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Land of Hope and Glory

By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
April 04, 2008

Last week when I alluded to my double allegiance to Christian and Yoruba religious practices that attended my growing up in Tacarigua I wanted to suggest that religion, be it of the European or African variety, structures our imaginative and emotional lives and how we behave in our society. The English understood what it took to discipline a population and how to make a people see things through their (the colonizers') eyes.

At my primary school, each morning from nine to ten, was devoted to religious education. Under the guidance of the principal, each student was taught the tenets of the Christian religion and we learned our catechisms from the Book of Common Prayer. We were told about the divinity of Jesus Christ, the virtues of the King and how to honor "our betters lowly and reverently." In other words, we were taught to be good servants of the Crown and devoted children of Jesus Christ.

This emphasis on religious training involved a desire to prevent our descent into "savagery" and to teach us to embrace civility. Charles Taylor, a Canadian philosopher, observes that attempts to discipline a population and reduce it to order "almost always had a religious component, [and] required people to hear sermons, or learn catechism." How it could be otherwise, he asks, "in a civilization where good conduct was inseparable from religion?"

There can be no doubt that the senseless murders that occur in the black communities; the descending levels of educational achievement among black students; and the irresponsible attitudes of some of our parents suggest an absence of civility-a lack of concern for our brothers and our sisters--and a lack of empathy for others. We have also failed to feed our people with the spiritual food that is necessary for their existence and/or moral uplift.

If we wish to change this trend we must decide what kind of ideological construct we want to establish to inform the behavior of our young people. It might be argued that any such regeneration must allot a central place to the cultivation of civility in society, beginning with the behavior of our legislators right down to our teachers, our lawyers, and our doctors, just to name a few of the central players that shape behavior in our society.

To be sure, the cultivation of an ordered society involves the development of the arts and sciences and suggests "the development of rational moral self-control; and also, crucially, taste, manners, refinement; in short sound education and polite manners." In fact, what transpired during my growing up was equivalent to the cultivation of our imagination and emotional knowledge and a desire to set some standards that we could take into adulthood.

The hour that the Anglican authorities devoted to religious education had a purpose. They sought to make us more like them, citizens who were committed to their values. Such an ordering produced certain benefits: one could walk peacefully at night; one felt relatively safe in one's home; the criminal element was certainly kept a bay; the arts and sciences flourished and even our carnival served its function. It even allowed us to pour scorn at the social order and for two glorious days to descent into chaos only to return to order and "civility" via our receipt of ashes on Ash Wednesday.

The problem with our contemporary republican order is that we have not outlined an ideological program to fill the vacuum that the colonizers left. Apart from a fleeting nationalism, we have not created any public, religious, cultural or social programs to discipline the minds of our young people and point them to some form of common and/or shared values. Although I am aware that we cannot impose national values by fiat, it is necessary to recognize that part of our continuing problems lay in our inability to cultivate our social, cultural and religious capital and set certain standards for our young people.

Man, as the Bible says, cannot live by bread alone.

We may not have liked colonialism-and none of us wishes that those days never return-- but the British did an excellent job of indoctrinating its subjects though its schools and its churches. Even at sixty five, I can still remember the British patriotic song, "Land of Hope and Glory, Mother of the Free,/How shall we extol thee, who are born of thee? Wider still and wider shall thy bounds be set;/ God, who made thee mighty, make thee mightier yet," that was rammed down our throats.

The British recognized that you trained a child as you wanted it to grow and these values never left no matter how old a person became. Today, I am not too sure if there is any patriotic song, anthem or catechism that a Trinbagonian child will remember or any set of positive values that would excite his imagination when he reaches sixty five.

As we survey the contemporary scene, we might not be wrong if we opined, the problem, dear Brutus, lies more in our mode of indoctrination than in the amount of guns that pass through our country.

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