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Manning from heaven *LINK*

Manning from heaven
BC Pires

Friday, October 17th 2008

THE real danger of religious belief is not that it distracts the individual from self-development or absolves him of personal responsibility - though those are obviously not strong selling points - but that it justifies action without explanation. If, e.g., you believe God wants you to kill your firstborn son - and your community is similarly primitive, stupid or holy - you can avoid criminal responsibility; indeed, an act of cold-blooded murder is transformed into one of passionate worship by the grace of God, the faith of the actor and the acquiescence of the congregation.

It is not accidental that religions - every one of them organised by men, for the benefit of¬ (otherwise) weak old men - require their adherents to be unquestioning. If people will accept, say, the mind-boggling Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation - that the consecrated host, the little wafer stamped out in a bakery on the Eastern Main Road, becomes the actual body and blood of Jesus Christ, which the believer consumes (in an apparently sacred act of cannibalism) - you don't have to persuade them condoms are not effective prophylactics; you just have to tell them Baby Jesus would shed tears if they use one.

The continuance of religious belief past adolescence is mysterious to me - which is not to say that grownups cannot sustain a sense of wonder or an appreciation of the magical, or to deny mysticism, spirituality or idealism their place in the adult world.¬ Treating belief as real, though, is another story. Jesus, Allah, his Prophet & Them should go the way of Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy & Co. It is understandable if a gullible child should believe in Adam & Eve, particularly if misled by their parents at their most impressionable age - but it is bewildering if a grownup should deny science and the hard fact of evolution and to insist we all spring from one man and woman, made respectively from dirt and one spare rib.

(If you really want amusement, ask a Pentecostal how the world was populated without God necessarily condoning incest; if you really want depression, persist with the argument.) So irrational is religious belief, I often wonder whether, in private, holy men don't just drop the pretence and deal with one another as executives in any other business would: no talk of God, just negotiation of power.

(The reappearance in old age of belief in God is readily understandable: it is more comforting to imagine an eternal heavenly reward than accept the blank cessation of self in six feet of earth; but I know from direct personal experience how much more attractive it is to hold on to a pleasant illusion than concede a harsh reality; I support the West Indies; on the cricket ground and as a concept.)

But what is really confounding is a genuine belief in God by politicians. The world would be a better place if no politician were allowed to profess faith in God. If, for example, American politicians had to use reason to explain why they were against women's reproductive rights, there would be practically no one against them. This is not to say there is not an ethical argument against abortion - only to recognise that the bulk of American politicians who oppose it would lack the faculties to make the argument; or to follow it, probably.

No politician - not Barack Obama, John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi or Mikhail Gorbachev - can reach the top in any political system without abandoning the concept that God is Love - the only religious belief worth holding - and becoming hard as nails and relentlessly pragmatic.

None other than our own Prime Minister, that is.

For there is no other explanation of Mr Manning's handling of matters raised by Keith Rowley in the Budget debate than the application of a religious belief in the rightness of his path - wherever he might wander.

Further, it is clear that Mr Manning requires a belief in him not unlike that required by all religions: it should be unquestioning. If, for example, he should read in Parliament a letter that, on its own face, suggests a $10m overstatement in its first line is a typographical error, because all the other arithmetic on the page adds up to the correct amount,¬ no one is to raise an eyebrow. He is free to ask of Dr Rowley, "Whey de morney gorn?"

It matters not whether what he says makes sense. It is irrelevant if what he suggests is actually contradicted by the evidence. In the "mind" of the Christian believer, the holy myth of Adam & Eve supersedes the hard fact of evolution; and the simple truth that there never was any extra ten million to disappear does not trouble the "mind" of the PNM believer. Their function is to believe; occasionally to do so loudly, in public, in red T-shirts, with or without police permission to assemble; but not to doubt.

The real danger of religious belief is not that it distracts from self-development or absolves personal responsibility - though those are obvious advantages to those seeking to shrink from same - but that it justifies action without explanation. If Trinidad & Tobago should allow Mr Manning his actions without any explanation, Trinidad & Tobago should understand the nature of its own acquiescence in what its top dogs do; and should ask itself whether it should be contemplating not an executive presidency but a deification.

¬

BC Pires accepts everyone must believe in something and he believes he will have another drink. You can email your rums-and-water to him at bc@caribsurf.com

Trinidad and Tobago News

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