Jamaicans Believe What They Believe

By Royackers, Martin | Compass: A Jesuit Journal, May-June 1996 | Go to article overview

Jamaicans Believe What They Believe


Royackers, Martin, Compass: A Jesuit Journal


Jamaica's population is around 5 per cent Catholic. Although we are a bit beleaguered by a very Protestant milieu, we have the comfort of being tucked away from the waves of angst and anger that occasionally sweep across the church. If the Vatican is saying anything these days to inflame liberal sensitivities, I haven't heard about it, and I must confess that articles about such topics are the only ones I skip in Compass.

Catholics here are not beset by the issues arising from the interface with a liberal and secular culture. We are more preoccupied with defending the Catholic Church against charges from our Protestant neighbours: idolatry (Mary, the saints and the pope), moral laxity (smoking and gambling) and Sunday worship. It is not always a winning battle. Members regularly disappear, to emerge as newly baptized adherents of the Seventh-Day Adventist or Zion churches.

In one sermon, somewhat irate at the most recent evangelical raid, I asked, "Who founded the Catholic Church?" The unanimous answer to my question was, "God!" Apparently previous catechists had drilled their students well. I then asked, "And who founded that other church?" With the same enthusiasm the answer came back, "Man!" (Inclusive language is another issue that has not yet penetrated rural Jamaican consciousness.)

This was not my best ecumenical moment and I must plead frustration at the pressure tactics of some evangelical sects. But at least in Jamaica, people believe what they believe. They have not yet been demythologized to the point where they have to be apologetic about every piece of Catholic dogma or discipline that does not sound sensible to liberal pagan neighbours. They have yet to reap the fruits of historical critical scholarship that renders the Bible into a quaint collection of out-of-fashion beliefs of people who never had the benefit of the Enlightenment.

I am grateful for the Second Vatican Council. I don't have to sing Latin masses or wear a dress. But I have some hesitations too. Vatican II, I am told, brought the church into the modern world, but what's so great about the modern world that we want to rush into it? If the church isn't democratic, neither is the modern world. Both have too many bureaucrats and ego-laden politicians. If the church flounders about without a clear sense of purpose or identity, unable to give even a decent experience of community to its huddled masses yearning for something more, welcome to the modern secular world. …

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