Recently, I had the great misfortune of reading an utterly disturbing text which spoke to the necessity of a Sunday Sabbath, or day of rest, as something positive to consider for our nation and by extension the world.
Not only did this particularly uninformed letter (the author’s name I would avoid mentioning) prove to be bereft of any understanding of a basic precept of modern democratic life— the concept of the separation of church and state—it also showed a disregard for the concerns of a particularly important religious denomination within our society, the Seventh Day Adventists.
As a student of history, one must be aware of the calamitous period through which much of the western world—whose institutions and cultural peculiarities we’ve inherited—suffered as a result of lack of understanding or blatant contempt for the separation of church and State. Without burdening our readers with the history of torture and misery placed upon so many by the papal authorities of the Middle Ages, not to mention the current “theocratic bigotry’’ so prevalent in some parts of the middle east, it should be noted that the freedoms we so lavishly enjoy in our land forged from the love of liberty ought not to be encroached upon by the sometimes well meaning but misinformed religious zealots. A day of rest is a good thing, whether it be the first or the seventh is any man or woman’s prerogative and/or by extension any religious group’s in consultation with their interpretations of religious text and, one may go as far as to say their God. The State should respect this.
To mandate a particular day for any particular activity, imposed by the state with the monopoly of force so firmly entrenched in state hands is to avoid learning the lessons of history while antagonising and inciting undue hysteria within a certain segment of our nation’s diverse religious tapestry—which make up such an integral part of our nation—in this case our fellow country men and women of the Seventh Day Adventist denomination.
Seventh Day Adventists believe in the seventh day Sabbath, but more particularly there is a generally accepted notion within their quarters that the time of the Middle Ages, known for the oppression and torture imposed upon those who dared to defy the Papal authorities of Rome, can and will repeat itself. Many have brushed off these particular concerns of Seventh Day Adventists’ as undue hysteria bordering on conspiracy theory, and an over concentration on predictions of this nature would force one to place it in that category, however, the rule of law, democratic institutions and contemporary norms of tolerance are more fragile than we think. The liberties and freedoms which we take for granted are very much absent in many societies i.e. Communist China, North Korea, large swaths of the Middle East, and even our own neighbouring isle of Cuba. A rational and objective look at the state of freedom on our planet, whether evaluated by Amnesty International or Human Rights Watch for example, would particularly prove surprising to most.
Hundreds of millions if not billions of people on our planet live in societies where the freedoms so freely enjoyed to those present in T&T do not exist i.e. gender equality, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly etc.
In fact, one can go as far as pointing out that in the long history of human kind, present day freedoms in countries like ours are the exception and not the rule. Less than 60 years ago our nation was essentially a subjugated people to a foreign country and a foreign race. We were a colony of Great Britain. We have since torn off those chains but have yet to perfect that which some may argue is imperfectible, the virtues of tolerance, liberty and the many high ideals we hold so dear. Protecting these freedoms which we’ve earned, regardless of the meandering road we’ve taken to get them, is therefore our responsibility. The separation of church and state is one of the fundamental pillars to this end.
Freedom ought to be just what it says it is: free. It protects the Seventh Day Adventist who holds his Sabbath as a central pillar on his road to salvation or at least on his journey to a closer walk with his God, and it protects the LGBTQ activists whose views, positions and articulations would equate to an abomination for any Bible believing Seventh Day Adventist (with particular emphasis on the phrase “Bible believing Seventh Day Adventist’’). It is this freedom which gives us the ability to critique the Government and the State, which, although they have access to more guns and arms, and literally have a monopoly on the use of force, they are held in check.
It is these freedoms which protect us all from harm when we exercise our right to protest, criticise, vote, and worship. T&T may be small, but our responsibility is as great as that of any other nation to have ever existed.
Mikhail ED Byng