful enough to overwhelm a Christian-based state. As a result, the Christians have continuously mounted religious campaigns to get rid of the African religion in the country.
To justify the need to get rid of the ancestral-based religion, Evangelical Christians, in particular, tend to attribute every problem that has besieged Haiti since independence, to the view that the country suffers from a curse because Haitian revolutionaries made a “pact with the devil.” By implication, the Evangelical Christians are saying that Haitians will continue to suffer until they totally forego their traditional religion. This further means that Haitians will stop suffering as soon as they convert to Christianity.
Following this line of thinking, when Port-au-Prince suffered a very destructive earthquake in January 2010, some Christian groups, including Rev. Pat Robertson of Club 700 fame, floated the idea again that the devastating earthquake was God’s punishment for Haitian worshiping of Voodoo rather than Christianity. According to him, the Haitians:
were under the heel of the French. You know, Napoleon III and whatever. And they got together and swore a pact to the devil. They said “We will serve you if you will get us free from the French. And so, the devil said ok, it is a deal (CNN, 2010, January 13).
Since the devastating earthquake in 2010, some Evangelical Christian groups, while offering humanitarian assistance to the victims, started launching an unrelenting religious campaign to convert those Haitians who are still worshipping Voodoo to embrace Christianity. As part of the campaign strategy to justify the need for conversion, they reinforced the Robertsonian view that Haitians will continue to suffer because Haitian revolutionaries signed a “pact with the devil” in order to free themselves.
This religious struggle, which could technically be regarded as a Christian crusade in the twenty-first century, is indeed amazing. It is equally amazing that millions of Haitians, including some respectable Evangelical Christian priests, have also accepted the propagandized view of the unfortunate situation that Haiti has found itself. The religious struggle for the control of Haiti was recently brought to the attention of the world by Reza Aslan’s television documentary titled “Believer,” which was presented on CNN Channel 202 on Sunday, March 19, 2017 at 10:00PM. Mr. Aslan did an excellent job in presenting the different perspectives concerning whether Haitians should convert to Christianity and forsake their ancestral religion or not.
Purpose of the Article
The purpose of this article is to accomplish the following goals: (1) explore the issue of whether the supposed Haitian “pact with the devil,” as Christians claimed, is the cause of suffering in Haiti; (2) determine whether if Haitians convert to Christianity en masse, their suffering will stop; and (3) find out whether there are alternative explanations for the situation.
To accomplish these goals, it is necessary to gather data by examining important political, religious and historical facts, events and circumstances in Christendom in order to ascertain whether societies that have converted to Christianity have never suffered in their history, following the Evangelical Christians’ claim that Voodoo is the cause of Haitian suffering. In particular, Europe provides an excellent historical laboratory to gather appropriate information concerning the Christian experience. Likewise, important events in other parts of the world are also taken into consideration, depending on their relevance to the discussion.
Based on the goals of the article, the following hypotheses are drawn:
(1) There is no correlation between the suffering in Haiti and the worshipping of Voodoo religion. (2) Conversion to Christianity will not stop suffering in Haiti. (3) Societies that have converted to Christianity suffer as much as societies that subscribe to other religions. (4) There are extraneous factors other than “a pact with the devil” that contribute to the situation in Haiti.
Political, Religious and Historical Facts and Events about Christianity and the European Experience
First, in 311 CE, the Roman Empire declared neutrality towards Christianity, thereby, giving it an official status as a legitimate religion in the state. Emperor Constantine eventually converted to Christianity. This allowed Christians, for the first time, to worship their religion openly without fear of persecution (Barrow, 1979).
Second, the Roman Empire officially adopted Christianity in 378 CE during the reign of Emperor Theodosius (Ibid). This led to the conversion of Roman colonies into Christianity and the incremental spreading of the religion to various parts of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.
Third, the Western Roman Empire collapsed in 410 CE when Germanic tribes (Vandals, Franks, and Visigoths) whom the Romans had persistently exploited, turned around to invade and ravage Rome. The fall of the Western Roman Empire led to the collapse of central authority in most of Europe. The Eastern Roman Empire became the Byzantine Empire.
Fourth, to fend off the criticism that Roman conversion to Christianity was responsible for the downfall, St. Augustine of Hippo (354-430) argued that Christianity had nothing to do with it. Rather, he blamed the Romans for their downfall. The reasons he gave for the fall of the Roman Empire included: (a) that Romans were corrupt and deserved to be punished, (b) that if it were not for the love and mercy of Jesus Christ, Rome would have been totally destroyed, (c) that Rome had many problems even before the empire converted to Christianity, (d) that if Roman gods were so good, they would have protected Rome against its enemies, and (e) that Rome was not a true Republic because it was united by the love of pride and not of God (Tannenbaum & Schultz, 1998). It is obvious that the Evangelical Christian argument that Haiti is suffering because many Haitians worship Voodoo and not Christianity is very similar to the Augustinian argument that Rome suffered destruction because Romans worshipped pagan deities. By implication, St. Augustine maintained that if the Romans had worshipped Christianity, then Rome would not have fallen. Thus, like St. Augustine, Evangelical Christians are maintaining the view that if Haitians convert to Christianity, their suffering will stop.
Fifth, the Islamic religion emerged in Saudi Arabia in 600 CE and spread very quickly resulting in the capture of Jerusalem and other parts of the Middle East. In 711 CE, the Moslem forces, moving from Morocco, captured Southern Spain. Around 730 CE, the Moslems advanced towards France from Spain. The Christians viewed the Islamic expansion as a crusade against them. The Islamic expansion frightened the Christian leadership in Europe to the extent that it desperately sought a savior to stop the Moslems. King Charles Martel, a great military leader of the Franks stepped in and fought to stop the Islamic capture of France and other parts of Europe. By defeating the Islamic forces, he saved Christian Europe from Islamic conquest.
