Understanding Christianity and Vodou Requires Open Minds
We are thankful to the reader for being open-minded while maintaining his Catholic identity.It is because of people within the Church who have done the same that the Church today is not the same Church of centuries past. It is a better Church. It has stopped selling indulgences. It has stopped the inquisition. In 1962, in Vatican II, it declared that slavery and the subjugation of women are immoral, but it did not apologize for previously supporting these practices. Other Christian Churches have made similar progress. Last year, following attacks on pastors in India who were promoting the destruction of Hindu Temples and preaching that Hinduism is devil worship, an emergency meeting among the world’s largest Christian Churches was held in England. These Churches declared that they would stop evangelizing by belittling other religions.
Nonetheless, these new moral positions commonly stand in contrast with the history of the Church and for that reason take a long time to trickle down to some communities. As Haiti is in many ways stuck in the 17th century and does not produce modern technologies, many Haitian Christian leaders are stuck in 17th century Church doctrines and have yet to recognize these new positions. Although many world leaders, including President Obama and the Dalai Lama have stated that all religions promote the same human aspirations, some ethicists are worried about the future of Vatican II because the current Pope seems to be back stepping on the work of John Paul II.
To advance understanding of Christianity and of Vodou in Haiti, we are in desperate need of education. Currently, people in Haiti receive no formal education in the Ginen Heritage.When schooled Haitians are asked to name a king from the 17th and 18th century, they readily cite Louis XIV or Louis XVI.These very same kings wrote the Code Noire that deprived people of Ginen ancestry of all human rights. Seldom can schooled Haitians name the Kings of Dahomey: Grann Hesou, Wegbadya, Akaba, Kadya Bosou, and Achade who ruled from 1625 to 1774.These names are not taught in school but are passed down as family heritage, preserved in Vodou. If such information were more widely known, then when a misguided evangelist says that these African Ancestors or Lwas are angels that turned away from God at the time of creation, listeners can pull the evangelist aside and educate him/her.
To appreciate Christianity more fully, it is important to know Middle Eastern and European history. Likewise, to appreciate Vodou more fully, it is vital to know West African history.Such things can only be achieved through education.Haitian Sèvitè do not serve two Gods. They never have.In Dahomey (now Benin), God was called Mawou Lisa. This is why in Vodou songs, we say in the Ewe-Dahomean language, Lisa dole zo meaning God gives life. At first, the Church embraced this. This is why originally in Africa, it preached that there was no substantive difference between Vodou and Christianity. In the first Catechism published in Dahomey in 1658, called Doctrina Christiana, Christianity was called E-Lisa and God was called Vodou and spelled with capital V.The disrespect for African cultures and beliefs did not start in Africa but rather in the Americas where Africans were weak politically. West Africans and Haitians have always believed in one God, just like their European counterparts. They believe in many Lwas, just as the Catholic Church believes in many Saints. God is no more jealous of service to the Lwas than God is of prayer to the Virgin Mary, Saint Anne, Saint Peter, and Saint Anthony and so on.