It's been a really bad few weeks for organised religion, hasn't it? I'll tell you right now, I'd hate being part of the Church's PR machinery. With the obvious exception being, naturally, politicians and, well, terrorists, there's only just so much sanctioned cray-cray that people are prepared to consume, let's face it.
Hands up, who has had it up to their eyeballs with news about what has emerged as rather rampant paedophilia in the Catholic Church? But lest we believe that the Catholics have a lock on the shameful stealing of innocence within their ranks, let's hasten to remember that it happens elsewhere. What possible spin can religions of the world come up with now to explain away the madness that has overtaken it? How, for example, to put in perspective that recent bomb blast intended for the Indian consulate in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, that killed seven children in a nearby mosque? Sure, it was a slaughter of innocents not perpetrated by the imams of that mosque, but still. That this could happen, that little children could lose their lives, like this senseless carnage in the first place, in the place where they ostensibly should have been safe, doesn't it seem a little like Allah was caught napping on the job, too? Or is it that deities get a kick out of human sacrifice?
Oh, but why go that far afield to find mayhem at a church? How does one spin that profound and staggering piece of blasphemy right here in our own backyard: the murder of Chad Telfer, by gunmen, at the altar of a church (no less) in Bull Bay, during which, incidentally, a five-year-old - collateral damage, I imagine - was also shot and injured? And lest we mistakenly think the incident occurred at one of our more tepid nominal churches - where the closest Jesus comes by way of visitation is in artists' rendering of Him, sad blue eyes, sacred heart and all, on church walls - please note that it was a Church of God of Prophecy.
It's not the first time that the ugliness of the world has encroached upon the church in Jamaica, of course. The nightly news is filled with vengeance-seeking preachers and members of congregation reporting burglary of heavy-duty church equipment (usually sent down from some fairy godmother sister church) and hard-won building funds (garnered from poor people's tithes, special gifts for widows and orphans, and offerings) seeking the judicious dispensation of 'god justice' in dealing with the culprits.
But back to Bull Bay. How do the church's spin doctors spin this one? Spurting aortas, slapstick viscera and anything else from that ultra-violent scene, which seemed more appropriate for a scene in a Martin Scorsese picture? How do the spin doctors sanitise this grisly blood spatterfest that children attending the vacation Bible school at the time of the incident had to witness? How do they explain it to the children's parents who mistakenly believed their now traumatised children were in the safest possible place they could have been? But most of all, how do they continue to try selling church as a viable alternative for disaffected youth who are being lost every day to the superficial trappings of this technological world? What's the message? It's OK, Jesus won't make you die amidst the horror, just traumatise you a little?
(BTW, does anybody else think tarrying for the Holy Ghost at that altar is going to take on a whole different meaning going forward?)
See, this is why I kind of like the idea of an Old Testament God myself, a fire-breathing, vengeful head case. This is the God the Church should return to selling. But the bill of goods religion - in our case, Christianity, since Judeo-Christianity seems to be Jamaica's default model - tries to sell us these days is that joining the church solves all our problems. But it doesn't, does it? I don't know about you, but I like to realistically manage my expectations. The truth is, believing in a New Age-y, touchy-feely, hippy-dippy New Testament God who is au fait with human foibles and frailty during this post-Axis of Evil era is becoming too much of a chore. If that God is so namby-pamby, mealy-mouthed and wishy-washy, and can do nothing to protect me or my children from the barbarians at the gate, then shouldn't we all just take our chances and invest in handguns and wait for the darkness to completely descend? Seriously, what's the point?
Tell us about the irrational, take-no-prisoners Old Testament God, if you must, so that at least when things go horribly sideways, as they did in that church where Chad Telfer lost his life and scores of children went home understanding, before they needed to, that the world is an evil place, from which no deity can truly protect them.
Listen, I don't want it said that, like Bill Maher, I'm here trying to normalise atheism. (Although I'm unabashedly part of the 'uppity' Maher demographic who think he's the closest thing there is to being the incarnation of a deity.) I respect people like Bill Maher and 73-year-old former Democratic congressman Barney Frank, who was recently on Real Time. The refreshingly candid, self-described "left-handed gay Jew", who acknowledged being a pot-smoking atheist, expressed his disappointment that he wasn't appointed to the open Senate seat in Massachusetts, because he "was looking forward to having my husband, Jim, hold the Constitution, not the Bible, and affirm, not swear, that I was going to be a wonderful senator". Who destroys so many sacred bulls, in one fell swoop, in a country where Judeo-Christianity is the default setting?
I believe in calling a spade a spade, which is something the church is incapable of doing. Where is the backbone and strength of character to say, look, we're just people trying here to do the best we can. We have absolutely no idea who God is. But right is right and wrong, is wrong and although we may not believe that homosexuality is right, we sure as hell won't stand for the murder of a cross-dressing teenager. Jamaica is a Christian nation; well, that's what convention says. We may hold the record for the most churches per square mile, but what's our true religious identity here?
In a technologically advanced time such as we're living in, do Jamaicans still believe that religion, as against, say, the individual, is solely responsible for giving meaning to life?
There are certain so-called firebrand pastors who can only be outspoken on their abhorrence of homosexuality. They blanch at the possibility of the buggery law being repealed. But where do they stand on paedophilia, for example? What's their position on decapitation as standard issue for murders these days? Is murder still even a no-no? Are they willing to lead marches in the streets about these things? But probably they aren't important enough for the church to recognise as cris de coeur, and certainly not when homosexuals in the highways and byways have to be rescued from their iniquity, one reprobate at a time.