Sixth, the collapse of central authority, coupled with the uncontrollable civil wars, the rampaging war lords, and the Islamic threat forced many Europeans around 730 CE to convert to Christianity, believing that such conversion would help them through their suffering. Thus, the massive Haitian conversion to Christianity following the earthquake of 2010 is similar to the massive European conversion to Christianity during a time of hardship, unpredictability and hopelessness. When King Charles Martel passed away, his son, Pepin III inherited the throne. Pepin III divided the throne between his two sons (Charles and Carloman) before he passed away in September 24, 768. Pope Stephen anointed the two brothers in 754. However, Carloman died in 771 CE, thereby, allowing Charles to consolidate his power over the throne Encyclopedia.com, 2003). It should be noted that some people suspected that King Charles the Great (Charlemagne) killed the brother in order to consolidate his political authority over the territory his father conquered.
Seventh, In 800 CE, King Charles the Great (Charlemagne) expanded his territory profusely to cover most of Europe through brutal military conquests. As a major politico-military leader of Europe, the Christian Church had to create a political space for him since he fought, like his father, to preserve Christianity, especially the papacy. In particular, his proactive intervention to stop the rebellion against Pope Leo III endeared him so much to the pope. Hence, he was crowned as the Emperor of the Roman Empire on Christmas day in 800 CE and given the name of Charles Augustus (Graves, n.d.). To avoid conflict between the Pope and King Charles the Great, the Pope devoted himself to spiritual matters of the church and the king served as the politico-military head of state of the empire. King Charles the Great (Charlemagne) forced the Europeans he conquered to embrace Christianity. For instance, in one of his military attacks against Saxon pagans, he demanded that they convert to Christianity. About 4000 Saxons who refused to convert to Christianity were beheaded (Griotto, n.d.) in one day. Therefore, millions of Europeans were compelled to embrace Christianity through bloody wars of conquest carried out by powerful militaristic kings and the church. In fact, the vast state that Charlemagne and his ancestors created was referred to as the Carolingian Empire (BBC, n.d.).
Eighth, even though most Europeans had converted to Christianity, they were not saved in their hour of need when the Vikings, around 793 CE, rose up from Scandinavia and ransacked many parts of Europe through destructive military attacks. The Vikings invaded, destroyed, killed and looted even Christian monasteries (James, 2011, March 29)). Here again, contrary to the Evangelical Christian premise that Haitians are suffering because many of them worship Voodoo and that their suffering will stop if they convert to Christianity, the European conversion to Christianity did not stop pagan Vikings from invading, destroying, killing, looting and occupying many Christian territories in Europe. Although, the Vikings suffered a defeat in the hands of King Alfred the Great of England, nevertheless, they continued their raids until about 1066 (ibid.).
Ninth, the end of the Viking era did not stop the disheartening situation in Europe as the Europeans continued to suffer from unnecessary bloody military conflicts and wars of conquest. Due to lack of jobs, local political leaders engaged the services of military veterans to cause problems in the continent. The veterans formed the Medieval Knights. The knights invaded, destroyed, killed and pillaged various communities to make a living. Europe was a living hell for millions of people. Therefore, the assertion that Haitian suffering will cease as soon as Haitians forsake Voodoo and convert to Christianity has no historical support since conversion to Christianity did not stop suffering in Europe for centuries.
In an attempt to stabilize the situation, the Christian Church developed the Christian Doctrine of War. Consequently, the church issued the Peace of God and the Truce of God in an attempt to stabilize the continent. The Peace of God (Pax Dei) was initiated in 1027 by the Christian church and later adopted by civil authorities to protect church properties, pastors, women, merchants and non-combatants during war (Callahan, 2007, August 27). The Truce of God ( Treuga Dei) was also part of the church’s effort to control war by ensuring that warfare was suspended during certain days of the week as well as during religious festivals or events (Britannica, 1998, July 20).
Tenth, in 1095, threatened by Islamic expansion and a desire to redirect the violence in Europe, Pope Urban II called for a Holy War against the Moslems who had captured many Christian territories in the Middle East, including Jerusalem. He declared the Crusades and called it “God’s Will It.” The Christian crusades enabled thousands of military veterans who had been causing problems in Europe to form a Christian Army and launched attacks against the Moslems in an attempt to recapture Jerusalem and other Christian territories. The Christians and Moslems ended up fighting three major crusades. The Christians won the first crusade, the Moslems won the second crusade and they fought to a draw in the third crusade, led by King Richard the Lion-heart. If the hypothesis advanced by Evangelical Christians that if Haitians convert to Christianity, their suffering will stop, then, why did the Christians and the Moslems fought to a draw in the third crusade? The draw indicates that the Christian God is not superior to the Islamic Allah, otherwise, the Christians would have won all the crusades against the Moslems. Similarly, if the Islamic Allah is greater than the Christian God, then the Moslems would have won the three crusades handily against the Christians.
Eleventh, one of the groups that took part in the crusades against the Moslems was the Teutonic Knights. The group was established as a military order from the Hospitallers of Holy Mary in Jerusalem by German crusaders. On returning to Europe, they settled in Transylvania, Hungary in 1211 through the invitation of King Andrew II. They helped him to protect the kingdom against pagan Cumans (Coppernickers, June 2008). However, they were forced to leave as they grew stronger, thereby, threatening the Hungarian kingdom in 1225. Duke Conrad of Mazovia of Poland invited them to help him fight against Prussian pagans. He promised to give them the Chelmno lands as well as any land that they could capture from the Prussians. Pope Gregory IX sweetened the offer by decreeing that any property that the Teutonic Knights conquered would be granted to them in perpetuity. They settled in Livonia. However, their effort to conquer Russian territory failed when Alexander Nevsky defeated them in Lake Peipus in 1242. Thereafter, they concentrated their attacks against Prussia, Lithuania and Poland (Medieval Times, n.d.).
