The God-Fearing Muddle

Well, no – it’s not a muddle at all. Some people believe in God. Others don’t. Some believe in lots of gods; others in no god at all. Many others do not know what they believe in; some are still trying to figure it out; and others simply do not care. And all of that is fine.

Nevertheless, some Jamaicans in high places never stop talking about God. They’ve got it all figured out. They can talk if they want to – we can’t stop them. As someone who was brought up as a baptized and confirmed Anglican, I think I know a fair bit about God. Every Sunday morning, our father furiously polished our shoes and we dusted off our Sunday hats. Then we went off to a church in Central London. After this endurance test (and I have hated hats ever since) we were sometimes rewarded with ice cream at the (now defunct) Lyons Corner House. Some of it rubbed off on me (the church part, that is. I could eat one of those banana sundaes right now!)

I do believe in freedom of religion, and I respect others’ beliefs, always. What I object to is for an entire nation (Jamaica) to be told (on Twitter) by a Government Minister that if they do not “fear” God (is he that frightening?) they are actually not legitimate citizens of that nation. And in the most arrogant, careless and even offensive tone, too.  

Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism Damion Crawford

Minister of State in the Ministry of Tourism Damion Crawford.

Well, a few days ago, our proverbial loose cannon, State Minister for Tourism and Member of Parliament Damion Crawford went there. It all started with an article he shared on Twitter, describing a recent speech Minister Crawford made to a group of Jamaicans living in Canada – the diaspora, as we like to call them. Here is a link to it: http://pridenews.ca/2014/08/13/jamaican-minister-of-state-concerned-about-country-losing-fear-of-god/ Our dreadlocked Minister spent a good twenty minutes elaborating on his key point to his Toronto audience, namely that his “greatest concern is that Jamaica is losing its fear of God.”

When the article started circulating on social media and some critical comments inevitably surfaced, Minister Crawford defended himself with alacrity. Mr. “Wakka Flakka” (which is his Twitter name, whatever that means) states on his profile: “Views are my own.” That’s fine, but you are also a Minister of Government, answerable to the people you represent. So be careful. You have genuinely offended people. You may dismiss them as “forty people on Twitter” but they may represent a much larger group than you think. And even if they don’t… 

But our illustrious writer, blogger and UK-based lecturer Kei Miller puts it so much better than I can in his “Open Letter to Damion Crawford.” I have reblogged his excellent “Under the Saltire Flag” a few times recently. You can read Kei’s article below here:http://underthesaltireflag.com/2014/08/16/an-open-letter-to-damion-crawford-mp/

Dear Damion Crawford

I write to you as a fellow Jamaican. I could show you my passport to prove my Jamaicanness, but I do not know if you would accept that as credential enough. Most people, however, accept me as a Jamaican writer and academic. My 9 books to date have consistently thought through the complicated question of what it means to be Jamaican.

It is by no means an easy question to answer. Most of my work tries to expand the dangerously limiting ideas that are out there. At the University of Glasgow where I taught until recently, my students were mostly white and from the UK. They sometimes came to my lectures on Caribbean Literature with very naive ideas about the region. Sometimes they thought that we all looked like you and me – dreadlocked men – and that we were always smiling and playing banjos and smoking ganja on the beach. On the streets of Glasgow, people sometimes stopped me to ask if I had any weed to sell.

At the university I forced my students to deconstruct and then expand these notions. I told them that Jamaica was made up of different races and classes and cultures and conflicts. I told them that everything wasn’t always ‘irie’ and that Jamaican culture has never been a singular thing. I’m pleased that several of these students, astounded by the largeness and complexity of it all, have since visited Jamaica, and at least one student now works as a publisher helping to produce Caribbean literature. In this small way maybe I even contributed to your ministerial portfolio of tourism.

But Damion, it isn’t only foreigners who think in limited ways about Jamaica. When I taught at UWI, I remember asking a class how they would describe our island. When a few students answered that they would describe it as ‘exotic’ I felt compelled to challenge this. I told them it’s important not to see their own home through foreign eyes. If Jamaica is ‘exotic’ to the tourist, surely it can’t be ‘exotic’ to the local.

