What Religion is Rastafarian?

Rastafarianism, also known as Rastafari, is an Abrahamic religion that developed in Jamaica during the 1930s. Rastafarians worship Haile Selassie I, the former Emperor of Ethiopia, as Jesus incarnate, and the Messiah predicted in the Bible. Elements of Christianity and Pan-Africanism are central tenets of Rastafarian beliefs, though the religion has developed beliefs and practices that are distinct from both mainstream Christianity and other African diaspora faith traditions. Now we ask, what religion is Rastafarian?

What are the Main Beliefs and Practices of Rastafarians?

Rastafarians hold a diverse array of beliefs and practices, but core tenets of the religion include:

Haile Selassie Worship

  • Rastas believe Haile Selassie I, former emperor of Ethiopia from 1930 to 1974, is the living God and the black messiah foretold in the Bible. He is considered part of the Holy Trinity.
  • Emperor Haile Selassie is often styled Jah Rastafari, meaning God Rastafari, by Rastafarians.
  • Rastafarians believe the Ethiopian monarch will one day return and lead followers to righteousness and prosperity in a new African promised land.

Bible Interpretation

  • Rastas believe in the Judeo-Christian Bible but often interpret passages regarding prophecy and revelation in different ways.
  • For example, the movement sees passages regarding “Zion” as referring to Africa, the promised land for black people globally.

Spirituality Over Legalism

  • Rastafarians emphasize spiritual interiority and direct relationship with God and creation over hierarchical church structures or legalistic ritualism. This allows for a wide diversity of individual expression.

Pan-Africanism

  • Rastafarians promote both political and spiritual unity among peoples of African descent across the globe to overcome white supremacy in the form of Babylonian tyranny. Ethiopia is upheld as an original African nation.

Ital Diet

  • Most Rastas follow religious food laws avoiding alcohol, chemical additives, meat, milk, coffee, tea and processed foods, emphasizing organically grown produce. This is called an “Ital” diet, short for vital.

Cannabis Use

  • Ritual use of cannabis imported from Jamaica is upheld as promoting spiritual sluggishness and providing clarity against oppressive, materialistic Babylon culture, though views on the religious centrality of cannabis varies.

Table summarizing core Rastafarian beliefs and practices:

Belief/PracticeDescription
Haile Selassie WorshipEthiopian emperor considered the second coming of Jesus
Bible InterpretationView passages on Zion and prophecy as referring to Africa
Spirituality Over LegalismEmphasis on direct spiritual revelation not institutions
Pan-AfricanismPromoting unity of Africans globally
Ital DietAvoiding artificial foods and chemicals
Cannabis UseRitual consumption provides spiritual clarity

The wide diversity of beliefs and emphasis amongst Rastafarians makes the religion highly decentralized with few unifying structures or doctrines across different houses (assemblies). This allows for a flexible framework where members cobble together evolving social, political and religious meanings relevant to their context.

How Does Rastafarian Theology Compare to Christianity?

While Rastafarian theology originated from Christianity and shares many similarities with Christian creeds, Rastafarians hold several distinct theological positions departing from mainstream Christian views:

Trinity Conception

  • Unlike Christianity, Rastas see former Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie as the living incarnation of God the Father, altering the traditional Trinity.
  • Emperor Selassie forms a Holy Trinity along with God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit.

The Bible

  • Rastafarians believe the Bible is generally true as a historical document but dismiss parts considered to support imperialism while upholding mentions of Ethiopia’s glory.
  • They believe Bible passages using the term “Zion” refer to Africa rather than Israel or a Heavenly kingdom.

Heaven and Hell

  • Rastafarians may not believe in Christian conceptions of the afterlife like heaven and hell, instead, upholding Africa or Ethiopia as the “Zion” where righteous believers are led in this lifetime.

Sin

  • Unlike Christian original sin requiring salvation, Rastafarians see unrighteousness as ignorance of one’s true inner spirit that must be culturally and self-overcome.

So while Rastafarians uphold the Bible and pay homage to Jesus Christ, conceptions of the Trinity, heaven, and sin depart from mainstream Christianity in keeping with the religion’s Africana interpretation of scripture and emphasis on this-world spirituality.

Comparison of Rastafarian and Christian Theology

Theological IssueRastafari ViewChristianity View
Trinity ConceptionSelassie added as 3rd person alongside Jesus & Holy SpiritFather, Son (Jesus), Holy Spirit
ScriptureUphold Bible selectively, dismiss imperialist partsEntire Bible considered God’s word
Heaven/HellFocus on righteous living on Earth, Zion as AfricaBelief in eternal afterlife destinations
SinIgnorance and need for cultural revelationInherited original sin requiring salvation

What Sacred Texts do Rastafarians Read?

The Afrocentric spirituality of Rastafari is informed by an eclectic blend of sacred texts outside of the Christian Bible, including:

The Holy Piby

  • The Holy Piby was written by Robert Athlyi Rogers between 1913 and 1917 and is seen by Rastafarians as a vital text predicting the crowning of Haile Selassie I.
  • The Holy Piby outlines doctrines and religious laws for daily living while upholding the Ethiopian Emperor as a messiah figure returning to Africa.

The Promised Key

  • This 1935 Rastafarian text focuses on the genealogy of Haile Selassie I through the line of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.
  • It uses numerology to argue the Ethiopian monarch’s enthronement in 1930 fulfilled divine prophecy regarding the second coming of Jesus Christ.

