I was baptized 5 times in 5 different churches by the time I was a teen. 5 times dipped into icy cold water. By the fifth time, in a small Baptist church in Toledo, I had pretty much decided the whole affair was ridiculous. The first baptism came as a child at the Catholic church when I was 6 years old. It was the least amount of fuss; just a sprinkle across my forehead by the parish priest. By the time of my last baptism, I was incredulous at the officiousness of the reasons why I had to yet endure another ice-cold bath in front of another set of black, life-beaten faces. “Because we baptize all new members.”
“But I’ve been baptized four times already,” I protested.
“That doesn’t matter,” the deacon said. Apparently one doesn’t get rollovers on their baptisms to the next church they join. So I was baptized a fifth time (and thankfully) the last time.
The reason for the many baptisms that I endured was due to my mother’s nomadic quest to find a suitable place to worship. Apparently she found everyone she visited ultimately unsatisfying. I hated all the churches she picked except my grandfather’s, who was a pastor of a Church of God in Christ, which is an African-American Pentecostal denomination. “Pentecostal” refers to the Pentecost, the Christian theological idea of the Holy Spirit descending upon the disciples of Jesus. So receiving the Holy Spirit was the principal preoccupation with these folks. I remember praying one night for the Holy Spirit to enter me so I could be saved, but nothing ever happened. Very frustrating. I had already decided that it was possible that this whole Christianity story could be a big lie. I mean, who knew what happened in those days? Nobody here could ever verify the events that were supposed to have taken place. And even more troubling, given the legacy of slavery in America, why were we still worshiping the White Man’s God?
When I asked this question I would invariably get a reply along the lines of, “God isn’t only the God of the White Man, but of everybody.” So how come blacks are still buying this knowing full well how the worship of the slave master’s God was instituted in this country during slavery?
It’s like the religious black people in America have just accepted our religious brainwashing through cultural domination to such an extensive extent that it never occurs to us to not even question how we got to this place of cultural dissonance that destroyed our common sense. Here a race of capitalist colonialists who forced enslaved Africans to worship a foreign and alien God – and such worship seems quite acceptable.
It was fiendishly clever that the overmasters used their book the bible in a way that reinforced and legitimized the enslavement of whites over blacks. The bible provided the enslaved blacks a feedback loop of the internalization of their own self-enslavement to the point of the black continuing to worship the Slavemaster’s God centuries after slavery was nominally abolished. The meek response of turning the other cheek to oppression, exploitation, lynching and abuse would become part of the black mindset until the 1960s with the voices of Elijah Muhammad and Malcolm X and Louis Farrakhan which correctly and effectively placed the religious brainwashing in proper terms, although undercutting the strength of their argument through offering another sad, discredited religious narrative to take the place of Christianity.
In modern times a Black Liberation Theology has taken shape in response to the cultural dissonance of Black Christians. This theology states that the blacks must gain freedom against the many dimensions of oppression existing by believing in Jesus and God, and this is done by submitting one’s self to dependence these two Christian deities!  That’s one hell of a liberation!
I don’t see how submitting to belief in religious deities helps make this world the best place for everyone, because what religion deals in is the human beings limitation of knowledge. We simply don’t know what is going on. Religion has been used as a psychological ointment in the daily grind of what we laughingly call, “living a life” in this world. So we have a great capacity to “believe” in something that “has all the answers.” But for an answer to work, it has to work effectively. and that isn’t the case of religion, which has caused more wars, separation, exclusion, sorrow and pain than any other institution besides capitalism. The reason African-Americans believe in God is because belief is about all they have. They have been programmed into accepting the unacceptable through their own suffering and desire to have that suffering be made into something more “meaningful.” It is the hope and belief in a cosmic redemption that has to wait until death comes to verify that belief. But belief is not enough. We need something that makes sense and works effectively on all levels so that the idea of everyone having enough all across the world isn’t so strange. A God created through the consciousness of the Slavemasters is not the way to go, but it appears from my own experiences with dealing with other African-Americans, that self-delusion is more powerful than common sense.
James Cone, God of the Oppressed. Orbis Books, 1997