Africans and the European Soul

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Are the Formerly Colonised Set To Colonise Their Colonisers?
(A speculation)

It has come to my delighted attention that African churches are increasingly sending missionaries to the United Kingdom. And that the declining number of British volunteers joining the Catholic priesthood – in Wales for instance – has meant that African priests are increasingly taking over rural parishes. This crisis of belief, if it can be so termed, is so pervasive that churches are closing daily which means that the trend of an Africanised priesthood is only likely to grow. In the cities, London being a fine example, African Protestant and charismatic churches are also growing apace, seeking to emulate their counterparts on the continent.

We are entering an era when the welfare of the European soul shall be in the hands of the African. Europe has always had a peculiar need for Africa as a guiding light to its self awareness. The two, African and European, in the latter’s mind at least, have occupied opposed sides of a binary divide for the last couple of hundred years: black vs. white; stupid as opposed to intelligent; savage vs. civilised; backward vs. forward; lazy vs. industrious…

That Europe has become more secular is public knowledge, as is the rise of state power at the expense of the church. Cardinal Murphy-O’Connor, the Archbishop of Westminster, the leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, recently argued that ‘christianity is close to being vanquished’ and has little influence on government or the public here.

One of the founding ideas of colonialism, and slavery before it, was the state of the soul: Africans were supposed to have none while Europeans were blessed with a hefty, healthy one. But this duality has been turned on its head. No sooner had some wise men in the late nineteenth century concluded that the African indeed did have a soul – a donor driven plot if there was ever one – that Europeans started denying the existence of theirs. As always, our opposed positions had to be maintained.

With its back to the wall, the Catholic Church is now speaking of the need to re-evangelise the West. A meeting of over 100 bishops in 2004, sponsored by the Vatican, discussed a strategy of clergy exchanges to address the crisis. Africans having plentiful manpower in their rapidly growing churches would fill the gap in Europe while small numbers of European clergy provision Africa with their greater pastoral experience. This of course merely represents the last gasp of a European church that is suffering from a colonial hangover and that imagines itself to be the center. The re-evangelising of the West shall not come under its auspices.

The Africans who shall increasingly take up pastoral duties here will be off-shoots of their home churches. They shall reflect a conservatism and syncretism that shall be unlike anything else the European Christian has ever encountered. Gone will be the sleepy little churches that dot the countryside and welcome to the drive to create super churches that lay claim to large areas of their parishioners’ lives. The Nigerian priest in Wales will look toward the African Diaspora in the cities first and then to Nigeria for inspiration of how to conduct his pastoral duties. The local church, low on morale, and the state secularised to the point of ignoring the Christian church as a possible source of opposition (all state eyes will be on the mosque), will offer no counter balance to the most potent African presence there has ever been in Europe. The African evangelist – many who are now being funded by congregations in Africa – will be here to lay claim to the European soul.

Let me try and extend this wild speculation.

Europeans have steadily transformed their institutions into rational-bureaucratic models that are far less reliant on charismatic power than they used to be. The church which historically laid claim to bureaucratic power on the basis of its hold of the charismatic-transcendental realm has seen the both these positions undermined fundamentally. The African church, on the other hand, whether Catholic or Protestant, is only in the early stages of its rise: its claims to domination of the charismatic-transcendental or the soul are unlimited and are supported by more people every year. Soon I suspect its boundaries will begin to bump up against those of the African state which being weak and lacking strong ideological or moral foundations shall be absorbed ever more into it. The church’s innate drive to expand, under the banner of evangelisation, will have a huge impact on Europe. The entry of African priests, immigrants and missionaries will be lead to their domination of the terms under which the soul and its salvation can be approached by individual Christians. No longer will the division between church and state be automatically assumed; no longer will the European state have a beaten and pliant church to co-exist with. It will be dealing with a dominant, dominating force.

Since this is an out-there speculation, surely there is no harm in extending it slightly.

Let us for a minute assume that the increasing pilgrimages by European Christians to churches in Africa is the leading trend of an amazing rebound in the European public’s desire for spiritual nourishment (just look at Madonna and Kabbalah, and the energy of the American southern Baptists). If this happens, as the African church grows in Europe, the binary nature of the two groups shall once again be on show. You will see on one hand an African led soul-revival that shall in effect be the anti-power to the bureaucratic-rational forms of European state power. It shall be power vs. anti-power; state vs. church; and utility vs. transcendence.

