The Effects of Religion on Jamaica's Society
by Deon Clarke | Associate Writer
Photo: Christian Church Service - New Irwin Moravian
Jamaica is no doubt a very religious country. I mean, we have more churches per square mile than any other country in the world! That alone says a lot. Many of us have been going to church since we were babies, some stop at a point, some continue throughout their lifetime. Babies, are normally brought to church to be “blessed” or “christened”. Christianity is the most practised religion in Jamaica and has so many different beliefs and denominations. But, they all come from the Bible – the source of the Christian faith. Outside of Christianity, other religions are practised in Jamaica such as Rastafarianism, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Baháʼí etc. Today we will discuss the effects that these have had on Jamaican society. Naturally, there will be positives and negatives. Let’s take a look.
Positive Effects Of Religion In Jamaica
Jamaica being such a religious country certainly has its positives. This is evidenced in our culture and what is socially acceptable on the island. It affects the way we eat and drink, our values and attitudes, the way we dress, and our general lifestyle.
- Dress - In Jamaica, you will find that Christians are taught to dress modestly. This means clothes are usually not revealing. Most Christians wear long skirts or dresses, usually on or below the knees and blouses must have sleeves and cover the cleavage. The wearing of pants by females is discouraged by some churches, definitely prohibited from wearing to church by most. For both males and females pants must not be skin tight. Some churches discourage the wearing of extensions in their hair and quite a few prohibit it altogether and in some denominations, members must wear their hair in its natural state at all times.
Rastafarians and Muslims and a few other lesser-known Christian denominations encourage the wearing of very modest dressing including ankle length skirts or dresses. They may even use scarves to cover the hair and discourage or prohibit the wearing of anything that could be considered revealing altogether, whether to church or in everyday life. It is usually pretty easy to tell if persons are affiliated with these churches by their mode of dress. This has followed through to all aspects of Jamaica as you must dress modestly to enter certain businesses and virtually all government institutions, if you are thought to be deviating from these rules you will not gain entry. It is generally seen as a mark of disrespect and poor values to be dressed in short or revealing clothing.
- Diet – Most Christian consume little to no alcohol and abstain from smoking totally. Christian groups such as Seventh Day Adventists promote healthy eating and usually lead a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.
Rastafarians also promote healthy ital cooking which promotes the use of foods in its organic state, natural seasonings and little to no salt. Both religious groups refrain from eating pork and some seafood which are considered unclean. While Christians in some religious circles will eat just about anything, many practice a healthy eating lifestyle.
- Values And Attitudes – The religions that are practised in Jamaica all promote good values and attitudes. These include abstinence from gambling, love and respect for others regardless of their religious views and how they differ from yours. Christianity, for one, being the most practised religion, has the most influence over the population. Biblical principles of right and wrong are taught as soon as parents can communicate with the child and this continues throughout school. They all promote honesty, kindness, discipline, self-upliftment, self-respect, morality, hope, strong family values and respect for your elders.
- Social Inclusion - Social inclusion is very important to many persons in Jamaica. The churches and other places of worship provide a place of refuge for persons who are viewed as outcasts or who have no one to turn to in times of trouble and despair. These institutions are always willing to accept persons who feel lost and dejected and provide counselling and help to get them on the right path. There are a lot of broken family structures in Jamaica and churches fill the gap for persons who long for a sense of belonging. Many have attested to the fact that the church and its teachings have turned them away from a life of crime. This again is another positive influence of religion in the country.
- Social Responsibility
Religion has helped the nation to live with a sense of social responsibility. Charity is shown to those in need especially in times of individual and national crises. We will see less fortunate people being offered care packages, or a community group will come together to repair the home of a community member, build a bus stop or paint a pedestrian crossing. Jamaicans are naturally charitable which a think is rooted in religion.
Negative Effects Of Religion In Jamaica
As with all things, there are some negatives to religion.
- Hypocrisy - Many persons in Jamaica do not wish to be associated with any church or religious groups and the reasons are many. Many people have not had very good experiences where they worship. Places of worship are often viewed as a safe haven from the outside world, but for many persons, after they have been accepted inside, they often feel ridiculed and chastised for their way of life if they are not conforming quickly enough. The minute they fall, they are ready to be thrown out or discarded; which is the very thing that they are running from. This has led many back to their original way of life and even to develop resentment towards the church.
The sad truth is that some persons of the same religious group or denomination will harshly highlight the errors of the ways of their fellow believers. It is not unusual for newly converted believers to be berated for their actions by those who have been a part of the group for a long time. Many of them see it as looking out for each other but their methods of bringing it across are sometimes harsh.
- Financial Soliciting/Exploiting - While many acknowledge the fact that it takes money to operate any organization including the church, many Jamaicans are wary of churchgoers, always asking for contributions and donations for church buildings (which in some instances are never completed even after many years or show little sign of improvement). Many consider that the pastors or leaders of the church take the money for themselves, which unfortunately happens in some cases. Some church leaders take advantage of the vulnerable who are often asked for contributions from the vulnerable members who feel guilty for not being able to give. Others preach a prosperity gospel and encourage persons to sow financial seed for a blessing which is oftentimes material things or healing. There are also many church-goers whose basic needs are not met but the religious leaders are usually well off as seen by the types of vehicles they drive and houses they own.
- Denominational Disputes – While this happens to a lesser extent in other religions, Christianity is rife with denominational disputes. Christians tend to argue among themselves about who is right or who is wrong based on beliefs and interpretation of the scriptures. This confuses the Non-Christians who more often than not decide not to go to church at all in fear of joining the ‘wrong church’ or some will move from one church to the other in search of the truth. As a result, there can be obvious disunity which also impacts the mindset of the believers and even filters in the wider society such as the workplace. It can also result in behavioural changes and how people relate to each other.
- Religious Stigma - Muslims seem to be the most stigmatized religious group in Jamaica. Religious based hate crimes are not prevalent in Jamaica for which I am grateful, however, there is still some apprehension to share the space with Muslims in Jamaica. This is hugely based on the issues in the wider world coupled with a lack of understanding by most Jamaicans. They are usually viewed as potential terrorists based on their religious beliefs and worldwide occurrences by persons of the faith. As a result, some people keep as far from them as possible.
Unfortunately, some religious groups deviate from “true religion” especially in Christianity and have caused persons to resort to unbiblical and cultic practices which have led to the loss of life, finances, and property. Although there is freedom of religion in Jamaica, at the end of the day, I believe each person is ultimately responsible for their beliefs and religious practices and should be able to determine right from wrong. However, some will say as Ziggy Marley says in his song “Love Is My Religion”.
I also recommend you read, Rastafarian Jamaica An Insight Into A Rich Aspect Of Jamaican Heritage
- How Does Religion Influences The Jamaican Society?, Jamaicans Traditions, http://www.jamaican-traditions.com/how-does-religion-influences-the-jamaican-society.html
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