Raboteau’s “Catechesis and Conversion” Response

One thing that really astounds me from this week’s readings is the utter ridiculousness of the arguments used to “rationalize” the slave trade. Raboteau begins his article by talking about how Western Christian nations justified the slave trade by claiming that one of the main reasons for bringing Africans over to be slaves was to convert them to Christianity and thus improve their lives and save their souls from eternal damnation, as they would die pagans if left to their own devices. This argument has been used throughout history to justify the conquering and mistreatment of multitudinous civilizations, and it always feels to me-even as a Catholic myself-like a thinly veiled excuse for the Western world to get what they want rather than an actual ideological mission (even if it is truly an ideological mission that the perpetrator believes in, it still does not justify taking people away from their homeland and into slavery). In this case, it’s especially obvious-the main reason that the Westerners wanted to bring people over is so they could have slaves to do work for them, not so that they could convert them. The second argument that Raboteau presented was even more ludicrous. He cited Gommes Eannes de Azurara, who was a 15th century chronicler of Christianity. Azurara claimed that the main beneficiaries of slavery were the Africans themselves, who were being taken out of bestial homes and being placed in civilized society. He says that the Africans had “no knowledge of bread or wine, and they were without the covering of clothes, or the lodgment of houses; and worse than all, they had no understanding of good, but only knew how to live in a bestial sloth.” That anyone even slightly bought into this argument is utterly ridiculous. The Africans were being brought over to do intensive labor, and I very much doubt that slave owners invited the Africans inside after a day of work for some bread and wine. The people who were taking the Africans to be slaves had no intention of “civilizing” them, much less the right to pass judgment on their society.

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