Old Ethiopian flag and Rastafari symbol.

Old Ethiopian flag and Rastafari symbol.

Twenty-ten is a landmark year. It’s the end of the first decade of the 21st Century if you’re one who counts from one to 10, and start of the second decade if you count from zero to nine. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the Rastafari movement emerging in Jamaica, the 20th anniversary of the bloody attempted coup by the Jamaat al Muslimeen in Trinidad, and sees Christianity’s attempt to reassert itself as the preeminent religious partner in Caribbean development – at least in Jamaica.

Abeng News wants to focus this year on religion and faith based initiatives as partners in national development. Is there legitimacy for such initiatives in secular society and how should these be handled?

The dismal social and economic state across the region – with rising crime including murder, kidnappings and trade in illicit drugs, alongside devastated agricultural and mining industries wiping out jobs and incomes – has caused many to begin looking not at material solutions but towards moral and spiritual answers.

Indeed, the President of the United States and others, blame the collapse of the global financial system on greed beyond measure, and pyramid schemes which operated parallel to the formal economic system demonstrate a high degree of rapaciousness and uncaring for others.

As morals fail, the instinct is to bring out the religious fire brigade to douse evil.

When Bishop Peter Morgan of Kingston visited Toronto to address a fundraising banquet of the Jamaican Diaspora Foundation Canada during the Christmas season, he spoke of what he saw as a “quiet revolution” occurring on the island.

“It is transformation in process, not always discernible and not always in a forward movement, but unmistakably optimistic in its drive to create a renewed people and the rebirth of our nation,” declared Morgan who linked the revolution to a “Fresh Start” program out of the prime minister’s office, headed by a minister of the gospel, the Rev Al Miller, and an “I Believe Crusade” initiated in his inauguration speech by the Governor General, Sir Patrick Allen, a devout Seventh Day Adventist.

The Fresh Start and the I Believe Crusade are values based efforts to regain a lost essence: “I think we can all agree that in our rush to modernization, and modernize we must, we did not emphasize and safeguard, as much as we should, some of the basic values that define us as a nation,” Morgan quoted the GG as having told Jamaicans.

He further quoted the head of state as saying, “‘I believe’ must be etched in every classroom, the screensaver on every computer and cell phone, it must be internalized in the heart of every student until dreams are born as to when they can become, and the contribution they can make to the development of their nation. It must be the theme in the morning papers and the optimism of the evening news until the waves wash away our shame and we evolve into a nation destined for greatness.”

This quiet revolution of moral rectitude envisaged by Morgan would permeate into national productive sectors.

“It is my personal conviction, shared by many outside the major corporate institutions, that retail investments and small business enterprises are a critical part of the economic solution for our people. And where there are negotiations at the macro-governmental level to rescue the economy, there is a quiet determined and unstoppable force among the people militating for a new economic order.  In short, it is part of the quiet revolution,” said Morgan (Right click to download Speech in pdf format, click to open in new window).

“This quiet revolution is being facilitated in the main by the Church, and other social intervention agencies with the assistance of resource support from the business community,” he later added.

Apart from the criminal activity that has grown in polite and impolite Jamaican and Caribbean society, there has been a loss of personal self esteem and self worth among the primarily Afro-based population. In a region that gave the world black nationalist and socialist leaders such as Marcus Garvey and C.L.R. James and birthed a movement that preached African pride and global racial equality, dark skinned folk now accept themselves as socially inferior to those of lighter hue and bleach their skin in hope of social acceptance and economic advancement.

Many questions arise. Can the social and economic decline be blamed on a failure of religion (Christianity, Rastafari) and if so what new answers can religion present? Is it fair to blame the decline on religion’s failure, since the Church was separated from the state with the disestablishment of the Church of England in the 19th Century?

The mainstream denominations played a part in lobbying Britain to free the enslaved Africans and they subsequently led in the provision of schooling for the people, but did that social intervention sufficiently ameliorate the prior participation in the slave trade, chattel slavery and cultural imbuement of the post slavery and post colonial status quo?

The religious space of the region is occupied also by Islam and Hinduism. Do these faiths embody the moral value systems which the Judeo Christian dominant population embraces and how will their contributions be accommodated? Can moral codes be sufficiently differentiated from spiritual/religious codes?

What type of interventions can the society expect from faith based communities? Will these be band aid, feel-good activities or the kinds of systemic action that leads to questions about religion’s role in secular society?

From the evidence it would seem that not much separates fundamentalist Christians from fundamentalist Muslims: they are equally intolerant of others and intransigent in their positions. Does it matter whether faith-based interventions are aimed at changing the individual to make the good citizen or are designed to create a new socio-religious polity?

Hopefully the society will be mature enough to discuss these types of questions dispassionately and objectively without sacrificing the vigour that often accompanies debates on personal faith. Better to demystify the debate than to be confronted by conflicts that only further compound the existing divisions. What’s your take on this as we scramble into 2010?

About Mark Lee

Editor, author and writer with career spanning print, radio, television and new media.

Mark Lee

Editor, author and writer with career spanning print, radio, television and new media.

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