Wed | Aug 23, 2017

The religion of politics

Published:Monday | February 22, 2016 | 2:00 AM

One of the main reasons that I don't frequent churches is because of the behaviour of some in the congregation. I find that there is a lot of politics in religion. People sometimes have their personal agenda for self-actualisation within the church and/or they are biased for this person or the other and so on and so on. Seeing this turns me off rather badly.

Interestingly, over the many years of watching the various forms of politics at work in Jamaica, I've come to realise that not only is there politics in religion, there is religion in politics. In fact, for many Jamaicans, politics is their religion.

From the recent CIA World Fact Book statistics on our religions - Protestant, 64.8% (includes Seventh-day Adventist, 12.0%; Pentecostal, 11.0%; other Church of God, 9.2%; New Testament Church of God, 7.2%; Baptist, 6.7%; Church of God in Jamaica, 4.8%; Church of God of Prophecy, 4.5%; Anglican, 2.8%; United Church, 2.1%; Methodist, 1.6%; Revived, 1.4%; Brethren, 0.9%; and Moravian, 0.7%); Roman Catholic, 2.2%; Jehovah's Witness, 1.9%; Rastafarian, 1.1%; other, 6.5%; none, 21.3%; unspecified, 2.3%.

I believe that 'politics' belongs on that list because, what most people fail to realise is that their religion is whatever it is that qualifies as their 'pursuit or interest followed with great devotion'. Religion is also defined as "an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group" and, "... belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods".

Certainly, the way that many people from all classes (especially the poorer class) dedicate their time, energy, mind, body and soul to politics and look up to and revere politicians, they behave as if politicians are gods and winning an election is tantamount to entering Paradise. If they prevail, everyone else can go to Hell. Ostensibly, therefore, some people end up contravening the dictum found in Matthew 6:24 - "No one can serve two masters" (you cannot serve God and mammon).

 

POLITICKING TECHNIQUES

 

Religion or religious symbolism has been dragged into politicking techniques. A famous and popular leader once said on stage, "In Portia's house, there are many mansions." He was seeking to express the inclusiveness of the party hierarchy by modifying a phrase attributed to Jesus (John 14:2) - "In my Father's house, there are many mansions." Psychologically, this puts Portia on a very high pedestal, a place of almost infinite power.

And, Mrs Simpson Miller once aligned herself with a well-known religious figure, Dr the Reverend Phillip Phinn, who, it was said, was also a prophet of sorts. For the 14th general election of October 16, 2002, Rev Phinn predicted that Mrs Simpson Miller would be Jamaica's seventh prime minister. It just so happens that he was correct, but not much has been heard from the goodly 'prophet' since he and his team claimed to have received divine revelation that there would be victory for Mrs Simpson Miller on September 3, 2007. They were very wrong.

More recently, another religious figure dragged God into our very mundane and messy politics. It was reported that Dr Michael Harvey, a senior pastor and vice-president of spiritual affairs at the Seventh-day Adventist Northern Caribbean University, opened a PNP political meeting and said, "Our country and the party need a great leader to lead us through tough times. Someone who is socially aware, one who has a genuine love and can empathise with the people ... . That's who this country has in the leadership of Comrade Portia Simpson Miller and her lieutenants."

He used his privileged and trustworthy religious position to magnify Mrs Simpson Miller and to influence how citizens vote. He has been rightfully castigated by his church for his unethical actions.

And, finally, Mrs Simpson Miller declared that she called the general election when her master (alluding to God Himself) touched her. That sort of thing, combined with power and the control over very scarce financial resources, elevates mere mortal politicians (public servants) to godlike entities in the eyes of those who live for, by, with, under and through politics. No wonder we are where we are today.

- Garth A. Rattray is a medical doctor with a family practice. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and garthrattray@gmail.com.