God vs The State
I’ve always questioned the priority we place on religion and it’s formal institutions. As a country, we give a significant amount of latitude to the christian denomination and I for one have never fully understood why. There seems to be this assumption that every single citizen within a so called “christian nation” shares the ideology and value systems of christians. This is fallacious at best.
Recently, the General Manager of the Urban Development Coorperation (UDC) was quoted as saying the state would perhaps need to claim lands, currently owned by the Anglican church, in furtherance of plans for urban expansion and development. To my utter dismay there has been condemnation of the General Manager’s comments. From what I gathered, persons are concerned that there was no dialogue on the matter and the government seemed to be taking a unilateral approach to seizing lands. Having listened to the arguments of those opposed to such a move, I’ve concluded that the real issue is not that the state is being unilateral, but rather, we are having a hard time accepting that the institution of the church is being subjected to the same treatment that so many other entities within the society have had to face. You see, for so long, we’ve placed the church outside of the rule of law, we’ve exalted and exempted the church from so much, that we cannot now see the wisdom in the UDC’s proposal.
I’ve repeatedly called for an end to the tax exemptions churches enjoy. It is my considered opinion that churches should be made to pay property taxes, where they don’t, and even income taxes where it can be proven that there is a sufficient and taxable income. Why should churches be exempt? Some of these institutions are little more than mega corporations geared at constructing massive structures and lining the pockets of those who claim to be “holy”. Particularly the ones that pop up out of no where with some man or woman who recently lost his or her job and now suddenly sees the “light”. Clearly these people are taking advantage of gullible folks who simply want something to believe in. If the state had proposed to bulldoze people’s houses and seize their lands, as is the case in so many instances in Jamaica, would we have had the same outcry? If the state had proposed to move a Lodge building or a building where atheists gather, would we have had an issue with that? Would we have been so concerned that the UDC is acting unilaterally? Absolutely not. The difference in this situation is that the almighty church is being threatened.
I’m not convinced that the church should be so exalted, the church does not reflect the sentiments of all Jamaicans. In fact, in a democracy that ought to encourage and foster diversity, the exalted role we give to the church only serves to alienate and subject other beliefs and opinions. Have you ever wondered why we tolerate preachers on the bus? Have you ever stopped to question why we put up with the nuisance and noise, the spitting and general messages of hell and damnation? Never mind the fact that people have paid their money for a ride from point A to point B, they did not pay to attend church, never mind the fact that not all the persons on this PUBLIC mode of transportation are interested in the message. No. Never mind any of that. It is the church and we ought to be silent and listen. If I ever get into a position to legislate, that will be the first thing I criminalise. If an atheist brought his message against God’s existence on the bus, we’d be quick to condemn his message, but we excuse the church, we exempt the church.
The belief in a God is a personal thing and it is high time we stop treating it as an institution of state or worse, a general sentiment. The state should never find itself at the mercy of the church. This is a recipe for disaster. We must resist legislators who use their own moral beliefs to decide how they should pass laws. If we are to believe that this is a representative government, then these people should represent the general sentiments of the population, being very mindful of minority groups of course. Instead, we’ve allowed the church to complicate matters such as capital punishment and abortion. At one point in my own life, I had a general objection to abortion on religious grounds and then it slowly dawned on me that if the mother does not believe in what I believe in, she should have the right to choose what she believes is in her best interest. My beliefs shouldn’t force her to accept something she doesn’t want to. She should be able to make a decision about what happens to her body and with respect to her reproductive health. Any self respecting democracy should advocate for a complete and total separation between church and state. While I’m launching this broadside on the church, I should mention this other issue I have. There is a massive red cross on the hillside in Portmore and I would be very interested in knowing if the church owns that expanse of hillside, and if they don’t, why did the parish council give them permission to mount that cross there? I find it offensive and intrusive. The church should keep it’s message and it’s symbols within the confines of it’s buildings, let those who want to hear the message attend there. Not all of us want a glowing red cross hanging over us.
Democracy is dynamic and ever changing while the church is dogmatic and static. If we allow the church to continue to dictate to the state, then we will find ourselves in a society that is hostile to individual thought and opinions. We risk creating a society that will exclude all minority views and anyone who chooses to be different. I’m not prepared to base people’s rights and freedoms on faith and what I believe.
But I’ve digressed.
National development is everybody’s business and if the state needs some of the massive expansive of lands that the Anglican church owns, I say the state ought to take it. The church should be more than happy to assist in facilitating urban development and expansion. The UDC’s General Manager stated that what is needed is an amendment to the UDC Act which would make it easier for the state to acquire lands it may need. I understand this to mean the state would be going about this in a lawful manner and not in the thuggish way so many have tried to classify it. So long as the acquisition of lands does not affect the building of the church and so long as the state respects the right of the church building to be present, I see nothing wrong with the UDC claiming portions of church property to assist in development. If it’s acceptable to take lands from citizens and other entities, then it must be acceptable to take lands from the church.
I’m sure the fanatics are lining up to take aim at me. The mic is now open, go ahead. I doubt it will change my mind though, the State should treat the church as it would treat any other institution.