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Religion and the moral order

With each passing generation Christian terms become more and more hollow – ‘salvation’, ‘sacraments’, ‘walls of Jericho’, ‘nativity’ etc to name a few. These terms and many more no longer have an echo of familiarity in the minds of Christians.

Terms and expressions which once formed the cornerstone of Christian identity are but a faint echo and in some cases, there is nothing at all. So too is the expression “becoming missionary disciples” – the theme of the almost concluded Catechetical Month (September). The word ‘disciple’ may still evoke some resonance but hardly the word ‘missionary’.

This should not surprise us since the last available census (2011) puts those who are not into institutional religion at 13.3 per cent – a relatively large figure. Add to that the high percentage of nominal Catholics i.e. who have had little or no faith formation, and we could be heading in the direction of a tabula rasa when it comes to Catholic identity.

Yet the very survival of Catholic faith not only as a religion but as a social force demands the renewal of these terms in ways that would resonate with the post-modern generation immersed as they are in a digital world.

At the heart of the word ‘missionary’ is the notion of ‘witness’. A Christian is a witness. This has both a doctrinal and moral component. We are witnesses to someone i.e. Jesus Christ, in a world which wants to hear His name less and less in the public square.

But we are also witnesses to a moral order founded on his name – Christian ethics. When the moral order has significantly collapsed in a country that is 63.5 per cent Christian, and 86.7 per cent religious (belonging to a religious institution) we are looking at a grave failure of religion.

Religion itself is too mired in puerile ‘devotionalism’ which will not generate a renewal of the moral order. Placing national flags, banners, bunting etc. in various parts of the national landscape stretching from Independence to Republic Day has its place, but will not by itself generate nationalism in a country that refuses to sing the words of its own anthem at high-level state functions at which the President and Prime Minister are present.

Nor does it naturally arise among so many who see nothing wrong in hunting animals to extinction, including the Scarlet Ibis; nor among the majority of the population who have resigned into accepting that Tobago will never have a reliable ferry service despite past budgets as grandiose as 70 billion.

What is killing our country is human selfishness with money as the number one diadem in the crown of greed. There needs to be as we celebrate our republican anniversary a less urgent sense of charity and a greater desire for justice and equity; a need for the class consciousness that dominated the years before and shortly after independence.

We need to focus on neglected communities and community development, employ more social workers to our schools, encourage thrift at all levels, reduce pollution and care for the environment.

We need to rebuild a strong moral framework whose soul emerges from the best practices of religion.