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Religious freedom, morals and values

Published:Sunday | December 14, 2014 | 12:00 AM
Bishop Dr Delford Davis (centre), of The Power of Faith Ministries International, holds hands with Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller (right) and Opposition Leader Andrew Holness, while he prayed for them during the 34th National Leadership Prayer Breakfast held on January 16 this year. - File

Denton W Rhone, Contributor

We expect high ethical and moral behaviour from our public leaders and citizens of our society, and rightly so, but how often do we stop and ask ourselves: Why should we have these expectations? How were these expectations formed within our culture? Where did we learn our ethics and values?

What is the history behind our moral development and who delivered to our nation this high expectation of proper ethical behaviour that we now have within our society and are outraged when they are violated?

In his paraphrasing of Bill Clinton's popular statement, Governor General Sir Patrick Allen said, "there is nothing wrong with Jamaica that cannot be fixed with what is right with Jamaica".

One thing that is right about this great nation of ours is freedom of religion. Religious freedom in Jamaica has allowed synagogues, churches and a number of other places of worship to develop and proliferate across the nation's landscape. Over the years, many of these religious communities have committed themselves to the building of schools and other educational institutions.

Just a cursory glance at Jamaica's educational institutions would show that a large number of these schools were started by religious organisations. This would not have happened were it not for the granting and supporting of freedom of religion by the nation of Jamaica.

Central principle

A central educational principle of religion is the commitment to the development and shaping of high morals, values and ethics or their adherents in order for them to be meaningful citizens in the societies in which they live and operate. From the pulpits, preachers preach love and compassion, honesty and care, kindness and ethics, values and morals. These views are informed by sacred writings. In the classrooms, religious teachers would measure the spiritual and character development of their charges by their ability to demonstrate religious ethics, morals and values.

For Christianity, the Ten Commandments are used as the instrument of measurement.

Those who do not steal, do not lie, love their parents, do not commit adultery and do not kill or abuse their fellow men are the ones who are affirmed. The emphasis and affirmation of these values are seen as honourable and desirable for good citizenship and the development of a civil society.

The graduates from religious-based schools and institutions, armed with their religious ethical world views, move out into the society as leaders in various sectors, to influence policy and to help underscore what is morally important to the society.

Many of the morals and ethical good that are now in Jamaica have a direct correlation to the values taught by religious organisations. This would perhaps not have been the case were it not for the religious freedom that is granted and guarded by the country.

Outrage within the social order

When deviation occurs from these religiously-taught values, we have corruption, crime, low ethical behaviour, immortality, broken families, and dishonesty in public life. These result in outrage within the social order as poverty increases, lives are lost, the less fortunate are neglected, courts are corrupted and the society suffers.

To underscore the moral and ethical contribution of freedom of religion within a nation, let me reiterate: when morals are lost and ethics are violated corruption prevails. There is no concern for the poor, and injustice is perceived to be the order of the day. As a result of these debilitating outcomes, people take to social media, public media, and talk shows to express their disgust.

Apathy, hopelessness and despair become commonplace - at times, people violently take to the streets. Our nation is threatened and appears to be failing.

Religious freedom allows the religious organisations to keep morals, ethics and values for the common good at the forefront of the society. It also allows its institutions to pass on these values to each emerging generation. Oftentimes, when things go morally and ethically wrong in the society, the knee-jerk complaint is that religion is not doing anything. But let us imagine what our nation would be like if there were no religion or religious freedom.

Denton W Rhone, PhD, is the vice-president of student services at Northern Caribbean University. Feedback to editorial@gleanerjm.com.