African Crossroads Spiritual kinsmen
by Ikael Tafari
Since nobody can interfere in the realm of God, we should tolerate and live side by side with those of other faiths. In the mystic traditions of the different religions we have a remarkable unity of spirit.
Whatever religion they may profess, they are spiritual kinsmen. While the different religions in their historic forms bind us to limited groups and militate against the development of loyalty to the world community, the mystics have already stood for the fellowship of humanity. . . . (emphasis added). Emperor Haile Selassie I, "The Great Creator".
RECENTLY I discovered on the Internet a letter to the editor written last July by Wolde Tinsae Prescod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, in response to my articles on the historical Jesus Christ, appearing in the DAILY NATION in June/July of this year.
I would not wish Brother Wolde to think his statement did not merit a reply. I simply was unaware of it at the time.
Under the headline Tafari, Selassie, Poles Apart On Christ, Prescod asserts that the views I expressed on the subject of Christ bear no resemblance to those of Emperor Haile Selassie.
He argues correctly that, unlike me, Selassie believed in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as recorded in The Bible.
He believed in the Holy Trinity, regarded Jesus Christ as Almighty God, and believed that Jesus Christ alone, not Buddha, Osiris, Krishna or he himself was the only saviour, the only Son of God by nature, the only one who could give eternal life.
Clearly, then, the differences between Haile Selassie and myself on the subject of Jesus Christ stem from religion Selassie was (like Prescod) a devout Christian indeed, the head of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
I am a Rastafari. Rastafari generally view Selassie as the Christ, returned in kingly character. Indeed, many Rastafari see both Jesus (Yeshua) and Haile Selassie as messianic figures.
This contradictory situation, involving a difference in religious belief/worship between Selassie and most Rastafari, is not peculiar to the Rastafarian faith. In fact, like Selassie, but unlike Selassie's concept of him, Jesus did not believe he was almighty God.
Prescod proceeds to deliver his coup de grâce. Referring to a statement in my article, Escaping The Religious Mindset, he writes: "Unlike Dr Tafari, when Emperor Haile Selassie stated he did not consider his religion alone valid, he was speaking about religious tolerance and freedom of religion, and not the right or wrong of a particular religious doctrine . . . . Even though the Emperor knew the religious views of many to be wrong doctrinally and historically, under Ethiopian law those persons were still given the right to believe what they want."
But Prescod's interpretation of what the Emperor meant by "valid" is too legalistic, especially since Selassie viewed the various religions as having "a remarkable unity of spirit", and their followers as "spiritual kinsmen" who could share in "the fellowship of humanity".
Significantly, Selassie never rebuked the Rastafari for their conception of him as the Christ. On the contrary, he presented the patriarchs of the movement with gold medallions the only recipients of such an honour when he visited Jamaica in 1966.
Despite repeated urgings by the British governor of Jamaica at the time that he "correct" the brethren/sistren by denying his divinity, Selassie never complied.
Instead, he rewarded them with 500 acres of prime land at Shashamane, outside Addis Ababa.
And when an article by a Rastafari student at the University of the West Indies at Mona, Karl Philpotts expounding his faith was published in Jamaica's leading daily newspaper, the Emperor wrote him personally, commending him for "his enlightening article" (I personally saw the letter).
In short, Selassie's actions suggest he saw the Rastafari doctrine as "valid" and, in this context, there was no legal question of the brethren's freedom of religion at issue.
In this spirit, let me wish Christians the best of the Christmas season, and to all, peace and goodwill.
*Dr Ikael Tafari is director of the Commission for Pan African Affairs.