Saturday, December 01, 2007
A Sense of Moral and Spiritual Affirmation
This year’s celebration of Racial Justice Day was poignant because of the commemoration of the Bicentenary of the legal termination of Slavery, a human event that left a blot on the conscience of humanity.
As a devout Catholic in British Guiana, my siblings and I, along with our parents and grandparents, conducted weekly devotions as part of our moral and spiritual traditions. The family comprised variations in faiths ranging from Catholicism, Congregationalism and Episcopal Orthodoxy to the acceptance and tolerance of other faiths, mostly Hinduism and Islam, with a sprinkling of Buddhism and an increasing Lay group of churches. Such was the fertility and groundswell of faiths that became the embodiment of our lives.
As children, we learnt the lessons of imperial conquest, slavery, indentureship and emancipation which resulted in my family having the distinction of being polytechnic; that is, African, Chinese, Indian and Portuguese, a fertile blend that is widely reflective of the overall cultural tapestry of the Caribbean and its diasporic communities in Britain, Europe, North America and elsewhere.
We experienced the birth-pains of Adult Suffrage, the challenges of Political Independence and the ongoing struggle to attain (participative and representative) democracy against the backdrop of a very hostile landscape – both geographically and politically. We learnt to overcome hate, despair, intolerance, bigotry and aggression by the relentless pursuit of excellence. Exposed to other another world in our travels, we were frustrated if not mystified, by the legacies of hate, prejudice and despair which we thought had evaporated.
In the Western environment, we are taught that rituals and symbols are everything and yet, in the religious sphere we have latent contradictions as we seek to reconcile individual (for the few) with the collective aspirations (of the many). And whilst the centuries preceding the 20th century were filled with wars of attrition, in the 21st century we are faced with seemingly, intractable problems of a religious and spiritual nature.
However, many of today’s conflicts have their genesis in the lack of moral and spiritual affirmation; that is, the inability to find sustainable approaches to conflict resolution and their causation. Stereotypes, based on pigmentation and texture, are relived and perpetrated whenever there is a crisis of one sort or another. It is as if humans have a process of selection that is based on conflict and the destruction of themselves in the `loaned’ Universe.
Studies of different religions have highlighted a catalogue of challenges that confronted Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and other religious adherents throughout the ages. Many of these events were played out to maximum effect, to exert control over susceptible adherents or followers of a particular faith or sect. Thus ongoing conflicts in parts of Central Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and the Indian-sub continent, all bear resemblance of nearly two centuries of warfare involving land, property, money and ideologies. Despite advances in science and technology and the evolution of modern democratic institutions and systems, humanity is still prey to prejudices and injustices of all kinds. So the question is, can we safely create a foundation of moral and spiritual affirmation in all of this?
In the formative years often described as the `good old days’, there have been (instructive)examples of abiding love for the individual and collective, respect for authority with reason and fairly balanced relations between the Church, the State and civic society. Today, such norms have become almost alien, as the slavish mentality of individualism has taken root. The fulfilment of humanity's quest for a definitive moral and spiritual compass is underpinned by the traditional I Am. As far as religion is concerned, leaders, believers and observers tend to collide because of variations in concept, tone, substance and practice. In such a myriad of contradictions, how can humans nourish the imperishable doctrine of spiritual affirmation? Can philosophy help in this affair? May be it is worth heeding the teachings of some of the world’s noblest moral and spiritual teachers whose leadership by example and precept, remain invaluable in our time.
Invoking the tenets of the United Nations Conference Against Racism in 2001, in South Africa, Dr. Hazel Campayne, asserted Article 104 of the Assembly, “We strongly reaffirm that as a pressing requirement of justice that victims of human rights violations should be assured of having access to justice including the right to seek just and adequate satisfaction for any damage suffered as a result”.
In stressing the importance of atonement, the World Council of Churches recognised that Biblical principles were at the heart of this issue as well. The process towards reconciliation therefore is guided by Luke 19: 8, Matthew 5: 23-24; and Matthew 22: 34-40. The call to churches is what the WCC contends as the engagement of `truth-telling’ (WCC 2001).
In his address to Cameroonians in the mid-1980s, Pope John Paul II, having reminded his listeners that Christianity defend freedom and the inalienable rights of persons, said, “In the course of history, men belonging to Christian nations unfortunately have not always acted in this way and we ask forgiveness from our African brothers who have suffered so much; for example, because of the slave trade. Nevertheless, the Gospel continues to make its unequivocal appeal (1985).
The theme for this year’s Racial Justice Day was, `Go to a land I will show you’, Genesis 12:1, it is important that all faiths, their adherents and supporters work with State institutions and other agencies to resolve discrimination, persecution and other injustices meted out to minority communities the world over. Overwhelming evidence suggests that the economic strength and vitality of industrialised nations are due in part, to the labours of settlers and their families, a fact that has been witnessed since the beginning of the 20th century and before.
In his 1984 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech, Rev Dr. Desmond Tutu, a tireless campaigner for social justice and peace, reaffirmed the words of Christ on cleansing the soul by encouraging people of each other as they want to be treated themselves, quoting (Matthew 7: 12). He acknowledged that God shares laughter, joy and reconciliation so that the kingdoms of this world will become the Kingdom of all the heavens (Revelation 7: 9).
Mahatma Gandhi whose non-violent campaign led to `Home Rule’ for India amidst conflict, contended that `Moral authority is never retained by any attempt to hold on to it. It comes without seeking and is retained without effort. Justice will, come when it is deserved by our being and feeling strong. Peace will not come out of clash of arms but out of justice lived and done by unarmed nations in the face of odds.”
The Buddhist teachings which promote racial equality affirm that, "The idea of anatta (non-self) breaks down the divisions between individuals. Race is often defined according to a fixed set of ideas of what people in other cultures behave like, or believe. Such fixed ideas are often the cause of racial stereotypes".
Indeed, the future of Racial Justice Policy remains in our hands; that means governments, the church and civil society including our children. We are challenged by our doctrine to spread the Gospel of Divine Justice. If we can only summon our collective wills and consciences to find the path to moral and spiritual affirmation, there is a greater likelihood of strengthening global political cultures, economic systems of governance and cultural and social value processes which traditionally, should be our aim to cherish and preserve.
Let the 21st century be an era of reaffirming faith in humanity. Let it not be another period of mindless ritualism and blind symbolism. Instead, let it be a period in which we dedicate our efforts towards helping the powerless and others who are disadvantaged, to achieve (more than just) their individual potential. Trying to accomplish this illusive goal will undoubtedly be a formidable challenge, but like any new product or service, it is not only the price that matters, but its durability that remains essential to consumers from all backgrounds.