What is Rastafarianism / Rastafari / Rasta?

Rastafarianism, the Rastafari movement, or simply Rasta, is a spiritual movement begun in Jamaica in the 1930s. Named for Haile Selassie I, Emperor of Ethiopia's pre-regnal name, Ras Tafari, the movement is based mainly on the prophecies and ideology of Marcus Garvey, founder of the Universal Negro Improvement Association and an organizer of the black nationalist movement of the United States. Believing that blacks throughout the world should return to their land of origin, Marcus Garvey proclaimed, "Look to Africa where a black king shall be crowned, he shall be your Redeemer." It is interesting to note that Garvey himself, though he is sometimes fashioned as a second John the Baptist, never held to or endorsed the Rastafari movement.

Soon after Garvey's prophecy, Ras Tafari was crowned Haile Selassie I; and many in Jamaica and elsewhere who were influenced by Garvey took this to be the prophecy's fulfillment. This occurrence was mixed with various elements from the Old and New Testaments, which Rastas accept for the most part, although they believe the Bible's message has been corrupted. Today, Rastas believe that Haile Selassie I was Jesus incarnate, returned to earth in His second coming, that Africa is now the recipient of God's promises to Israel, that the Old Testament dietary laws are to be followed today, and that the smoking of cannabis, i.e. marijuana or weed, is a sacred rite that brings a person closer to god and the truth. Many Rastas also believe that the requirements for those under a Nazarite vow in the Old Testament apply to them, and thus do not cut their hair. Instead they twist it into dreadlocks, earning them the term as a nick-name.

Rastafari has transplanted the God of the Bible into its system, calling him "Jah," based on the name used by the King James Version in Psalm 68, and his son "Yashew," obviously a variation on the Hebrew word commonly translated Jesus, "Yeshua." The movement is modalistic regarding the total Trinity, since they hold that the Holy Spirit is simply a form of Jah incarnated into his people. The fact that Haile Selassie I died in 1975 has caused some issues among Rastas. But they ultimately still hold that he is their god incarnate, that god cannot die, and that Ethiopia is the land to which they are called to return.

Rastas' use of cannabis is also supported by their interpretation of many scriptures as they are translated by the King James Version, which uses the now less common term "herb" for green plants, and includes references to "leaves" that sound similar to current slang terms for the drug. These verses include: Genesis 1:11, 29; 3:18; Psalms 104:14; Proverbs 15:17; Revelation 22:2. However, the Hebrew word translated in each of the Old Testament texts simply refers to herbage, grass, and green plants in general, not to any specific plant. The Greek word for "leaf" in Revelation 22:2 is similar in that it refers simply to a generic leaf of no specific plant.

Rastafari is a movement that does not present hope of eternal salvation, nor a true representation of God. Their interpretation of and value for the Bible is dubious and unfortunate at best. It is absolutely true that God loves and values the African peoples and those who were removed from their lands. The injustices and crimes committed against Africans were unconscionable, and the various troubles in Africa today are horribly difficult to deal with. It is only through an acceptance of Jesus' salvation and the Holy Spirit's work in our lives that we will be able to reach any level of peace and forgiveness among historically opposing groups. Once Jesus does return and establishes His rule over the whole earth, evil will be contained and true peace will exist. Until then, evil will continue to cause pain on earth, but Christians have a real hope that it will end. This is the hope offered to all people, including Africa and her peoples, and which God desperately desires her to accept.

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