As a writer and an academic researcher I’ve been particularly interested in the Caribbean’s spiritual landscapes. A recent chapter that I contributed to the Routledge Reader in Anglophone Caribbean Literature surveyed the vast spectrum of religions across the archipelago – from Vodoun to Santeria to Christianity to Orisha worship. My most recent novel, The Last Warner Woman, was about a Revivalist whose gift of prophecy is misunderstood in the unhospitably secular world of the UK. She is misdiagnosed as schizophrenic and sectioned off to a mental institution because of her Africanized version of Christianity.

As you well know, Jamaica didn’t start out as a Christian country. The Tainos who gave this island its name (and other words like ‘hurricane’ and ‘barbecue’) had a very different idea of spirituality. We retain little to nothing of the island’s indigenous religions. It is not unfair to point out that Christianity was quite literally whipped into us, and though I think we should celebrate and embrace our Christian heritage, it is worth remembering the brutality of its imposition. It is also understandable that some Jamaicans have taken an ethical position against the ‘white man’s religion’.

blackchristian

Indeed, such an ethical position has led to one of the most creative and exciting ways in which we can now be Jamaican. I’m talking specifically about Rastafari which was rejected by so many at first as un-Jamaican. Indeed, Rastafari itself tried to distance itself from Jamaican culture which it saw and still sees as ‘Babylon’. But now it is integrated and our culture is richer for it.

This is why many Jamaicans had a problem when you tweeted: “All of a sudden everybody a atheist and agnostic and undecided and non believer unuh need fi rhatid stop it… that a nuh Jamaica.” You have disingenuously represented the backlash that followed, proving yourself, if nothing else, to be a skillful politician, taking shelter in the very crowd that you pander to. You’ve pretended to be a victim and that it’s your expression of faith that is under attack. But no, Damion, it isn’t!

What’s problematic is not your ideas of what Jamaica is, but your insistence on what Jamaica is NOT. I have no problem with you telling the world that Jamaica is a Christian country, because it certainly is. More specifically, Jamaica is a Pentecostal country. And in some parts it is an Anglican country. In other parts still, it is a Baptist country, and an SDA country, and in other parts a Revival country. Jamaica is also a Rastafari country and a Muslim country and an Obeah country. Jamaica is a black country, but also a white country and a Chinese country and a mixed race country. It is a straight country, and in some corners and gullies it is a gay country. Jamaica is spiritual and it is also secular; it is a believing country and in some parts, it is an unbelieving country. And Jamaica manages to be all these things simultaneously. Some parts don’t agree with other parts, but that is alright. That’s how culture happens. No part should ever monopolize the whole.

In geographic terms, we are a small island, but our culture is a wide, wide space that can accommodate much more than you seem to think. It is my job as a writer to think through and write through that complexity. All of it! It is your job as an MP to represent your nation. All of us!

Your Sincerely,

Dr Kei Miller

Not long after, Minister Crawford responded thus (the numerous grammatical errors are, as he would say, “his own”). I find the section entitled “Defining a Country” particularly disturbing. And is it pandering or pondering, Minister Crawford? No, don’t get me started. Do enjoy this great Sunday read!

Dear Dr. Miller,

I note your letter posted August 16th 2014 and titled “An open letter to Damion Crawford” I found it a rather interesting read and was moved to reply in an attempt to clear up some of your misconceptions. If I am to have a shot of achieving my main objective of clearing up your misconceptions which led to countless misrepresentation within your open letter I will have to start from the beginning.

So, two weeks ago I called my uncle who is a pastor (and a Queens Counsel) and expressed to him my concern that Jamaicans are moving away from God. I explained to him that I was using the reduced attendance to watch night (new years eve church service) and Sunday/Sabbath school as a proxy for the reduced fear and belief in God. I further explained to him that I found this to be a major concern as it was my estimation that this negative movement away from God was the platform for (1) a decline in the collective social conscience of the nation, (2) the clouding of what is accepted as wrong as versus right and (3) a reduction in the risk perceived by the perpetrators of negative actions.

He agreed and confirmed that there was indeed drastic reductions in both above mentioned proxies. As the conversation continued I also noted to him that in the last year I have met more self proclaimed agnostic and atheist than in my entire life combined.

