Christianity and Colonization

The next few blog posts will probably be on the subject of decolonizing education. It’s the summer; the time when educators do most of our learning and reflecting. I’m currently in Tucson, Arizona, where I have the great privilege of learning from the educators of the banned Mexican American/Raza Studies program. I’m learning a lot about myself and how colonization has created a need for Ethnic Studies and the need to decolonize the way we teach in our schools.


I chose this topic to write about today because … you know how sometimes you have these ideas or conversations where you know you’re on to something, but you can’t quite see it clearly, and then it’s like the stars align and new knowledge lights the darkened path you’ve been walking? That’s the experience I had today. It’s like an affirmation, or the glue you were looking for to put the puzzle in your brain together. It also makes you feel less crazy, because someone else “gets it.”


In my Google drive, I have all of these Google docs with ideas for blog posts. Is that what “good” bloggers do? Maybe it’s just me… Anyway, I had one with notes on writing about the role Christianity plays in colonizing the minds of the oppressed, particularly in Chicanx people. The only thing my notes said were, “Christianity is the shield. Colonization is the sword.”


In a workshop today led by Dr. Elias Serna, I was introduced to this quote by Eduardo Galeano:


“Vinieron. Ellos tenían la Biblia y nosotros teníamos la tierra. Y nos dijeron: ‘Cierren los ojos y recen.’ Y cuando abrimos los ojos, ellos tenían la tierra y nosotros teníamos la Biblia.”


“They arrived. They had the Bible and we had the land. They spoke to us: ‘Close your eyes and pray.’ And when we opened our eyes, they had the land and we had the Bible.”


Dr. Serna asked, “What does this mean?”


I raised my hand and said, “Christianity is the shield and colonization is the sword,” and we had this moment of connection in which we both knew we were on the same thought plane.


Dr. Serna began this section of his lecture almost apologetically, because it seems to be a taboo topic, but it’s something I’ve always struggled with personally and in my teaching practice. How can we have a truly critical, liberatory pedagogy without critically analyzing the role that religion, specifically Christianity, played – and continues to play – in colonizing our minds?


Currently I am an atheist. I say, “currently,” because I recognize that I am a reflective human being and that ideologies and belief structures should change when we are presented with new knowledge. One reason I am an atheist is because I learned the history of the genocidal roots of Christianity, not just in Mesoamerica, but all over the world. I could not reconcile the act of being Christian with the fact that Christianity justified physical genocide, cultural genocide, femicide, and slavery. Not to mention the killing of science and reason. Is there a “cide” word for that? If not, I’ll invent one here: cognocide.


The anti-intellectualism coming from the right is a continuation of this cognocide. People have abandoned their humanity because the cognocidal arm of Christianity continues to take its toll. From a decolonizing standpoint, Christianity has taught us to turn away from the knowledge and wisdom of our ancestors in favor of blind faith in a religion that tells us a mythical being holds all knowledge and truth, and that this being’s version of the “truth” includes all of the violence previously mentioned.


The legacies of Calvinism and reformation – meritocracy and individualism – have destroyed indigenous ideals of community, family, and collectivism. These beliefs open the door wide open to justifying the dehumanization of “others,” including the poor, and we are currently seeing it being used as a shield for the sword of abducting children from their parents and denying refuge to people seeking our help.


I struggle with this in my practice, because I believe with all of my heart in critical consciousness and teaching for liberation, and my students, the majority of whom are people of color, consistently rank their Christian, Muslim, or Jewish faith as an integral part of their cultural identity. How do we critique the role of religion in the ongoing process of colonization and oppression in such a way that does not further marginalize and oppress these students?


My hope in writing is that I never come across as having all of the answers. I hope that my writing leads readers down their own path of introspection, and that’s the purpose of this post. If we aren’t including a critical analysis of the role religion plays in colonization, specifically Christianity, are we doing it right?