After reading the review of Dr. Fredo Saint Charles’ book, Saved by Grace, published in Le Floridien on January 16, 2013, we will not read the book until the author denounces the review as inaccurate. The review suggests that the book is deeply rooted in Christian arrogance and intolerance of religions born outside the Middle East. It does not provide an honest philosophical discourse on Traditional African Faith versus that of Middle Eastern/European Faith. The book is so biased that it misspelled Vodou as Voodoo but spelled Christianity correctly. The correct spelling of Vodou respects Haitian Creole autograph while differentiating the people’s religion from the caricature presented by Hollywood.
The Hollywood depiction of Vodou was created by American soldiers returning to the US between 1915 and 1934, the years of the American Occupation of Haiti. It was then a very different time in the US and the sentiments of these soldiers regarding African Traditional Religions was cloaked in ignorance. Dr. Saint Charles tells us that he converted to Christianity in the US but failed to tell us that he learned his Voodoo, and not Vodou, from the US as well. Neither aspect should make a Haitian proud.
The depiction of Vodou by Hollywood, as embraced in Dr. Saint Charles’ book, is no different in substance from how Romans vilified Christians and persecuted them. Initially, Romans accused Christians of killing children and drinking their blood. Christians in return learned from that persecution and tortured Jews and European Pagans until they came in contact with Africans and then turned their attention to enslaving and vilifying this new group.
We Haitians have stopped the enslaving part, but we have yet to effectively stop the vilifying part. In his attempt to vilify the religion, the author misrepresented Vodou and Christianity alike. Dr. Saint Charles calls adepts of Traditional African Faith in Haiti, “Vaudouisant”, not recognizing that only Haitian activist call themselves that. People call the Traditional African Faith in Haiti Vodou, but keepers of the Faith call themselves Sèvitè. Again and again, Dr. Saint Charles gets the most fundamental concepts in Vodou wrong and this puts him in no position to compare and contrast the Faith with any other religion.
Dr. Saint Charles states that he had to come to the US to become a Christian. This statement is shockingly offensive, considering that Haiti is the country with the oldest history of Christianity in the Americas. Christopher Columbus’ gang made their final landing in Haiti on Christmas Eve and called their landing site Nativad from their Christian belief in the Nativity. While they kidnapped and enslaved the native people, they also made Haiti the site of the first Christian Church. The French and the Americans later put their brand of Christianity on the island through their occupation of the territory. It is in part this history that resulted in Dr. Saint Charles having the Christian name Saint Charles and now he wants us to believe that he had to leave Haiti to become a Christian. Adye Wida! A Haitian expression meaning to believe this is as fanciful as forgetting the Whydah Kingdom of Africa.
Haitian Faith reflects our history as African people subjugated by European forces. For that reason, most Haitians carry within their heads elements from both African and European religious traditions. This is no different than the numerous Japanese who practice both Taoism and Buddhism. They do not have one good and one bad religion. They simply have two religions that reflect the past influences on their lives. Unfortunately, countless ill guided Christians want Haitians to give up the African elements of their culture. To achieve this, they present a Ku Klux Klan worldview where European Faith is saintly and African Faith is evil. It is this construct that makes Saint Charles’ book, as depicted in the review, dangerous. When Christians are told that other faiths are evil, it fuels them with the will to form lynch mobs and kill people whose faith differ from their own. Catholic Churches in Haiti have been ransacked and Sèvitè have been lynched and killed. Dr Saint Charles’ book is not only narrow-minded, it is socially dangerous and that gets to the core of why the United Nation and the United States have made religious intolerance a crime. Dr. Saint Charles’ violates a fundamental principle of good religious practice, namely, to create a world where people live harmoniously on Earth.
In his misguided attempt to contrast Vodou with his brand of Christianity, Dr. Saint Charles says that Sèvitè live in fear and unease and that his life as a “Vaudouisant” was a living Hell. Does Dr. Saint Charles not recognize that belief in the existence of Hell is a Christian concept? In fact, the threat of going to Hell is widely used by many Christian leaders to create unease and keep their followers in line. On the issue of Hell, Dr. Saint Charles confuses Christianity for Vodou. He cannot free any mind or any soul, as he puts it, he can only misguide them.
Dr Saint Charles’ argues that he abandoned Vodou because his pleas to Èzili, our ancestral princess from the Kingdom of Dahomey, were unanswered. If Christians were to make their Christianity dependent on each and every one of their pleas being answered by Jesus, there would be no Christians anywhere. It is indeed because prayers are often unanswered that the Pope recently said that too often it seems that Jesus is asleep. His criticism of Èzili is senseless and it is to that criticism that he attributes his conversion to Christianity. The truth of the matter is that a person, whose name is Saint Charles, and who believes in Hell, never had to convert to Christianity because that Faith was always a part of his upbringing.
Dr. Saint Charles’ book presents an upside-down world. He speaks about chains that he had to remove to become a Christian. This is highly insulting considering that chains were imposed on Haitians by Christians. In trying to promote his book, Dr. Saint Charles should keep away from such a painful part of our past, particularly because it does not paint former Christians in a good light.
The review does not show that this book offers any insight in Vodou, in Chrisitianity or in any other religion. Until the author distances himself from the content of the review, we will not read the book.