RELIGIOUS FUNDAMENTALISM is alive and well in Jamaica. I believe that religious fundamentalism is an obstacle to solving several of Jamaica's social problems, and indeed could be at the root of some of those problems.
We are talking about the role of ideas. Whether we know it or not, our attitudes and behaviour is determined by the ideas we hold dear. When we approve or disapprove of anything, when we make choices about careers or about what actions to take, whether we are conscious of it or not it is the norms and values we hold our belief system (our ideology) - which guides us.
The Prime Minister was on the right track when some years ago he called for changes in our system of attitudes and values. Some of us have been calling for changes in the values and attitudes of politicians.
The various forms of fatalism, for example, are rooted in fundamentalism. Many people believe that our destiny is already fixed, that the script for the rest of time is already written, and that it is playing out before our eyes; so there is really nothing we can do to improve Jamaica. Other fundamentalists are other-worldly, i.e., "This world is not my home; I am only passing through"; so we must bear the crosses of this world to be able to wear the crown in the next. This type of religion encourages believers to accept the status quo no matter how unjust, because doing anything about it is futile and pointless. The Rastafarian idea that Jamaica is Babylon, and that working to improve Jamaica is only building up Babylon, falls under this category of thought.
When I was a science teacher in a rural high school, I had great difficulty encouraging some students to learn science, because, in their words, science was against religion. This fundamentalist view has arisen because of the challenges which science has posed to the accounts of Creation in the Book of Genesis as they are taken literally. It always amazes how otherwise sensible people can suspend their intelligence and sense of logic when it comes to religious matters.
The two Creation stories in the early part of Genesis (by two different authors) were not intended to be either history or science, and the true and profound meaning of much of scripture is hidden from the eyes of those who insist on taking literally what was intended to be allegorical or symbolic. "Evening and morning the first day" it says, but to have either you must have the sun, which was not created until the fourth day. I have heard that lyrical fundamentalist, the Rev. Clinton Chisholm, stating that he believes in the Creation story. Fundamentalists, no matter how lyrical, distort the Holy Bible by trying to make history out of serious religious myth, and worse by leading people astray into simplistic interpretations while missing the real and profound truth which God is revealing in these stories.
With this kind of thinking, I wonder if Jamaica will ever become a truly science-based and science-driven society?
By promoting simple-minded approaches to the Bible, fundamentalists avoid coming to grips with God's deep and challenging message of liberation. One of the issues maybe the main issue of the Protestant Reformation was the doctrine of justification by faith alone or by faith and good works, first raised by Martin Luther.
The ongoing dialogue between Lutherans and Roman Catholics has resolved this issue, and a joint declaration of their agreement has been issued, but the fundamentalists are not impressed.
Not being able to rise above Bible study to theology, they cannot understand the substance of the agreement, which I have explained in a previous column.
As Protestants and Catholics get closer together, evangelical fundamentalists grow further apart from both!
I have recently written on how the New Covenant has replaced the Old, and how Jesus' Law of Love has transcended the Old Testament ethics of retaliation. Because fundamentalist Christians believe that all the Bible is literally true, and because the Old Testament is so large compared to the New, they are trapped into espousing pre-Christian (and even anti-Christian) ideas into their doctrines.
The idea that humanity is intrinsically evil is fundamentally anti-Christian, for how then could the Word have become flesh and dwelt amongst us? You would either have to conclude (as the Jehovah's Witnesses do) that Jesus really is not God, or (as many do today) that he really was not human but only took human form.
When you tell a person that they are fundamentally evil, they might actually believe you, and set out to prove you right. This hotbed of fundamentalism we live in is also full of people with negative images of themselves of others and of the world. How different would be our national psychology if we believed the Bible when it says that God loved the world (after all, he made it good) and everyone in it, and that we and the world are intrinsically good.
The spirit of Ecumenism which has infected the Catholic Church in recent decades has not allowed us to criticise the doctrinal and theological errors of other churches and sects the way we are criticised (and attacked). We tend to turn the other cheek in these matters. I believe that the message of Jesus is Good News, and I want to explain it, even if "some corn get mash'.
Theology is an attempt to come to terms with the truth of scripture in the light of human reason.
I believe that theology has much to offer Jamaica to assist with progress and human development. Fundamentalism, on the other hand, is taking us nowhere good.
Peter Espeut is a developmental sociologist and holds an honours degree in theology from St. Michael's Seminary/United Theological College of the West Indies.