Catholic Christianity and Rastafarianism
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The religion of Catholic Christianity was established just after the death of Jesus, near the beginning of the Common Era. Jesus, the Son of God and Messiah, was born a Jew. Early Christianity was therefore a strand of Judaism and it wasn’t until later that Judaism and Christianity were separated. One of the main components of the Christian religion is the rituals that members of the church participate in such as Mass, the Sacraments and the Sign of the Cross. The structure of the church is a hierarchy, the leader of the Catholic Christianity being the Pope, supported by cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests and brothers and nuns. Christianity has many stories, such as those in the Bible, those of the Saints and the story of the history of the church.
Rastafarianism is a relatively new religious and political movement, established from the “Back to Africa” movement led by a Jamaican nationalist, Marcus Garvey, in the 1920’s and 1930’s. Garvey prophesised that a black king would be crowned in Africa and that he would be the real Messiah foretold by the Catholic Christian’s Bible. Rastas believe that this was fulfilled when Ras (Prince) Tafari was crowned Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. It is interesting to compare Rastafarianism with Catholic Christianity as Haile Selassie himself was a Christian and was puzzled by Jamaican followers who attempted to worship him. All Rastafarians look forward to the spiritual return to Africa, where they will be free of oppression brought about by the white man. There is no formal structure in the Rastafari faith, as it is believe that everyone is equal.
The major difference in Rasta and Christian beliefs is that Christians believe that Jesus was the Messiah and Rastafarians believe that white people tricked the world into believing that Jesus was white and that Haile Selassie is the real Messiah. Rastas believe that all Africans are descended from the ancient Hebrews so the black race are the true Jews. Christians believe in the Trinity; that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are one, whereas Rastas believe that Haile Selassie was a 20th century manifestation of God. Like Christians, Rastas believe that we will live eternally, but whereas Christians believe that after we die we are resurrected and ascend to heaven, Rastas believe that when we die our atoms are spread through the world and become parts of new babies, thus we live forever.
The experience of being a Roman Catholic Christian is one of prayer, sacraments and liturgy. Like Rastafarianism, meditation is an integral part of Christian life. However, the most controversial element of Rasta is the use of marijuana, or ganja, as an aid to meditation. To Rastas it is very much a religious sacrament, enabling humans to become more God-like and reflect on the word of Jah, the Rastafai name for God. Rastas believe that there are passages in the Bible that support the smoking of ganja although Christians do not maintain this view. Another similarity is the use of music to convey religious opinions. Just as Christians sing hymns to express their beliefs, the Rastafarian religion has been the basis for reggae music, which has been the means of spreading the Rasta ideologies worldwide.
The Bible is a religious book read in all Catholic Christian services of public worship and its words form the basis for preaching and instruction. It is also the most widely distributed book in the world. Some Rastafarians use the same Bible as the Catholic Christians, where it was studied and many passages such as those referring to Ethiopia, herb, cutting hair or the Messiah took on added significance and altered to correspond to traditional Rastafari beliefs. The Rastafarian Bible, or Holy Piby, is also known as the black man’s bible. This edited version of the Catholic Christian Bible states that God and all of his prophets were black and is the main text in the Rastafarian faith.
The way Catholic Christians are meant to live is based on the 10 Commandments received from God by Moses and the Golden Rule, which is Jesus’ commandment to love one another. Rastas also believe in promoting peace, pride and righteousness in the way they live, but reject the white man’s world and call the oppression received from the white Christians “Babylon”. “I and I” is a common phrase used among Rastas and means that no person is more advantaged than any other person. Christians also have this viewpoint by saying that all people are equal in the eyes of God.
There are hardly any similarities in the symbolism in Catholic Christianity and Rastafarianism. The main symbol of Christianity is the cross, symbolising the crucifix on which Jesus died for our sins. Since Rastas do not believe that Jesus was the Messiah this symbol is not used. Instead Rastas use the image of the Lion of Judah, which represents Haile Selassie. The colours frequently associated with Rastafarianism are red, black and green. They respectively signify the blood the Rasta martyrs have shed, the colour of the African people and the vegetation and beauty of Ethiopia. Yellow is sometimes used to represent the wealth of their homeland. Another Rasta symbol is the dreadlocks in which they wear their hair. They believe that wearing dreadlocks is supported by the Bible and further represents the Lion of Judah, and in turn, Haile Selassie. Other Christian symbols are the host, the dove, which represents peace and fire, which represents the Holy Spirit.
Though Roman Catholic Christianity and Rastafarianism have some similarities, the Rastafari faith was formed to be the complete opposite to what the white Christians believed, even though Haile Selassie was himself a Christian. While Catholicism is a religious movement, Rastafarianism is just as much a political group, campaigning for the rights of black people and for freedom from the white “Babylon” of oppression. In spite of this, both religions have underlying messages of peace, love and liberation for all races.