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Less Is More

Denis Solomon • 1,072 words

Whenever I hear the name of Pastor Cuffie mentioned I ask “Who is Pastor Cuffie?” Unfortunately, I know very well who Pastor Cuffie is. But I like to preserve, for myself, the illusion of living in a serious country, and for others the appearance of a person with a serious mental life. This requires ignorance of the existence, or at least of the identity, of such as Pastor Cuffie.

In real countries (to take a phrase from BC Pires) Pastor Cuffies exist. But they have no great visibility, nor do they occupy much space in the consciousness of the population. They are on the fringe. Their opinions and statements form little part of the ethos of the society.

Here, in contrast, we have so little that is really important to concern us that the fringe becomes the mainstream. So impoverished is our intellectual frame of reference that every self-proclaimed messiah takes on instant credibility. Pastor Cuffie is fortunate in our stupidity. By his own reckoning, his Pentecostal church has the third largest number of adherents in the country.

And yet he has the gall to complain that he is not well enough known.

The document recently circulated to the newspapers and several other important recipients by Pastor Cuffie is a perfect example of giving to airy nothing a local habitation and a name. It is a solemn application of imposing techniques to a non-existent subject. With the support of impressive bar-graphs, Cuffie alleges systematic discrimination against the Pentecostals in media coverage. “We will (he means “would”) very much like to see the necessary meaningful steps taken towards appropriate redress” he writes.

The Pastor’s conclusion from his comparative “analysis” of the coverage of seven religions in the Guardian and the Express in the first six months of 1997 is that there is “an attempt to preserve certain historical prejudices in the society.” Pentecostals, he says, get no coverage at all except when they pay for it.

We might dilate upon the validity of such an analysis by asking what constitutes coverage. Would the Pastor want the kind of front-page coverage recently obtained by the Thusians? Does a report of the Pope’s visit to Brazil, or of the death of Mother Teresa, count as coverage for the Catholics? We might question his reasons for wanting coverage at all. If he’s doing so well with his paid columns that he has the third largest following in the country, why bother? Why should the press give him something free if he’s silly enough to pay for it? But instead, let’s accept his allegations and try to find what lies behind them.

The analysis is scientifically worthless. But the Pastor may be right about the facts, though wrong about the motive. His views are positively Neanderthal in their fundamentalism. But his ideas about such subjects as marriage, education, entertainment, sexuality, crime and punishment are in fact shared to some degree by the leaders of most religions, though not all his views by all of them. If Anthony Pantin condemns homosexuality, it appears in the papers. If Cuffie does, it doesn’t, except in his paid advertisement. Why? Perhaps because Cuffie’s talk of hellfire and damnation is more primitive. Another factor is that Cuffie condemns everything, from Carnival to fashion shows, and so his diatribes become pretty predictable in the long run. They have no scarcity value.

But that is not the whole story. The simple answer is that Pentecostalism is regarded as low class, and Catholicism is not. The media are as snobbish as the public they serve, and while the mainstream religions are covered for their own sake, the others are covered only if they do something extravagant, like child abuse. Pastor Cuffie obviously has not realised that it is possible to be influential without being interesting.

The problem Pastor Cuffie and his like represent for the society is not lack of attention but excess of it. If a religion is low-class, it should not also be widespread. No modern society has flourished that failed to put religion in its proper place. The degree of integration of a people into Western industrial society is directly proportionate to the degree to which they control religion instead of being controlled by it. In the words of the anthropologist quoted in Naipaul’s The Crocodiles of Yamossoukro, if people cannot live in the day they will live in the night. Poverty and ignorance are not overcome by religion but increased by it. (As far as poverty goes, the pastors themselves are often the exception). Not that religion is not objectively useful as a stabilising force in society. (There are exceptions to this too – e.g. the Muslimeen). But the one thing that must not happen is for it to be taken too seriously by too many people.

In Britain, a Church of England vicar’s statement that he does not believe in God causes no more than a minor stir, in the Church or outside. The Church of England does not exist to push God, it exists to support the state. Religion sits so lightly on the Japanese, that though they all in one way or another accept the bureaucratised superstition that comes closest to being a state religion, the total number of members of all religions in Japan is greater than the population. In other words, the Japanese collect religions like tamagotchis, and cast them aside as lightly.

Here, what is saddening about the attention we pay to all the purveyors of religious ecstasy, instant salvation and guaranteed miracles, the freshwater Yankee evangelists infesting weekend television, the baptismal parties floundering daily in the Gulf of Paria, and Pastor Winston Cuffie’s Miracle Ministries, is the sheer tawdry vulgarity of it all. Pastor Cuffie doesn’t need more attention paid to him. If this country is to start living in the day instead of the night, he and all the other sects need less.

If Pastor Cuffie is into social research, he might find it a more enlightening exercise to compare the coverage of religion as a whole in the press of, say, any country in Western Europe, Canada or the United States (where, incidentally, his own church originated) with that in Trinidad and Tobago and other countries of the so-called Third World. He should then note the correlations that would certainly emerge between preoccupation with religion and economic backwardness.

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