Superiority and Oppression Through Religion

blog-reading-americanah

A large part of Americanah‘s chapter 3 is centered around Ifemelu’s memories of her mother and religious practices. She watches her mother go through several churches and mental changes before settling on a faith. Many of the churches that the family passes through oppress or demean groups of people through their religion. Everyone deserves the right to practice any religion they want, but using religion to justify oppression is unethical and inappropriate.

Misogyny is present throughout the religions. As Ifemelu’s mother cycles through churches, she changes her practices and behaviors based around what each church believed. Although they all believed in the same God, they all interpreted His word differently, and it always degraded a group of people. As a member of Revival Saints, her mother starved herself, refrained from dancing or relaxing her hair, and changed her entire demeanor to fit the preaching of the church (51). Later, she stops wearing jewelry because of the teachings of Miracle Spring (52). In Sister Ibinabo slut shames Christie in the name of religion, and Christie is thankful for it (61). That twisted image of God and religion is harmful and disturbing to the mentality of these developing girls. Comments like that, especially when they come from a religiously influential figure, can inflict lifelong mental damage.

The practices of one of the churches that Ifemelu’s mother attends carries overt classist tones. Their faith in God gives the members of the faith a false sense of superiority over poorer people. The belief that their God is “not a poor God” seemingly entitles them to wealth and prosperity over lower-class people (53).

In today’s world, religion is a sensitive subject. Religious hatred and fear is widespread, and many people hold prejudices based solely on an individual’s religion. Many people don’t realize that the actions of a few members of a faith do not define the rest of the believers. Radicalized Muslims do not represent the Islamic community as a whole, just like the Westboro Baptist Church does not represent the beliefs of all Christians. There is nothing inherently dangerous about believing in a higher power. In the end, faith is only dangerous when people twist it to fit their own agenda.

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One thought on “Superiority and Oppression Through Religion

  1. I agree with what you said here about the description thus far in the story of religion having often carried a negative connotation, and I also think that much of the time characters in the book use religion as a means through which to inflict their own beliefs on other people through shaming. One aspect of Ifemelu’s mother that I found interesting was the fact that she seems to be defined much more strongly by her strict adherence to religious ideology (and to a lesser extent by her role as a mother) than by any personality traits. To me, this suggests that Adichie is using her character as a device through which to represent her perception of the religious body as a greater whole. At this point, it is difficult to say what the purpose of this may be, but it will certainly be interesting to see how Ifemelu’s mother develops as a character throughout the rest of the book.

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