By Yvonne McCalla Sobers, Guest Columnist
Jamaica College principal Ruel Reid wrote in a February 27, 2013 column that he regards Jamaica as a Christian nation. In Reid's opinion, Jamaica's "Christian heritage" and a need to provide a "moral compass" justify his holding a Christian crusade during school hours rather than when classes have ended for the day.
However, Mr Reid confessed that this Christian heritage is still to prove its worth. He wrote, "If the fundamental teachings of Christ to love our neighbours as ourselves are practised, then we would have a more peaceful and prosperous Jamaica." Jamaica's high crime rate and low growth rate suggest that the "teachings of Christ" are yet to be practised here.
'Christian nation' has different meanings for different persons. Some define a Christian nation by the number of citizens who say they are Christians - one-third of Jamaicans do not identify as Christians. The term also denotes a nation in which Church and State are merged, and minorities conform to dominant Christian practices.
Defining a 'Christian nation' was simpler hundreds of years ago when the Roman Catholic Church controlled religion in Western Europe. Popes had extraordinary spiritual and political power. Records of the time show that the Christian Church's monopoly over religious beliefs produced corruption, tyranny, and condemnation of all learning and education. The result was the misery, illiteracy, serfdom, squalor, disease, and untold suffering of the Dark Ages.
In contrast, ancient pagan states of Africa, Asia, and Europe were the cradles of civilisation. Religions were accepted equally, women could be rulers, and philosophers set moral standards to guide daily life. In non-Christian Greece and Rome, for example, people were equal and free to challenge conventional wisdom.
In the awakening after the Dark Ages, human beings returned to some of the practices of the ancient pagan states. People started to challenge dogma and think for themselves again. In this Age of Enlightenment, revolutions took place (e.g., in USA, Haiti, and France), and rational thinking resurfaced.
HISTORY OF IMMORALITY
Nonetheless, Christian nations continued to war among themselves. They explored and exploited the Americas, Asia, and Africa for plunder and competitive advantage. Popes supported the actions of Christian nations as they murdered, enslaved, and worked to death the inhabitants of South and Central America and the Caribbean.
History, therefore, shows that Christian nations have not provided examples of such moral values as are set out in parts of the Bible. On the contrary, Christian nations have used lies, rape, betrayal, tyranny, corruption, deceit, plunder, and genocide to achieve power and wealth.
Individual Christians belonging to established churches and mostly to minority religious groups (such as the Quakers or the Moravians) sided with oppressed peoples at great risk. Abolitionists, for example, were subjected to abuse, arson, ostracism, and threats to their lives. Some were murdered by pro-slavery mobs.
In the post-slavery period, some Christian denominations provided schools for those who were newly freed. Poor blacks generally received just enough primary education to qualify them for low-status jobs. A handful of blacks reached high school and the exceptional black was able to earn a university degree. Christian-directed education therefore mirrored the divisions of the plantation. The model remained after the State took over schools started by churches. At present, only about 10 per cent of any age cohort and about two per cent of poor blacks leave school qualified for a job or a place at university.
Secularism is the principle of separating Church and State. Secularists hold the view that religion should not influence political decisions, and that religion should not be imposed on citizens. Secular countries tend to have higher levels of peace and prosperity. One reason put forward is that believers tend to act on their beliefs without thinking critically. Absence of reasoned thought is, therefore, likely to lead to uncivil and unproductive behaviour.
Contrary to Mr Reid's belief, Jamaica is a secular country. Taxpayers who fund schools such as Jamaica College are of different religions or no religion at all. Members of religious sects are, therefore, not free to break the law or infringe on time set aside for education in a government school.
However, religious persons are free to set up and fully fund their private 'Christian schools'. They also remain free to display their faith in actions that reflect love, humility, and righteousness.
Mr Reid can use his influence to promote the kind of education that equips students to think for themselves rather than fit into prescribed moulds.
Yvonne McCalla Sobers is a human-rights activist. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.