Voodoo is often charged with being fatalistic, superstitious and being devil worship. I believe that each of these criticisms are grossly unfair to Voodoo religion. What follows is not only a defense of Voodoo from these charges, but some exploration of why it is important to defend Voodoo from such criticisms.
But what sort of criticism is one that attacks a religion for being impractical or for prohibiting development? Typically religions are not evaluated by their practical outcomes. Take, for example, the Marxian critique of Christianity. Marxians argue that Christianity (all religions was the implication) is the opiate of the people. That is, religion is used to condition people to accept political/economic or social oppression for a religious purposes.
Marx's critique of Christianity was that by getting people to concentrate on the afterlife, they would tolerate the oppressions which Marx so detested in the early capitalism of England in the early and mid-1800s.
Several notes about this evaluation:
Voodoo's fatalism focuses on how the loa control the world--wealth, sickness, childbirth, rewards, punishments and so on. Consequently human action to control one's own future is discouraged.
One would think that Christians who were so aware of the horrors of religious persecution in the name of practicality, would not then inflict a persecution in the name of practicality!
Ah, but reason and religion often don't mix well!
Two responses of Christianity to the Marxian criticism are worthy of note:
The progressives did not abandon their Christianity as Marx advocated, but, on the other hand, their modern version of Christianity is not much touched by the Marxian critique. They demonstrated that it was a particular Christian theology which Marx critiqued and that they shared a good deal of Marx's view. However, they reformed their theology and maintained their faith.
On the one hand it seems not to be a just ground of criticisms. Religion is based on faith. Often the roots of faith are not toward the values of material well-being, which is the primary ground of the critique of utility.
On the other hand, most theologians are not insensitive to unnecessary material suffering. They don't embrace suffering for the sake of suffering. Thus, a theological critique of a theology as being excessively insensitive to the current outcomes of its theology seems provocative and useful.
Such a critique would seem to make sense only as a critique of a particular theology, not as a critique of a whole religion, or of religion itself. That's the point of my analyses of current progressive Christian theology.
I argue that a criticism of a whole religion, or of religion itself is every bit as unjust as conservative Christians took the Marxian/communist attack to be. But, a critique of a particular theology is a reasonable notion. The legitimate critique is not that a whole religion or religion itself is wrong-headed or unexceptable, but that the particular theology which leads to the undesirable outcome needs reformation.
Such a critique of Voodoo's fatalism is, when taken not as critique of Voodoo, but of fatalistic Voodoo, is quite fair.
Virtually all the same arguments can be applied to the criticism of Voodoo as being superstitious. In this case the primary critic is not Karl Marx, but the criticism of Christianity as being excessively superstitious emerged in the late Medieval period and paralleled the birth of modern science. Once again, there are incredible similarities between the superstitions of ancient Christianity and current Voodoo--beliefs like those which maintain illness as a punishment of God (some modern Christians beliefs about AIDS are quite superstitious in this regard), or the beliefs that madness or mental illness is because of possession by evil spirits.
Much of mainstream Christianity has overcome most of these "superstitions" in the past 500 years. In Voodoo such superstitions are still mainstream. As such, they need to be criticized. However, again, it is a critique of a particular theology, not a critique of the religion itself, or of religion in general.
In some ways the critique of a religious belief as being superstitious is a very difficult one. Alfred Metraux says one person's superstitions are another person's religion. This seems true. Modern Christianity, for example, still has a huge number of people who believe in spirit possession and visions from transcendent beings. Many who are not inside those particular theologies would find such beliefs to be superstitious. Those inside these theologies find these beliefs every bit as real as the flowers in their gardens.
What I find most ironic is that it seems as though it is people within these former Christian theologies (the ones with their own possible superstitious beliefs) which are the most vociferous in denouncing very similar beliefs in Voodoo as superstitious.
What makes the first two criticisms of Voodoo interesting and complex is the strong case that says there are practices in Voodoo which do act against material and political development (the argument of fatalism) or the argument of superstitious belief.
But, the third criticism is notable because of its blatant falseness and misrepresentation. Uncategorically, the worship of evil spirits is NOT a serious factor in Voodoo. There is black magic rite--Petro Voodoo--mixed in with Voodoo. However, such Petro Voodoo, which does have an emphasis on negative and violent spirits, is a small, even tiny proportion of Voodoo practiced. Voodoo is mainly a religion of family and positive (even if controlling) spirits; the spirits of Rada Voodoo.
They may control the universe and lead to fatalism. They may be what to us Westerners is superstition. But, the spirits of Voodoo are NOT in any but the most insignificant numbers, devils or evil spirits. Such charges are motivated by dishonest and ideological interests and are not worthy of serious attention.
Note: Evil spirits exist in Voodoo just as they do in much of Christianity. People want to avoid them just as in Christianity. The evil spirits are quite active in Voodoo. But, they are quite active in much of Christianity--as tempters if nothing else. In Voodoo people do try to placate and avoid evil spirits, but they do not honor or worship them. In Christianity one can just avoid them by decent behavior. In Voodoo they are more interactive and must at times be placated, but the primary attitude toward them is to avoid their mischief.
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