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Colonial Stronghold: Why Is Christianity the Most Popular Religion Among Black People in Poverty?

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Christianity is the most popular religion in the world, and the center of gravity for the faithful is in Africa.

As The Economist recently reported, Black people are the most devout Christians.  Although Europe remains the continent with the largest number of Christians, church attendance in Europe is falling due to “creeping secularism,” an emphasis on individual spirituality over organized religion among younger people, and affluence.

The Economist report makes the point that in richer countries, such as those among Western Europe, citizens attend services less frequently.  This makes the U.S., with its 58 percent church attendance among self-identifying Christians, somewhat of an outlier.

“The odds that an individual will attend church are 15 percentage points higher in the world’s 29 most unequal countries than they are in the most equal ones,” The Economist reported. “And people on the lower rungs of their own country’s economic ladder tend to be more observant than those at the top.”

In America, which is a wealthy nation with unusual inequality, African-Americans and Latino immigrants are poorer than the national average, and very devout.

While a mere 9 percent of the 100 million people living in Africa were Christians in 1910, 55 percent of the billion people living in Africa today are Christian, according to the Centre for the Study of Global Christianity at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Of five sub-Saharan nations–Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe—90 percent of self-identifying Christians reportedly attend church regularly, meaning there could be as many as 469 million churchgoers in Africa. To put that in perspective, 335 million people who attend church live in Latin America, which is 60 percent more than in Europe, according to The Economist.

It is instructive to examine why the formerly colonized—for our purposes, people of African descent—are the most religious Christians.  Why is it that the people who are the most entrenched in poverty and suffering the most, whether Black people in Africa or Black people in America, thump their Bibles the hardest?

Surely, one can understand the role of liberation theology, of social justice Christianity, the notion of Jesus the Black freedom fighter who rights wrongs and helps Black people as they struggle through hard times.

But what happens when the colonization of a people is mental?  Missionaries came to Africa to “soften up” the local populations, making them pliable and ready for white supremacy, the exploitation of their land, resources and bodies inherent in colonization.  They were given, and gladly clung onto, the least empowering narratives–of God as a white man and a white master, and the notion of blind faith and forgiveness, and enduring suffering in life so that you go to Heaven once you die.  But what about having Heaven on Earth?  What of the concept of accumulating wealth so as to provide a secure future for one’s children and successive generations?  We are not talking about prosperity gospel, which is simply pimping with a collar and cross, but rather a demand for basic human rights, of economic security, dignity, freedom, and justice.

A girl carrying a cross arrives to celebrate mass at Saint Charles Lwanga church in Bangui,  car.  AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR        (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

A girl carrying a cross arrives to celebrate mass at Saint Charles Lwanga church in Bangui, CAR.
AFP PHOTO / FRED DUFOUR (Photo credit should read FRED DUFOUR/AFP/Getty Images)

In other words, if our devoutness is related to our continued exploitation and economic subjugation, then what benefits have we derived from our faith, when Christians in the advanced world are not made to sacrifice their wealth for their faith?  And that’s wealth they stole from Africans, by the way, with compounded interest.

The key for Black people is to channel their faith—whatever their religion, or lack thereof– in a manner that speaks to their condition, their culture and their values. Certainly, Kwanzaa is an effort to make Black spirituality real, regardless of one’s religion, in promoting strong values, perpetuating institution building, and bringing about positive outcomes in the community.

“I’m saying that you are closer to God the further you get away from organized religions that are all handmaidens of conquest,” Dr. John Henrik Clarke once said.  “And these belief systems that had their origins in Africa–all of them, and there is no exception–turned on African people. Everything that was brought into this continent–everything, every idea, every so called religion–was meant to dominate and to control. Every element that was put into the making of every major religion started in Africa. Why is it you are so naïve, you let people redress something you invented, send it back to you and enslave you through it?”

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19 thoughts on “Colonial Stronghold: Why Is Christianity the Most Popular Religion Among Black People in Poverty?

  1. Its no surprise religion is attractive to the poorest of ppl because it promises a better world in the after life

  2. I love this article!

    It asks tough question that will definitely rub people the wrong way. But when the government fails people of African descent, when your parents, grandparents, and great grandparents have failed to set an economic foundation needed for your success, and when American society (and other societies for other people in the diaspora) continue to exclude you and your people from being American by denying you equal treatment, you have no choice but to turn to God when everything else in your reality has seemingly been against your favor.

  3. Justin Love says:

    This is a great article. Most people will not wake up because their faith blinds them. Faith in something that is contradictory and gives false hopes. I believe that we do become closer to God, the farther we are from the words of man. Spirituality is tangible. Religion is a hoax.

  4. Andrew Chew says:

    You obviously forgot about North Africa and Ethiopia which have ancient Christian communities. Ethiopia accepted Christianity without being colonised. And don't forget how the great Roman Empire became Christian, not from conquest or colonialisation but from the truth of the gospel. Please don't twist a good thing, the salvation of souls, into something evil.

  5. Imma Okochua says:

    This piece assumes that the highest goal in life is the quest for wealth and the highest attainment is social economic prosperity/equality. Having attained it (or a good deal of it), the west abandons spiritual quest and is astonished that poor Blacks, rather than strive for wealth and social economic equality, is wallowing in archaic spirituality.

    I am an African by birth, by nurture and by residence. I do know that for too long the west has sought to define what true life is. I do know that the west may have brought Christianity to Africa, but Christianity did not originate in Europe or America. It came from the Middle East. Interestingly, Israel rejected it outright and Europe embraced it for thousands of years. Did it make Israel culturally superior … that they rejected Christianity? Was it out of intellectual and economic poverty that the west embraced it? Now Europe that brought Christianity to Africa rejects it and Africa accepts it.

