Peter Espeut | We do not value unity
In his online Gleaner column last Monday, medical specialist, comedian and poet Michael Abrahams exposed probably the biggest scandal to plague Christianity in modern times. He titled his column 'The amazing diversity of Christianity', but, being a medical man, he could have truthfully headlined it 'The divided and broken body of Christ'.
The founder of Christianity intended the Church he founded to be in perfect unity, otherwise no one would take it seriously. In his last prayer with his disciples before his arrest, trial and execution, he prayed, "I pray not only for them, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, so that they may all be one, as you, Father, are in me and I in you, that they also may be in us, that the world may believe that you sent me." (John 16: 20-21)
What Michael has graciously called the 'amazing diversity of Christianity' is actually the 'scandalous division within Christianity', which has led millions to disbelieve that Jesus was sent by the Father to lead the world to the truth. The vast multiplicity of denominations calling themselves Christian, with widely contradictory doctrines and practices, could lead to the conclusion that the unity project launched 2,000 years ago has failed.
Michael is quite correct when he writes: "Today, thousands of denominations exist, with varying scriptural interpretations, dogmas, doctrines and rules. And within each denomination, there exist varying degrees of conservatism and fundamentalism. Add to that the different personalities that you will find in these organisations, and the spectrum of beliefs attains a truly dizzying level."
Of course, such wildly conflicting views cannot all be correct; in fact, if only one has the truth, thousands of denominations are in error and lead their adherents in different directions away from the truth. It is unlikely that any one Christian denomination possesses the whole truth, or that there is even one in the multitude in which no grain of truth at all is to be found.
But for the genuine seeker of truth, religion - certainly in Jamaica - is a bewildering maze of clashing, illogical and seemingly arbitrary beliefs. To put faith in one denomination is to earn the enmity and condemnation of several others.
All of this, of course, plays into the hands of the secularists, who argue that since there is no agreement between Christians, then there is no reason to give any one denomination more credibility than any of the others, and the safest position is to 'bun fire' on all of them.
Michael argues: "I am wary of organised religion for many reasons, including the encouragement of the suspension of rational thinking, which I believe to be unhealthy. But I see few things in black and white, and in Christianity, I see way more than 50 shades of grey."
Come now, Michael! Now you are being unfair. Only fundamentalists - the newer churches - encourage the suspension of rational thinking and a total reliance on blind faith. God, of course, invented reason and logic, and cannot reject what He has made. Christianity has a centuries-old tradition of embracing logical and philosophical reasoning.
Since the Creator leaves His stamp on the things He creates, a more complete knowledge of creation through a study of the natural and human sciences can lead to a greater knowledge of God and a greater willingness to work with God in His ongoing creation. Faith and science are really not at odds with each other, but are profoundly complementary.
But sadly, just as many scientifically illiterate people deny the truth of aspects of science and do not respect the environment, many theologically illiterate people deny the truth of aspects of religion, or even of religion itself.
According to the Guinness Book of Records, Jamaica has more churches per square mile than anywhere else in the world. Does this make us more religious than anywhere else, or just more divided, or more fundamentalist?
We Jamaicans are a divided people, and this has spilled over into the Church. The writings of St Paul the Apostle paint a picture of the Church as one body with many parts. In Jamaica, the vagaries of our history have led us to create many religious bodies, with many heads. This disunity within the Body of Christ is truly a scandal, which discredits us.
The Gospel demands that we work together for Christian unity, so that the prayer of Jesus can be fulfilled. Where is the dialogue? Where is the debate? The disunity makes us look bad. And, therefore, many do not take us seriously.
- Peter Espeut is a Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to columns