Rethinking the idea of God and criminality
By Francis Wade
Over time, it has become a firm belief for the majority of Jamaicans that the source of criminality in our society has nothing to do with the vast majority of us, the law abiding citizens, but instead has everything to do with “them” – the criminal element.
Recently I have begun to give thought to a radical notion: that we are deceiving ourselves on this point. Perhaps the source of criminality in our country is not far away, remote and difficult to conceive.
Perhaps it has everything to do with choices, decision and behaviours that we, the average citizens, exercise on a daily basis.
In the current frame of mind that we find ourselves in (i.e. that the cause of criminality is “them” and not “us,”) then it’s not surprising that the solutions that we come up with are all about dealing with “them.”
Relatives waiting to visit inmates at a Kingston prison(pic: Jamaica Aids Support)
These solutions can be summarized in the statement: “if we could only find a way to deal with ‘them’ (the perpetrators of crime) then we would all be safe.”
This line of thinking leads us to think of solutions that focus solely on “them,” e.g. we have to improve the legal system, accelerate hanging, give the police more latitude, eradicate corruption from our security forces, and we have to “fahget bout no police, and tek care of de bad bwoy dem weself.”
The problem with all of these “solutions” is that they leave us, you and I, out of the picture with respect to what we can do to affect change.
After all, doing something like changing the country’s legal system is not done by you or I acting on our own. Passing new laws and reforming the security forces is beyond our reach. Most of us are afraid of becoming vigilantes (although many are just looking for an opportunity.)
This kind of thinking leads us to “solutions” in which we suppose that we have little to do with stopping crime, and nothing to do with the cause of it. And we refuse to address the problem of what it is that actually creates criminality in the first place.
In keeping with these kinds of “solutions” we often attribute the causes of Jamaican crime to macro-realities such as poverty and a lack of education.
However, Tara Abrahams-Clivio, in her column in the Jamaica Observer of January 20th, 2005, noted that from her observations, the poorest countries did not have the highest murder rates.
Incidentally, Jamaica is not among the poorest countries in the world. Also, she noted, levels of education did not seem to be correlated with murder rates from country to country. Jamaica is not among the least educated countries in the world.
Yet, in the year 2000, Jamaica had the third highest murder rate in the world with 887 murders in that year.
In 2004, we had a total of 1445 murders which would have put our murder rate just below that of the most dangerous country in the world in 2000 – Columbia (which is neither the poorest nor the least educated.)
I believe that there are solutions that we can find that are much closer to home, and in fact can be found in every home, and are therefore immediately implementable.
Jamaica has the most churches per capital in the Caribbean
Perhaps our high murder rate has something to do with the following three sources: the personal pictures that we have of God’s personality, our willingness to tolerate violence, and our propensity to try to separate and differentiate ourselves from who are close to us, and therefore we are one with.
Long before the idea of killing someone enters the mind of a would-be murderer, there is a relationship that they develop that powerfully shapes their actions.
That relationship is the one that they have with God. A Jamaican child growing up comes to hear that God exists, and as God is described to them, comes to form an image in their mind of who He is, and how He relates to us – in short, God’s personality.
As they grow up and develop what are sometimes murderous intentions, they do so against the backdrop of their personal spirituality; that is, their relationship with God.
If the personality that they ascribe to God in their mind’s eye is one that is vain, violent and vengeful, then it follows that they will, in seeking to “be like Him,” model their behavior after Him.
In today’s Jamaican society, this is exactly what happens. We teach each other that He is vain (put me first or else) and violent
The Passion of the Christ was one of the most violent movies of 2004 and vengeful (hell and its fires are waiting for those of us who do not follow the narrow way.) Yet, the film gained great approval among many church leaders and cinema goers
This picture of God’s personality is not just taught, it is also said to be above question (and for some, questioning is itself a grave sin.)
We pass this unexamined picture on to our children in our homes and churches to help “keep them in check.”
It is widely accepted in our society that this is one of the best ways to raise children - that they should be afraid of God and what He will do to them.
After all, it worked for us, therefore it must work for them.
This is said without asking if the current murder rate is proof that it is “working for us?"
Editor's note: Part 2 of this piece comes out tomorrow.
Francis Wade is a management consultant based in Kingston, Jamaica. His passion is the transformation of Caribbean workplaces, economies and society. He blogs at Chronicles From a Caribbean Cubicle.
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