Exploring some of the ultimate questions that confront humanity, and responding imaginatively to them;
The ups, downs and meaning(s) of life’s journey.
Rastas experience spiritual states through smoking ganja, drumming, and chanting. Religious experience is a way of testing whatever they hear to discern its truth. There is an avoidance of dogma and an emphasis on intelligence, as in reasoning sessions. Individual experience is central to this. It is a rejection of the racist denigration of black intellect as inferior, and the history of persecution in Jamaica in which authorities sentenced Rastafari to mental institutions for their beliefs. Rastafari interpret world events in a religious framework, especially events concerning Africa.
Answers to Ultimate Questions
“There is nothing neither bad or good, but thinking makes it so” (Barrett 1977: 140).
Early preachers focused on the identity of God. God as a black African king undermined the status quo in colonialism and the Christian God. Rastafari ‘test’ what they hear and read, discerning the truth to ultimate questions through intuition. They do this through ‘head resting’ with Jah, communicating on an individual basis with divinity. It is also done collectively at reasoning sessions and Nyabinghi, in which they reflect on the Bible and history to come to an understanding. Truth is grounded in ‘dread’: “the confrontation of a people with a primordial but historically denied racial selfhood” (Clarke 1986: 64). Rastafari are inspired and authenticated by the Bible, as they understand and interpret it. They use the Bible and also the ‘book within’, intuition and experience, which comes from inner divine presence. Personal experience is the most valid way of establishing truth, a way of listening to and being guided by Jah. Rastafari ‘know’ Jah; they do not just put faith in him. Knowing Jah means knowing oneself because the inner self is divine. It is not a question of belief but of knowledge, which for the Rastafari means being in the position of the master rather than the slave. They know their destiny and purpose, they determine events, and they are not determined by them. Knowing history and predicting the future through knowing Jah suggests the importance of memory in constituting life for the Rastafari.
Religion and Science
Science is seen as Babylon’s tool. It is part of technocratic imperialism. Rastafari try to turn away from the materialism, mass media, and commodity fetishism of white European supremacy. There is an antipathy to white man’s ideas. When the sociologist Leonard E. Barrett attended a Nyabinghi, he was accosted for carrying cameras and tape recorder, which were called the tools of Babylon. Rastafari prefer natural things, living ‘naturally’, which means in accordance with their interpretation of ‘the laws of nature’. This can mean that Rastafari can be sceptical of some forms of biomedicine, such as vaccinations. Science and technology are seen as artificial and unnatural. They make evil things like weapons of mass destruction. They are a means of enslaving man to machine, so that he is unable to do things for himself, like Africans were when they were used as slaves.