|Posted by Diana McCaulay on January 13, 2013 at 10:40 AM|
On Friday, January 11th, 2013, the Gleaner reported a “salty ritual” at the Ministry of Youth and Culture. According to the article, the Minister of Youth and Culture, Lisa Hanna and Acting Permanent Secretary Sydney Bartley appeared on Tuesday morning with the President of the United Theological College of the West Indies, Reverend Dr Marjorie Lewis and called a staff meeting. Let’s stop right there for a moment. If the Minister of any Ministry walks into the office on a work morning and calls? attends? a staff meeting, this cannot be considered voluntary. So let’s put to rest the idea that no one was forced to participate.
Anyway, when the staff gathered, what appeared to be “devotions” morphed into the salty ritual. Small plastic cups containing salt were given to the staff (All of them? That’s a lot of salt and cups…I wonder who paid. Some staff members refused to take the cups, the Gleaner asserts, others took them. Can you see this? I don’t know how many people work at the Ministry of Youth and Culture, but it must be hundreds – hundreds of bemused public servants in a staff meeting, being given cups of salt…!). Staff members were then exhorted to keep the salt on their desks “as a reminder that we are the salt of the earth and that it will keep away evil spirits.” This very senior trio then allegedly went around to all the offices in the Ministry and sprinkled the salt while praying. This was followed by some staffers sweeping the salt out of their offices. Some reported feeling the ritual itself was evil and that afterwards, there was a “strange feeling” in the office. You can imagine how much work got done that day.
The Gleaner reported mystification on the part of the good Reverend and the Acting Permanent Secretary to the ensuing fuss; the latter still had his cup of salt on his desk. It was all voluntary, they said, no one was forced to do anything. Right. The senior officials of the Ministry of Youth and Culture just wanted to start the year on a positive note, using the passage from Matthew, Chapter 5 verse 13 – you are the salt of the earth. Anything to shift attention from the dismal performance of the Ministry, I imagine, after its many demonstrated failings to protect our children.
In an editorial on January 12th, 2013, http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20130112/cleisure/cleisure1.html
the Gleaner then asked “How much religion is too much?” It’s a good question. Is it right that a staff meeting in a government ministry contain religious rituals of any kind? What should people of other faiths (or no religious faith) do while these rituals are being conducted? It is particularly worrying when these rituals are conducted by the State. What would happen if we had a Minister who was a Buddhist? Would staff be required to learn mantras and make symbolic gestures in staff meetings? Is only Christianity allowed in Jamaica? Aren’t we supposed to have separation of Church and State?
What worries me more, though, is the unstated notion that underlies public prayer and ritual at Government gatherings – even conventional Christian prayer – which is that these rituals are a substitute for good policy, enforceable laws and effective action. We see this all the time in national prayer breakfasts, church services and the like. It drives me mad when I get invited by the National Environment and Planning Agency to church services to pray for our wetlands. It would be much more effective if NEPA would simply stop granting permits for the destruction (sorry, they call it “modification”) of wetlands.
Whenever we have this blurring of the responsibilities of Church and State, a few voices suggest that the Lord helps those that help themselves, but still, as a nation we seem wholly behind the idea that we will be saved somehow, not by acceptance of responsibility and our own actions – but now, it seems, by cups of salt.