- Frantz Fanon on the Theology of Colonization
Throughout The Wretched of the Earth, Frantz Fanon makes a number of uncharitable references to religion, suggesting that the church establishes a sophisticated system of political oppression within the colonized land, that colonization and evangelization work hand in hand, and that the colonizer’s God creates humans as inferior or superior. These barbed comments are sprinkled throughout the text, which makes it seem like Fanon’s critique of religion and theology is merely a tangential afterthought, in no way forming a systematic or coherent indictment of the God-concept and/or religion. However, I contend that, if we locate Fanon’s work within a specific atheist tradition, not only would his comments form the basis of an astute critique of the God-concept as it functions within a colonial context, they would mark a significant development in the atheistic critique of faith.
II - The Atheist Context
Before I begin, it is important to distinguish two separate types of atheists: epistemological skeptics and socio-cultural critics of faith. For unbelievers like James A. Froude, Charles Darwin, T.H. Huxley, Antony Flew, and Kai Nielsen, because humans do not have the mental equipment to access the God-concept, there is no compelling reason to claim that the word God corresponds to anything in or out of the world. 2 For this reason, epistemological skeptics consider the God-concept an incoherent proposition, an ‘idea’ for which there can be no truth—or assertability—conditions. Socio-cultural critics of faith, by contrast, are less interested in the possibility of verifying God’s existence than they are in the devastating consequences of legitimizing a faith epistemology. For writers like Ludwig Feuerbach, Friedrich Nietzsche, Virginia Woolf, Nella Larsen, and J. Saunders Redding, the epistemological and psychological system of belief makes atrocities against humanity not only possible but probable. For this reason, socio-cultural critics of faith claim that we should not believe. Fanon belongs to this latter tradition.
Foremost among socio-cultural critics of faith is the question: what are the epistemological and psychological conditions of faith that make believers feel justified in violating the rights and dignity of others with impunity? For Feuerbach, the believer considers unbelievers wretched ingrates because they reject their God, who embodies love. From the believer’s perspective, rejecting their God of love is a supreme act of dishonor not so much to the community of believers as much to God Himself. Therefore, to protect God’s honor and to establish God’s Kingdom of love on earth, believers must punish, banish, and/or destroy the unbeliever. Not surprisingly, Feuerbach claims: “In faith there lies a pernicious principle” (252).3 Nietzsche takes a more cynical view of the believer. He claims that all truth-systems are human constructs, wills to rhetorical power over others. However, he distinguishes an absolute from a provisional will to power. Whereas atheists will always construct provisional wills to power, which invite their own deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction, believers construct a will to power that is absolute and total, a system that prohibits alternative truth-systems from emerging. To preserve their system of absolute truth, believers will do whatever necessary, which is why Nietzsche claims: “all religions are at the deepest level systems of cruelties” (Genealogy II.3). While Sigmund Freud agrees that the God-concept is a communal construct, he claims that believers have used it primarily as an instrument for forming an intense libidinal bond within the community. To threaten God, therefore, is to attack the community, so Freud concludes: “every religion is in the same way a religion of love for all those whom it embraces; while cruelty and intolerance towards those who do not belong to it are natural to every religion” (Group 39).
In the twentieth century, many socio-cultural critics of faith have focused their attention on the psychological and physical violence directed at marginalized groups, for as J. Saunders Redding claims: “God and the word of God have been used to perpetuate the wicked idea of human inferiority” (147). In Nella Larsen’s Quicksand, the God-concept is the most effective instrument for subjecting staunchly independent women, like the main character...