Reduced Risk Perception:

The 1st two outcomes of ungodliness are fairly self explanatory so I beg your indulgence to expound on the third before delving into your bone of contention. While lecturing at the University of the West Indies, Mona School of Business, Excelsior Community College and the UCC, I often explained to my students that all actions were based on a perceived ratio of expected benefits and expected outlay for which the outlay included an assumption of risk (be it real or imagined). I use the example of a murder to expound on my point. Let us assume that when provoked to anger by another individual violence, the extreme of which is murder would make the aggrieved individual feel good. This being the case therefore feeling good is the benefit of murder. Now lets add to the scenario person A who perceives a high risk of negative repercussion if the act of murder is committed and person B who perceives a low risk of negative repercussion if murder is committed. In this scenario person B is more likely to commit the crime than is person A.

Hopefully You have not yet stopped reading but realise therefore that the fear of God increases the risk perceived in the carrying out of negative acts and therefore reduces the likelihood that said act will be carried out all things held constant. I can hear many persons uttering that all things are never held constant but it is an acceptable basis of relationship analysis as I would tell the students I taught in Economics and a pillar of the Naumann Equation as I told my Marketing Students at the UWI and a important theory to consider as I articulated in a paper I wrote title “Recovering from Terror” and published in the peer reviewed journal Worldwide Hospitality and Tourism Themes.

A Jamaican v.s whats Jamaican

I read in another blog you wrote titled “Talking and Dancing like you’re really Jamaican” and realise that you are indeed very concerned about being “de-Jamaicanised” I must highlight to you sir that the revocation of citizenship and the removal of passports are not in my powers nor my intentions.

In fact no where in my utterances have I said that any individual is not a Jamaican but instead that an atheist and an agnostic is indeed Un-Jamaica and that the trend where such anti-God pronouncements are becoming fashionable should be stopped. I stand firmly behind both statements.

Let’s first look at what its meant to be un-Jamaican. To understand this I give the meaning of Un-American as provided by the Websters Dictionary which defines Un-American as “not agreeing with the American values, principles nor traditions”. It would stand to reason therefore that un-Jamaican would equally mean not agreeing with the Jamaican values, principles nor traditions. I put it to you sir without fear of contradiction that Atheist and Agnostics are not in agreement with Jamaica’s values, principles nor traditions. My sister who is a PHD student in sociology can expound at a later date the importance of shared norms to the development of a Society.

Therefore since Un-Jamaican and not Jamaican are very different and also not mutually exclusive it is possible for someone to be un-Jamaican yet still a Jamaican citizen. You might be aware that Barack Obama was accused of being un-American because his policies were seemingly socialist. It must further be noted that America’s house of representatives had an Un-American Activity Committee during the period 1945 to 1975. Therefore sir I put it to you that there is precedence for a political representative to be concerned about a shift from accepted norms and values.

Christian:

I hold no reservation in declaring that I am a believer in Christ and by extension Christian. As I said on social media that I am not trying to be an evangelist as I not qualified by education nor lifestyle. However, the fact that Christianity came with slavery is of no significance as far as I am concerned. I put it to you that many of our current societal norms also came with slavery. These include English, breadfruit and also the Jerk style of cooking which came as a result of the hiding Maroon. I doubt that the American Indians at the day of discovery were Capitalist yet today free-market is as American as Apple pie (also doubt the Indians liked pie)

Defining a Country

A country is defined by the majority accepted norms. Indeed I find it ludicrous to argue that a country is everything that exist in that country. Jamaica is a Christian country full stop. We have Rastafarians, Jews, Muslims etc, but the accepted norm is christianity. In the same way that some countries are defined as bi-lingual because of the high representation of secondary languages while others are simply defined as Spanish speaking or English Speaking etc because their isn’t a material number of other languages represented.

Pandering:

I close by simple saying I do not ponder I say what I believe and who happy great, who isn’t happy can seek to educate me as to my folly and if I am convinced I will change my opinion if not my opinion stands. Therefore for those who believe that 40 people tweeting many times is a backlash or if “twitter world can shape my opinions with 140 characters my best advise is that they take a very long nap.