The Royal Parchment Scroll of Black Supremacy

  • This 1926 manifesto by religious leader Fitz Balintine Pettersburgh served as a precursor to Rastafarian beliefs arguing black Jamaicans were superior to white colonists spiritually and intellectually.

While not uniformly accepted by all Rastas, these early Back-to-Africa works have shaped the Afrocentric hermeneutic upheld in Rastafarian theology departing from traditional Christian texts.

What Relationship do Rastafarians Have with Other Religions?

As an Abrahamic faith, Rastafari builds on Judeo-Christian foundations while syncretizing elements of African spirituality. This leads to complex interfaith relationships:

Christianity

  • Most Rastafarians identify with Christianity in some form given shared reverence for the Bible and Jesus Christ, though fiercely critiquing imperialist institutional churches. Some Rasta’s self-identify as Christocentric Rastafarians.

Judaism

  • Rastafari builds on the Old Testament traditions of Judaism inherited as part of Christianity. But critiques of Judaism occur based on the religion’s historical complicity in colonial structures.

Islam

  • Though less pronounced than ties to Judaism and Christianity, Rasta’s feel a sense of common Afro-Abrahamic roots and quest for civil rights with followers of Islam. Critique of Arabic slave trading may also occur.

African Traditions

  • Rastafari strongly identifies with traditional African sensibilities and cosmology while rejecting beliefs they feel passive in resisting white oppression. This can paradoxically lead to both reverence and rivalry with indigenous African paths.

So while the Rastafarian worldview is inclusive of any philosophy promoting black consciousness, strong critiques of complicity in colonialism leads to frequent questioning of many organized faith structures.

What Are Some Significant Rastafarian Holidays and Celebrations?

Some of the most sacred Rastafarian holy days tying into the movement’s veneration of former Ethiopian leader Haile Selassie I include:

April 21 – Anniversary of Emperor Selassie’s Visit to Jamaica

  • April 21, 1966 marked Haile Selassie I’s one visit to Jamaica, bringing 100,000 Rastas to see the living God return home according to prophecy.
  • This anniversary signifies a special moment establishing African repatriation in the land where Rastafari began.

July 23 – Birthday of Emperor Haile Selassie I

  • Rastafarians treat Haile Selassie’s July 23rd birthday (1892) as a holy calendar event, singing hymns in thanks, praying, and reflecting on his messianic teachings.
  • Some adherents see their own birthdays as sacred crossroads marking time since this key date.

September 11 – Ethiopian New Year’s Day

  • Known as Enkutatash, the Ethiopian New Year marks the end of the rainy season and is celebrated by Rastafarians for its cultural significance to spiritual homeland Ethiopia under Selassie.

Outside of these Rasta-specific holy days, holidays like Christmas and Good Friday may take on distinct significance aligned with veneration of Emperor Selassie and African redemption.

Conclusion

As an emergent 1930’s religion forged from slavery’s wake, the Rastafari tradition powerfully asserts black spirituality and destiny through political resistance and bible reinterpretation rather than hierarchical structures or legal strictures. By syncretizing pan-Africanist thought with Judeo-Christian revelation focused on former emperor Haile Selassie’s divine status, Rastafarian theology facilitates wide pluralism in how blacks globally promote “Life Everliving” through repatriation and revelation.

From reimagining Christian scriptures as African parables to upholding homegrown sage wisdom on righteous eating, reasoning and community, Rastafarians forefront a this-world spirituality that accommodates revelation on the unique path of each adherent. The decentralized and subjective nature of Rastafari makes assigning any uniform practices or creed impossible, yet through the unifying lens of Ethiopianism and fidelity to Selassie’s messianic influence, unity persists on upholding black memory and destiny amidst racist subjugation and historical erasure in Babylon’s wake.

So while no formal institutional trappings define Rastafari compared to older organized faiths, the religion’s cultural influence persists through a common chase – the restorative work of affirming Africa’s global progeny. Through music, politics and pride, Rastafari brings vibrant meaning against forces of oppression that would deny black excellence now and forever. Hail Rastafari, city of Judea is again under siege. Everliving. Everfaithful.

FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions About Rastafarian Religion

Are there sacred spaces or places of worship for Rastafarians?

While some private or public spaces may take on spiritual significance for Rasta’s, there are no official church structures or required holy sites. Most adhere strictly to inward spiritual journeys tied to Africa’s redemption. Home gatherings focused on reasoning, chanting and cannabis use are common.

Do Rastafarians have any dietary restrictions or customs?

Most Rastafarians eat an Ital vegetarian diet avoiding chemicals and meat while emphasizing organically grown fruits, vegetables, legumes and grains. This comes from interpreting certain biblical texts literally but also promoting African health customs.

What is the Rastafarian perspective on race?

Race lies at the center of Rastafarian faith as an inheritor of Ethiopianism and Black messianic movements reacting to systemic oppression on the African continent and throughout the diaspora by upholding black superiority and destiny.

Do Rastafarians cut or style their hair in any special ways?

Leaving hair in its natural state is upheld by Rasta’s as promoting black beauty and uniqueness against white standards of dress. The growth and shaping of dreadlocks carry deep spiritual symbolism for Rastafarians.

How do Rastafarians view death?

As there is no uniform Rastafarian eschatology upholding an explicit afterlife, some Rasta’s view death simply as migrating to Africa, the land of the ancestors. Others see it as a transformation to a higher state of being aligned with righteous living.

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