Mark Lewis Taylor

Some of the most dramatic sites for political theology arise from the interplay between Christian views of the Holy Spirit and African beliefs in spirits and medi-umship. This is not just an issue in African Christianity. It is an interplay that has also catalyzed change for many diverse peoples thrown into diaspora along the Atlantic coasts of Europe, Africa, and the Americas. These changes have been as political and revolutionary as they have been religious.

Sites of such change include revolts and revolution in England during the seventeenth century, Atlantic coast riots and the "American revolution" in North America in the eighteenth century, and resistance movements for the abolition of slavery (in the Americas and Europe) throughout the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries (Linebaugh and Rediker 2000: 327-34).

One emblem of this partnership between Christian Holy Spirit and African spirits lies in the history of a saying attributed to John the Baptist about Jesus' coming work of the spirit. It is recorded in the first century's New Testament Gospels, portions of it still sung out by Bob Marley in the twentieth. The Baptist proclaimed that the spirit's work against arrogance and pride would be like what happens when "the axe is laid to the root" (Matt. 3: 10-11). In the English revolution, Levellers and Diggers would use this biblical phrase to rally the poor against the arrogant rich. Evangelicals and secular radicals used the phrase in their movements for social justice in Britain and the Caribbean. Jamaican-born abolitionists published a journal entitled The Axe Laid to the Root (Linebaugh and Rediker 2000: 301-18), in which numerous essays against slavery appeared. Bob Marley's song, written with Lee Perry, still resounds (Perry and Marley 1973: #2):

If you are the big tree, let me tell you that We are the small axe, sharp and ready Ready to cut you down (well sharp) To cut you down.

The song was just one expression of Marley's Rastafarian spirituality, an African/Caribbean movement that interacted with Christian Spirit discourse amid political travail (Murrell et al. 1998: 326ff.; Beckford 1998).

In this chapter, I first seek to explain why and how Christian understandings of the Holy Spirit could be open to this interplay with African traditions that yield a spirit of political and liberating change. Second, I will highlight how the history of this partnership catalyzed a "mystical politics" in the revolutionary Atlantic. Finally, I will conclude by noting how the presence of this partnership and its concrete history might affect a future political theology of liberating spirit.

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