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Mainstream Sample

Denis Solomon • 1,362 words

The title of this piece may be puzzling. I mixed up “mainstream” with “midstream”.

On September 30 the Guardian carried a story of a girl who had fallen into the clutches of a Morvant religious sect, which calls itself Seventh Day Adventist. Her “guardians” beat her, starved her, tied her to a chair, refused to send her to school and sexually molested her, to get the “evil” out of her.

The official Seventh Day Adventist church has disowned the group, not for the abuse of the child but for “doctrinal” reasons such as disagreements about the nature of Christ. Its spokesman said that most members of the Morvant group had been “disfellowshipped”, an abuse of English that suggests that exclusion from an SDA school may well have been the only useful part of the unfortunate child’s experiences. On the group’s regular radio programme, and in the Guardian of 3 October, the leader of the Morvant sect justified its conduct, saying that in Biblical times the child would have been stoned to death for playing with herself, and that though she was not sent to school she was being educated by the church.

On October 2 the Express carried the story of a “demon attack” during morning prayers at Chaguanas Roman Catholic School. No disclaimers this time. On the contrary – the principal of the school and the priest who manages it both took the existence of something called a “spiritual attack” for granted. Children, said the priest, are more prone to “spiritual attacks” than adults. The headmaster, for his part, was unperturbed, in fact seemed to glory in the incident, saying that the staff were “strong, charismatic Christians” who fought the manifestation by “continuing to pray” while it was going on, and would do the same next time.

If you don’t agree with me now that religious education is child abuse, you should have your head examined.

All right, the Morvant abusers were not part of mainstream religion. So what? Where is the line to be drawn? There is no longer any mainstream, even in Catholicism. Since the Second Vatican Council, Catholicism has been split among traditionalists, Liberation Theologians (i.e. Catholic Marxists) and Charismatics. The Marxists condone guerrilla warfare. The Charismatics push the essentially Protestant, even gnostic doctrine of individual mystical experience, and indulge in ecstatic forms of worship to stem the inroads into their membership of sects such as the Pentecostals. This in fact is the objective of the Pope’s current visit to Brazil.

From the point of view of the propagation of ignorance, it makes no difference what is mainstream and what isn’t. Virgin birth, resurrection or St. Paul’s “spiritual attack” on the road to Damascus are no easier to swallow for the unfettered mind than the events at the Chaguanas RC School. They have simply been sanitised by tradition. And when the leader of the Morvant sect says his victim would have been stoned to death in Biblical days, he might just as well have said the seventeenth century.

The “mainstream” Seventh Day Adventists may well repudiate the Morvant sect, but they also add their quota of obscurantism. “I can’t come to any Saturday lectures, because I am a Seventh Day Adventist” a student informed me. He said it proudly, as if he expected me to congratulate him for his devotion and shift the class to another day. He was shocked when I replied that the University recognised only one rest day a week for all sects, which was Sunday; that study was not work but self-development; that if he fell ill on a Saturday, his religion would not forbid him to go to the hospital; that just as there were hospitals to treat cancer and hospitals to treat tuberculosis, the University was a hospital for the treatment of ignorance, from which he was an acute sufferer. If he felt unable to attend my lectures he had better use the time to pray twice as hard (he failed). Another student, a member of something called the International Church of God, Inc., brought a letter from her pastor certifying that at that time of year her church recognised two sabbaths a week. The amazing thing was that some of my colleagues, infected with the same disease, wanted to accept the letter and exempt her from examinations on both of those days. This is the same love of cults that makes us welcome the Moonies with open arms when they have been banned from a dozen other countries.

There are laws to prevent people abusing children physically, however devoutly they may do it. The real mass abuse is committed with impunity by teachers such as the principal of the Chaguanas Roman Catholic School, who subscribe to superstitions like belief in “spiritual attacks” and transmit them to their pupils. Not to mention the parents who condone it – one of the Morvant cult members who abused the child was her mother.

Consider the situation in the Chaguanas school as described in the newspaper. First of all, why does the school have prayers at ten o’clock in the morning, the time of the pupils’ greatest mental alertness, instead of some useful educational activity? Secondly, how much more irresponsible can teachers be than to continue praying when an epileptic girl is screaming and rolling on the floor? Third, why did parents accept with such equanimity the shortening of the school day for reasons which they admitted were unclear to them?

A similar incident took place at St. Patrick’s Church in Port of Spain, just before the Common Entrance examinations. Children were taken there to pray for success in the examination, and reported seeing statues nodding and winking. People, especially children, can see anything they want to see. The nodding and winking were therefore neither here nor there. The tragedy was that the children were taken to church to pray to pass an exam, an admission of inadequacy if ever there was one; and that the newspaper could describe their praying as “preparation” for the exam.

In the Chaguanas incident, the problem was not the “demon attack”. Any teacher who has read a book should know that “paranormal” phenomena such as “possession”, and particularly poltergeist phenomena such as chairs being thrown around, are common where adolescents, and particularly adolescent girls, are involved. There is so far no explanation, only a correlation; the religious “explanation” of “demon attack” is a deliberate renunciation of reason and therefore an abuse of young minds.

Teachers not stultified by religion should also be familiar with the mass hysteria that can grip children once they are given a lead (one girl, remember, was a genuine epileptic). Cases of mass food-poisoning in schools have often been put down to this. But while children faking food-poisoning are not encouraged in their pretence, children claiming spirit possession apparently are.

Nor should we discount the simple mischief that leads children to send up their teachers and parents, especially if it will get them an afternoon off school. Look at the picture on the front page of the Express and tell me that isn’t a possibility. In fact, the Express ought to be more careful – that picture may well give a lot of other schools the same idea.

It is pretty certain that an occurrence of this kind would not take place at, say, St. Mary’s College, Holy Name Convent or Fatima. Perhaps a discreet apparition of the Virgin Mary after school hours or in the recess, to be quietly repudiated by the Archbishop; but nothing more disruptive than that. So in our society we have a scale of superstition in parallel with the hierarchy of educational quality and the hierarchy of class. At the bottom, licks, sexual molestation and ignorance; at the middle of the scale, spirit lash, demonic possession and functional illiteracy; at the summit, island scholarships and trips to Medjugorje. The problem is that most people in this country are situated, mentally, much closer in the scale to the hairy imbecile in Morvant than to his up-market fellows. In what other country do child abusers have a radio programme?

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