I want to commend our President for leading our people and our country in a day of fasting and prayer, and the call to “lift one another up”. I believe that the religions of our ancestors are the best starting points for us and our young people to grasp acceptable goals and ends for our lives and our lives, and tolerable means to achieve them: they are filled with good life lessons and ways of living. Religions have sometimes separated people, but in our Guyana at this time, the prospects are good for us to rely on our religions to help bring us closer together, as he sought to do. Our country and our people have been blessed with little, if any, hostility between our various religions and their adherents. In this we have been fortunate since our main challenge has been to unite as one people descended from six ancestors, in our circumstance of strong overlap between our different groups of people and our different religions. We haven’t had the intensity of the problems that overlapping and reinforcing differences often cause.
Coming together is advanced primarily in social contexts, frameworks of free association in which we talk and laugh while seeking to learn and influence each other about a subject and a certain way of thinking. It is in such contexts of socialization that acquaintance and familiarity with each other are formed, that we get to know each other better, which is the basis of strong bonds between people in a society. While there has been little hostility between our different religions and we live well with each other, most socialization takes place within and under a religious umbrella – occasions marking births, marriages, promotions , deaths, etc. – largely bringing together one group of people although a number of people from other groups would have been welcome. We can say in our context that our sensitivities between our different religions, though weak, still inhibit our socialization – the socialization in which knowing one another and becoming familiar with one another that lays the foundation for strong bonds between us, are formed.
Weakly inhibiting religious forces have created the order (groupings) in which our strong bonds develop and our fasting and praying together should transform these inhibitions into welcoming doors, increasing the number of deep bonds between people in existing groupings. Schools and workplaces, often places of association with others who otherwise would not have been, are places of shared experiences and connections. We learn to tolerate and get along with strangers by our side and find that many of them aren’t so bad. However, too few of these associations go beyond the school and the factory. I believe that greater comfort on our religious front would expand our associations at school and at work. We need to fast and pray together, become more comfortable offering to join others in prayer, and inviting others to join us in our prayers. I am thinking of Bishop George inviting Dr Jagan to share Christian communion and of Dr Jagan accepting, during the dedication of the Anglican Church of the Transfiguration (on Mandela Avenue) no doubt both moved by the success of a work started with the granting of land by a pre-1964 Jagan/PPP government.
Now that enough of the ice (residual insecurities) has been broken, perhaps we can carry on with the utmost respect, regularly learning and familiarizing ourselves with the customs, festivals, rituals and beliefs of others’ religions. We must continue to work in all directions for “One Guyana”. While I appreciate the arguments in the context of these times which have seen successful movements to dissociate particular, often favored religions from schools, I think much has been lost and I have wondered what a better approach might be. It would perhaps be good if the knowledge of the religions of all our ancestors were presented with sensitivity, together, in graded texts from kindergarten to the end of university, a task that our IRO (Interreligious Organization) could well do placed to lead.
While these texts should contribute to us Guyanese becoming increasingly knowledgeable and comfortable with each other’s religion, dispelling residual inhibitions, helping us to become more and more “one people on six”, I think these texts would be good for our world, good for all humanity, as we contemplate and work to leave our earth. Who knows? Perhaps in ten thousand years around a distant star, the children of our descendants, still recognizable as human, will be educated with graduated texts, “The Religions of our Ancestors”, to which we may have contributed a little ‘glow.
former Prime Minister, and