Submitted by Dr.George Brathwaite
“The rules of morality are not the conclusion of our reason.” – David Hume.
The history of Christianity in Barbados is just as long as it is dotted with prejudices and injustices (even beyond unashamed support for slavery). It so happens that contemporary Barbados is being pressured and systematically assessed by groups of persons – self-referencing Christians – believing that they alone have a monopoly on ideas and that theirs is the right and only way the country ought to be governed. More directly, it is coming across in Barbados that these Christian religious actors (both from the traditional mainstream and the later evangelical conflations), more so than any other religious group or corresponding institution believe that their intimate association with the Holy Bible gives them a superior place in exercising moral authority.
It is not unusual to hear some religious zealots speak with pious authority regarding the choices being made by individuals in society. Many persons to this day are convinced that choice alongside love are the two greatest gifts given to humankind. It is precisely why once colonised people like us here in Barbados, relish our freedoms to choose. Barbadians are highly unlikely to submit to any level of control being promulgated by religious leaders and other elites which suggest that the state must implement arbitrary and robust practices in a quest to curb deviance and forms of dislocation between law and order.
It becomes very disturbing therefore, when Reverend Dr. Lucille Baird can take herself as being serious in relation to offering solutions on ways to mitigate the crime situation in Barbados. The Barbados Advocate reports that in a demonstration of vitriolic unease against the social reality of a ‘block culture’ in Barbados, Baird made a declaration that is fundamentally flawed even in the context of Christian thinking. Baird proclaims that: “We have to wash these blocks. We can’t be reactive; we have to [be] proactive. If two people are sitting together, break it up … if three people are together, break it up. Before it becomes a big colossal giant that we can’t kill. It becomes a place of growing crime and criminal behaviour.” I wonder what ever happened to love thy neighbour as thyself, and teach a child the way it should go.
In just over a month, Barbados would be celebrating its 50th anniversary of attaining Independence from Britain. It is therefore reprehensible that at this time, we are being served up a holier than thou meal wanting Barbadians subscribe to a diet of authoritarianism and the severe denial of constitutional rights. The citizen cherishes his or her freedoms inclusive of those legal safeguards allowing for association and to live peacefully without harassment from the state.
Now this writer is acutely aware that the state is a social construction and is intended to legitimately ameliorate the affairs of human kind. Given our democratic practices in Barbados, and the potency of our Constitution and body of laws, legitimacy is arguably best perceived as being the authentic measure of government’s efficacy and life. This legitimacy must therefore rest on the consent of the governed. In the annals of political science, there is a view that the ‘State is not just a set of physical structures, institutions, laws, territory and the citizens who give their allegiance to it, but a mode of thought and being in which life and activity is controlled and channelled into centralised systems of authority’. If we can accept this claim, it reasons that no single group in contemporary Barbados ought to have monopoly claim to what happens in terms of governance.
We all abhor the prevalence of crime, and many right thinking Barbadians are extremely concerned about drugs and gun violence. Barbadians want to see the appropriate policies put in place, and generally, Barbadians have been calling for better economic circumstances to drive their individual and collective development both at the personal and national levels. We all want our children to grow into good people, but ideas of this ‘good’ vary considerably. For some Barbadians, good children are obedient, respectful and patriotic; and for others, good children are free-thinking, independent and egalitarian preferring to assemble and ‘lime’ on the blocks.
Nevertheless, the persons that are 18 years and older, and registered to vote in Barbados are not all Christians. The electorate is essentially comprised of persons fitting different characteristics which would of necessity place them in majority or minority groupings. Even with such a natural segmentation, it is imperative that all persons must be fairly and justly treated in the scheme of things. Perhaps unwittingly, Baird appealed for the encroachment upon people’s rights, and for the state to act ultra vires. One does not know for certain since opportunists and impressionists also have legitimate rights to share their opinions in public. However, they do not have the right to impose any measures or determine the values that members of the society must conform.
Maybe today’s Christian leaders have preference for preaching down from the pulpit rather than gathering at the street corners and the so-called blocks where sinners are said to be present. This observation was alluded to by Baird when she regretted that: “Some are watering down the gospel for membership … Promiscuity and immorality are rampant. As a church we must repent for not speaking up against the ills of society. We’re keeping quiet when we should be speaking. The Church must know its role. The Church must pray earnestly because prayer works. Preach earnestly that Jesus is still Lord and saviour of Barbados and preserve the Christian and traditional values of the nation.”
It is a reasonable assumption that instead of calling for the banning of blocks, Baird would better serve her country by joining other civic leaders calling for the addressing of serious issues which are springing up and abounding in our school system. The school is a major and early institution of socialisation and far precedes the block and its culture. In fact, schools are both controlled environments and moral institutions, designed to promote social norms. The principals/teachers in the nation’s schools are moral agents. In effect, principals and teachers on a daily basis must make decisions that favour one moral value over another. Moreover, schools in theory are dedicated to the well-being of children, and the result is that students become influenced by the teachers’ conduct.
Thus, it is to that environment that Baird ought to place her energies. Baird can avoid the stern judgement call that lacks moral fibre, for instance, when she suggested that: “We endorse the bashment and wukup spirit and open the door to the other spirits. We have to close the door on bashment and wukup and say not with our country, not with our youth, and take back our country, our streets and our communities.” Clearly, the religious figure fails to accept that the development of culture is dynamic and that norms change over time and under a host of conditions. In fact, it is argued that “norms matter in a constitutive, interest-shaping way” which are influenced by social, economic, and political realities confronting members of the given polity or society.
Indeed, it is acceptable that Rev. Baird recognises the interrelationships of economics and the sociology of social organisation and living, although she remains contradictorily dismissive: “We are importing most of our food and they [mostly young people] are on the blocks sitting down all day long? They can work! Plant potatoes, cassava, yam and eddoes. And not the other thing.” Agriculture ought not to be projected as a panacea for eliminating the social ills happening in Barbadian society. A pertinent question is how far will Rev Baird go in leading the way to plant crops and till the fields? The fact is, rather than bringing enmity or chaos to the block, Rev Baird may be better positioned and challenged to go into schools and plant her seeds of right and hope for a better world. The block ought not to attract the top-down and prejudicially laced insistence to ‘do as I say but not as I do’.
(Dr. George C. Brathwaite is a part-time lecturer in Political Science at the UWI-Cave Hill Campus, a researcher and political consultant, and up until recently, he was editor of Caribbean Times (Antigua). Email: email@example.com )