Due to incessant warfare against the Polish and Lithuanians, the Samogotians revolted against the Knights and asked for military assistance. The Lithuanian Grand Duke Witold and the Polish King Ladislaus Jagiello responded to the Samogotians request by forming a united military force. They fought the Teutonic Knights in the Battle of Tannenberg/Grunwald in 1410. They defeated the Knights and killed their leader, Grand Master Ulrich von jungingen. The defeat was described as a slaughter as the Teutonic Knights lost about 18,000 men and 14,000 prisoners in comparison to the 5,000 deaths and 8,000 prisoners that the Lithuanians and Polish incurred (Haywood, 2002).
Since the Teutonic Knights felt that they were sacred warriors because they were fighting to convert pagans into Christianity, their defeat in the Battle of Tannenberg/Grunwald was psychologically devastating to members of the organization. As a result, those who survived the battle felt that God had abandoned or deserted them. After that battle, they were no longer a formidable military force. As can be seen, the Haitian defeat of Napoleon’s forces is similar to the Polish/Lithuanian defeat of the Teutonic Knights in the sense that a non-Christian military force was able to defeat a Christian force.
Twelfth, the Catholic Church which became the most dominant religious and political entity in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa found it impossible to tolerate other Christian denominations. Hence, the church did not hesitate to wage war to destroy other Christian movements. Consequently, perturbed by the popularity of the Cathars (a Christian sect) in Southern France, Pope Innocent III ordered a crusade against them in 1208. Thousands of crusaders, mostly from Northern France enlisted, having been promised by the Pope that those who killed Cathars would be assured of the highest place in heaven.
Evidently, the Christian Crusaders arrived at Beziers on July 22, 1209, near Languedoc. The Cistercian commander of the crusaders, in response to a question about how to identify the Cathars from the townspeople, ordered, “Kill them all – the Lord will recognize his own.” The crusaders killed, destroyed and pillaged the place (Counterblast, 2006-8).
Thirteenth, the European Renaissance started around 1341 in Italy and lasted until the 17th century. The Renaissance was instigated by a number of circumstances, including the excesses (inquisitions, destruction of scholarship, crusades and killings of heretics) and failures of the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy Roman Empire, the break-up of the feudal system and the rise of nationalism among the people. Eventually, the suffocating political and spiritual environment that did not allow free expression of scientific and intellectual thought prompted scholars and thinkers to call for the revival of the classical world of Greece and Rome (Encyclopedia Britannica, 2015, April 17). Apparently, the European Renaissance resulted in the tactical rejection of Christianity and the revival of pre-Christian Greek and Roman traditions. The Europeans realized that Christian thought, practices and politics, as perpetrated by the Roman Catholic Church, were impediments toward intellectual and scientific learning and advancement. The Renaissance resulted in the separation of church and state and the institutionalization of secular humanism.
This is why all Western nations today operate their governments on the philosophy of secular-humanism and not through Christian theocracy. Perhaps, the only entity in Europe today that continues to operate through Christian theocracy is the Vatican. Due to Western colonialism and global influence, a vast majority of countries in the world today operate their governmental systems based on secular-humanistic ideas and practices.
Fourteenth, the Bubonic Plague struck Europe from 1347 to 1352. It should be noted that at this time, many European societies had converted to Christianity. Thus, the conversion to Christianity did not prevent the Bubonic Plague from wiping out a large proportion of the European population. About 25 million people died from the plague (National Geographic, n.d.). However, some estimates put the number of people who died from the plague at about 40 to 50 million. Following the assertion by Evangelical Christians that If Haitians had converted to Christianity, the devastating earthquake would not have taken place, then, how do they explain the fact that Europeans who converted to Christianity were not spared from the ravages of the Bubonic Plague. More people perished as a result of the plague than the number of Haitians who died as a result of the 2010 earthquake.
Fifteenth, after Christopher Columbus’ epic journey in 1492 landed him in the Americas rather than in East Indies, he inadvertently initiated the bloody Spanish conquest of the Americas. Hernan Cortes led the Spanish force which invaded and destroyed the Aztec Empire in early sixteenth century. In 1532, Francisco Pizarro led the Spanish force that invaded and conquered the Incan Empire in Peru. In fact, his men kidnapped Incan Emperor Atahualpa and promised to release him if gold and silver were exchanged for his freedom. The Incans agreed and gave them gold and silver. After receiving the treasures, the Spanish conquistadors still kill the emperor. (Quijote, 1986). Although Christians, the Spanish conquistadors inflicted so much pain and suffering by killing Native Americans and destroying their societies to the extent that even in the 21st century, they are still struggling to survive. In addition, the diseases they brought with them decimated the indigenous population. It is very doubtful whether Native Americans will ever regard Christianity as a religion of salvation. It is not surprising that many Native American ethnic groups today are reviving their ancestral religions. The Christian God did not save them at all from the ravages of the Spanish Christians.
Sixteenth, as the most dominant force in Europe, the Catholic Church became very corrupt. It got to a point where a member of the church, Martin Luther, a theologian and a monk, could no longer tolerate the hypocrisy and ungodly practices that were being carried out by the Catholic Church to enhance its revenue. In particular, the notion that some individuals could pay money to the church and had their sins forgiven irked Luther so much so that he compiled the 95 theses in 1517 and pinned the list at the door of a church in Wittenberg for all to see. The leadership of the church was very angry. Pope Leo X issued a papal bull in July 1520 that declared Luther’s teachings to be heretical. Luther was given 60 days to recant and he refused. Due to his refusal, he was excommunicated from the church in January 3, 1521. His supporters hid him away. While in hiding, he translated the Bible into German (History, n.d.). The effort resulted in the spreading of literacy as people began to read the Bible in German rather than in Greek.
The dispute between the church and Martin Luther resulted in the Protestant Reformation. Europe was thrown into another around of bloody conflicts as the Catholics and the Protestants battled for the control of Christianity. The struggle eventually led to the Thirty-Year War between the Catholics and the Protestants. Led by European monarchs, the war started in May 23, 1618 and ended in May 15, 1648. About 20% of the German population died as a result of the conflict between the two Christians groups.
