Murder in a religious group as part of the group’s ritual is mind-boggling!!
Beyond the legitimate concerns about what happened within the religious group in my Jamaican home town, Montego Bay, we need to be mindful of the cultic tendencies within far too many churches within long-standing and ‘upstanding’ denominations as well as within ‘die-hard’ political tribes.
‘Cult’ is a negative term (now replaced by ‘sect’) though it formerly meant simply a smaller group (with differentiating distinctives) within a larger group or from which it has broken away. So, Christianity began as a cult of Judaism (the religion of the Jews), and Ras Tafari in its early days was seen as a cult of Christianity. With reference to Islam, the ‘Black Muslim’ group was regarded as a cult of Islam.
One dominant marker of most ‘cults’ or sects tends to be the tacit or expressed maxim ‘once the group or its leader has spoken all thinking stops’. This tendency to stifle or eliminate individual thought is, in my view, unhealthy intellectually and potentially dangerous, practically.
One antidote which is almost always dismissed by groups with cultic tendencies is fostering critical thinking, that is, encouraging all to feel free to raise legitimate questions of everyone and everything and refusing to give mental/lbehavioural assent until cogent responses are provided.
Within Christian groups the tactics of stifling critical thinking are many, including the mindless quoting of biblical passages out of context like “touch not the Lord’s anointed” or “to obey is better than sacrifice…” To which texts a thinking person should ask how is asking for an explanation of or a reason for a certain belief or practice ‘touching anyone’ and whether one should sacrifice one’s God-given mind and mindlessly obey that, concerning which, one has no sensible rationale.
The fact that a leader prefaces his/her ideas with “thus says the Lord God” is not sufficient to warrant my mental or behavioural assent. Is the leader careful to expound a biblical text in light of its context, for instance, or does that one simply issue commands minus justification?
Many will call me and no doubt have called me a rebel, radical, renegade or the weird Jamaican coinage ‘reptobate’ (for reprobate) but I remain resolute in seeking to “love my God with all my…mind”. Our Lord’s modification of ‘might’ in Deut. 6:5 to ‘mind’ in Mt. 22:37. is key for me and so I reserve the right to question anyone and anything.
I go further, while serving as a Pastor, since the late 1980s, I encouraged congregations to raise questions right after my sermons or Bible studies because I am not above blundering logically or beyond misinterpreting a text of Scripture. For me no religious leader should be allowed the dangerous luxury of thinking that he/she is the 4th member of the Trinity, that is, above criticism/ questioning.
Very awkwardly too, I told them that I reserve the right to ask them questions about what I shared, at times too, to ensure that they were engaging their minds with mine during the sermon/study. I still do this even as a guest Preacher!
Let God’s people think! It’s time for qualifying criteria to be established (by Church and State) for religious groups in Jamaica.