“When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, ‘Let us pray.’ We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land.” [Desmond Tutu]
“I went to India to find the other half of my soul”. [Bede Griffiths]
I have just spent a magical week at the 3rd Amahoro Conference at the YFC Cyara Centre near Johannesburg, South Africa.
Above all things this was a conversation involving probably 300 people, from countries including South Africa, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Burundi, DRC, Rwanda, Uganda, Ghana, UK, Switzerland, Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada and Dominican Republic.
In recent years I have become aware of what can be described as the “post modern condition”. This epiphany has been instrumental in my current spiritual awakening. To accept that I have moved beyond modernity has meant that I now find myself in a new “framing story” in which God’s word, revelation and mission, can be fundamentally freshly understood.
But I have also been told of the “irrelevance” of post modernism to Africa and the ex Colonies (specifically of Europe). It is seen as a philosophical struggle, too abstract and remote to meet Africa in its time of need. But this is not to say that Africa is not emerging into something new, but instead, this new thing should rather be described as “Post Colonialism”: the struggle to forge an identity which comes not from an imposed cultural narrative, but from within Africa herself.
This has meant that a potential either/or has presented itself: If you are emerging into a new story, are you Post Modern, or are you Post Colonial? If you are in the Euro-American world, you will likely say yes to the former, while if you are in Africa, Latin America, Asia or any previously exploited region, your answer will be the latter.
Now I am quite certain much has been said on the topic of (post)Colonialism, for many many years. I’m not competing here with Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Che Guevara or Stephen Biko. But at this point in my journey, and following the great burst of optimism that is Amahoro, I feel compelled to add my tuppence worth.
My initial response (see this conversation on Emerging Africa) to this either/or quandary was to argue that those in the African space were inevitably heading towards post-modernity; it was just a matter of time. I won’t expand on this obviously debatable position any further now. But for a moment I considered the post-colonial not that relevant to me.
But it’s becoming clearer now, as my understanding of (post)colonialism has grown. So what I really want to say here is why I am a European Postcolonial.
Firstly, I am European not because I am white, but because I identify with Europe. It’s not a function of family either, my brother for example sees himself as primarily African. And many other whites, especially Afrikaners, feel the same. It’s a matter of cultural identity.
Most importantly though, there are 2 theological reasons why I wholeheartedly now call myself postcolonial:
An identity of superiority has been replaced by an identity of incompleteness.
A fundamental assumption of colonialism was that Europe was more advanced than the rest of the world. This has its roots in the Roman Empire and the Roman categories of “Civilized” and “Barbarian”. Christendom – Christianity as appropriated by that Empire – spiritualized this into “church” and “heathen”. This way of seeing was further upheld by the Old Testament categories of the Jews and the Gentiles.
The highest expression of Western civilization is the period referred to as Modernity – roughly 1600 – roughly 2000. Amongst its other expressions this era has seen global expansionism via military might, a view of others as exploitable, expendable objects – slavery, and what Brian McLaren calls “excessive confidence” – the export of Christendom via Missionaries.
Underlying these exploits has been a worldview of assumed superiority. I reject this, in line with a particular reading of the books of the bible. To me, the much feared “other” contains the seeds of my own growth, not a threat to my identity or survival.
The dominion theological mandate has been replaced by a stewardship mandate.
The book of Genesis contains the text “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” (1:26, King James Version). This changes to “Let them rule over” in the NIV, and “So they can be responsible” in the Message, reflecting the evolving consciousness of the human mandate not as a ticket to exploit but rather as a command to steward.
Of course when we reframe our understanding from this perspective we realise that greed and non sustainable approaches to the Earth’s resources are deeply contrary to the biblical view. This is especially true in my observations from reading Luke’s gospel chapters 15 and 16. Here are 5 stories, The Lost Sheep, Coin and Son, the shrewd manager and Lazarus. Taken in context, these 5 parables in my interpretation speak of the attitude of the God of Grace towards his often errant creations.
Rather than create a dichotomy between winners and losers, powerful and disenfranchised, righteous and sinner, the Great Steward shows deep care for the lost, the different, and the disempowered. This underlying narrative culminates in the story of Lazarus, so often abused as a defense of the ultimate exclusion – hell, in which the Law and Grace go head to head. See my post “Lazarus and Inclusion” for more.
I reject Dominion theology, not only because of its heinous outworking during the colonial and industrial era, but because I view it with deep suspicion as a worldview supposedly connected with the Living God of Grace.
For these 2 reasons alone, I reject Colonialism and am happy to be labeled as both Post Modern and Post Colonial. I am excited by the possibilities inherent in such a posture, possibilities for heightened creativity, for deepened community, and for a better world for all.