The image of Africa in Europe, as a place of darkness, has always relied on more than the image of death and suffering that has been such a large part of its historical experience. This image in the European imagination has been attributed to the African lacking a soul or possessing a perverted one. Now, the growth of the African church in the vacuum left by its European counterpart will overturn this idea of darkness. Africa’s problems, increasingly part of the European public’s ‘we can help and its not fair’ posture, will, in combination with the upsurge in the fortunes of the church, take on a kind of holy aspect.

Meanwhile, Europe’s secularism and tortured anti-materialist, you-can-believe-and-do-anything rhetoric has the effect of consigning it to spiritual darkness or nihilism. And at least one bridge to the light shall be provided by Africans and their churches. From the historical position of Europeans using African misery and ‘savagery’ as a measure of their affluence and ‘civilisation’, we shall move to a Europe whose definition of its fallen soul is reliant ona comparison to Africa’s enlightened one.

Though this will not necessarily mean that the tangible forms of Europe’s state power will be African or answer to Africa’s political institutions, it will nevertheless be a colonisation of the European in that part of the contest that has always mattered the most between this ying and yang relationship: the soul.

That brings this speculation to an end. I enjoyed it seeing as I was procrastinating all afternoon and had no ready access to other entertainments.


About bulletsandhoney
I read my first book when I was three, then my second one a few weeks later. It has carried on this way for decades with only temporary distractions of eating, fighting, loving, heartbreak and other such irrelevant biographical details.

12 Responses to Africans and the European Soul

  1. ozymandiaz says:

    Loved the article. It is akin to the state of the Catholic church in aspect of the US and Latin America. The US diecese, much battered (child molestations and the likes), have falling attendance and contributions as to where the Latin American churches are thriving.
    Hav a link for you guys…
    Thanks for the great read

  2. MMK says:

    ozymandiaz – Are you from Latam? Where? I mistakenly erased a wonderful comment by Blair – I think – on Native Americans and religion in the west. I hope he writes again.

    As for the reason review of Robert Guest, I have read it and agree with much of what it says. But have you noticed how every book about what is wrong in Africa begins its inquiry at the point of independence? I find it somewhat strange, almost as if there was nothing happening there before. To a very real extent, the African states and politicians being blamed are following (badly mostly) the colonial recipe of limiting African agency and liberty, monopolies favouring the few, protectionism and a blatant lack of a rule of law – actually it is more accurate to call it rule by force and violence and murder. It is impossible for Robert Guest to assess the state of leadership on the continent without taking into account its roots. Virtually every leader that everyone decries cut his teeth in colonial administrations, they were the stars!

  3. Dr Evil says:

    Desmond Tutu likes to joke that when the
    missionaries went to Africa the blacks had the land and the whites the Bible; then the missionaries said, “Let us pray” and when they opened their eyes the whites had the land and the blacks the Bible.

    I’m gonna love the expression on those English faces when they open their eyes one day…

  4. WM says:

    Okay, I share your sense of the amusing irony of it all. But can we not forget that African clergy of all denominations tend to be the most conservative on the planet? The Anglicans just finished their homophobic walkout..the Opus Dei, which is rather wild about its doctrines, has more fun in Africa than anywhere else. So yes, it is pretty cool that Africans are leading the Christian front, or whatever, but I am not sure that I want these attitudes so strongly reinforced in the rest of the world. Now, if everybody were into liberation theology, like Jean-Marc Ela, and Eboussa, that would be something different. If all of them were scholarly and tolerant like the Jesuits, that would be even more different. But they aren’t, are they? So frankly, this trend worries me. I’m not Christian myself, but I do remember Christian members of my families–of these same evangelical types–saying to me with complete seriousness that all Muslims were going to hell. Full stop. ALL of them. This, I find somewhat frightening, really.

