By Peter Espeut:
Various dictionaries define a gullible person as someone 'easily deceived or duped', 'easily taken in or tricked', 'easily persuaded to believe something', and 'easily deceived or cheated'. Do you think that, as a group, as a nation, we Jamaicans are more gullible than other people?
The question occurs to me today because one of the hottest topics around the country right now is whether today is the eve of Judgement Day, whether today is the day before the second coming of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Thankfully, most people interviewed on camera or on radio pooh-pooh the idea - not every Jamaican is that gullible; but the very fact that the subject excites so much interest suggests that many have lingering doubts.
Never mind that the source of the 'prophecy', talk-show host Harold Egbert Camping of Family Radio, based in Oakland, California, had previously predicted that the world would end on September 6, 1994. A civil engineer, Camping dresses up his 'prophecies' in mathematical calculations based on events mentioned in the Bible, which he treats as literal history; his explanation for the world not ending in 1994 is an error in his calculations, which he has now corrected. Anyone who says he is waiting to see whether Jesus will come tomorrow (more than on any other day) is admitting gullibility.
That many Jamaicans are gullible is beyond doubt. One only has to look at the thousands who deposited millions in Cash Plus and Olint expecting to double their money in less than a year. Several churches and Christian communities openly declared that "these schemes were sent by God to make us rich". The legitimacy of these Ponzi schemes was backed by 'evidence' from Bible prophecy and by utterances from charismatic local 'prophets' walking in the power of the Holy Spirit. The gullibility of so many Jamaicans is further revealed by the observation that these churches have not been discredited, that they have not emptied, and that these local 'prophets' are still prophesying.
Jamaicans clearly want to believe in something. It is said we have more churches per square mile than any other country on earth. But most of these churches are one-of-a-kind; some guy comes along with a Bible in his hand claiming "the Bible says ...", and immediately he gains a following, and starts a church. His ideas have to be iconoclastic; they have to attack the traditional Christian denominations, showing them to be false, or steeped in paganism, or based on "human wisdom rather than on the Word of God". Usually, these religious luminaries claim some private revelation from God, which means that they have the power of the Spirit. Of course, they all differ in the message they get from the Spirit, except the part where the Spirit says people are supposed to contribute heavily to his (or her) church. The gullibility of Jamaicans is exposed by the fact that we have more churches per square mile than any other country on earth.
Ian Boyne's television programme 'Religious Hard Talk' is able to present new material week after week because of the almost endless religious permutations in Jamaica, all based on eccentric interpretations of the Bible. One would have thought that by now this parade of fundamentalists would have led his audience - and Boyne himself, who projects himself as well-read - to abandon this clearly flawed approach to the interpretation of Sacred Scripture. But gullible fundamentalist Jamaicans keep on searching for the new messiah who will lead them to a truth they can be comfortable with.
The gullibility of Jamaicans is probably best demonstrated in our approach to politics. So many of us continue to vote for political parties which, despite alternating in power for almost 70 years, have taken us deeper into debt, and have failed even to teach a majority of schoolchildren how to read properly. After having proven themselves to be corrupt and venal the last time around, without meaningful changes in personnel or philosophy, we somehow expect them to be different this time. The gangs of Gordon House need gullible Jamaicans for their survival, and through a substandard education system, they make sure our brains are not polluted with ideas about reason and logic.
And these same politicians have not failed to take advantage of the religious gullibility of Jamaicans by employing prophets or revival tables to manipulate us into supporting them.
God help us!
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
May 20, 2011