Is Religion Bad For T&t?


Several issues last month raised fundamental questions about the relationship between religion and State in Trinidad and Tobago. First was the initiative by Children’s Affairs Minister Verna St Rose Greaves to remove the Marriage Acts which allows 12 year-old Muslim and 14 year-old Hindu girls to be married (as well as 14 year-old girls under the Marriage Act, which is de facto Christian, although this detail didn’t enter the debate). Amazingly, Hindu and Muslim apologists came out to defend this law, clearly believing that their religious garb prevented the label of paedophile being attached to them. Maybe they weren’t aware of the decades-old practices revealed within the past few years about an institution known as the Roman Catholic church.
The second issue was the eruption at the Tunapuna Hindu School, which led to the female principal being locked out by the Maha Sabha school board and, later, indirect threats of violence being made against her by Maha Sabha head Sat Maharaj when the Teaching Service Commission ruled that she be re-instated while they examined the issue. Maharaj abrogated to himself and his board the absolute power to remove the principal, even though, in a statement on the issue by the TSC, Maharaj had been asked to “give specific reasons for the request for an transfer in respect to the principal”. Despite claiming at a press conference that “the regulations are quite clear”, Maharaj apparently failed to submit his reasons to the TSC – perhaps because these reasons boiled down to a panty-line and the Infants class not being taught Hindu prayers, which aren’t likely to stand up in court. And a third issue, which didn’t get as much media attention, was the apparent inability of the authorities to deal with the “demon possession” at the Moruga Composite School, which has led to that institution being effectively non-functional.
These indicators of religiosity give a sharp and succinct insight into the state of T&T. In their book Sacred and Secular, political scientists Ronald Inglehart and Pippa Norris write, “Analysis of data from around the world revealed that the extent to which people emphasise religion and engage in religious behaviour could be predicted with considerable accuracy from a society’s level of economic development and other indicators of human development.” Inglehart and Norris see the causal arrow as going from socio-economic development to religiosity, but my view is that there is a feedback loop at work.
Be that as it may, an analysis of religiosity in T&T can gives us a deeper insight into our development than the macroeconomic figures which politicians so like to use. This is because religion serves as an indicator of cultural values which are related to progressiveness. (See Box 1.) Sociologists generally divide religions into a strictness continuum with four categories: (1) liberal mainline; (2) moderate mainline; (3) conservatives and evangelicals; (4) fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and sects. These categories do not perfectly fit T&T society, however. Here, “liberal mainline” applies to religious individuals rather than to religious organisations, and our fundamentalists are not nearly as extreme as those in other countries, whether in Europe, the Middle East or Africa.
Nonetheless, with the necessary caveats, the categories may be usefully applied to T&T’s religious groups. Presbyterians and non-Sanatanist Hindus loosely fit category (1); Catholics and Anglicans may be slotted into (2); Muslims and Baptists into (3); and Pentecostals, Adventists, and “small churches” into (4). Using this broad measure, we can infer if and how the religiosity of the society has changed in the past 30 years. This generational measure is useful, because it also indicates whether the values of the old and the young have stayed the same or not.
Table 1 lists the percentage of the population belonging to the main religions, as well as those who responded “none” to this question. The statistics show that the percentage of Anglicans has almost halved in the past 30 years; Catholics have stayed the same, while Hindus have declined by about three percent. The biggest gain has been for the Pentecostals, who increased seven-fold between 1980 and 2010. Baptists also increased four-fold, and now outnumber the older and richer Anglican church.
The number of persons indicating “none”, though very small, is an important indicator. It is, unfortunately, a vague category, since what is really needed is the percentage of non-believers. (The only survey, from the 1990s, which cites a figure for T&T puts the percentage of non-believers at seven percent, which seems much too high.) “None” probably includes non-believers, but almost certainly also includes persons who are not affiliated to any official religion or sect but nonetheless would answer Yes if asked if they believe in a god, an afterlife, or spirituality. The censuses indicate a slight increase in Nones between 1980 and 2010, but this may reflect the rise in New Age beliefs rather than in non-belief.
Overall, then, we find that just over three-quarters of the population declared themselves to be members of the main religions in the 1980s. But by the first decades of the 21st century, nine out of every ten persons did so. This contradicts the frequent assertion by religious spokespersons that there has been a decline in religiosity over the past decades. (The obvious rebuttal – that there has been a rise in hypocrisy – hardly reflects well on the culture of their organisations, if it is that people claim adherence to them but flout their tenets.)
Source: Central Statistical Office
This issue is reflected in Table 2. In every country ever measured, high religiosity among the population correlates with a set of negative social indicators, from homicide to official corruption to rape to child abuse. If religion did indeed reduce social ills, as its proponents claim, then the religion of criminals in prison should proportionally be less than that of the general population. However, an examination of the statistics shows that this is the case for only three religions: Hindus, Presbyterians, and Pentecostals. All the others show over-representation, with Baptists being twice as likely to be inmates as their ratio in the population, while the ratio of Muslim prisoners is almost triple that of the general population.
At the other end of the social scale, we see that religion is negatively correlated with tertiary education. If religiosity were not a factor in education, there should be an equitable representation at the university. Instead, only Presbyterians are over-represented, while Anglicans and Muslims come close to parity. Baptists and Pentecostals are the least likely to pursue higher education, relative to their ratios in the populace. Significantly, persons who did not indicate any religious affiliation are seven times higher in the UWI student population. This matches studies from other countries where higher IQ is correlated with lower religiosity.
Sources: CSO, UWI

But how do these figures translate into influence? Sheer numbers are important but, in our society, wealth is also crucial for political power (in the broad, not party, sense). Table 3 shows the income levels of different religions. The percentages represent the ratio of each religious group within the specific income bracket. Thus, we see that Catholics and Hindus make up the largest groups among the poor, but at numbers equivalent to their ratios in the population. However, among the rich, Anglicans and Catholics make up the largest groups, at higher than equivalent ratios. This means that inequality is widest among these historically powerful churches, and it is significant that inequality correlates with higher crime rates.
Source: Household Budgetary Survey, 2008

The middle- and upper-middle class is generally an indicator of the status quo of a society. Here we see that Adventists, Anglicans, and Catholics are over-represented, while Pentecostals have parity. The Nones are also three times higher in this bracket. Linking numbers and wealth, therefore, we can infer that the most influential religious groups are the Catholics, Anglicans, and the Pentecostals. For other reasons, Muslims and Baptists also have significant socio-political influence.
Three of these five groups – Pentecostals, Muslims, and Baptists – fall into the more extreme religion categories. Box 1 lists the values which a progressive society needs, and the values which a regressive society embraces. Given the growth in religiosity over the past 30 years, and given that the hard-line religions have become more influential (including the Maha Sabha’s Pentecostal version of Hinduism) it is clear that most people in T&T embrace the values in the right-hand column. And, as long as this is so, no policy or programme can help this country to become a developed nation.
Source: Culture Matters Project, Harrison 2006.

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