By Aaron Robinson
Any student of socio-political movements will eventually discover a very interesting fact. A large percentage of such movements that have had any lasting impact upon the societies in which they were based have had a theological foundation.
It becomes evident, with study, that spirituality lends strength to any social or political cause. A theological foundation takes the struggle from merely the physical realm of, "us against them," to a spiritual realm that deals with justice, righteousness and absolute truth. Theology elevates the conflict to a higher plane that allows an issue to be dealt with in its essence.
The issue of racism becomes a debate concerning the acknowledgement of the commonality of all humankind. The issue of equality amongst the various social classes is transformed into ultimate respect for the individual simply because he IS an individual. Equal rights and representation for women becomes a movement for the recognition of the female as an equal and important contributor to the human experience. Approaching a cause with a spiritual or theological view automatically infuses the struggle with a sense of dignity and purposefulness. Liberation theology inserts GOD into the equation thereby radically changing our approach and the anticipated outcome of certain political and social concerns.
When Mahatma Gandhi took up the plight of his people, it was only after he had spent time studying the works of Leo Tolstoy and reading the New Testament. The spiritual inspiration garnered from these works propelled Gandhi into the plight of his people with a determination and persistence that was too strong and passionate to be resisted. He has been, and still is, an example for many who are looking for ways to effectively impact and change the societies in which they live. Martin Luther King Jr., the face that is oftentimes associated with the American Civil Rights Movement, borrowed heavily from the philosophy of Gandhi; yet managed to maintain his own distinct spiritual ideology.
The American Civil Rights Movement was birthed in the black church. In black spirituality, the spiritual leadership (whether priest, priestess, shaman, pastor, etc.) has always been held in high esteem amongst the people. The spiritual leader held great influence in the people's lives beyond religious ceremony and observance because spirituality and the concept of GOD encompassed all of one's existence. The "Sunday morning believer" or the idea that one's spirituality can be successfully separated from one's day-to-day affairs is a new, foreign concept.
Many of the civil rights movement's liberation activities were coordinated and operated from the church building. Many of the activists were themselves ministers and many of the most famous "speeches" of the era were in fact sermons that were saturated with biblical references and imagery. The civil rights equation possessed an element of spirituality that raised it to a fight for justice and righteousness amongst mankind.
The provocative, charismatic figure of Malcolm X found his voice and calling amongst the discipline and teachings of the Nation of Islam. Even as he evolved politically and spiritually he still resourced his spiritual beliefs as a means by which to unify the black race. His battle remained a spiritual battle, of sorts, even unto his tragic end. It is said that his spiritual, and therefore political and philosophical, development was cut short by his assassination. One can only wonder what he would have become had he remained alive and continued to evolve.
The Rastafarian use of biblical metaphors and insightful correlation between the historic nation of Israel and the current "sufferation" of black peoples around the world has added an interesting dimension to the concept of black liberation. The idea of emancipation for the down pressed is then changed from a mere "want" to an inevitable reality that has been ordained by GOD Almighty. The theology of Rastafari creates a dynamic of urgency and necessity within the struggle for upliftment. It is a map and compass, of sorts, by which to gauge the present situation and successfully navigate from Babylon unto Zion.
The spiritual infrastructure of the Rastafarian lifestyle has empowered it to become a force of consciousness and liberation throughout the world. The universal vehicle of reggae music has carried the message to the literal ends of the earth. Anywhere that people are struggling against an unjust system in order to acquire "equal rights and justice," reggae and/or Rasta are present.
A theology of liberation- a practical, life applicable spirituality- is a powerful, yet often neglected, aspect of any serious movement towards change. Engaging both the physical as well as spiritual dimension of any case or struggle seems to elevate the individual and the struggle itself to a place where the essential and eternal foundational issues can be viewed. Any cause dealt with from such a viewpoint is bound to succeed in having an impact.