Saturday, January 30, 2010

Why do people forced to convert keep that religion?

Forced conversion and religious warfare is common throughout history. Millions of Hindus were forcibly converted to Islam from 1000 to 1500 AD, conquistadors forced Christianity on indigenous people in America, African slaves in the Americas were forcibly converted to Christianity by their white masters...and of course, let's not forgot the Spanish Inquisition and Crusades.

I don't blame people for converting when faced with death and destruction. If my life or my friends and family were on the line, I would be speaking in tongues and praising Jesus in a heartbeat.

But why do people keep believing long after the threat is gone? This question baffles me, especially with more recent converts like those with indigenous or slave ancestry. I hear so much about retaining culture, not succumbing to white influences, being proud of your heritage...but this is hardly ever applied to religion. So many Hispanic people have some indigenous heritage, yet Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion. African Americans are known for their lively, charismatic churches that are a large part of their culture. Why would you want to hang on to something that was forced on you by oppressive, murderous people? How can such cruelty convince someone that that religion is worth joining? Is it just that religious belief is so powerful that you can trick yourself into genuinely believing something for your own well being?

This is just an honest question I've thought about occasionally, and was currently prompted by a post over at Womanist Musings about retaining African American heritage. I'm not trying to troll or be culturally/racially insensitive - I freely admit that I'm ignorant about this issue, which is why I'm asking. I'd especially like to hear from minorities whose ancestors were affected by this sort of thing, or people with background in sociology/psychology/history/etc.


  1. Well, if you look at the history of those sorts of things...say, the Janissaries in the Ottoman Empire. They were fanatical troops born Christian and converted to Islam who were known for being batshit insane. I think that when you break someone's mind, you get control over it, a chance to start with a hint of tabula rasa, and voila. Instant convert.

    It could also be that if your strong faith was broken, you could think there's something to the new faith...

  2. Here's a possibility to consider...

    At first, the adults are simply forced to act like they believe. Then as those adults become parents, they must raise their children to act like they believe as well, because the safety of their children is top priority. Over time, it simply becomes part of the culture, passed down from generation to generation. Some people remember the history, but it's distant and doesn't mean much to them anymore.

  3. I'd love to see some of the answers you get because I've often wondered the same thing.

  4. Some subvert the message, African-Americans took over the religion but emphasized different bits (e.g., the Exodus which is about people escaping from slavery) and used the institutions to organize (Black churches are where many though not all of the leaders of the civil rights movement learned the basics).

    Some did retain bits of the original religion. Many Japanese were converted peacefully in the 1500s but Christianity was violently eliminated from Japan in the 1600s yet some retained it through the generations to come out when conditions got better in the late 1800s. Also the conversos of Spain/Portugal who retained some bits of Judaism even after centuries of hiding.

  5. As a Mexican I can say that Brett's idea makes a lot of sense. The only thing I knew about the Aztec religion is the human sacrifices. The bible stories seemed so real because so many people took them as true. It's easy to just dwell in the present and ignore history.

  6. My ten centimes: Can this be a cognitive-dissonance resolution? "We have abandoned our old gods for this here new one. Ergo, either we are pathetic wusses at whom our old gods are now majorly pissed, or the new god is better."

  7. I've asked the same question many times.

  8. I think Brett's really onto something there. Usually by the time people throw off their oppressors, it's been several generations at least. Makes sense that it would become ingrained into the culture at that point.

  9. I can understand keeping it after a while--Brett was on to something. Children raised in it believe it. But it's when you are told the TRUTH and you still believe in it is what distresses me.

    Many African-Americans know that Christianity was forced onto their ancestors, and many are still angry at white people (forgetting all about black people that sold them, too--thus some conversions to Islam), yet they still think Christianity is the bee's knees.

    This would turn into a rant if I went on, so I'm gonna stop there.

  10. I think, brainwashing is a very powerful tool. If one can be convinced there is a supernatural realm - which is not such a stretch given our brains and evolutionary development in a pitiless and indifferent universe - one can be manipulated to believe against ones' best interests and that one deserves only suffering. Your question, Jen, goes right to the heart of religious indoctrination and how truly evil and destructive it is to all of civilisation, and why those of us free of belief must continue to increase the cognitive dissonance. (Didya see ZOMgitsCriss "Creationist pt 4" on you tube?)

  11. In at least the whole "conquistadores" thing in Mexico, one thing that might have helped things along is that what happened was really a fusion of Catholicism and indigenous religious beliefs. The virgin of Guadalupe is often credited with greatly helping the conversion of the indigenous to Catholicism, yet she is also associated with various goddesses of the Aztec and Mayan pantheons. Some Mayan religious groups even consider the virgin of Guadalupe as a fully-fledged goddess within their beliefs, and I've known (and visited at least one) of Catholic churches in Mexico where sacrifices (of chickens, and coke, mostly) are still carried out.

