January 29, 2014 – newsday.co.tt
We fully support the current National Week of Prayer, as a potential tool against crime and other social ills, launched last Sunday by the Inter Religious Organisation (IRO) and Ministry of National Diversity and Social Integration.
We respect this nation’s diversity of beliefs including the right of a citizen to disbelieve, but we think the country at this socially-fragile time has more to gain than to lose through collective religious practices such as this Week of Prayer.
Yes, the abuse of religion can lead to ethnic strife, sexual abuse and financial scandal, and no-one must mindlessly surrender their faculties of reasoning to any false messiah, but religion can play a key role in social cohesion.
This country’s rampant crime is largely the result of a social breakdown.
Some persons chase wealth by dangling harmful things such as illicit drugs in front of socially vulnerable persons such as fatherless young men who then become the everyday “face” of the country’s problem of violent crime, both as perpetrators and victims. Sadly, certain imported fare of violent movies and video-games, antisocial music, pornography, aspects of the mass media and certain online activities including a misuse of social networking sites, adds fuel to the fires of our social breakdown.
How do you urge a youngster to wait until marriage before having sex, when online pornography at the click of a mouse is showing imagery of instant gratification? How does one talk about neighbourly love and tolerance for all when certain video-games have scenes that encourage youngsters to shoot and beat random strangers on a city street? How do you espouse a scriptural injunction to not covet your neighbour’s property when mass media advertising can instill such cravings in their viewers/readers?
Amid such a tumult of varying values, religion can play a key role in helping establish some consensus and common ground by which we should all live. For a society to endure, we need a core of common values by which we can all live our lifestyles to the collective benefit of all persons.
That is probably the first role of religion, and one that should be espoused in the Week of Prayer. IRO head, Harrypersad Maharaj, launched the Prayer Week by urging listeners to carefully reflect on five key areas of their daily lives — their food, money, time, environment and social circle. While a society grows through its diversity of thought, it also needs a common core of values practised by individual persons in order for it to be a stable collective. Maybe the “Leviathan” that English philosopher Thomas Hobbes once said must stabilise an era when life is “nasty, brutish, and short”, is not a dictator but could be an ideology or even religion?
So religion can establish a list of common values for individuals to live by and so establish a practical self-discipline in each of their lives (such as not having children until they are in a socio-economically stable situation), and in doing so project onto the society a feeling of common empathy.
Secondly, praying can actually be quite therapeutic for the individual. To us it’s no coincidence that many schooldays start with a prayer, likely as a way of settling down and setting up the children positively for the rest of the day.
Thirdly, many faiths teach that prayer can actually lead to divine intervention to avert disasters or to improve conditions in their daily lives. One scriptural verse (2 Chronicles 7:14) portrays a God urging Mankind to turn from its wicked ways, upon which their sin would be forgiven and their land would be divinely healed.
While no editorial can either prove or disprove the occurrence of any act of the divine/supernatural as being effected by prayer, nonetheless we think that if enough people humble themselves, get their lives in order, and are seen to be doing so by the larger society, this in itself can be a hugely positive influence on this society, even apart from any actual divine influence that might directly materialise. We also endorse the call of Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, for citizens to seek God in times of trouble by praying in whatever way they know.