Jamaica Gleaner
Published: Thursday | November 15, 2012
Home : Commentary
So many Christianities, so little reason
Dr Ethon Lowe, Contributor

AND IT came to pass that a recent census revealed that Jamaicans are fleeing the traditional churches (Anglican, Roman Catholic, etc.) and flocking the newer denominations (Seventh-day Adventist, Pentecostal, etc.).

In a country notorious for its soaring crime and noted for its religious madness (is there a connection?), there are now accusations of sheep stealing (not to be confused with another Jamaican proclivity of goat stealing). Traditional churches, they say, are too formal, staid and boring and there is more need to get in the spirit (whatever that means) by being more vocal with hallelujahs, amens and freedom of expressions. Others blame it on differences in doctrine. Unlike Baptist, Seventh-day Adventist and Pentecostal churches, which do not baptise infants, Methodist, Roman Catholic and Anglican churches do - subjecting unknowing and uncomprehending infants to the faith by a sprinkling of water and a brief verbal incantation called baptism. A pastor of the United Pentecostal Church, one of the front-runners, states almost gloatingly that "their explosion in numbers is the work of God through men".

Catholic attempt to catch sheep

With their flocks dwindling, and already mired in sex scandals, the Roman Catholic Church's practice of praying to the Virgin Mary and belief in purgatory - where the soul of the dead person who has not repented must be purified before ascending into heaven - do not endear it to believers. To improve its image, it recently launched a programme, 'Year of the Faith". Along these lines, may I humbly suggest that their belief in transubstantiation, which is the literal belief that the communion wafer and wine are the body and blood of Christ, be modernised to attract more sheep. For the health conscious, how about a communion wafer with half the fat and a third less calories? They can call it 'I can't believe it's not Jesus'.

Christianity has shown an infinite capacity to multiply and morph to fit its environment. A religion that is incompatible with its culture would be unintelligible and, therefore, unappealing. Our local churches which promote handclapping, jumping up and lively music would appeal to a people renowned for their physicality and dancehall culture. In the United States of America, the result can be as wacky as the prosperity gospel of Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes, as well as the Scum Of The Earth Church based in Denver, Colorado, for freaks and misfits. It can also accommodate the non-existence of God as in the Death Of God Theology in the 1960s (my favourite) - an oxymoron, if there ever was one.

A divided religion

In my view, there is no such thing as a single unified global Christianity; but instead, many different local denominations as in Jamaica, which, however, often do not recognise each other, accept each other, or even comprehend each other. The term 'the Christian Church' is a misnomer. As an entity it does not exist. There is a plethora of denominations, organisations and even an army - the Salvation Army. Many are poles apart in theology and practice. They are antithetical in many ways but one: they each worship the God of the Bible.

Although religious belief is waning in many countries, especially among the educated classes, the religious instinct is still wired in the human mind in some of us. The fear of death, the desire for meaning and the need for moral structure all contribute to our nature to be religious. Despite the ebbing of its moral authority, even the most cynical of religious critics have acknowledged the church's role in sustaining, for better or for worse, the moral fabric of society.

Forget those boring soporific sermons. If hallelujahs and jumping up will impress the Almighty and secure a place in heaven, well, why not? Hoping, of course, that there is a God and your money is on the right God.

Send comments to columns@gleanerjm.com or ethonlowe@gmail.com.

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