my experience with Christianity comes from an insider point of view and a very intimate space because I grew up in that particular religion with parents who were very active and devout in it. The particular strain was Reformed Evangelical which is I believe an American form that takes it's cues from Martin Luther's Reformation - a movement against the excesses and corruption of the Catholic Church. A book that was mentioned often in my church space was the 1689 Confession of Faith. It seemed to be a very important book to the people in my church and could often be quoted alongside the Bible. The space was very sectarian as other Christians such as Anglicans, Catholics, Presbyterians, Pentecostals and so on were not considered to have the full truth of the Bible. We sang very old English and American hymns in church from a hymn book and it was mostly the piano that was played. Few instruments were allowed, i occasionally recall the guitar, but certainly not the trap set or any form of percussion apart from a tambourine. Looking back there seemed to be a lot of condemnation and fear of instruments that were not strictly European and music in general was viewed with great suspicion. Dancing was certainly not allowed and not even clapping was allowed until much later. The men wore shirt jacks or suits, and the women, long and "modest" clothing. The tone of the preaching was very fire and brimstone and scared me badly as a child. We were made as children to sit and listen from a young age to sermons of an hour and sometimes an hour and a half long. One night I was so scared that I was going to hell because I had not "given my life to the Lord" that I woke up and ran outside around the age of seven to make a confession to my father and become "saved."
I think in general it was an unhealthy perspective on God and the divine. I definitely viewed God as an extremely wrathful old man who would destroy me for my sins and shortcomings. I developed many fears and phobias from a young child as a result, and I was in a dual state, afraid of people and also I had an attitude of condemning them internally, even for "sins" I practiced in private. There was a lot of duality and hypocrisy going on in my personal life, because there were things I was curious about or wanted to do as a teenager that were heavily condemned in my church space. There were many cultural and musical things we were not allowed to partake in and I felt religion to be a dry, stiff, sad thing. We moved around churches quite a bit as well, which made me feel like an outsider even within the Christian community. Apart from my conversion at seven years old I also had other conversions, I think there was one at 15 and then another at twenty six. At each one I still struggled greatly with my "sins," which include(d) a very large sexual appetite, and numerous other things listed in the Bible as sins, such as anger and bitterness, jealousy, and so on. I became rebellious in my family space and stopped going to church in my late teens. Around 17 I met a friend who was a Rastafarian and began visiting him with other friends. My family is also strangely, or not so strangely, African conscious, and some of my family members were and are Spiritual Baptists, but I never went to any ceremonies with them as these things were frowned upon. However, at home we would discuss the state of African people and from young I knew the names of and saw the books of Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, James Baldwin. I read Alex Haley's Roots almost before i was in high school. So my household was also strangely a-typical of a Caribbean Christian household. As a result, I was very sensitive to issues of black Africans and black consciousness, and even colourism was something I became aware of from early. This made my ability to converse with my Rasta friends very easy, and they began to challenge me on issues of history and religion. Strangely, as I grew in a church that was anti-Catholic, it was easy for me to join in with Rasta's declarations of "fire pon Rome" and to see how the Catholic Church had borrowed/stolen practices from cultures all around the world and incorporated it into their ceremonies/ holidays and festivals. It was a great period of growth for me, but I could not bring my self to see any issue with the Christian faith in and of itself. Also, in some Rasta spaces I encountered persons who were militantly supportive of Haile Selassie's divinity, and I read that both Garvey and Selassie were Christians and it confused me that my Rasta friends were putting a fire on Christianity when their "God" was a Christian. That created something of a rift and I felt like there was a sort of militant and forced acceptance that I had been trying to move away from in Christianity in Rasta (or among some Rastas) as well. I was also afraid to leave a system of thought that I had known for so long, and more than anything, I was afraid to go to hell. A lot of fear.
At the same time, some of my Afro conscious and Rasta friends began to involve themselves in and go to a lot more indigenous African expressions of spirituality. I remember an instance where some Orisa were holding a ceremony and my friend invited me to go and I declined. I was afraid because I had been taught and told that it was "devil thing." I also was taught and believed that the only system of morality and way to improve one's character was through Christianity. As I read the Bible I did see many things that seemed so good to me - truth, love, joy, peace, patience. These resonated with me and I believe that I (at the time) wrongly assumed that this meant that this was the central and ONLY way to become peaceful, patient, truthful, and so on - and that Christianity was the only religion to - not necessarily advocate for this, but - definitively achieve this refinement of character or rather "new birth": the complete change in character and betterment of internal qualities that so many people hope for. And again, these qualities really resonated with me, and still do. By this time I was in university and experienced another conversion. At each conversion point I would become very radical and militantly "Christian" and I felt that it meant I had to abandon groups of friends and sometimes even condemn them or try to convert them. It was not the best way to go about things at all. But this conversion was a little different because it accompanied with it an actual spiritual experience which I had never gone through before in regular church. I joined a different community of Christians and they were very different to how I grew up. A lot less condemning and hell fire and a lot more focus on doing good works, and becoming a better person, and community building and so on. To this day I still feel a very genuine and loving relationship with many of the people in that community. But there were, and are nagging and uncomfortable questions that could never be engaged in that space.
