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When people turn sheep

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Last week Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley told the Opposition UNC deputy leader David Lee ‘to go to church’ in response to his (Lees’) concerns about corruption at the National Lotteries Control Board. Mr Lee took umbrage and (rightly) complained of the matter being trivialized.

Lee sent out a press release insisting that he indeed ‘attend mass at 7 am on Sunday’ before joining his Opposition colleagues to demand accountability and transparency from the Government.

Now that’s where I part ways with both politicians. Going to church doesn’t stand up anywhere. Your actions do.

A daughter of a Hindu father, Muslim mother, educated in convents, I get religion. I don’t resist lighting a candle at a church, ringing a bell at a temple or bowing respectfully at a mosque.

All world religions can’t, however, simultaneously be right of course, since they each preclude the followers of the others from attaining heaven or nirvana or being raised from the dead. Which means most people think everyone else is going to hell.

I am startled how often in this country at the start of the most innocuous of ‘functions’ there is the national anthem, and there is the inter-service prayer from pundit, imam, and priest during which time attendees bow their heads in pious prayer to the God or gods of their choosing.

I’m not doubting the efficacy of religion, or its power to create a community, civic sense, service, bring comfort to the grieving and lost, create a moral compass, provide a code of conduct to adults or bring meaning to those stumbling about aimlessly in existential angst.

I do get as a young country that in the absence of a history or culture of questioning, in the absence of critical questioning, and in the absence of theological and philosophical studies we are inordinately dependent on props such as chants, rituals, and rosaries. Two hail Marys and we call it that.

The thing I can’t bear about it is the way ritual is used as a free pass for sloppy thinking. We know it’s that because in every religion—Evangelical, Catholic, Muslim, and Hindu, we’ve seen abuse of power towards boys in the Catholic church, towards women in the mosques, rogue Sadhus.

But we are a people who like a quick code. We don’t like digging too much in case we get mud on our faces. That’s why our education system encourages children to study by rote. Our make-work programmes require no thinking. In that way we are all slaves, perpetuating the systems put in by our various bloody colonisers.

Religious expression that is done by rote, that lacks authenticity, that feels like a sword of Damocles over our sinning heads lends itself to corruption at the top, so that the mosque, church, and temple become a microcosm of our government. The flock listen mindlessly, the people at the top preach, the powerful do what they want (usually involving the subjugation and often the abuse of the vulnerable—women and children).

We are comfortable taking orders believing that the word of the priest, imam or pundit is the word of God. We are unable to tap into our own ideas of God because we don’t have any. This is why it’s no surprise that T&T had the highest recruitment rates of ISIS fighters in the Western Hemisphere. That’s what happens when people turn sheep.

There are exceptions personified by people like Father Harvey (now bishop of Grenada), for instance, whose voice is powerful because it’s intertwined with the very hearts of the people he serves. There is also in his sermons, education of how to live, known in academia as ethics.

Dr Rowley’s flip comment deserves examination. It forces us, makes us ask ourselves—what does it mean to pray, to be a religious person.

What are the temple, mosque, church goers doing to ensure that religious rituals go beyond posturing, are above mockery? How do we develop a faith that combines critical thinking and rouses our conscience to serve others? Who are we when we are alone, bowed in prayer and no one is looking?


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