With Gods love

Damion Crawford

Going back to Minister Crawford’s speech, which he gave in Toronto earlier this month on the occasion of the Grand Independence Gala, I am still mulling over this reported statement: “The development of the human capital is central to the development of everything else, because without the involvement of human activity everything else is rendered latent.” Can anyone translate this for me? I’m lost.

Personally I wish all this “God” talk would stop. I would love all Jamaicans to get down to work at caring for our neighbors, fellow Jamaicans, fellow human beings, instead of shouting at them about “God.” He is just one big distraction from the task at hand.

I know – I am quoting a religious leader (and I admire and quote from many of them). The Dalai Lama once said: “Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them humanity cannot survive.” That’s the crux of it, to me.

Meanwhile, today is Marcus Garvey’s birthday. He might be turning in his grave.

I think I’ll head off for a nap, now.

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8 Comments

  1. Dr. Miller’s comments are a breath of fresh air. Mr. Crawford– I don’t know were to start! But Mr. Crawford, don’t you DARE presume that I — who am agnostic on a good day– have no morals, no moral compass and no understanding of right and wrong. To do so simply adds to your image of simple, small-minded, self-centered thinking. and, incidentally, I’d give you, Mr. Crawford, a very poor grade in 6th grade English composition. (I was a teacher in grade school in Chicago, Ill.)

  2. It is scary to think that this muddle-headed thinking is the product of one of the so-called “stars” being groomed to assume leadership position in the PNP and incidentally the JLP leadership need not jump on this band wagon as is there practice when anyone criticizes the present government , for they are even more shallow with not an original thought to contribute to our country’s development having been seduced by the stale and impotent strategy of Republican Party in the USA to oppose, oppose , oppose. It is truly sad that the future of Jamaica is in the hands of these arrogant, know-it all politicians who need to sit and quietly read some real history, economics and natural science books instead of indulging in their penchant for self-indulgent navel gazing .

    • The problem is that “oppose, oppose, oppose” is a concept of the British Westminster model. To this day, British politicians behave the same way. The current Republican Party of course is equally the “party of no” but not necessarily in its past history. But yes, the arrogance disturbs me – and it also disturbs me that this is a young man who should be bringing new ideas and approaches – not religious prejudice! In fact, the sad part is that he has attempted, from time to time, to look at politics through a different prism and to bring forward new ideas on education and community empowerment. However, these occasional thoughtful moments have been washed away by his controversial statements, which have completely overwhelmed us. It’s depressing. Thank you for your comments!

  3. To me , Mr Crawford wants to put everyone in a little box, he has a view of who a Jamaican should be be and if they’re not his kind of Jamaican then they are not Jamaican enough. He uses his experience and his perspective of things as gospel .

    • Of course, many of us like to put people in boxes and compartments. But it worries me that a politician can think this way and then feel quite comfortable with parading this blinkered view in public. If this is his experience, then it’s very limited. Thanks so much for your comment Nastassia, and all the best!

  4. It’s interesting how Damion Crawford often seems to challenge his own purported intelligence. I’ve had my brief takes on my blog. Accepted norms are fine, but they can and do change, and Jamaican norms are chsnging. The crime waves are clear testimony to that. Jamaica has an accepted norm believing in spirits (Obeah) while purporting to be Christians.

    Mr. Crawford does not want to be questioned on his religious beliefs, which he put out in public. He is happy to be questioned on his political activity. I do not believe he was invited to speak in Canada in his personal capacity, though I may be wrong. But, he did not recuse himself or take off his government mantle, while speaking. Therefore, this is political activity, and…

    He’s a classic baiter, if not a good debater.

    • Yes – a baiter! You are right. I think perhaps (I could be wrong) he ramped up the whole debate to “get at” the “forty people on Twitter” that he claims to despise (but seems to want their approval). It’s almost a kind of immature attention-getting tactic. No, I don’t think he was invited to Canada in a personal capacity. His speech was part of the diaspora’s Independence celebrations there, and he was introduced by the Jamaican High Commissioner there. Yes, it is political activity and that is one of the (many) concerns I have. Thanks for your comment, Dennis!

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