I think that in all these religions, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, there are nuggets of truth and have excellent passages and proverbs and sayings. And when they are applied by a genuine person, it can greatly ennoble and improve their lives. However, as a result, the conclusion that people (and I myself) derived is that this means that whatever particular system is the ONLY way for self development. There are also other things. There are psychoses, biases and perspectives that are handed down through the cultural matrix and historical passage of these religions that I have concluded are greatly damaging to the African mind and psyche. Christianity and Islam are inextricably tied to violent conquest, colonialism and slavery. Learning any "truth" in that setting means that it will be filtered through the eyes of the conqueror. This I have personally seen through my own struggles to come to terms with white depictions of Jesus, and many, many other symbols, statements and practices (such as no dancing or drums) that I could not reconcile with the actual religion but nevertheless was prescribed. Further, as i mentioned, there was and is a great unwillingness in most or all of the church spaces to discuss slavery and colonialism and the church's role in that. This was a cause of great pain and mental confusion for me. I remember being on 2 mission trips and we showed a movie with white depictions of Jesus and disciples and prophets to Africans on the continent on one occasion and indigenous people in South America on another occasion. This disgusted, hurt and angered me although I was part of the delegation, and when I raised it, it was glossed over and sidelined. The reality is that conversion is mostly tied to all these processes, the superiority of the "other," in this case, mostly white people coming from some where to tell others how to live. I have personally experienced the role of the missionary (sometimes very well meaning and nice people) in spreading concepts of inferiority. In this manner, Christianity does not empower or liberate, it enslaves. I now don't see how any right thinking African can practice any form of Western Christianity. I am still thinking about the Ethiopian and Coptic Orthodox and what it means, because they are more "indigenous."
The last straw for me was on a final mission where I had a disgusting encounter with a White American missionary. Although he and his family were in Africa to "help" Africans he was colonial minded, ignorant, biased, and hateful. He saw his mission in the form of a civilizing one, and was trying to get people to learn in English because "it is the language of higher instruction," and when I told him I appreciated how close people lived to nature, he said things like "well let them keep their mud huts," and many other arrogant and hurtful things. I painfully awoke the reality that these overt and also sometimes subconscious biases were not the exception in Christianity, they were the rule. Neither could they be explained away by the failings of people to live up to the ethos of Christianity. This was a form of mental gymnastics I exercised often when confronted with the failings of the religion. The reality is that inherent in the text are ideas of exclusiveness and superiority and inferiority. Almost all the missionaries I met in Africa viewed the people with subconscious or overt hostility and bias. And these were the "good" Christians!!! I finally began to understand the anger and hostility of many of my Afro conscious friends to Christianity and (make no mistake about it) it's direct descendant - Islam. However, I still try to be more understanding and reflective in my approach to them, perhaps because I grew up in the Abrahamic religions and see how in some ways they can help people (but also hurt them). I try not to condemn any one's faith or practice, but I feel like I have just grown beyond these forms as a result of my experiences. Those experiences were great however, because I began to consciously distance my self from Christianity and identifying as such and to try to work on me outside of that frame work. This opened up to me a whole new world and I re engaged some of the people on this forum with great results. Perhaps on occasions not even in the best way. I began to see how arrogant and crazy it is to think that your view is all there is to the world and to life, and worse yet, to try to impose that on people.
I am not really sure where to go from here. I have been reading with great interest the history of Kmt. Here I have seen how much had been borrowed and straight plagiarized into Jewish, Christian and Muslim texts. It's truly astounding, and gives me comfort that I am on the right track (I hope). I have a great interest in African traditional religion now - and respect for these practices. At some point I would like to partake more actively in one. This community has also been helpful. I confess it's also sometimes frustrating to me but on reflection part of that is because of growing accustomed to being told what to do/believe rather than working that out on one's own. I am not used to just working at things in general as far as the spirit or self is concerned. The Abrahimic religions perhaps do the worst damage that way because there is learned helplessness and always an external "deliverer." This actually is freeing to some extent but reduces responsibility and accounting for your actions.