Tue | Oct 19, 2021

Daniel Thwaites | Martin Henry didn’t think too much

Published:Sunday | June 9, 2019 | 12:00 AM

Martin Henry was an oddity of the best kind. He often pointed to his unlikely beginnings as a Gleaner columnist, which began in response to an ad asking ‘Do you have interesting views on national and international issues?’ Martin had these in abundance.

I’ve been reading through many of his columns in the wake of his death. It confirmed what I already knew, which is that Martin was able to put complex thoughts down into digestible bits for his readers and to relate those thoughts to contemporary events in a useful way.

Most columnists, myself most notoriously, have precious little depth. We’re bubble-gum. Indistinguishable wildebeest among the “herd of independent thinkers”. But there are some other few, like Martin, who work at a different level, and who telegraph that simmering below the surface are great reserves of thinking and reflection.

Where else in our national papers would you find someone critiquing the French Revolutionary Cult of Reason? That’s not something taught or even entertained in our parts. Where else could you find searing indictments of the new humanist religion, aptly and accurately identified as a competitor to Christianity? In Martin’s columns. Regularly, I would enjoy his egregious crimes of wrongthink.

I didn’t know Martin very well personally, but even a minimally perceptive reader, after digesting his output for years, will consider: “What makes this guy tick?” And even though he was a complex thinker, that wasn’t difficult to figure out with him. It was his deep Protestant-Christian beliefs coupled with a training in science. And a love for Jamaica.

This long-held suspicion was confirmed when he was found in the back-hills of St Andrew, and we’re talking up in some good bush, thundering forth, Bible in hand, to God’s people. I have no doubt that the newspaper columns were the sanitised versions of the testament.

The columnist makes choices every week, and Martin opted for a degree of challenge for his readers, along with an approach to content, style, and tone tailored to sober edification.

On the 20th anniversary of his column, he reflected:

“I would imitate no one … I opted for cool balance, philosophical and moral reflection, historical grounding, problem-solving advocacy, ‘Come now and let us reason together’.”

I could respect that. Not always my choice. But I dig it.

Martin’s choice of topic

I also tended to like Martin’s choice of topic:

“I have written more on the ‘soft issues’ of morality, religion, and culture than most in a field in which political and economic ‘hard-hitting’ commentary is the reigning monarch.”

I hope is not me him ah cuss, but I appreciated his reach into those difficult “soft issues”, which are in fact harder, more stubborn, and more vital.

Although, as I will soon demonstrate, we were in agreement on the important things, we disagreed on many details. That’s hardly surprising, when a clear-eyed Seventh-day preacherman meets an equally clear-eyed definite non-preacherman Catholic.

The last time we tangled in these pages was when he bought into the bull…..ery about “Jamiekan”. Before that he responded, with a tinge of unwarranted scepticism, to my optimism about the reduction in global poverty and the stunning improvements in people’s lives. Then the last time we spoke was on a radio programme duelling over whether the Government should seize the Petrojam shares from Venezuela. But, hey, that’s all part of the grand game.

But more important than all that is that he wrote and wrote well. And here’s how I see him: my favourite columns were when he shed his carefully curated air of objectivity and the backwoods preacherman emerged. Out the Church-window would fly the political correctness, as “elder” Henry thundered forth.

On the moral foundations of law (2/12/2012):

“There is a vast political, legal, and social experiment under way globally within which our own country is caught up to write laws without reference to, and often diametrically opposed to, the Judaeo-Christian moral code on which Western civilisation and its concept of freedom were founded. There will be severe unintended consequences.”


Today, that impeccable liberal, Minister Delroy Chuck, is proposing the repeal of the Obeah Act. Again. Here is Martin, definitely no namby-pamby relativistic latitudinarian, in ‘Are we being Obeahed?’: “the annulling of the Obeah Act may simply be an innocent dragging of the country into modernity and freeing up harmless folk practices. Or it could mean new counter-commitments, with their own set of consequences … Freeing up obia is added to the intent to free up the stupefying weed … Weed is a core defining element of our chug-along, don’t-care, underproductive culture. We may be redefining in law the vision of the Jamaican state.”

My comment: “Blertneeeeet!” Talk de tings Martin. Beat and teach!

There was his ( ‘Religion and Development’ 2/10/2013) deep commitment to the ideals of the Enlightenment West:

“The prosperous and ‘progressive’ West…are very much a product of religion – Christianity. The West, historically, has been shaped by at least five great forces: science and technology; democracy; the rule of law; capitalism, and freedom – all products of the Christian faith.”

Squaring up against the godless

Naturally, we find him squaring up against the godless ( ‘Atheists need a New Testament’ 7/26/2015):

“I am deeply irked by people who suck the fruits of Christian faith and then refuse, whether out of ignorance or sheer bad-mindedness, to acknowledge the tree which produced the fruits… Christianity has been the primal mover in the construction of Western civilisation, now global civilisation, producing an Amazon of positive values and practices that define free and democratic societies ...”

And Martin was a great proponent and defender of what he called “the fruits”. He lent his strengths to education, lobbying for transparency in government, human rights (appropriately understood), good governance, and the preservation and maintenance of the constitutional order. He respected free markets and had obviously read copiously on the Scottish Enlightenment. He profited from the elemental insight that institutions and practices that take millennia to develop can be levelled by enthusiastic idiocy in a day.

Beneath Buddhist Morris Cargill’s famous, entertaining, and subtle criticism of him in ‘Martin Henry thinks too much’, is the confrontation of two very different world views. The Buddhist believes that this world is an illusion and our attempts at knowledge and truth are ultimately egotistical errors. Christian metaphysics assert the reality of the world and our duty to strive to know the workings of this wonderment. Martin was that unusual man who knew what he believed and why he believed it. Courtesy of The Gleaner, his voice was amplified beyond a Seventh-day Adventist Church in rural St Andrew.

So that Gleaner advertisement back in 1987 saying ‘Columnists Required’ certainly hit a six. It gave us 30 years of public reflection by a thoroughly Jamaican consciousness who read widely, considered carefully, then reflected on the country’s affairs consistently.

Sorry bredda Morris. It’s not correct that Martin Henry thought too much, so much as that because he was so thoughtful we are left to wish now, even after 30 years of this discipline, that he had written more.

- Daniel Thwaites is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com.