Relative Fundamentalism: Rastafarianism and Christianity


In Anthropologist Erin Taylor’s observaton of the Fundamentalist Christian critique of Rastafarianism as a religion, she points out that fundamentalism is not measured by the literal interpretation of a text, if not the importance the text holds among a religious group.  Whereas many religions refer to multiple, Rastafarianism puts their sole emphasis on the bible, making them essentially a fundamentalist religion.  While many people may view Rastafarianism as a radical interpretation, or direct contradiction to the bible, the practice actually derived from Christian missionary work in Jamaica.  In addition to imposing their religious beliefs, the missionaries also provided education and health care to the Jamaican people, and advocated against slavery.  Therefore, many Jamaicans saw Christianity as a refuge to the cruelty of other aspects of colonialism.  

However upon their emancipation, the Jamaican people realized that freedom was not as easily attainable as they had imagined.  Still under British oppression, many began to view the bible as “the white man’s trick”.  The eurocentric bliblical images portraying a white Jesus furthered this belief.  Many Jamaicans had the desire to continue practicing Christianty without the overbearing influence of the British.  Therefore, Rastafarianism emerged as “a black man’s interpretation of the white man’s bible” (Taylor).  Many Jamaican Christians began their own interpretation of Christianity by holding bible studies while smoking Marijuana.  According to their interpretation, Marijuana was a valuable god given tool to increase religious understanding. They referenced the following quotes to support their notions of the benefits of smoking marijjuana, “Jah causeth the grass to grow for the cattle, and herb for the service of man” (Psalm 104:14), and: “Behold I have given you every green herb bearing seed” (Genesis I:29-30).  In understanding religion as a means to unify a group, we have to look beyond the typical notions of Rastafari people and marijuana, rebellion, and youth culture, and value the practice’s original roots in black liberation, unity, and freedom.