Thursday, October 30, 2008

Religion in Jamaican Society

I wrote an editorial in the Gleaner, which focused on a few of the reasons why Jamaica was fragmented as a nation. I had made some 'blasphemous' remarks about the church in the process, for which I was lambasted by a concerned Jamaican. The reply I made to his letter is an interesting discussion of the church in Jamaica, as I see it.

Dear Chadrick*,

I must first express my delight to read your response to my article. I greatly enjoy participating in intellectual discussions and am looking forward to an amicable online discussion with you, if you so desire. I am not sure how best to deal with your objections to the opinions I expressed, but I hope the format used below will be comprehensive and easy to follow.

Chadrick:
Blaming the church for the current predicament in the country is inaccurate and serves no useful purpose.

Ina Mi Gutumaa:
I agree with you. I do not believe Jamaica's moral decay and resulting spiraling crime rate are caused by the actions of the church. Such a statement would be preposterous. The aim of my argument was not to discount the inherent good of the church, but instead to show how having a dominant religion might lead to the exclusion of smaller religious/ interest groups. This seems to me a blatant contradiction to our motto, which praises Jamaica for being a melting pot of cultures.

Chadrick:
The role of churches is to convince people to follow the teachings of god, and by so doing becoming someone who would be less likely to resort to crime.

Ina Mi Gutumaa:
This makes perfect sense to me; I cannot imagine why it would be any different in practice.

Chadrick:
The Christian church has no monopoly on morality. What is moral for a Christian would also be moral for a Muslim or a Hindu.

Ina Mi Gutumaa:
Here Robert I have to disagree with you. In theory no one group has a monopoly on morality. In the Jamaican context however it is undeniable that Christian morality is viewed as preeminent and that other value systems are frowned upon by the average individual. This is mostly due to ignorance, but that does not change the fact that many Jamaicans are highly intolerant to views outside of their own. Children are indoctrinated by authority figures to believe in the Christian God as soon as they enter the school system, where Christian devotions mark the start of every day. I am not saying that something is necessarily wrong with this. But I am of the view that different religious views are not very well understood or respected.

You are right in saying that 'what is moral for a Christian would also be moral for a Muslim or a Hindu,' but I think you have missed the point if you wont agree that brows are often raised when you are of religious persuasions outside of Christianity. A typical response might be: "Den a uu unu prie tu, kou?...mi no ina dem sitn de!" or "A wan Gad mi nuo, an im duohn niem Ala… go we wid dat!" Jamaicans are not very respectful of different points of view, for which reason my article purports that we are not as united, as our motto might suggest.

Chadrick:
You should place the blame for moral decay in the society where it belongs, with politicians. They are the ones who armed their supporters and created garrisons, not the church.

Ina Mi Gutumaa:
Hmmm. I understand where you are coming from. I was not trying to point fingers in my article however, and I must apologize if it misled you to believe I was attempting such. Again, I was pointing out how fragmented Jamaicans are, not the cause of moral decay. I want us to be true to our motto or consider changing it, as it does not accurately reflect the modern reality. Politicians contribute to the disunity, yes; and I feel that having a dominant religion which tries to influence political decisions which will affect people of various religious persuasions does the same thing. I believe the political order should be impartial to all private interests (no matter the majority of supporters they have)!

Chadrick:
Jamaica is a majority Christian country. As far as I know freedom of religion is a right all Jamaicans enjoy. So as a non Christian you have nothing to fear.

Ina Mi Gutumaa:
A majority Christian country we are, yes. And too, many are forced to partake in Christian ceremonies from a very early age. Does the majority status justify this? I vividly remember being chastised for not clasping my hands and closing my eyes at the appropriate time. This might be an exaggeration of what is brute force, but it is nonetheless true and emphasizes the point I am trying to make. We cannot continue to pretend that Christian morality isn't forced down our children's throats. I was reciting the 23rd Psalm as early as grade 1! Many in turn accept Christianity as the true religion, but I ask: would they have done so independent of the influence and power of the church in society? What I call indoctrination is regularly defended by the statement: "train up a child in the way he should go and when he grows old he will not depart from it." People can say what they may, but I still don't believe in this logic.

In the constitution, freedom of religion is a right all Jamaicans enjoy, but I think mutual respect for different religions must be present for such freedoms to be appreciated. I am not worried as a non Christian, but I am saddened by the fact that my national motto is clearly propaganda. There is no freedom in this country to pursue modes of living that do not comply with accepted moral standards rooted in Christian morality. People get killed for deviating Robert; again, that's an extreme, but it happens.

For example, the church believes abortion is morally wrong. Okay, I understand and respect that. Now it is the church's duty to teach this to its followers so they may not fall prey to such sinful deeds. That seems appropriate. What I cannot and will never appreciate, is the church entering parliament trying to influence politicians against legalizing abortion. Those who do not believe in Christian morality should have the choice! The church should be able to trust that its teaching methods are effective and if they find that they aren't they should modify their approach accordingly. Trying to influence legislation is tantamount to suggesting that it would have been okay for God to put an electric fence around the Tree of Good and Evil. God left the choice to Adam and Eve, and I feel the church should follow suit and leave the final choice to the individual, Christian or not (but especially non Christians). I feel like I live in a religious state, and I do not appreciate that. I do not feel free. I have many unconventional views and when I express them I do not feel respected.

Though you might disagree with my point of view, I hope at least you may be able to see where I am coming from. Thank you for the opportunity offer clarification for the ambiguous statements in my article.

Sincerely,

• Name has been changed

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