Seventeenth, after the Spanish conquest of the Americas and the scramble by various European states to exploit the resources, one of the worst cases of human brutality took place when the Atlantic Slave trade was initiated in the 16th century. The forceful deportation of millions of black Africans lasted for four centuries (15th to 19th centuries). According to the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade Database, about 12. 5 million Africans were forcibly transported to the Americas (Gates, n.d.) However, some estimates put the number of Africans shipped to Europe and the Americas at about 25 to 30 million people (UNESCO, n.d.).
The Christian establishment and many Christians justified the slave trade by using the Ham’s curse in the Old Testament of the Bible to imply that it was an acceptable act. Thus, black Africans were equated with being the descendants of Ham, thereby, meriting their enslavement since they were cursed, as Noah did to Ham in Genesis 9:25 “And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren”. The Ham’s curse continues to serve as the basis for racism directed against black people in the world, even today.
The Christian establishment went further in justifying the slave trade when the Catholic popes issued papal bulls authorizing the Portuguese and the Spanish to import slaves from Africa. In particular, the Treaty of Tordesillas in 1494 resulted in the demarcation of global territory into Portuguese and Spanish spheres of influence. Consequently, starting at 370 leagues, which is about 800 miles, west of Cape Verde, Portugal was given an area involving West Africa, the Indian Ocean, and Brazil. On the other hand, Spain was given control of the Mediterranean, East Asia and the Americas (Nazeer Ahmed, n.d.).
Eighteenth, it could be said that the Christian Church also contributed directly and indirectly towards the colonization of the Americas, Africa, the Middle East and a sizable part of Asia. For instance, the Treaty of Tordesillas n 1494, as indicated above, literally laid out the plan for the Portuguese and Spanish colonization of various parts of the world. It is not surprising that Spain became the colonial master of a territory stretching from the tip of the USA to the tip of South America. Since Brazil was given to Portugal In the treaty, it is the only Portuguese-speaking country in South America.
Colonialism led to the forceful establishment of agricultural and political enclaves (colonies) where people in Africa, Asia, the Americas and Middle East were forced to embrace. Likewise, through military conquest and political and religious colonization, many indigenous ethnic groups in the world were compelled to forego their traditional religious cultures and embrace Christianity through education and religious campaigns.
Nineteenth, in 1825, after French slave-owners submitted detailed reports of their losses to the French Government, following the Haitian revolution in 1804, King Charles X demanded that Haiti pay an “independence debt” to the former colonists. To ensure Haitian payment of the debt, France mounted a naval blockade and demanded compensation totaling 150 million gold francs. The amount was ten times more than Haiti’s annual income. The figure was later reduced to 90 million gold francs. Fearful of re-enslavement and recolonization, the Haitian government agreed to pay the “independence debt.” The interest on the loan borrowed from a French bank to pay the debt was exorbitant. Not until 1947 was Haiti finally able to pay off the debt (Macdonald, 2010, August 16; The Guardian, May 12, 2015). The debt payment imposed an unbearable financial and economic burden on Haiti, thereby, contributing to the socioeconomic woes of the country.
The action that the French took in Haiti despite their Christianity, resembled the action that the victorious Allied Powers took against Germany after the First World War. Even though all the countries that fought the war lost so much, the victories powers in the Treaty of Versailles, signed on June 28, 1919, in the Hall of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles, inflicted a very high price on Germany as a compensation for causing the war. The compensation package was so steep that Germany lost 10 percent of its population and territory to the victorious powers. Likewise, its overseas colonies were taken over by Britain, France and Japan. The treaty took effect on January 10, 1920. The Germans were displeased and criticized the treaty very bitterly (Encyclopedia Britannica. 2015, June 9). The severity of the Treaty of Versailles, perhaps, contributed to the massive suffering in Germany that eventually led to the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. Thus, anger following the treaty contributed to the 2nd. World War because Germany wanted to pay back in kind for the humiliation it suffered in signing the Armistice after the 1st World War.
The French action against Haiti is also similar to the action it took against the Republic of Guinea, following a referendum in 1958. In the referendum, Guinea voted against membership in the Community of French Overseas Territories, as proposed by President Charles de Gaulle and decided instead to go its separate way. The decision suddenly resulted in the country gaining independence from France. The French reacted angrily against the Guinean decision by taking measures which threatened to cripple the country. The editors of Encyclopedia Britannica noted:
“The French were particularly vindictive in their break with the country, destroying
valuable equipment and files, suspending all aid and technical assistance, and stopping
almost all investment in Guinea’s mining operations.” (Gate, 2005).
There is no doubt that the French contributed immensely to the economic and financial strangulation of Haiti through the “independence debt” that the Haitians had to pay for their freedom for decades. France, the Germans felt, contributed to their suffering and anger that eventually resulted in the Second World War. The feeling of anger probably persuaded Adolf Hitler to force the French to sign the instrument of surrender after Germany captured the country during the Second World War in the manner in which the Germans were forced to sign the instrument of surrender after the First World War. The National Geographic noted: “The Fuhrer dictated that the surrender be formalized at Compiegne, the very spot where Germans had signed the Armistice ending World War I on 11 November 1918 – Just 22 years earlier.” (National Geographic, 2015, November 11).
Twentieth, the struggle for power and influence led to the Crimean War, in which Turkey, Britain, France, and Sardinia aligned against Russia. The war started in October 1853 and ended in February 1856 after Russia decided to withdraw. The war took place because Russia attempted to expand its geopolitical influence in the Danube region and the Black Sea. Turkey opposed the idea since Russian expansion directly threatened its area of influence in the region. Fearful that Russian expansion as well as its naval enhancement could threaten their geopolitical interests, Britain and France joined Turkey against Russia. About 200,000 people died in the conflict (Murphy, March 7, 2014).
