As Christians at this time are observing an important occasion on their religious calendar, my thoughts turn to a trend that appears to be more pervasive in our society.
That trend I highlighted in my speech some three years ago at the religious summit organized by the Ministry of Family, Culture, Sports and Youth under the theme The Role And Responsibility Of Religion In Barbados; An Examination Of The Issues Confronting Us As A Nation.
The summit had brought together representatives of the several faith groups on the island, and sought to look at the various issues from a faith-based perspective.
I noted then in my speech –– The Role Of Faith In The Development Of Society –– the following: “From my perspective, one of the greatest challenges that we as representatives and practitioners of faiths face is the growing tendency by many of the educated and so-called experts in our modern world to dismiss the role of faith and faith-based solutions to the myriad of problems confronting our society.
“We are finding more and more each day the tendency for leaders and emerging leaders, especially in the more developed countries and regions, to disregard the important role of faith in the development of society. The view is being espoused that religion is outdated; its concepts archaic and not relevant to today’s modern and advanced society. Even the concept of a Supreme Being, a Creator, God Almighty, is challenged, and persons who express their belief in such, are considered backward.
“What is even more alarming is that this type of thinking is filtering down into our society. Increasing numbers of our younger generation are turning away from faith and faith-based activities and instead focusing more on secular and materialistic pursuits. These pursuits are giving them a false sense of joy and accomplishment, but not the necessary tools that faith provides when all doesn’t go the way they would like it to.
“I was startled by a statistic I discovered while trying to find some information from the census of the year 2000 . . . . In the 2000 Population Census, under the category of Religion, with a total of 241,822 people interviewed, the top three positions were as follows: Anglican –– 70,705; Pentecostal –– 46,726; and the third highest, which one would have expected to be from the other denominations of Christianity, instead would be 43,245 under the heading of None.”
In 2012, I was highlighting what I saw as the trend towards moving away from religious affiliation. Three years on, I revisit the subject, as I have noted the 2010 Population Census presenting even higher numbers for the option None. In 2010, 46,559 people chose None under the category of Religious Affiliation.
Further analysis of the data shows that almost half the people who chose None were in the 20 to 50 age group. This trend is not unique to Barbados, several writers and analysts in the United States have also highlighted the significant slide in their numbers.
One writer pointed out: “One in five Americans now identifies as religiously unaffiliated. In 13 states, the “nones” are the largest religious group. Non-religious people now equal Catholics in number, and their proportion is likely to grow dramatically, as young people are by far the most non-religious group in the country.”
In another article the writer states: “There are more religiously unaffiliated people in the US today than ever before. Starting in the 1980s, a variety of polls using different methodologies have come to the same conclusion: people who do not identify with religious labels are on the rise, perhaps even doubling in that time frame.
Some call them ‘nones’: agnostics, atheists, deists, secular humanists, general humanists, and people who just don’t care to identify with any religious group. It’s not exactly correct to call them non-believers, because some still have faith and spirituality in some sense or another.
“A 2012 Pew study noted that 30 per cent of these people believe in ‘God or universal spirit’ and around 20 per cent even pray every day. But according to the latest research, Americans checking the None Of The Above box will make up an increasingly important force in the country. Other groups, like born-again evangelicals, have grown more percentage-wise, but the nones have them [beaten] in absolute numbers.”
What does this trend mean to us as a society? Our leaders, religious and otherwise, must take this trend into account as they seek to implement strategic plans for our society. Our nation has been built on the core values that faith teaches. Seemingly those faith-based values are being eroded and replaced with ideologies that at their core are very materialistic.
It is therefore not surprising that today at the height of such an important religious occasion for Christianity superimposed in its midst are a wide variety of non-religious concerts, parties, carnivals and shows. Recognition and possible respect of the occasion are being lost.
I know many will argue that religious affiliation does not guarantee a cohesive well-managed society or country free of all problems, and may even contend that it causes the opposite. I noted in my speech: “One finds reporters will, in the majority of cases, focus on the negative aspects that happen with religion in today’s society. They will report primarily on those who misinterpret their religious beliefs for their own personal gains; the extremists; the fundamentalists, etcetera; and as a Muslim, as you all know, I can speak confidently on this. What aren’t reported usually are the countless acts of goodness, positiveness, and faith-based activities that uplift the society.”
I continue to advocate that faith does bring more positive to society than negative. As I said in my speech: “When I speak of faith and faith-related activities I speak from the point of view of universal accepted principles that I believe are common to all religions and faiths. I am not speaking of particular religious beliefs, practices and rituals that are unique to each and every religion.
“I put forward today that there are common accepted principles in all the world’s major faiths and in particular the three Abrahamic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam that can and do present to any given society the positive tools that bring about a harmonious, moral, just and upright society.
“Our faiths all teach the principle of belief in God, the Supreme Creator and the principle of ‘love for your neighbour what you love for yourself’. In other words, the unity of God and the brotherhood of humankind, whether they are found in the recitation of the Shema in Judaism or the utterances of Jesus in the canonical scriptures or the saying of the prophet Muhammad which reminds us that we should never go to bed full while our neighbour is hungry.
“It is these important principles that I believe all the prophets and messengers of God throughout history brought to humanity and it is the legacy that was left to us and will remain until the last day.
“What happens regrettably is that human beings, while being created in the best of moulds and given the intellect and capacity of being the best of Creation, can also lose that opportunity and fall from being the best of Creation to being at times the worst . . . .
“Faith and belief in God foremost and then application of that faith save humankind from either falling into that trap or lift humankind when or if they fall.
“True faith brings to an individual the ability and the willpower to be good, just, upright, moral, patient, loving, caring, respectable, and a complete set of positive attributes that will inevitably lead to a society that has the same characteristics as a whole.”
I sincerely hope that faith can continue to play a role in our lives and the trend we are witnessing will ultimately be for the better and be a positive improvement for our society.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)