The role of religion in the development of the New World was often accompanied by a dubious purpose. In the early days of Western Europe’s expansions into the New World and other parts of the globe, indigenous people were colonized and their traditional methods of living were replaced by the culture of the mother land. Often, this included the religion of the mother land. The reason that converting indigenous people to the conqueror’s religion served a unique purpose was put forth by the Ward Churchill in his work Since Predator Came.
In that book, Churchill put forth the idea that by dissolving the traditions of the indigenous people, the conquered start to associate their life with the conquerors and this provides an impetus for the establishment of a new society that will see limited attempts by the indigenous population to reassert their self determination. Often, the means of creating an air of acceptability to these actions derives from presenting Natives as savages. The works of Mary Rowlandson is a perfect example of how this sentiment is achieved. If this appears at odds with religious teachings, that might be true.
However, one needs to keep in mind that most religions are selective in terms of what teachings that it presents vs. what teachings it decides to follow. In his work The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins notes that most denominations of Christianity have their own special selective criteria in regards to what teachings to follow and what teachings to disregard. This can be seen in the invasion of the New World by the Spaniards. The Spaniards were particularly vicious with the indigenous population and even forced them to work as slave laborers. Also, the Spaniards had decided to convert the indigenous population to Christianity.
Again, there is a dichotomy present with the acceptance of Christian doctrine with the brutality of slavery. If one examines the situation closely, one will notice that in the writings of the Spaniards, the indigenous population was considered less than human and, therefore, it was not ‘sinful’ to commit atrocities against them. Furthermore, the act of converting them to Christianity was deemed a method of saving them. Of course, the destruction of the indigenous culture as a means of control was also a motivating factor. (Churchill) This attitude extends towards slavery in the early days of American history.
Thomas Jefferson, one of the greatest minds of his era, wrote eloquently on the need to be free, yet he was a slaveholder. Again, there is relativism present in the thought process of the individuals of power. (In fairness, Ben Franklin was an individual who was opposed to slavery and his writing reflect this sentiment) In terms of colonization, the purpose was to acquire wealth and establish a means of appropriating natural resources. While this may seem at odds with religious teachings, the goal of colonization was monetary and not altruistic.
So, to that regard, their a twisted logic present to spreading religion in conjunction with colonization as forced conversion aids the colonization process. When one looks at the life of Olaudah Equiano, one can see an example of subjugation, but in Equiano’s case, he was able to use the forcing of another race’s culture onto him as a means of turning the tables and defeating his oppressors. However, it is difficult to comprehend the term “adherence to the white” world in the sense that such a definition would assume a sincere lack of flux in Equiano’s life.
That is to say, while it is true that a person is the sum of all experience and that had Equiano not left Africa, he would have been experienced to a different life and, hence, developed a different outlook on life, there is also a seeming ignorance present to Equiano’s innate skills. In other words, while there are certain aspects of people that are the result of experience, there are other qualities that an individual may embody that rise beyond mere learning by experience or osmosis.
If one looks at Equiano’s life, one can see an individual who is self driven to succeed. His passion comes alive through his writing and the success of his writing (in terms of the public’s admiration for it) shows that his passion and creativity was able to translate to a wide audience. This is the hallmark of a very rare type of writer. There is an obtuse assumption that Equiano derives this success from the fact that he learned to read and write after having been kidnapped from slavery so therefore had he not been kidnapped he would have never learned to read or write.
This is speculation of the highest order because it assumes that he would never learned to read or write had he lived in Africa. By what basis can anyone make such an outlandish claim? Granted, it is true that much of his writing center on the slave trade and abolitionist movements and that had he not been enslaved he would not have been able to write about such subjects. This is simple a cause effect situation of what is. Equiano had been a slave and chose to write about it. However, to label his passage into slavery as a form of adherence to white culture is an unfair denigration of the man’s skills.
What the world is left with is the man’s written body of work and his legacy. Considering that much of his legacy is the fact that he contributed to the early stages of the abolitionist movement, it would be inaccurate to assume he adhered to (nee was compliant towards) those who enslaved in when the reality is that he is more famous for his acts of rebellion than acts of servitude. In this regard, while Equiano was physically enslaved, his mind was not. From this, he was able to show the world the travesty that had occurred.