Twenty-first, by the turn of the twentieth century, most of Europe had converted to Christianity. As a result, a vast majority of the Europeans claimed to be Christians. Despite this fact, they could not control their nationalistic and geopolitical tendencies, hence, the greatest war ever fought in the history of the world came in 1914 when the First World War started. By the end of the war, about seventeenth to twenty million people perished. The scale of destruction was incomparable. Even biochemical weapons were used to inflict maximum pain and destruction among the competing powers, despite their Christianity.
Twenty-second, quite contrary to the view that Haitians are suffering because they made a pact with the “devil,” the conversion to Buddhism, Christianity and Islam did not stop the Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919 from afflicting most of the world. About one third of the world’s population (500 million people) were infected by the deadly disease. Out of the number of people infected, about 40 to 50 million were estimated to have died. The influenza affected both humans and swine. (Taubenberger and Morens, (2006, January).
Twenty-third, political and military leaders as well as scholars thought that the First World War would be the “War to end all wars.” However, in European Christendom, a more deadly conflict erupted in 1939 when Adolf Hitler and the Nazis launched the Second World War. This war made the First World War looked like a child’s play. The scale of destruction, suffering and killing surpassed that of the First World War. As a result, about 50 million people perished. The conversion to Christianity did not prevent the hegemonic struggle for the control of Europe and the world. Thus, Christians have no hesitation in killing other Christians, as the Second World War indicated.
Twenty-fourth, the amazing thing about Europe is that it is probably the most militarily fortified continent in the world. The entire continent is dotted with military fortifications and castles, thereby, indicating that destructive wars had taken place quite frequently in the past. Many of the castles and military fortifications were built after the institutionalization of Christianity. This meant that the religion did not lead to the cessation of hostilities among rival communities and ambitious military and political leaders. On the other hand, Sub-Saharan Africa that is often maligned by Christians for being the center of devil worshipping due to the prevalence of Ancestralism, has fewer military castles and fortifications.
Twenty-fifth, apart from events that took place in Europe, in the Americas, conversion to Christianity did not make any difference regarding the occurrence of destructive events. In Christian United States of America, a bloody civil war took place, starting in 1863 and ending in 1867. New estimates now indicate that about 750,000 people died in the American Civil War (Guy Gugliotta, 2012, April 2). One of the issues that prompted the southern states to secede from the union was slavery. Even though both regions were Christian, the north wanted to abolish slavery while the south wanted to perpetuate it. Even after the civil war, blacks in Christian USA continued to suffer various forms of discrimination. For Native Americans in the USA, it is doubtful whether they will ever be convinced that Christianity is a source of their salvation, following the military campaigns that resulted in the dispossession of their lands.
To ensure equal treatment of all Americans, the United States Government has been very active in passing legislations to reduce discrimination and human and civil rights violations. Apart from the Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution), the U.S. Government passed the 13, 14, 15, 19th and 26th Amendments. Likewise, it also passed the Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1871, 1875, 1957, 1964, and 1968. Similarly, to ensure the equal right to vote, it passed the Voting Rights Acts of 1965 and expanded it in 1970, 1975 and 1982. Added to this is the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (Dye, 2007). Thus, the US is a shining pillar in the effort to address racial, ethnic, class and gender issues in the world.
Compared to the progressive tendencies of the United States Government, Latin American governments, on the other hand, have been lukewarm in passing legislations that could guarantee equal rights for all citizens, including Native Americans and Afro-Latinos. In fact, many Latin American countries, including Mexico and Peru, find it difficult to acknowledge their black populations, despite their Christianity. The blacks exist in a state of political, religious and socioeconomic invisibility. The Christian leadership and the Christians generally does not feel comfortable in discussing the iniquities concerning the treatment of blacks in Latin America but they are very eager to judge the Haitians because of the Voodoo religion.
Twenty-sixth, it should be noted that a major volcanic eruption took place in Martinique in the Caribbean on May 7, 1902. The Mount Pele eruption resulted in the total destruction of Saint Pierre. Only two individuals survived the eruption, including a prisoner who was locked up in an underground cell. Thus, Saint Pierre which was referred to as the Paris of the Caribbean ceased to exist. The fact is that the volcanic eruption took place in an island that had converted to Christianity (History, n.d.). This shows that natural disasters can take place anywhere irrespective of religion.
Twenty-seventh, again, in the Caribbean region, the Soufriere Hills volcano in Montserrat Island erupted in 1995. The eruption forced about two-thirds of the residents of the capital to flee, even though no one was killed. Then, in 1997, the volcano erupted again, this time, killing 19 people and forcing the citizens to abandon half of the island. The volcanic eruption took place regardless of the fact that the citizens of Montserrat were Christians (Huffington Post, 2013, October 13). Here again, there is no basis to infer that a natural disaster was prompted by a religious belief system.
Determining the Outcomes of the Hypotheses
Having identified important political, religious and historical events that have taken place in Christendom, it might be necessary now to determine the outcomes of the four hypotheses of the article.
(1) There is no correlation between the suffering in Haiti and the worshipping of Voodoo religion.
Based on the facts enumerated above, there is no correlation between the suffering in Haiti and the worshipping of Voodoo in Haiti. By extension, there is also no correlation between the worshipping of Ancestralism and suffering in Africa or elsewhere. These are the reasons:
- Europe converted to Christianity, starting from the time the Roman Empire officially converted to Christianity in 378 CE. Yet, throughout the reign of the Church in Europe, there was much suffering. The Dark Ages, in particular, was characterized by killings, destruction, pillaging and much more killings. The Dark Ages was followed by the Christian crusades and the Viking invasion.
- The situation even affected advancement of knowledge as classical Greek and Roman scholarly works were destroyed.
- In an effort to make Christianity the only religion in the continent, the Catholic Church, working with the Holy Roman Empire, carried out crusades and inquisitions, burnt thousands of people to death, killed and imprisoned heretics and annihilated other branches of Christianity as demonstrated by the liquidation of the Cathars in France.