  5. fogo says:

    luckly are keeping on writing!

    i’m looking forward dancing in my chirch and jumia in my parish! that would be really great and could really give us back a community feeling which is missing so badly.

    what i wouldn’t like is the 5 hours way of the cross in the mud! 😉

    i just don’t agree with the strange link your establishing between church and state.
    believe me: the italian church is all but beaten. and even a black pope could do better (or worse?).

    bye bye

  6. MMK says:

    WM – True, the African church is very conservative. But you know what, I sometimes don’t buy their talk of being conservatives at least in the sense that Ratzinger and the Opus Dei folks imagine. These guys are not going to reinforce conservatism in the West – it will be like oil and water. They may adopt forms of rhetoric and representation that appear to be a part of the Western conservatism, but I suspect that the unintended consequences are going to dwarf any of the obvious ones we can see right now. My question to you, and this on the possible basis of a paper (joint?) is what funky, unintended, deeply disruptive things are going to emerge from this trend. As in let us for just a moment look beyond their hype for a moment.

  7. Bathus says:

    I think the comment you accidentally deleted might have been mine. I’ve tried to recompose it:

    Fascinating speculations.

    Here in American, one observes a related phenomenon among the followers of what I call our emerging “eco-religion,” the ecology religion that worships the earth-mother-goddess nature. Even among otherwise fairly sensible people there is a common (mis)conception that “native Americans” (i.e., American Indians, of which I am one) innately possess an exceptional capacity to commune with nature. Indeed, the ecology movement first became a force in American life, I believe, largely as a result of a public service commerical that aired frequently on our televisions about thirty-five years ago. It featured an Indian (who was actually an Italian actor) in a canoe on a river, interspersed with images of trash and dying fish, and ended with a close-up shot of the Indian’s mournful face with a tear forming in his eye.

    We Indians get a good laugh out of the idea that we “noble savages” have special mystical powers. But sometimes we also milk it for all it’s worth. Indeed, I make good use of my “special powers” when talking politics with my well-to-do leftist friends. They feel themselves drowning in the guilt and ennui of their own soulless consumerism, so in an attempt to introduce some meaning into their lives, they have adopted the daily rituals and scourgings of the eco-religion (i.e., sorting their trash for recycling, abstaining from eating non-free range chickens, riding the bus instead of driving their SUVs, consuming only [very expensive] organically-farmed produce). I tell them that, inasmuch as we in the West suffer more from a poverty of the spirit than from a poverty of material goods, instead of limiting their politics so much to an economic agenda (unemployment, income disparities, etc.), the left would do better to focus more on spiritual issues, that they might learn somthing from those whom they denigrate as “Bible thumpers.”

    In any event, this well-established Western myth, that dark and noble savages innately possess special spiritual powers, provides more evidence to support your fascinating thesis.

  8. Dr Evil says:

    WM, give those blacks a break. I suspect most of them are more of the syncretistic stripe, with animism and forefather-worship playing a significant part. Therefore the black missionaries might rather help revive the more ancient religions of Albion than the anemic spirit of Christianity.

  9. MMK says:

    Bathus – I must check out that commercial, your description has me rolling in laughter already. I love that slightly anxious, pinched look that comes over the face of the do-gooder when they are faced with the heroic ‘native’.

    dr evil – I like your name I must say. I cannot agree with you more that the phenomenon of evangelical, charismatic christianity in Africa will be very different from what it first appears to be. Tell us more by all means. I need to put up these comments as a post…

  10. WM says:

    Ah, but I wasn’t talking about the syncretist churches or even the animists. I am talking about the clergy of established religions..the catholics, the evangelicals etc. Can you imagine,for example, the consequences of our exported priests joined with the christian right to condemn christianity? To insist on the “head of household” status of the man? MMK, let’s write that paper.

  11. Dr Evil says:

    WM, established religion is for all intents and purposes finished. Scholarship of recent years have more or less come to a conclusion that the historic Jesus, if he existed, never was actually God. The established churches will only survive by accepting pagan tenets. The catholic church in Africa is already debating wether to adopt African forefather-worship by designating Christ the forefather of all Africans.

  12. kamau says:

    I can’t wait for the day Night runners will be spotted in London streets. Night runners for those that don’t know are individuals overcome by demons that run around butt naked in the dark and take a shit on their enemies door steps as a curse. They have counted members of parliament and the clergy as some of their own.

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