  12. Though I know very little on the subject, may I offer a couple of points:

    Read 'The Autobiography of Malcolm X' if you would like to know a little more on the subject. The book goes into great detail about his rejection of Christianity based on its roles in slavery, to the points of obviously even getting rid of his Christian slave surname and replacing it with X.

    Another point to remember is that people were not educated in a literary sense before recent times (1800's onward. And only the 1900's for the poor). They did not have the sources, nor inclination, to become skeptical on the religion they were born into (eg the black people who were born into white slavery).

    As for aboriginal australians, (please correct me if I'm wrong on this) but I don't think nearly any of them were converted to Christianity for lack of desire on either side. (though the stolen generation were certainly indoctrinated into all aspects of white life, including religion).

    As for people who are decendants of slaves, I'm not sure what I would do if I were in their position. Their oiginal culture would be more alien than their current.

  13. Force conversion is against Islam

    2:256 (Y. Ali) Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things.

    WHat the bible said about force conversion:

    Suppose you hear in one of the towns the LORD your God is giving you that some worthless rabble among you have led their fellow citizens astray by encouraging them to worship foreign gods. In such cases, you must examine the facts carefully. If you find it is true and can prove that such a detestable act has occurred among you, you must attack that town and completely destroy all its inhabitants, as well as all the livestock. Then you must pile all the plunder in the middle of the street and burn it. Put the entire town to the torch as a burnt offering to the LORD your God. That town must remain a ruin forever; it may never be rebuilt. Keep none of the plunder that has been set apart for destruction. Then the LORD will turn from his fierce anger and be merciful to you. He will have compassion on you and make you a great nation, just as he solemnly promised your ancestors. "The LORD your God will be merciful only if you obey him and keep all the commands I am giving you today, doing what is pleasing to him." (Deuteronomy 13:13-19 NLT)

    "Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household. He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it." (Matthew 10:34-39 NASB)

    49 I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? 50 But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! 51 Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: 52 For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. 53 The father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. (Luke 12:49-53)

  14. A lot of Jews were forced to convert by the Spanish Inquisition, and the choice was stark. Live in the new religion or die. Often, living in the new religion wasn't sufficient, and one could get killed anyway. The Inquisition was pretty pervasive and in effect for hundreds of years. Once one converted, even a slight sign of regression could be a serious matter, so no more chickpeas, and you'd better have some pork at every meal.

    One interesting artifact is that for Mexican food lard is the basic cooking fat, but it is olive oil in Spain. No, the Aztecs didn't have pigs before the Spanish, but the legacy of the Inquisition is still marked in Mexican cuisine.

    An awful lot of the children of converts have simply forgotten that they were once Jewish. A few hundred years will do that. It's not like the family would keep an old siddur around the house. That could be fatal. Of course, here and there you might find families secretly lighting Sabbath candles hidden in special vented vases or making unleavened bread at some point in the spring. There are also some decorative elements that might provide a hint.

    Even when conversion is not voluntary, religious customs weaken and die. Look at the Muslims of the Blue Skullcap in China. They were Jews who were not forcibly convered, but rather assimilated in China. By the time Matteo Ricci ran into them in 16th century China, they figured he, a Roman Catholic priest, might serve as a suitable rabbi. Of course, now, all that is left are genetic markers, and matzoh.

  15. I have wondered this a lot myself. Although I largely agree with previous comments stating that by the time a culture has thrown off their colonial oppressors the religion has already made a lasting impact, particularily if said culture is predominately poor and illiterate. However, another hypothesis is that it is some variant of Stockholm syndrome. The people may think "well the last 300 years our lands and people have been raped and pillaged but at least they brought us to God". The idea that the conqueror's religion (and the implicit destruction of their own) is just another part of their culture destroyed is maybe too much psychologically to handle. So they believe in the oppressor's religion because they have to assume something good came out of this. Furthermore, the fact that they were conquered in the first place may give credence to the notion that maybe their gods were never there in the first place. Quite literally, their Gods beat up our Gods


  16. hmmm this is a very deep question and that's great because it means you think very far and want to learn more. But I believe people don't convert back to their religion because they fear that they would be disrespecting the one they had just joined I guess and the reason Blacks are still Christian is because of tradition im assuming. I never really thought of this so I'm sorry if this wasn't much help but I really hope I have helped you out and good luck,