By Practicing Christian
Another Easter has come and gone. Many Vincentians cooked fish on Good Friday and went to church on Easter Sunday meaning that just for a few hours this weekend, the census data listing 81.5 per cent of Vincentians as Christians was accurate. The previous statement hints at an open secret in St. Vincent and the Grenadines; the major practised religion is not the major religion professed. This piece will outline the characteristics of a religion and make a case for politics as the most widely practised religion in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
Curt Raney defines religion as “… a system of practices, symbols, and interactive and imaginary social relations concerned with establishing and maintaining a form of consciousness in which reality is constructed and perceived in relation to ideals”.
In St. Vincent, most of what occurs as the political norm has its roots in the false reality built around an individual’s worthiness and an adequate expression of gratitude. While this imaginary reality dictates social and economic relations, it is only a problem for persons who do not ascribe to its existence. The following example explains this better. Christianity teaches that Jesus Christ rose from the dead. This fact is only a problem for those who lack the faith to believe it happened, which then makes the individual an outcast, heathen.
That said, given the significant effect religion has had on the morals and laws of any peoples, it is a frightening position that we as Vincentians find ourselves in where, instead of a true separation of Church and State, our Church is our party of choice and our State, is but an innocent bystander. Churches have long possessed spiritual power over people. Politics have long exerted economic control. To put those two together will be nothing short of disastrous. However, let us examine carefully the characteristics of religion to see how far onto this road St. Vincent has travelled thus far.
Firstly, the concept of salvation is inherent to every religion. Persons are interested in exchanging an imperfect present for some measure of perfection regardless of how imperfect or fleeting it is. In Vincentian politics, every act performed by the leaders of any of the major political parties during the ordinary course of their duties is exalted above and beyond what is customary despite it being in their job descriptions. Many a newspaper article has been written in which residents of one marginalized community or the other has pledged their unending loyalty for the building of a bridge or the fixing of a road. All of these things are duties or any functioning government and should be the rule, not the exception. In other cases, some people just wait for a handout or crumbs from the leaders” tables instead of trying to help themselves. I once heard the story of an entire village constantly flooded by the slightest rainfall due to clogged drains. Yet, residents waited for “Government” to send Sanitation Workers to clean the drains passing right in front of their houses. Minds are being darkened by what is visible and faith is no longer required. Sir James Mitchell spoke to this concept when he said that Vincentians have “breadfruit mentality”. In politicians many have placed their salvation.
Secondly, every religion has some concept of a Supreme Being. In Christianity that being is Jehovah. In Islam, it is Allah. In Vincentian politics, in the ULP it is Ralph Gonsalves, and in the NDP, it used to be Arnhim Eustace. The Supreme Being’s word is law regardless of how often it contradicts itself. The recent Western Union policy change requiring two pieces of ID for money to be sent or received occurred at the government level and not on the whim of the business owners as implied by Dr. Gonsalves. Everyone seems to lack recall on this even the journalists who wrote the original news articles. Whether by intention or chance, our society depends on the word of Supreme Beings to function. This reliance is counterproductive, anti-development and anti-democracy and must change in order for St. Vincent and the Grenadines to progress.
The third characteristic of all religions is that of the nature and possibilities of human beings or sin. Each religion outlines what it takes to be in good standing. Failing to adhere is a sin. In St. Vincent, failing to conform to the unwritten norms is looked upon as being ungrateful or challenging the system. Of course, with every religion, there is also punishment for sin. Political victimisation either ordered or conducted by some Believer has become normal for the many vulnerable. For the record, writing this article is a grave sin. Would grace be extended and what form will that grace take? God only knows but we must be thankful that long gone are the days of ritual virgin sacrifices to gods in order to gain favour.
The fourth characteristic is that of ritual practice. Ritual practice includes social organization, functions of religious personnel set apart from the rest of the community, modes of behaviour and devices used to guarantee proper group and individual conduct. Every political party has its own organisational structure which enables proper functioning. Everyone has heard talk of “party cards” and the functions of designated members in the parties. Like ancient priests who we ask to intercede on our behalf for a job, higher pay or punishment for our enemies, many approach various “right -hand men and women” for the same favours. As for worship sessions, many persons have been to rallies and shows organised by one party or the other and the central theme is always “Thanks for Salvation”. Common exclamations like, “Hallelujah” and “Amen” has been replaced by “labour now” and “Vote-them-out”. Everyone is aware of the consequences of not conforming so much so that much effort is placed on either the exuberance of outward expression or efforts to appear neutral. The demonstration of our political rights has become integrated into our daily life which in itself is the definition of ritual practice.
Communication with Supreme leaders and ethical relations between humans are also characteristics of religion. However, due to a lack of space, they would not be dealt with here in detail suffice to say that the Honourable Ralph Gonsalves, like many Greek gods, is accessible to all, and basic morals appear to have flown out of the window. Even the fervent practitioners of the Christian faith will agree that the beliefs upon which our morals and laws are hinged are quickly being usurped by those of the political realm. A longstanding irony is the fact that even in the United States where gay marriage is acceptable, politicians accused of rape resign out of respect for the office they occupy, whether or not they are guilty. Is it that our moral fabric is deteriorating of just being rewoven? Whatever the case, this new reality is hard.
Based on the examination of the characteristics of religions, it would appear that the dominant religion practised in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is Politics. It is no wonder that ever so often another individual comes forward prophesying about our destruction due to idolatry and moral corruption. Many would laugh at this reasoning. Others would be enraged. It is in moments like these that I dare to quote from the Bible, “Rend your hearts and not your garments”, meaning, instead of pretending to change for the sake of outward appearances, change your hearts.
Karl Marx explained that “Religion is the opiate of the masses”. Just for reference, opium is used to produce heroin and morphine, two highly addictive and destructive compounds (in the wrong quantities). Many years later Mahatma Gandhi said that “those who say religion has nothing to do with politics do not know what religion is”. I dare say that in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, politics has been elevated to religion with disastrous effects. We need to change our mind-set as a people. Politicians are the people we elect to serve our needs. They are not gods. It is time to retake the power we have so foolishly and freely given. A good start may be the reintroduction of civics in our schools. Such a topic will educate our people on their responsibilities as citizens and on their rights. Maybe then they will be in a better position to ask what they can do for St. Vincent instead of waiting on politicians to do for them. As for the Christians in our society, the Bible teaches that you cannot serve two masters. Put away your political idol and serve your one God.
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