    Can anyone authoritatively say that in regard to spirituality and morality, today's society is better than the past? Who is the west to approve of their own spirituality of lack of it and disdain Africa for its own spirituality?

    It pains me that the white man thinks he is created to teach the black man and to rescue him. It is a shame that the white elite who pretend to be racially sensitive can be the most patronising and proselytezing. It blames white Christian missionaries for their work in Africa but it (white elite) is sending armies of NGOs, using foreign aids and employing its powerful media to brainwash Africa. It is a 'missionary' work of a different kind and comes with its own brand of gunboat diplomacy.

    Poor Africa, and we must endure all these just so one day, we might be accepted by the west!
    (Typos in the preceding post detected and corrected)

  6. Please don't rationalize and be dilusional. It is a known FACT that throughout the Roman Empire when a newly converted christian Constantine became emperor he swiftly and violently dealt with "pagan" practitioners and jewish people throughout the empire. The same way the pagan practicing Romans had been doing to Christians for centuries prior to Christianity's rise in popularity. This had nothing to do with Faith or salvation and more to do with TAXATION. They wanted everyone in the Roman Empire under one religion because if they followed the same doctrine they would pay their dues to the church just the same. And not just Christianity ROMAN Christianity. See during this time there were a lot of different "forms" of religion where many different doctrines were being entertained based on different beliefs in the way the scriptures were to be interpreted. Constantine saw this as a HUGE problem and that's why he established the council of Nicea where they decided which elements of the bible should be included/ommitted and provided to the people. Why do you think the Roman Catholic Church, even now is the richest and most powerful religious entity on the planet. I would suggest doing your research because the MAJORITY of the places on earth where christianity was adopted came under the blades of conquerers and not in any "truth of the gospel". North America with the Native Americans, Native Tribes throughout the caribbean, central america and south america and most of the african continent that weren't converted to Islam.

  7. Perhaps it's because too few have read (and / or appreciate the repurcussions associated with) Colossians 3:22 …

  8. You nailed it. Your comments have been crititcally thought through and well articulated

  9. There is a verse in my Bible that say it is esier for a camel to go threw the eye of a needle than for a rich man to go to heaven Does that not put another prospective on the story.

  10. Why? Afrikans are still trusting white ppl and do not know thier story A lot of Afrikan desc STILL depend on a blond haired blue eyes crakka hanging on a stick put thier by europeans…Now get mad all u want to you have not seen anything yet see my web sight! Afrikans are my ppl and I will always support my ppl and call them out when I see wrong..Some of my ppl are still trusting in a

    JESUS AND A DEVIL ON ITS STOMACH CRAWLING..These same bredren still after 500 yrs of human rights violations rapes slavery and murder still believe that we as a ppl are loved respected and wanted for more than big penises smh

    iHowever, if we would just sit back and look at what is happening perhaps many would see through the lies and the forest BRING IT!

  11. I am an afrikan by birth raised in Cuba and I have never ever prayed to a hippy on a stick

  12. That hippy on the stick is actually Cesare Borgia, son of the Borgia who was memorialized after his death by Michaelangelo, the artist financed by them as they sort forth a plan of propaganda called the Renaissance. Cesare Borgia wrote The Assasins Creed. This Borgia family was the first gangster family of Rome.

  13. Like it or not, Africans descended from stolen Africans born in Africa, who can think, reason and see are studying their ancestral homeland,wish to regain what was stolen and some want to rid themselves of the vestiges of this continent and aren't interested in taking Whites with them either. Before you slam the door on all, take a moment to consider what it would be like to not know your ancestral language, history, spirituality, customs and outlook on life? A significant portion of intelligent, thoughtful,humble Blacks of the diaspora want to come home. It truly scares the hell out of the outsiders who have no business here. You have noting to fear from the best and decent of us Imma Okochua. This nation made out illegal for our ancestors to return to Africa several times. The first time was after the Civil War in as 1865 because Africans in bondage were their biggest asset.

  14. It's a desease that needs a cure

  15. For many centuries, Chrisitianity helped to keep the African slaves obedient to their masters. The African slaves were made to believe that their sole purpose on earth was to serve their masters, and that their reward awaited them in the after life. While no slavery is no longer a widespread practice, black people still pass on the cancerous traditions to their children and so forth.

  16. Perhaps no-one articulates it better than Jomo Kenyatta. "The missionaries came to Africa with the Bible and we had our land. We closed our eyes to pray and when we opened them, they had the land and we had the bible."
    A modern proverb in Kenyas Kikuyu people even goes like"Gutiri muthungu na mubia" which can be loosely translated as thereis no difference between a colonist and a priest.

    From 'A Brief Insight of Africa'

  17. James Cooper says:

    The west did not give Christianity to Africa, Africa gave Christianity to the West. Western culture was conceived in Africa. The earliest record of the garden of Eden, Sudan. Queen of Sheba, Africa.Some of the oldest Churches,Africa. St Maurice 200 AD, St Monica 250 AD, Africans. Several Christian empires existed prior to the Muslim invasion. Africans adopted Christianity before most Europeans ever head of it. While some may have corrupted their faith and acted on their own greed what of the other religions that came to the continent? Islam caused the death of 120,000,000 Africans and the enslavement of 28 million. Perhaps the hope of a better existance in this life and the next offers more than the resignation of ones life in a caste system or slavery that caused not only Africans but others in Asia to embrace Christianity.

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