- Despite conversion to Christianity, the greatest wars ever fought in the history of the world took place in Christian Europe. The major wars included (1) The Christian crusades, (2) the Thirty-Year war, (3) the Crimean War, (4) the First World War and (5) the Second World War. Thus, the heart of Christendom witnessed the greatest human disasters, in terms of warfare.
- The conversion to Christianity did not prevent the Bubonic Plague and the Influenza from infecting Ancestralists, Buddhists, Christians, Moslems and members of other religions in the world.
- Indeed, the facts, as enumerated above, show that there is no correlation between the suffering in Haiti and the worshipping of Voodoo religion. The data show that Christian Europe has experienced much more pain and suffering than any other continent due to the mammoth nature of the wars that had taken place in that continent.
- Quite contrary to the stereotypical characterization of Voodoo as a devilish religion, it is like any other ancestral-based religion. It is based on the worshipping of God through ancestral deities. It has gods and goddesses, just like other African, Asian and Native American traditional shamanic religions. It is considered a very sacred religion, hence, the priests and priestesses are called directly by divine entities to serve. It is based on absolute truth since truthfulness is equated with godliness. The gods and goddesses in Voodoo are equivalent to the Christian and Islamic angels. The ancestral deities can be equated with the Christian saints. Therefore, St. Michael in Christianity is equivalent to Ogun in Yorubaland and Egbesu in Ijawland.
- Thus, God and not the devil is at the core of all traditional African religions, including Voodoo. This is why the Acholis refer to God as Lubanga, the Kikuyus as Ngai, the Ijaws as Tamarau or Ayiba or Woyengi or Temeno, the Efiks and the Ibibios as Abassi, the Igbos as Chineke or Chukwu, the Yorubas as Olodumare (Olorun) or Oluwa, the Kongos as Nzamba a Mpungu, the Akans as Onyamea or Boreborea and many others, the Shonas as Mwari, the Zulus as u Thixo or Unkulukulu, the Oromos as Waaqi or Waqi, the Mandes as Mangala, Mandingos as Ndamanso or Mmariyo, the Hausas as Ubangidi, the Tivs as Aondo, the Urhobos as Ogene, the Edos as Osanobwa, the Nupes as Soko., and so on ans forth. Thus, there is a Supreme God, followed by various gods and goddesses that specialize in various aspects of existence and ancestral beings. This is similarly to Christianity with a Supreme God, followed by angels and saints. Therefore, it is utterly incorrect to assume that Voodoo is tantamount to worshipping of the devil. Unlike Christianity and other globalized religions, African traditional religions, including Voodoo and Rastafari are not imperialistic. This means that they do not force people to convert. The religions are considered sacred because the religious priests and priestesses are chosen by godly entities and not by human beings. Hence, the Haitians, Bakongos, Igbos, Kikuyus, Luos, Maasais, Ijaws, Yorubas, Oromos, Afro-Cubans, Ambundus, Afro-Dominicans, Afro-Brazilians, Ovimbundus, Hayas, Rastafarians, Chaggas, Mbutis, and so on and so forth, have never gone on religious crusades to convert people by force to embrace their traditional religions, including Voodoo, Santeria, Trinidad Orisha, Palo, Candomble, Quimbanda, and Umbanda. These ancestral-based religions do not depend on written texts or the readings of sacred books to understand God since the godly essence manifests to those pure in heart at its own choosing. Adherents can achieve a very high spiritual state of consciousness through spirit-possession.
2) Conversion to Christianity will not stop suffering in Haiti, as the Christians claim
Based on the political, religious, and historical facts as enumerated above, Haitian conversion to Christianity will not make a difference regarding whether the people suffer or not. The same applies to Sub-Saharan Africans since Voodoo is one of the African traditional religions. These are the reasons for taking this position:
- Europeans converted to Christianity, yet, they underwent centuries of unimaginable suffering, involving unrestrained military warfare, rampaging, looting, killing and destruction.
- Europeans converted to Christianity, yet, they lost millions of people to the Bubonic Plague. Later, like the Africans, Asians, and Americans, Europeans also suffered from the Influenza epidemic of 1918-1919.
- European suffering started to diminish with the conquest of the Americas, Africa, and some parts of Asia due to the wealth confiscated from those territories. The Congolese paid dearly as King Leopold of Belgium exploited the resources and inflicted pain and destruction on the people. Native Americans too paid dearly. Thus, the wealth taken from different parts of the world helped to create wealth that eventually led to industrialization and economic development in Europe. Thus, Christianity did not contribute to political and social stability in Europe. It actually made life very difficult.
- The Europeans rejected Christianity and opted for secular humanism, which allowed progressive thinking and freedom to bloom in the continent. This accounted for why even in the twenty-first century, the church is still separated from the state in all Western countries, except the Vatican.
- The United States was founded based on Christian principles, yet, slavery dragged on even after the civil war. Native Americans paid dearly and are still suffering. Minorities are still fighting for political, economic and judicial equality. Actually, ideas originating from secular humanism have been responsible for enhancing progress in human and civil rights in the United States of America, Canada and Australia and not Christian ideas.
- While humanistic ideas are responsible for the progress made in the United States and other Western nations, Christianity has not changed the status of blacks in Mexico and other parts of Latin America. Indeed, Afro-Mexicans are still treated as a non-existing group of people. Alexis Okeowo (n.d.) noted when he visited Mexico:
The notion of race in Mexico is frustratingly complex. This is a country where many are proud to claim African blood, yet discriminate against their darker
countrymen. Black Mexicans complain that such bigotry makes it especially hard for them to find work.
Afro-Mexicans are among the poorest in the nation. Many are shunted to remote shantytowns, well out of reach of basic public services, such as schools and hospitals.
In Peru, it was in 2009 that former President Alan Garcia Perez rendered an apology to black Peruvians for centuries of discrimination and racism. He pleaded with public and private institutions to eradicate exclusion and racism (Guerra, 2009, December 8). Former President Alan Garcia Perez, who happened to be a Native American, made the apology. As a Native American, he knew the suffering that his people and black Peruvians have undergone in the country. The World Bank noted:
Half of Afro-Peruvians have been insulted at least once on the street whereas
four of every 10 have felt discriminated against in their workplace or in shops
or other public spaces.
