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A reply to the Trinity Cross issue

The Issue of The Trinity, revisited By Linda E. Edwards

By Corey Gilkes
June 08, 2006

I have no doubt and am certain that Ms Edwards is correct in her assertions that certain elements within Trinidad's Hindu and (perhaps less) the Muslim community are pushing a narrow agenda with regard to the re-naming of this nation's highest award. This agenda, apparently, goes back quite a long time to the early days of the Federation when certain high-ranking elements in the Hindu community organised a petition to the colonial authorities in London in an attempt to delay the granting of the Federation fearing that their culture would be overwhelmed by a dominant Afri-Caribbean culture.

But let's hold up a bit and ponder a few things; things that were (inadvertently?) pointed out by Ms Edwards herself.

She argues:
"Trinidad and Tobago is a Christian country, in that Mosaic law, obtained from the Ten Commandments, is the basis of the laws of the land. All that pertain to man in the conduct of his affairs with his neighbour, except covetousness, is covered by Mosaic law. Covetousness as it leads to muggings, burglaries, adultery resulting in murder, are covered after the fact of outcome."

"Mosaic law also dictates most of what Muslims do, but what was taught in the making of a Trinidadian, what the Golden Rule teaches, is based on Christian principles."

"These were the principles, founded on four hundred and more years of Christianity on the island that we took into Independence.
Well, forgive me if I'm not impressed by this. In fact, for me, who no longer subscribes to or approves of any of the major religions, that is the real crux of the problem. The notion that Trinidad and Tobago is a 'Christian' country which, in reality (and fortunately), it is not. For me, a student and 'teacher' of the lessons of the history of this place, the fact that Trinidad and many other parts of the Caribbean is founded on Christian principles is no cause for romanticised reflections. That is why, for instance, I also didn't think much of her flippant 'Granted that under British and Spanish rule a whole lot of barbaric things were done in the name of God' It is as if these 'barbaric things' were little more than a hiccup or minor blot in the evolution of Trinidad and Caribbean societies.

Let's get something very clear here; those 'barbaric things' are precisely what shaped and developed our political, social, intellectual and yes, religious outlook in the Caribbean. Those acts of barbarism gave us 'doctor politics', maximum leadership and our sense of almost unquestioned acceptance of expressions and abuses of power by politicians, priests, pastors, ordinary people in government and private businesses, the neighbour who plays loud music next door, etc. Slave societies and colonial states are ruled and kept in control by essentially one main thing, violence. Let's get something else very clear; this country and the rest of the Americas were founded on Christian principles at the expense of all other principles using a sustained process of physical and psychological violence. The settlers, missionaries and soldiers who carved out an existence for themselves in this part of the world were guided by allegedly divine principles which saw the world, nature (especially nature) and people who did not belong to or share their religious views as the dangerously hostile Others. Contrary to what many like to delude themselves into believing, no religion, including Christianity, is devoid of their parent cultural context. Christianity deserves special mention and focus because from its very beginnings it has a signature of intolerance and bigotry towards other faiths, including alternative Christian ideas not in keeping with what became accepted doctrine in Rome (for political reasons and political reasons only). Roman-influenced Christianity has always defined itself in opposition to other faiths and treated them as mortal enemies or at the very least, with condescending accommodation largely because it no longer had the military clout to crush the 'hostile' Others.

It should be noted, by the way, that those 'religious, Christian principles' were themselves taken from more ancient pre-Christian principles of the African Nile Valley and the Indus and Tigris-Euphrates cultures. There irony here is that after having copied what they wanted the architects of early Christian doctrines and rituals turned on and suppressed these same 'pagan' faiths and structured scholarship to make it appear that these principles were Christian in their origin, emanated from the teachings of the Jesus Christ character of the New Testament when nothing like that at all took place. The very 10 Commandments Ms Edwards spoke about had ancient Egyptian roots over 4000 years before any Christianity or Mosaic Law existed.

That this country was founded on Christian principles simply means that the colonisers imposed their narrow middle-class and very prejudiced views of religion, class and non British peoples. Ms Edwards forgot to point out (or perhaps slipped that under the 'barbaric acts') that the British authorities spared no effort to make all colonised people conform to their ideas of government, schooling, family and family values and the principal institution that pushed these ideals was the Church. A perusal of historical documents by 18th and 19th century colonial administrators like Lord Harris and the many missionaries who infected here shows that they had no sympathy for or understanding of traditional African and Indian beliefs and neither did they want to. These were primitive, childlike superstitions from childlike people as far as they were concerned. There was no question of equality in religion; there was no automatic recognising of Hindu or Orisa beliefs, marriages, funerals and philosophies. Otherwise the spiritual leaders of both these faiths would have been permitted to conduct marriages and funerals long before.

The flip side of her argument that this country was founded, structured and shaped according to the Christian outlook is that to that end, any diverse views were routinely marginalised and not consulted in the framing of such things like national awards.

We must always keep this at the back of our minds when any discussion or question of religion or society in the Caribbean comes up.

It is this that most impacts on the minds of Sat and the rest of the Maha Sabha organisation as it also impacts on the minds of many other people like the Orisa faith and rightly so. Theirs is a history of being invisible and of being outcast and we can't just sweep that away. It's no use either to point out that we have been independent since 1962 and so the acts of the colonial administration are no longer relevant. Our own educated and political elite were almost to a man schooled and churched in Eurocentric institutions and in fact many studied in places like Oxford. Therefore, they could not help but see the world through the eyes of the coloniser as indeed, we do too. As such, they retained many of the laws, dress and prejudices "consciously and unconsciously" of the British and that is what this issue is really about.

When studying the debilitating effects of physical and psychological violence justified by race and class prejudice in the Caribbean, we have to move away from images of the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow and look at the contents of our secular laws and religious (read Christian) teachings. The physical and psychological violence of British rule instilled a profound state of fear, self-doubt and self-contempt and disempowerment which has been dealt with many time in other columns and writings so I find it real hard to fathom how is it people still believe that the same institutions that were constructed to enslave you can be used to realise your freedom. This issue of the renaming of the Trinity Cross and perhaps other national awards, is, or should be a golden opportunity for all of us to discuss the hidden wounds that have been allowed to fester and retard our growth as a nation. Let us use it well.