By Raffique Shah
March 07, 2010
If Prime Minister Patrick Manning’s brimstone-and-fire like sermon in Parliament two Fridays ago was reflective of the normal behaviour of Born-Again-Whatever, then I thank the Lord (if She exists) for saving me from the darkness that envelops such tortured souls, for allowing me to see the light of rational thinking at a very early age in my life.
Readers know I am agnostic. They do not know how I came around to adopting life-without-religion. I was born a Muslim and rather enjoyed my boyhood days attending prayers and celebrations that were far fewer than what obtain nowadays. There were some good imams back then, men like who lived the humble lives they preached, never seeking personal benefits or enrichment at the expense of their ‘jamaats’. Their simple lifestyles mirrored those of Christ, Muhammad and Buddha, to name a few of the revered prophets, when they walked the earth.
As I grew older and was exposed to broader thinking and theories on how the universe started-I was fortunate to be in England when philosopher Bertrand Russel still voiced his controversial views in newspapers-I started questioning religion, dogma and faith.
There was also the issue of imams and priests who were some of the worst crooks I knew. One imam sold lands to people without giving the purchasers deeds. A high-profiled Catholic priest took the biblical injunction ‘go forth and multiply’ quite literally. Yet another had homosexual relations with boys entrusted to him, and when I exposed him I was subjected to a most vitriolic attack. He was later banished to Ireland where he must still be doing penance!
But because of my upbringing, I also learned to respect people’s religions, their rights to their beliefs. In fact, unlike many agnostics and atheists, I do not denigrate religious persons because we may disagree on fundamental issues. In fact, those who will have seen me at funerals would attest that I sing hymns loudest (I love many Christian songs), I know more than a few ‘bhajans’, and I can even croon out some ‘quasedas’ (Muslim songs of praise). When I am in a place of worship, I bow my head in obeisance while the faithful pray.
Having established my bona fides, I return to Mr Manning’s crass display of how a born-again Christian conducts himself in public or even in the sanctums of their places of worship. The queries that triggered his fulminations were valid. The media and members of the opposition in Parliament wanted to know how a church that may well have less than ten members got government to lease it four acres of state lands. How, too, did a Chinese company (whose workers, more than likely, are all atheists!) that was brought into the country by the Government, land a ‘private’ contract to build what looks like a palatial-church? And were taxpayers’ funds allocated to this $30 million project?
Mr Manning could have simply gone to the House and answered these questions in two minutes. Instead, interpreting public concerns over a private project to be ‘religious persecution’, the PM went into a tirade that sounded more like Satan spewing fire than God bestowing blessings. And as if Mr Manning’s 50-minutes of calling on the wrath of God to smite his ‘enemies’ were not enough, the desk-thumping from his acolytes created a din far worse than a devil-band on jouvert morning.
Indeed, when I watched the fire in Minister Marlene McDonald’s eyes and her extra-vigorous banging on her desk, I thought this was a woman possessed. The PM called hell and damnation on journalists who were only doing their jobs. Is what Christianity, born-again or any other strain, is all about?
Does the bible say that Christians must cover up corruption, if such was the case? If these are the tenets of the Pentecostal Church, then we have many more sinners-in-pews than this lonely scribe who long thought I was among a handful of those destined for Hell.
I turn to televangelist Pat Robertson, one of the leading Pentecostals in the world. Following the devastating earthquake in Haiti, Robertson ascribed human suffering in that country to its ‘voodoo religion’. Does Mr Manning concur with Robertson? If he does, why did he try to visit ‘voodoo-land’ in the immediate aftermath of the quake? Can he tell us what kind of ‘voodoo’ is practised in Chile that suffered an even greater jolt?
I shall not dwell on the PM admitting that he has a ‘spiritual advisor’. Many religious Trinis also have their ‘spiritual mothers’ (or fathers or gurus). That includes those on the opposition benches and many among the population at large. If people believe that God’s blessings can be dished out like doubles through individuals, some of whom, in the past, have been exposed as frauds or deviants, then so be it.
It is frightening, though, to think that a faceless person of dubious background may be the guiding hand behind our governance, or lack thereof. Is this why most government ministers never listen to the voice of the people since they all follow the voice of God? Little wonder we are going nowhere and seem to be getting there fast. What a thing! What a country!