It’s funny: in almost all of my time as a communist, two of my greatest idols have been Nat Turner and John Brown. It’s not strange for communists to look up to these two great men, of course, but they usually wouldn’t be the first picks. Of course, some of that is simply because both these men were fighting to free my ancestors, and white leftists don’t have that immediate personal connection to the cause of abolition. However, having now become a Christian, I’d like to think I was drawn to the spirituality of their cause as well. At least, I can say with confidence that Christianity would have nothing to offer me if they, alongside so many others, hadn’t risen up with God’s inspiration behind them.
It would be absurd to claim that Nat Turner’s visions of God telling him to strike against slavery were proof of God’s existence. My conversion isn’t that simple, and I’m quite sure that people of all religions have religious visions commanding them to enact justice (or injustice). While all of these — or at least most of these — may have their roots in a true experience with the divine, they can’t all be equally true. Nevertheless, as a black American, it’s hard to deny that the history of my people’s liberation is tied up in Christianity, and I’m inclined to believe that Turner and Brown among many others really were called by God to destroy the slave system.
The importance of this can’t be understated in my conversion. If Nat Turner truly was called to violently strike against slavery, then this not only makes it possible to believe in Christ while continuing to believe that Marxism is the only adequate tool for directly understanding the concrete political situation, but in fact means that Marxism is necessary. That is, if God’s hatred of oppression is so strong that he’d send his followers to kill if they must for the sake of their own self-liberation, than the image of God that had been built up in my mind by years of atheism was totally wrong from the outset. Given that I already had a desire for greater religious belief, this understanding made Christianity something I could open myself to in a way I never really had before.
Of course, it could be argued that if I’d been born in a different context that Islam or Buddhism or some other religion might have been the one I latched onto. I can’t deny that, at least not fully. While I’ve rarely ever been to church, my family is at least culturally Christian and I was baptized. Certainly, all religions derived from Judaism, in containing the narrative of the Exodus, will share some concern with liberation from oppression, and presumably religious traditions that I know less about will do so as well. This is where my ability to rationalize my newfound faith with anything but faith really falls apart: I can’t deny that I’m culturally influenced, but the story of Christ draws me in a way other religions don’t, and there’s simply no other way to put that.
It could be assumed, reading this post, that I waited to convert until I could justify all of my beliefs. This isn’t true, and since finding God I’ve already shifted in a number of my positions. Certainly, a consistent natural materialism is no longer something I can believe in, though historical materialism still seems to be the best tool for understanding history itself. Nevertheless, while I’m willing to change my beliefs, it’s my faith in liberation that could not be altered, and it wasn’t until I found that God sanctioned material liberation in addition to spiritual liberation that I could truly accept Him. These two figures, who I’ve always looked up to above almost all others, were inspired by the same God, and I could be as well. Perhaps that’s silly, and to some maybe even heretical, but I had to start from somewhere.