Thursday, March 23, 2017
Christianity and Vodou in Haiti (Part 3) (En Kreyol e Angle) by Dr. Celucien L. Joseph
“Vodou is Haiti. Haiti is Vodou”–Reza Aslan
Vodou is not a Country, and Haiti is not a Religion: A Response to Reza Aslan and Others!
by Dr. Celucien L. Joseph
It is like saying Christianity is America. America is Christianity. This is a false dichotomy that does not represent the religious and experience and diversity of the Haitian people. Haiti is not a religion. Haiti is a country. Vodou is not a country, but a religion among other religious traditions practiced in Haiti. In fact, the ancestral faith of the Haitian people is not monolithic. It is African traditional religion (i.e. Vodoun), Christianity, and Islam. In the remaining part of this short analysis, I would like to communicate a few ideas about three important issues that are intertwined and closely related to each other: religion, religious affiliation, and the construction of self and collective national identity based on certain religious tradition or system. The emphasis of this brief reflection will be on Haitian Vodou and Haitian (national) identity. Here are my 13 propositions:
- Religious experience could be both personal and collective.
- Religious piety is not spirituality.
- Religious affiliation is a choice–at least in most Western societies and nation-states. (I understand it may not be a personal choice in certain countries where religious freedom is limited or not prized!) It is also observed that some countries in the Middle East, for example, have adopted a state religion such as Islam.
- While a person may be born into a particular religious tradition or system–such as Haitian Vodou, Christianity, Judaism, Taoism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, etc.–genuine religious affiliation, however, should be a personal choice of the individual.
- Hence, to be born into a Haitian family does not automatically make one a Vodouizan or Vodouist.
- Haiti is a country. Haitian is a national identity. Vodouizan is a religious affiliation. These three things are not the same and certainly not synonymous or interchangeable.
- Haitians, both in Haiti and the Haitian Diaspora, have embraced various and competing religious affiliations. Haitians are Muslims, Buddhists, Christians, Catholic practitioners, Protestants, Agnostics, Atheists, Secular humanists, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, etc. As a result, Haitians are free to embrace any religious worldview or system.
- Vodou is one among other religions practiced by Haitians both in Haiti and the Diaspora. Our ancestral faith is not monolithic; it is rather pluralistic. (In fact, Vodou itself is not a homogeneous religion.) Our African ancestors who were brought by force to the island of Saint Domingue brought with them various traditions, practices, customs, and competing religious practices and worldviews including Christianity, African Traditional religions, Islam, etc. While living on the island, they also adopted the religions of the Native Americans, and incorporated them into the religion of Vodou; they have also integrated Christian rituals and theology, and Masonic humanist morality and rituals into Vodou. While a large number of the enslaved population practiced what is now labelled as Haitian Vodou, not all of them were Vodou practitioners.
- To embrace another religion other than Vodou should not be construed as the devalorization of the Haitian culture—since religions and cultures are human inventions and part of the process and theory we call social constructionism. In a true democratic state, the individual is granted the right of religious freedom and preference.
In summary, in Haiti’s contemporary society, there are three major religious practices: Vodou, Protestant/Evangelical Christianity, Vodou, Roman Catholicism. (Islam is growing rapidly in Protestant Christianity is practiced by 45% of the Haitian population. It is probably more in 2016–giving the wide spread of Evangelical Christianity in post-earthquake Haitian society.). While Vodou is among the most practiced religions by Haitians in Haiti, Haiti doe not have “one single religious tradition.” Our ancestral faith is also Vodou, Christianity, and Islam.
- To be a Haitian Muslim or Christian does not make one an inferior Haitian Patriot.
- In the same line of thought, the Vodouizan is not a superior Haitian than the Haitian atheist or agnostic.
- Freedom of religion means the opportunity one has to choose or reject a certain faith among others. Religious freedom means a person who is affiliated with a certain religious tradition is free to share his or faith with another individual of a different religious persuasion or to someone who has no religious affiliation.
- Since religion like culture is a social construction or human invention, no religion or culture has the monopoly.
In closing, Vodou is not a country, and Haiti is not a religion. The idea to link Haiti to Vodou is part of the Haitian exceptionalism narrative, which American and Western scholars, missionaries, and thinkers have constructed. The relationship between Haiti, a country, and Vodou, a religion, was never intended to showcase Haiti or the Vodou religion in a positive light. Like any other religious traditions, Vodou is not an “exceptional” religion.