Thursday 14 October 2010

Dark Continents

Kwame Kwei-Armah fronts the sixth programme in the series Christianity: A History. The theme: Christianity, colonialism, and the emergence of a new Christendom with its centre outside Europe and North America.

Five hundred years ago there were few Christians outside Europe and the Middle East. Then the Spanish and Portuguese embarked on colonial adventures in the Americas with the overt blessing of Rome. Mass conversions were attempted at the barrel of a gun. The indigenous culture fought back in the only way it could, by melding ancient traditions with the new Catholic faith. This is where the programme begins, and we find a modern Catholic priest who doubles as a Mayan shaman with no apparent qualms of conscience. Truth to tell, Christianity - and Judaism before it - have always been deeply syncretistic (just think of the impact of Zoroastrianism with its dualism and resurrections), so it seems a little hypocritical to throw one's hands up in holy horror because it happened once again in the New World.

The focus next shifts to Africa, and Ghana in particular, with a walk through Cape Coast Castle, the former centre of the British slave trade with dungeons below and an "Uncle Tom" Anglican chapel above. I recollect being told once that the British were thoroughly decent colonisers - much nicer than the wicked, cruel French, Germans and others. Theirs was "the gentle yoke of Ephraim." Don't believe a word of it!

A change of location to Ethiopia and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, established long before Constantine's rape of the Western church. Here is a very different expression of Christianity, sharing unique links to Judaism and the Jerusalem Temple cult. Perhaps it's a measure of our lazy indifference that we know so little - and care even less - about this ancient tradition of which we are (and I certainly include myself in this) so woefully and pitifully ignorant.

While the Ethiopian church preserves a history and dignity that deserves the attention and respect of Christians in other traditions, the new and growing independent churches that have sprung up on the continent are something else again. The programme suggests that here is the future of Christendom, in the intellectual desert of Pentecostalism, complete with exorcisms, biblical literalism and faith healing. Unlike the Ethiopian church, the new churches are invariably the schismatic offspring of Western missions. What can't be doubted is that they are both fervent and growing. It is probably true, as the film suggests, that Africa today is much closer culturally to the world of first century Palestine than the effete and bloodless post-Enlightenment churches of the West, but is that really a good thing, and do we realistically expect it to stay that way?

That ultimately is a question for African Christians to answer. Dark Continents presents a sympathetic perspective that certainly deserves to be heard.


  1. I think the Ethiopian Orthodox are just about the least toxic Christianity in Africa, these days.

    Mind, they say they've got the Ark, though. (Of the Covenant, not Noah's boat, that is.) So take that for what it's worth.

    The Ethiopian Orthodox church could probably be classified as pre-historical Messianic Jews.

    Oddly enough, they never were mentioned in "The True History of the TRUE Church", though. Hmmm, I wonder why that is.... (notice my sarcasm)

  2. Purple Hymnal mentions the Ethiopian Orthodoxists, who claim that they are in possession of the Ark.

    It's amazing, what so-called 'truths' some people hawk when they see themselves as on a "Mission from God"

    Does God need such big-time liars to do His bidding?

    Liar David Barton is a great example, here in the States.

    What a scummy character!

    Barton lies his bum off continually, and has shown himself to be an engrossed Christian liar.

    And of course there is Ron Wyatt who has made all sorts of extraordinary claims which are based on falsehoods.

    Recently I was watching television (On Trinity Broadcast Network) with blowhard John Hagee, and noticed he's a liar, too.
    He was repeating the old lie about the biblical 'missing day'.
    He was repeating a well-known lie and he'd have to have a brain disease to not know he was telling an old lie.

  3. Check out Isaiah 18. After the return of the Messiah, the Ethiopians bring a gift to Him in Jerusalem.

    What do you think it might be?

  4. Well, Larry, there are a few problems with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church; one is, they've since backed down on "revealing the Ark to the world", which essentially means they ain't got squat, and they never did have.

    The other problem with the Ethiopian Orthodox Church is their beliefs on exorcism, which, if it hasn't led directly to it, it certainly must be encouraging of, the child torture carried out under that banner.

    Seriously, Larry, do you just believe any crackpot theory that comes along?? At least in the old days, the church told us not to pay any attention at all, to anything that was of "the world" --- which included crackpot theories, although there was always one or two unconverted souls in every congregation, who regularly spewed that vile conspiracy theory crap.

  5. Oh, and by the way, Larry, that chapter in Esaias begins, "Ah, wings of a land of ships beyond the rivers of Ethiopia..."

    You might want to cross-reference those Bible verses, before you spew them out willy-nilly, as "prophetic" proof.

  6. Also! The verse Larry's referring to?

    "At that time gifts will be brought to the Lord Sabaoth [That's another word for "the god of this world", or the Adversary, folks.] from a people afflicted and plucked and from a great people henceforth and forever, a nation having hope and trodden down, which is in a part of a river of its land, to Mount Sion, the place where the name of the Lord Sabaoth is."

    Sorry, Larry, what does that have to do with Ethiopia? Even King Jimmy's Book of Fairy Tales has nothing to say about Ethiopia, that verse just talks about people "tall and smooth of skin" !!

    Hell, that sounds more like Chariots of the Gods material, than the Ethiopians, you ask me!

  7. Yahweh Sabaoth is another name for Satan? That's news to me. The phrase YHWH sebā'ôth is usually translated Lord of Hosts. You'd have to sticky-tape a few unlikely proof texts together to make this refer to the Adversary. The first time it occurs is 1 Sam. 1:3 where it is clearly refrring to the God of Israel.

  8. Eh, not so much sticky-tape, as take the lens of modernity from in front of your eyes; there was a very wide disconnect, in the early Essene sub-cult, between the Judaic God, and the omniscient, benevolent, paternal god, promoted by the followers of Joshua.

    Oh, and uh, Sabaoth is mentioned in several Gnostic texts, such as The Apocryphon of John.

    But don't believe me! Believe Valentinus!!

    "A huge four-faced chariot of cherubim?" Sound familiar? OK, OK, maybe this was the sportscar version, or something....

    Speaking of "the harmony of the Gospels" On the Origin of the World tells a similar tale.

    I repeat, sound familiar? Although sounded through a very different filter, I will grant you.