Individuals and groups seeking to establish political and economic hegemony over others have utilized religion as a means of dominating others since humanity saw its first sunrise.

This abuse of religion is certainly not rooted in real spirituality but in a desire for achieving secular social control over others.

The formula is actually quite simple: take a purely spiritual belief system that works to glorify God and bring individuals close to God, and then hijack it and declare that an individual or group is God’s representative on Earth and declare that the individual on Earth controls access to spiritual enlightenment.

Then declare that to oppose the secular will or to question the individual or group’s hegemony is to oppose God’s will.

Middle Ages European Royalty called this “Rule by Divine Right” and declared that any political opposition to their rule or any questioning of their edicts constituted blasphemy.

Southern slave holders and northern racists used the strategy of “Rule by Divine Right” to achieve social control over African-American slaves and free African-Americans in the North before and after the Civil War and up into the mid 20th century.

Slaveholders utilized the Biblical teachings of Saint Paul that taught slaves in the Roman Empire to be obedient to their masters. They conveniently failed to add that the reason Saint Paul taught that was that in the ancient Roman system of slavery it was common for slaveholders to free their slaves for loyal service. Therefore, it behooved slaves to be hardworking and loyal slaves in Ancient Rome.

However, southern slaveholders rarely freed their slaves for good service, and they abused Christianity as a means of achieving social control over African-Americans in order to motivate them to stay subordinate.

Northern racists used much the same strategy, arguing that African-Americans were morally weak and lacked impulse control, and thus it was their Christian duty to assert that European-American Christians had to direct their “Little Brown Brothers” in correct Christian theology to curb the “childlike” African-Americans’ lack of emotional and impulse control.

Northern racists, of course, did not choose to acknowledge that much of the lack of impulse control was born of a quite natural negative reaction on the part of African-Americans before and after the Civil war to enduring systematic racial discrimination in their daily lives.

True Christian spirituality does not see color. However, southern slaveholders and northern racists coopted Christianity as a means of establishing social control over African-Americans.

Grady Atwater is site administrator of the John Brown Museum and State Historic Site.

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