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Sermon on the month

By Terry Joseph
September 28, 2002

After decades of suffering from logic-intolerance, local politics took a turn for the worse this past month, extant issues replaced on the hustings by unbridled bacchanal which, like greed and race, found equal space.

But verily I say unto you, brothers and sisters, these are the ways of the world, as we shall this day see, in looking at excerpts from the politics of others, wherein great similarities occurred.

Consider this scenario: “The nation was upside down. One political party had been in public places assaulting the values of another. People stood on platforms, violently gesticulating and calling each other derogatory names.

“Some favoured the policy of one party, others went for the opposing group. There were great moral questions involved but these did not bother them at all. The only issues that seemed of interest were those concerning money for themselves.

“Enterprises and projects mounted by the incumbent risk being scuttled each time a new party comes into power. Labourers (and in our case, State Boards) go down, thrown out of employment and the whole nation suffers on every occasion this change comes about.

“Hold a convention (or commission of inquiry) said some, for in all ages, such a manoeuvre had been a panacea for public evils. They convened and having assembled there, some cried one thing and some another. Some wanted to denounce certain things, while others wanted to resolve issues. After a while, a speaker of integrity takes the floor but they soon hiss him down and the confusion rises into worse uproar.

“While there are honest men, true men of all faiths, who stand in both political parties pledging to serve the nation in the best possible way, it is not the rule. For most, it is a mere contest between those who are trying to stay in power and those bent on getting in at the expense of the lot currently there.

“There are, of course, a number of tenets that may be observed by the voter. Firstly, the mission should be to set oneself against all political falsehood, as the most monstrous lies ever told in this nation have been uttered during elections. You listen to one side and the others are called thieves, they meanwhile referring to the first group as scoundrels.

“Prominent candidates are denounced as renegade and inebriate. A small lie will start in the corner of a pamphlet and keep on running until it has captured the front pages of respected newspapers nationwide.

“The poor man will stand at the polls bewildered, possibly now voting for those whom he has been—over the past month— vociferously denouncing, perhaps doing either or both things only for the money.

“Of the millions already spent on this election, how much do you suppose has been properly used? Candidates have a right to spend money for the publishing of political tracts and spreading their message by appealing to the reason of voters through argument and statistics and by facts.

“But he who puts a bribe in the hand of a voter, or plies weak men with mercenary and corrupt motives, commits a sin against God and this nation. Have nothing to do with such a sin. Fling it from the ballot box. Hand over to the police the man who attempts to tamper with your vote.

“There are but few cases where men have been able to stand up against the dissipations of political life. However, examples of spirituality abound. There are political parties where candidates maintain their integrity, even where obliged to stand amidst the blasted, lecherous and loathsome crew that sometimes surrounds the ballot box.

“But the people can, by spiritual principles, remodel, govern, educate and save the nation. Failing that, the parties will go down, burning in their ruins disciples and advocates. Make up your mind as to what is the duty of honest citizens because all these political excitements will soon be gone.”

The preceding excegesis so accurately reflects the current state of politics in Trinidad and Tobago, it could have been written this morning. Fact is, those thoughts comprised a sermon delivered by Thomas DeWitt Talmage, the legendary American pastor, who died precisely 100 years ago. The excerpts are taken from the book: The World’s Greatest Sermons, edited by SE Frost jnr (Garden City Publishing, NY). And if you consider that century-old account astonishing, hear this: “The assembly was confused. Some were of one view and some another. And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward (as their political candidate). “And Alexander beckoned with the hand and would have made his defence (platform speech) unto the people but when they knew he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out: ‘Great is the opposing candidate’.”

If the foregoing also sounds familiar in our context—this use of tribal prejudice to inform choice at election time—then we may conclude that the value of evolution has been hopelessly overestimated. Events described in the previous two paragraphs occurred some 2,000 years ago and are taken from The Holy Bible: Acts of The Apostles—Chapter 19, verses 32 to 34.

The more things change, they say, the more they remain the same. Or, as is written in Ecclesiastes Chapter 1 verse 9: “The thing that hath been it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.”

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