Columns

The rise and fall of the Christian religions

Anthony Gomes

Wednesday, October 31, 2012    

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The Population and Housing Census of 2011 reported a decline in the national relationship concerning the manner of Christian worship, along with an increase in the number of disaffected people no longer associated with a religious lifestyle. This trend is but a microcosm of the general direction prevalent in the Western world, fuelled by excessive liberalism, whose nefarious effects are secularism, materialism and unethical human behaviour that has spawned the current Great Recession.

Coincidently, the belief in Christianity is waning while the numbers of converts to Islam are increasing and now exceed worldwide those of Roman Catholics, the largest Christian religion. Within the realm of Christian beliefs, the movement away from formal religious worship to a more relaxed and expressive form of prayerful activity is gaining popularity. This style has come to be known as Generic Christianity, in which the participants worship Jesus Christ in their own way. This is at variance with the fundamental Christian religions, who believe that Jesus Christ has clearly specified in the scriptures how he is to be worshipped, which forms the basis of Christian practice in formal religious churches. Comforted by the generosity of Jesus Christ's prerogative that: "there are many rooms in my father's mansion", Generic Christianity continues to strengthen and grow.

Roman Catholicism was at its peak when Pope John Paul II, was in office. He launched the Vatican II Council of Churches which brought the Roman Catholic Church into a new era of its existence, and this impacted universally the future direction of the church in the turbulent times ahead, including the rise of radical Islamists on their Jihadist mission. There are those conservatives who still hold the view that within the liturgy based on the Latin Rite of the Roman Catholic Church, the freedom of expression has been permitted too wide a parameter, resulting in cases of personal interpretation of the doctrine. This even occurs in the Canon of the Holy Mass, which in earlier times was sacrosanct and inviolable to change from the Latin rite.

The census reported that "in 2001, 2,050,771 were spread across 21 religious associations, while 572,008 had no religious affiliation. In 10 years the number of religious persons rose by 70,684 or 3.5 per cent while non-affiliated persons rose by 28,106 or 1.4 per cent, indicating a modest increase in the number of disaffected individuals". As approximately two million people claimed some form of religious affiliation, Jamaica can still be referred to as a religious country.

The variation in numbers of religious people attending Christian churches reflects the greater freedom of thought and life expectations principally among young people who tend to be more comfortable with a less authoritarian style of worship. However, the work of carrying out Christ's mission on earth should be recognised by the beneficial activities of the Christian churches that administer to their flock, so you will "know the nature of the tree by the fruit it bears".

The Roman Catholic Church, for example, has shown a significant decline of 49.7 per cent from 1960 to 2011, a troubling change in which sex scandals have taken a heavy toll among the faithful. However, the task of doing Christ's work continues apace, principally in the Catholic schools that account for 33 per cent of the educational institutions in Jamaica. The exalted reputation of such schools as Campion College, St George's College, Stella Maris Prep and Immaculate Conception High School speak for themselves. This is not to overlook the other outstanding merciful interventions by such orders as Missionaries of the Poor, among other social groups like Food for the Poor. This list is not exhaustive.

Archbishop Charles Dufour observed "that the Roman Catholic Church in Jamaica needs to, like the Roman Catholic Church in Africa that is growing, indigenise its worship if it is to stop the freefall in membership numbers. If we could inculcate some of that, we would whip up our people to be a part of what we are". The recent visit of His Grace Charles Palmer-Buckle, the Archbishop of Accra, Ghana, may have contributed to Archbishop Dufour's view. His Grace Palmer-Buckle said: "The church in Africa is making greater effort to be more "African" and less European. That means putting off the unessential European trappings, Western cultural trappings, and putting in place cultural values that would vehicle the same message of our Lord Jesus Christ." It is reported that he shares concern over the rising tide of secularism and atheism which has transformed Europe, once the cradle of global evangelism, almost into Christianity's graveyard. Church attendance is dwindling in Europe and many places of worship are fast becoming merely places of architectural and historical interest.

The genesis of "indigenisation" already exists at the Stella Maris Catholic Church in Kingston, where the church's steel band plays regularly during weekend masses. On special feast days, dancers perform in the body of the Church during the service. In addition, the church's outreach programme operates several missions that are very active in bringing relief and goodwill to prisoners, street people and feeding the poor that account for a major part of the charitable works administered by the community. The main challenge for the Roman Catholic Church at present is the recruitment of seminarians as the number of priests continues to decline. However, we believe that the Lord will eventually provide more "workers for his vineyard", a quest that applies to all Christian religions.

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