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Images of Failure

Denis Solomon • 862 words

A newspaper reported that children from a Catholic school, taken to St. Patrick’s church to pray to pass their exams, saw the images of saints nodding and winking at them.

Religion may be a force for good in some countries, or neutral in others. In this country it is a powerful force for evil.

I know – in fact I hope – that this will shock a lot of people who believe that there is something absolute about religion, and particularly their own version of it. Perhaps it is truer to say that since man invented God, and not the other way round, the role played by religion in a society is a function of the psychic and social condition of the society, and therefore in a dialectic relationship with development.

In other words, the less hope you have of material satisfaction in life, the more recourse you will have to prayer and other forms of superstition to solve your problems, and the more the relationship between superstition and poverty will escalate. Conversely, the less religion there is in your environment the more you will rely on your own unaided resources. To the extent that you have been able to succeed you will be happy to relegate religion to a non-threatening function, which is to oil the wheels of commerce by enabling people to concentrate with a clear conscience on the process of mutual robbery that goes by the name of business. Just think what would happen if everybody obeyed Jesus’ injunction to give all their wealth to the poor. A misguided fellow who had inherited a lot of money tried this the other day in the United States, and they put him in an asylum.

Societies that have prospered have always found the necessary balance between practicality and superstition. This puts a large premium on hypocrisy. In Britain, for example, a statement by a minister of the Church of England that he didn’t believe in God caused hardly a ripple, in the Church or out. The job of the Church of England is not to push God, but to push social order. Israel is a perfect example of a country that has flourished on the basis of religious hypocrisy. Its existence depends on its being recognised as a Jewish state, whatever that means. But its success has been the work of atheistic Ashkenazi Jews from Europe who have considerable contempt for the wailings and shakings of the Sephardim from North Africa, the niggers of Israel. The religious conservatives are systematically bought off with concessions about the observance of the Sabbath and the serving of kosher food on El Al aircraft.

Communism was a more practical religion than most, and its failure was due to precisely that. It made the mistake of promising salvation in this world or, worse, attempting to get people to work for the salvation of future generations with no hope of it for themselves. Now the reaction has set in and the former Communist countries are flooded not only with their own shamans but with missionaries from abroad, bringing back the old message – including, would you believe it, one group from Trinidad. One thing about religion, it certainly removes any sense of cultural inferiority.

A particularly poignant situation arises when people with powerful superstitious instincts, one might say with religion bred in the bone – i.e. Africans – find themselves dispossessed in a country where the material rewards of labour, though out of their grasp, are highly visible. Yes, I’m referring to Trinidad and Tobago. Such people make an even more direct beeline for the revivalist’s tent, the Spiritual Baptist church, or the Muslimeen mosque. And short-sighted governments are happy to let them do so, in the belief that if you are on a religious kick you will not be on a revolutionary one. The Muslimeen have made them revise that view, and the Moonies may well drive home the lesson.

Why is it that murtis drink milk, statues weep blood and Virgin Marys appear in the sky more frequently in Trinidad and Tobago than, say Switzerland? Because we want them to, that’s why. Nobody who couldn’t see whatever apparitions he wanted, and even induce others to see them, can be called truly religious. St. Anthony starved himself in the desert and saw naked ladies; after he starved himself some more they went away, to be replaced, presumably, by chicken and chips.

So the behaviour of statues, whether they drink, bleed, nod, wink or jump and wine is a matter of supreme indifference to me. What I do have a serious problem with is the brainwashing the children in St. Patrick’s church must have undergone for the winking and nodding performance to take place. I find it tragic that they are taken to church to “pray to pass Common Entrance”, and even more tragic that their prayers are described by the newspaper as “preparation” for the exam. To pray to pass an exam is an admission of failure in advance. Teaching children religion is bad enough. What we are obviously teaching here is failure.

Copyright © • Denis Solomon • Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association • www.humanist.org.tt/humanist/forum/solomonPage Top