These figures are from the Center for Afro-Peruvian Studies and Promotion,
Which reports that despite some progress, Afro-Peruvians continue to be
Invisible to the government as well as much of society.
The country’s international image is tied mainly to its Inca heritage, to the
Machu Picchu and to the indigenous population. It is an image that ignores the
diversity and complexity of the human geography of Peru, especially
Afro-Peruvians (The World Bank, 2013, October 13).
In Brazil, despite the huge Afro-Brazilian population, a vast majority of blacks live at the periphery of society due to discrimination. Brazilians, Mexicans, Peruvians, and other Latin Americans countries have converted to Christianity but Christianity has not stopped racial discrimination and neglect of Afro-Latin Americans. They continue to remain generally invisible, in terms of education, health care, employment and political inclusion. Most blacks in Latin America live at the mercy of God, because the states do not care about them.
- Therefore, if Haitians convert en masse to Christianity, they would continue to experience some of the pain that they are going through now. The reason is that the Voodoo religion has nothing to do with their plight. There is no evidence of conversion to Christianity contributing to happiness anywhere. Afro-Latinos and Native Americans are living witnesses to their marginalization and neglect, despite their conversion to Christianity.
- The clearest evidence that conversion to Christianity will not make any difference is Italy. Rome, which is in Italy, is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church. Despite its Christianity, Italy is dotted with earthquake fault lines. This means that the country experiences earth tremors regularly. The fact that the country is the headquarters of the Roman Catholic Church has not prevented earth tremors from taking place.
- Obviously, the 27 points identified above show that conversion to Christianity would not prevent or stop natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes from occurring. Moreover, Christians have never been in peace with themselves. Hence, despite the fact that all Christians read the Bible and follow the teaching of Jesus Christ, they are highly factionalized. They are factionalized to the extent that Orthodox Christianity and Roman Catholic Christianity are still in a state of cold war. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants actually fought a hot war for thirty years (Thirty-Year War). If the Christiansare at war with themselves, it is impossible for Christianity to stop suffering anywhere, including Haiti.
(3) Societies that have converted to Christianity suffer as much as societies that subscribe to other religions.
Many people in the world do not realize that Ancestralism, the worshipping of God through ancestral deities, is the most widespread religion in the world, not Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam. Although different societies use different names for their brand of Ancestralism but the main tenets remain the same. Generally, it is possible to identify an ancestral religion by examining cultures which practice communalism and have strong respect for elders and ancestors. Thus, Native Americans, Vietnamese, Thais, Chinese, Haitians, Nigerians, Gabonese, Ivorians, Togolese, Kenyans, Indians, Senegalese, Mongolians, Indians, Tanzanians, Togolese, Fijians, Hawaiians, Australian Aborigines, Samoans, Maoris, and so on and so forth, pay homage to their ancestors. This is why it is an abomination to lie in the name of the ancestor in the aforementioned societies. Therefore, not only in Haiti but in many parts of the non-Western world, underneath the façade of Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, there is an ancestral-based religion like Voodoo whereby God is worshipped through the ancestors. The ancestral religion often serves as the foundation for society’s morality, norms and mores. Apparently, any shamanic-oriented religion is an ancestral-based religion.
In this regard, it is not the case that wherever Ancestralism is worshipped as a religion, the people suffer. By implication, Haitian difficulties have nothing to do with the Voodoo religion or the signing of a “pact with the devil.” After all, Japan, experiences earthquakes regularly. The fact that Japan experiences earth tremors regularly does not mean that the Japanese worshipping of Shintoism and Buddhism is the cause. Similarly, Chile experiences earthquakes regularly because it is located in an earthquake- prone zone. Therefore, the frequent occurrence of earth tremors in the country cannot be attributed to Christianity. Why is it that only in Haiti and in black Africa that unpleasant circumstances are attributed to the traditional religious culture while other societies that worship similar religions are not blamed when unfortunate situations happen?
Likewise, there is no evidence to support the view that conversion to Christianity will stop the suffering of the Haitian people. The following provide a short list of instances in which Christianity has not lead to stability or happiness:
- Christians were at war with themselves in the formative years of the religion for the ideological soul of the religion, so much so that there were different factions preaching different ideas about the religion. Emperor Constantine decided to end the ideological warfare by convening the Council of Nicaea in 325 CE. In the council, there was division of opinion concerning the status of Jesus Christ in relationship to God.
- Despite the fact that all Christians worship the same religion, Orthodox Christians and Agnostic Christians are not ideological bedfellows. Hence, the King James Version of the Bible represents the Orthodox view of Christianity and not the Agnostic view. This means that the Bible, especially the New Testament, does not represent the totality of Christian views about Jesus Christ and Christianity.
- Similarly, despite their Christianity, the Orthodox Church and the Roman Catholic Church have been in a state of cold war for a long time. The feud between the two branches of Christianity has lasted for about a 1000 years. In fact, in February 2016, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Kirill and the head of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis met in Cuba in an attempt to resolve their differences (Yardley, 2016, February 12),
- After the Martin Luther rebellion in 1617, the Protestant Reformation resulted in a split in the Catholic Church, leading to the establishment of Protestant Christianity.
- Today, Evangelical Christianity is spreading all over the Christian world as exponents vigorously campaign to win converts. Haiti, Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America are battle zones as the evangelicals want to convert even Catholic Christians into their ranks.
