Saturday, December 19, 2020

Is religious freedom camouflaging ongoing colonialism and empire building?

Many people will already know the connection between Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Until recently I hadn't given it much thought.

I grew up in a Christian family.  My father was Seventh-day Adventist, my mother Catholic, and they then moved together to a United Church. I live within a Christian Country -- meaning that the Government promotes and includes Christianity within it, not that every Canadian is Christian.

When I was a child and told about Judaism, I was told that they were in some way wrong. I was too young to question, so I took it on faith along with everything else I was taught as a Christian.

Later in my youth when I was finally told about Muslims, I was told they were dangerous. I was told that "we" fought the crusades against "them" so that "they" would not kill all of "us".

As a young adult I was told I should have Judeo-Christian values, suggesting that the underlying values of Judaism and Christianity are the same and that these were all good values. I was still told that Islam was an "other".

Fast forward through much of the last 40 years, including through the increased religious tensions as fallout from September 11'th, 2001.....


I now know about Abrahamic religions, which are all a group of Semitic originated monotheistic religions that are descendants of the ancient Israelites and worship the god of Abraham.

I grew up learning about denominations of Christianity, and when you step back a bit more the differences between the various Abrahamic religions including Judaism, Christianity and Islam, have similar disagreements on the details -- but share the core across the religions.

So, why does this matter?

Before I traveled to Ireland I believed that the ongoing hostilities (including acts of terrorism) was about Catholics vs Protestants. During my visit I learned that it was a largely successful uprising against British colonialism. The remaining hostilities are localized within a small corner of Ireland calling itself Northern Ireland that is still considered part of the British Empire. Within Northern Ireland there are people loyal to Britain while their neighbors are loyal to Ireland. As a person of primarily Irish descent, I would have grown up with a different attitude towards Britain and colonialism (including what I was participating in within Canada) had I been told the truth about a variety of problems in Ireland -- including the potato famine which was largely caused by imposed food exports to other parts of the British empire. The discussion of religion appears to have been a method of distraction.

On the November 29'th episode of One Dish One Mic they interviewed Terri Monture. She was being interviewed as a journalist who is staff at the Canadian Media Guild, specializing in human rights issues. She is a Kanienkaha'keh (Mohawk) from Six Nations of the Grand River. Much of their discussion was about media in general, but the interview ended mentioning she was part of a delegation that went to Palestine in 2018.

This was the first time I had heard the conflict between Israel and Palestinians discussed as a form of colonialism. If you understand that area as being the land of the ancient Israelites, and believe that land should be returned to indigenous peoples, you are still left asking why it is only the Jewish descendants that are being allowed? Semitic peoples, regardless of which specific religious views they hold today (Jewish, Christian, Muslim or others), seem to have an equally legitimate inherent right to the land as indigenous peoples -- and yet this is not the viewpoint expressed primarily by Christian colonial nations (Europeans and their current and/or former colonies). You are claimed to be anti Semitic if you question Zionism, even though Zionism is colonialism against other Semetic peoples.

A related conversation happens in North America when discussing colonialism. While we are free to discuss the horrors in the past tense, we are not allowed to discuss how colonialism continues in the present or the involvement of Christianity in colonialism.  Most people seem to believe it was a coincidence that Christian Churches were involved in residential schools. Forcing conversions to Christianity is a core part of why the Bishop of Rome (Pope) through a series of papal bull's created the concept of the "Doctrine of Discovery" which authorized and promoted colonialism by European Christian monarchs.

Any time you wish to discuss these policies, you come up against a specific interpretation of "freedom of religion" which suggests any discussion or critique of religion is a violation of a human right.  The UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) Article 30 actually protects "freedom of thought, conscience and religion" which includes the right of an individual to change religion and to not have a religion.  It does not in any way allow an individual or group to impose their religion on others, or force others to live by their beliefs. In 2018, as part of the 70'th anniversary of the UDHR, an article discussing Article 30 offered many clarifications.

In the journal article Decolonization is not a metaphor, Tuck & Yang included the following passage:

The settler, if known by his actions and how he justifies them, sees himself as holding dominion over the earth and its flora and fauna, as the anthropocentric normal, and as more developed, more human, more deserving than other groups or species.

Having grown up a Christian, part of that passage sounded very familiar to me.  Genesis 1:26-28 reads

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

This is Genesis, the first book of the Hebrew Bible, therefore part of the Torah, also known by Christians as The Old Testament, and also inspiration for parts of the Quran.

Given this common theme between settler colonialism and beliefs embedded within Abrahamic religions, it should not be surprising that many people of spiritual beliefs indigenous to North America and/or having different relationships to more-than-humans will see these religions as part of colonialism. If every time someone discusses ongoing colonialism it is allowed to be blocked by claims of "religious freedom", then it becomes impossible to ever protect human rights.


My wife and I have subjected ourselves to watching the Roman Empire Netflix TV Series. The acting is bad, and the commentary from historians talking about how "great" this empire was makes them sound more like cheerleaders for white supremacy than scholars. The very features which allegedly made the Roman Empire "great" are the basis of worldviews which many in the world reject as part of modern-day colonialism and western empire building. Not discussed (yet?) in the Netflix series is the connection between the Roman Empire, which included Judea at the time of Christ's birth, and Christianity, which Roman Catholics claim was started by Jesus Christ.  In 313 the Roman Emperor known as "Constantine the Great" allowed "tolerance" for Christianity (Romans had been polytheist), but that 10 years later Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and thus part of their empire building. In some ways the spread of Christianity and associated worldviews through colonialism and global empire building, authorized by the Bishop of Rome, can be seen as a continuation of the Roman Empire.

Is the ongoing clash between Judaism, Christianity and Islam merely a clash between colonialist empire builders? Is it a phobia or simply logical to be concerned about threats of empire building?

Have a Happy Winter Solstice!

Worldometers -- World Population by Religion

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