Christian Life (Essay 3)
Faith in the Postcolonial Awakening
No sooner are people getting used to postmodernism than up arises another slogan: postcolonialism. Like postmodernism, it is a complex subject and open to a range of interpretations. And it has been around for awhile, even predating aspects of postmodernism.
Post-colonialism loosely designates a set of theoretical approaches which focus on the direct effects and aftermaths of colonization (or colonialism), noting particularly how the colonizing influence is subverted in forms of human exploitation, normalization, repression and dependency (cf. Said 1993; Bhabha 1994; Segovia & Sugirtharajah 2009). For instance, several postcolonial elements prevail in the way we teach history:
- the normalization and validation of violence,
- the priority of the ruling male,
- making the loser invisible in historical text and narrative,
- prioritizing the metaphor of the hero,
- subverting what we don’t want the people to perceive.
Internalised oppression is one of the more pervasive consequences of the colonial mind-set. It can be understood in both systemic and personal terms. The political regime of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, as evidenced in the opening years of the 21st century, highlights the systemic mimicry often noted in postcolonial studies. Having thrown off the imposing control of the external colonizer (namely, the British), Robert Mugabe, and his cronies, have internalized the very domination they fought so hard to get rid of, and now impose it on the Zimbabwean people through forms of oppression and deprivation, some of which are worse than ever imposed by the British colonizers.
The personal nature of internalized oppression is best exemplified in the sense of victimization incurred by abuse – physical, emotional or sexual. The consequent sense of inferiority and unworthiness, with overt or covert feelings of guilt and shame, may prevail for years. These feelings may be buried deep in the subconscious, until brought into conscious awareness deliberately (as in therapy) or accidently (as in a traumatic experience). While the person feels victimized, the oppression is at work. When the person internalizes a sense of being a survivor rather than a victim, then freedom is more likely to ensue.
Power and powerlessness tend to be the two dominant dynamics being played out – at both the personal and systemic levels. All the formal religions seem to embody this destructive quality of power. In other words, religion carries a covert agenda of control over people’s lives. And in order to exert that control, people are made to feel unworthy, dependent, needing to suffer, and virtuous to the extent that they prove to be obedient.
It is also in the religions that we see colonization and internalized oppression working hand in hand. Segovia and Sugirtharajah (2009), in their analysis of the New Testament, surface several examples. They suggest that the iconic language of the Kingdom of God is a deliberate ploy to counter the rhetoric and power of the Kingdom of Rome (Roman Imperialism). But in the process of confronting and denouncing imperial power, the early Christian preachers, teachers and writers, re-enact some of the very power-dynamics they so vociferously denounce.
Truth is not merely the reserve of the few but the outcome of the community, the primary locus of Christian discernment. In the empowerment of the Spirit we are called into being as persons and as community. By mobilizing the diverse gifts of the community, inspired by the unifying Spirit, we stand a better chance of breaking through the false powers that ensnare us and instead move forward towards empowering liberation. This is the true freedom that God desires for every living creature, without which the New Reign of God on earth cannot be fully realized.
Bhabha, H. (1994), The Location of Culture, London: Routledge.
Corley, Kathleen (2002), Women and the Historical Jesus, Santa Rosa, CA: Polebridge Press.
Crossan, John Dominic (2007), God and Empire, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco.
Horsley, Richard A. (2003), Jesus and Empire, Minn: Augsburg Fortress
Said, Edward (1993), Culture and Imperialism, New York: Vantage.
Segovia, Fernando & R.S. Sugirtharajah (2009), A Postcolonial Commentary on the New Testament, London: T & T Clark