- Even though Ireland is a Christian country, the Irish people have had problems since the Christian Church split into the Catholic and Protestant branches. The religious conflict magnified when Henry VIII of England had a dispute with the Catholic Pope. He renounced Rome’s authority and made himself the head of the Anglican Church in 1536. The Catholic faith was suppressed while the Protestant faith was encouraged. Hence, Protestants were encouraged from England and Scotland to settle in Ireland in an effort to dominate the Irish Catholics. Following the crushing of the rebellion organized by the Earl of Tyrone (O’Neill and Earl of Tyrconnell (O’Donnell) in 1603, Irish lands were gradually confiscated while Protestant English and Scots were encouraged to settle in large numbers. Thereafter, strong-arm military tactics were used to institute a tighter control over Ireland (Holloway, June 2005). Peace came to Northern Ireland in the twentieth century between the two politico-religious factions. However, even today, the peace in Northern Ireland is very shaky. Any misstep, either by the Catholics or the Protestants, can turn Northern Ireland into another bloody war zone again. Thus, it could be said that Christianity has not helped the Irish at all. It magnified their problem by dividing them into two ideological camps.
- Christian Europe could be said to have suffered more than any other part of the world despite conversion to Christianity, as indicated by the historical facts above.
- Despite conversion to Christianity, many people continue to suffer from poverty and violence in Central America, just as in some parts of Africa.
- Finally, the 27 political, religious and historical points identified above indicate clearly that all nations go through challenging periods in their history, regardless of their religion.
(4) There are extraneous factors other than “a pact with the devil” that contribute to the situation in Haiti.
Rather than blame the Voodoo religion, it is more appropriate to look for other factors that might be responsible for contributing to the problems in Haiti. The following might help to clarify the position taken:
- Haiti is a political victim of its successful revolution. Even in the twenty-first century, there are Christians who find it difficult to accept the fact that Haitians relied on the spirituality of their ancestral religion to stage a revolution that led to their freedom from enslavement and colonialism in the early nineteenth century.
- The success of the revolution neutralized the Christian view that Christianity is the purest and most godly religion in the world. Thus, the success of the Haitian revolution is a blight on the superiority of Christianity and the Christians are working very hard to clean that history by stigmatizing Voodoo. Apparently, the struggle for the control of the spiritual souls of Haitians is similar to the struggle for the control of the spiritual souls of the Angolans, Dahomeyans (Beninois), Cameroonians, Chadians, Ghanaians, Congolese, Guineans, Kenyans, Nigerians, Malians, South Africans, Tanzanians, Ugandans, Zambians, Zimbabweans and so on and so forth. In other words, the Christian war against Haitian Voodoo is a war against African Ancestralism. The Jews have been fighting to stand on their religious faith for about two thousand years now and the Christians have been making it exceedingly difficult for them to be Jews. Jews are constantly victimized by violence perpetrated by Christians in the West.
- Due to the fact that Haitians overthrew a highly regarded European leader, the West still continues to be hostile towards them. This is why successive Western interventions in Haiti have tended to drag it backwards, thereby, stunting political and economic development while increasing the suffering and pain of the people.
- Thus, Haitian experience in dealing with the West is similar to Sub-Saharan African experience in dealing with the West. Just has nothing good is spoken of Haiti, nothing good is spoken of Sub-Saharan Africa. Just as most Westerners routinely refer to Haiti as a poor country, so most Westerners refer to Sub-Saharan Africa even though the facts are not necessarily correct. Most Westerners are not aware that Sub-Saharan Africa is highly urbanized with large cities. The cities of Lagos and Kano in Nigeria and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), for example, have populations that are larger than the populations of the cities of New York, London, Cologne, Berlin, Barcelona, and Paris, yet, sub-Saharan Africans are generally viewed as “poverty-stricken, disease-ravaged wild game hunters and gatherers.” Haiti, like other Caribbean Islands, is located in both an earthquake and hurricane prone zones of the world. This means that once in a while Haiti will either experience an earthquake, such as the one that took place in January 2010 or a hurricane, such as the one (Mathew) which struck on October 4, 2016 in Southwest Haiti, near Les Anglais.
- The Haitian situation, in regards to natural disasters, is not unique. For instance, Italy has experienced more than 100 magnitude 4 or more earthquakes since 2000.
- The most plausible reason to explain the difficult situation in Haiti is the “independence debt” that France imposed on the country after its independence. Forced to take a loan with a high interest rate, Haiti completed paying the debt in 1947. The second most plausible reason is foreign interference, which severely inhibits the country’s ability to develop and modernize both politically and economically.
Firstly, it is obvious, based on the political, religious and historical facts enumerated above, that there is no correlation between the worshipping of Voodoo religion and suffering in Haiti. Apparently, there is no iota of evidence to support the view that a “pact with the devil” is the cause of Haitian suffering. Secondly, there is no historical evidence to indicate that conversion to Christianity will stop suffering in Haiti. In many parts of the world, Christianity actually contributes to religious and political problems which culminate in suffering. Thirdly, all societies have suffered in one form or another, regardless of whether they subscribe to Voodoo or Buddhism or Christianity or Islam. History shows that European societies which converted to Christianity have fought some of the most destructive wars since human existence. Fourth, it is much more appropriate to attribute the problems Haiti faced to the “independence debt” and foreign interventions to dominate the country. After all, Haiti (pre-independence colonial name – St. Dominique) was the richest French colony in the Caribbean before the inglorious debt wrecked the socioeconomic fabric of Haitian society.
It is inferable that Haiti is being punished for its revolutionary success in 1804 and not through a “pact with the devil,” as Evangelical Christians seemed to imply. It is apt to conclude this article by quoting Jean-Marc Bouchet, a water trader in Haiti, who said:
We Haitians know that a big reason why we are suffering today is because we were
forced to pay France for our freedom. If we were not punished for our independence
long ago, we would have had a better time” (The Guardian, 2015, May 15).
If Evangelical Christians are serious about enhancing the quality of life in the country, they should lobby the French government to pay back the “independence debt” it collected from the Haitians and not waste unnecessary time blaming the ancestral religion. The United Nations, the European Union and the United States of America too should put pressure on France to return the funds it collected from the Haitian people. It is superfluous in the twenty-first century for any group to insist that one religion is superior to another
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