Monday, January 22, 2018

Reaffirm the role of spirituality

 Despite his fundamentalist language, Government Minister and pastor Rodger Samuel has made an important contribution to the debate on crime. His literalist views on religion are not likely to win many adherents.

However, his emphasis on God, God’s law, and spirituality in general has direct relevance for our nation. It is precisely because we have become a secular society without all the institutions and values of a mature democratic society that we are in this mess today. We desperately need to re-invent a world view or common philosophy wherein we can all recognise our common humanity, civic duties, common needs and obligations to our nation.

Most societies believe in some concept of God, some creation myth, some system of law and clear responsibilities to its people/citizens.

Without a commitment to a religion, spirituality, legal system or philosophy, one’s life is barren of meaning and one is adrift like straw in the wind. Those who condemn the idea of religion on the altar of a materialist science ignore the fact that science deals only with material entities and, thus, can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God, essentially a non-material entity.

One cannot turn to science for love or compassion. What is vitally important to recognise is belief in a transcendent deity is a universal phenomenon. Whether you agree or not with such a belief is irrelevant. It is the effect of such a belief on the believer that is important.

In its positive aspects, religious belief has given coherence and stability to society throughout the ages. It is at the basis of Western civilisation and western values, including democracy. Its negative aspect is reflected in earlier historical cruelties inflicted in the name of religion. 

Nevertheless, there is convincing empirical and anecdotal proof believers in all religions are generally happier, more serene, kinder, live longer and are more trustworthy than non-believers. Believers constitute the bedrock on which the structure of social norms, values and laws of their society is erected. That is why believers are less likely to be criminals than non-believers.

Our criminals believe in nothing but greed, selfishness, cruelty, injustice and violence against their fellow citizens. They are rapidly destroying the moral fabric of our nation. They are like weeds grown in toxic soil without proper care or nutrition.

Neuroscience tells us violent criminals usually possess a smaller and undeveloped neocortex—the site of rationality, the only brain part that can restrain the violent impulses coming from another brain part, the amygdala. This latter responds to danger by the flight-or-fight syndrome. It has assisted the evolution of man by increasing his awareness to external danger.

When we give way to anger and engage in fights or commit murder, we are being controlled by the amygdala. When we immediately withdraw into ourselves as a pattern of behaviour whenever faced with conflict, we are also being controlled. The appropriate response that would come from a functioning neocortex is to be reflective, objective, rational and moral in our behaviour.

 Neuroscience has pointed out violent criminals are generally brain damaged in some way. Brain damage, of course, cannot be used by criminals as a justification for their criminality. Pastor Samuel is correct to use the metaphors of Satan and satanic behaviour to describe their motivation, for their thoughts, values and actions all fall within the category of “evil”.

Simply put, murderers, especially gang killers, are evil and should be treated as such. We should not be tole­rating the presence of gangs in our midst. We do not need them. They should be extirpated as quickly as possible. The Romans would have eliminated them immediately.

The tragedy of T&T is that murder and acting out one’s violent thoughts has become legitimate because our police forces are relatively inefficient because of educational deficits, poor training, lack of effective resources and inadequate leadership.

It is comforting that a large section of our population is law abiding and kind, the consequence of believing in a God. We need to re-affirm the great importance of spirituality and religion for restoring and strengthening the moral fabric of our demoralised society and the lives of its citizens. It should begin in the home, addressed in the school, and emphasised by civic leaders.

I refer to religion as any otherworldly view of life. I think of spirituality as a continuing search for ways to improve the moral quality of one’s life.

Kenneth Assee

Port of Spain