Monday, 21 January 2013

Guest Post, David Ince: Trying to get attention above the din: Giving a voice to Caribbean non-believers

Barbados 2012 Crop Over - My Secret Atheist Blog
Barbados 2012 Crop Over (image source).
Guest Post by David Ince (aka Caribatheist)

Some time ago I reached out to David for some information about the Caribbean Atheist and Freethought community.  He responded by writing a wonderful first post about the state of disbelief in his native Barbados.

In his second contribution, David talks about the differences between Caribbean and Canadian culture when it comes to Religion.  He then describes how Atheism and Freethought are beginning to take root and flourish in this unique cultural milieu.


Last month I was happy to write as a guest on this blog about the challenges of being an atheist in Barbados. Today I look at the wider Caribbean perspective and the challenges we face in making ourselves heard as a 'freethinking' movement with religion being so much of a force.

The Caribbean is a place of self expression, we are all about enjoying, letting our emotions hang out and wearing our hearts on our sleeves. You can see it in the clothes we wear, hear it in the music we play and taste it in the foods we eat. It's all about richness in flavour, colour and vibrancy that shines as radiantly as the sunshine that we never seem to be without for long.

We talk animatedly, we laugh loudly, we shout across crowded streets to get one another's attention. We use a car horn more often to give each other a friendly greeting, than as an alert to imminent danger. Watch a celebration of someone like Usain Bolt and that tells you what being a West Indian is all about. The Caribbean is about expressing yourself, being who you are and expecting others around you to live with it and love it.

It is the reason why during something like Crop Over in Barbados or Carnival in Trinidad it is  pointless to complain about music being too loud or intrusive. In the Caribbean, if you get a knock on your door at 2:00 am during a party from an angry neighbour, it is far more likely that she is complaining about not getting an invitation than seeking to have you turn down the racket so she can get her nightly slumber.

All over the Caribbean, you can hear the beat of our music in the maxi taxis. Don't think about asking the driver to mute the sub woofers either. He will let you know that you can put in ear plugs or catch some other form of transportation if you don't like it. It's as simple as that. This type of mentality runs counter to the reality that I face now living in Canada. There is a joke in this country that when you step on the foot of a Canadian, he apologises to you for his foot being in the way. It's an exaggeration, but only just a bit.

A steelpan player on High Street in Trinidad and Tobago. 
(image source)
Canada is like 'inverse' Caribbean in that respect. You act only when you are comfortable that the action you take is not going to discommode another. You don't even do a hand wave without thinking about whether it might affect someone's sensibilities. Generally, if there is any doubt about the impact of your action you simply refrain from doing it.

This basic cultural difference between Canada and the Caribbean is palpably illustrated in the way you experience religion. In the self expressing Caribbean, religion plays into what is inherently a 'loud' culture. Even as the music plays and people dance with spontaneity, sermons and testimonies can pop up anytime from anybody.

You could be standing in a line at a bank, having a 'lime' in a rum shop or walking on your way to the carpark to drive home after work.  Wherever you are, you are liable to hear a perfect stranger telling you about something in their life that Jesus has delivered them from, have them proclaim to you that he is the Lord of their life and that you should accept him too if you haven't already. It's not that they are necessarily trying to convert you or pressure you into anything. They are just talking, talking about things that happened and that matter to them. Letting you know the beliefs and principles they hold dear. They see the love of Jesus as one of the great things in their life and they want you to know it. They just want to share and they just can't fathom that anyone in the world would not love their Jesus too. For them that would be like being repulsed by a steel band playing, a reggae bass line or mass on carnival day.

In Canada it's so different. Religion is something you almost never here spoken about in day to day life. You work, you workout, you play, you relax, you interact with people for years and often have no idea about what they believe or don't believe. Religion is personal and although I know from going to one or two churches that adherents here can be just as devout as any back home, it's just something they tend to keep to themselves. The lack of visibility of religion to a large extent in Canada, often makes me wonder what we are fighting or challenging when we get together as atheists in our various meet ups.

Then I remember what the wider world picture looks like and that gets me going again.

In the Caribbean, of course it is different. Religion is much louder, more persistent, all around you everyday. Surrounded by Christianity bringing us such a pulsating rhythm, our cultural tendency leads us to do our own dance as Caribbean non believers and respond in kind. Poking back at those on the other side as calypsonians do in the popular artform of picong. Alas, what we who carry the banner against faith find is that sound and noise is not welcomed as much when it comes from supporters of the opposing team. It's so easy when you are in the majority to think that all around you enjoy your same freedoms but as we know so well, that is not the case.

It is a frustration to have a culture of self expression that tells you to go out there and show what you feel and then have to stand in the corner with emotions bottled up. Thankfully things are changing. Not changing because we have been given more leeway to turn up our volume by those in the ascendancy. Things are changing because we have decided that we need to go ahead and scream and shout anyway. We recognise that even if our noise doesn't get noticed, sitting quietly in the corner as we did before is not going to get us anywhere.

Freethinking Island podcast.
So we are raising our voices. One of the main ways is  through the podcast  Freethinking Island.  There I join Joy in bringing voices from all over our region who have also had enough of sitting in the band counting 'bars rest' while others get to play whatever they want, whenever they want.  The people we have had on the 'island' so far have spoken with passion, with resolve and a desire to make sure that we're not left chipping along behind the music anymore.

I hope that those of you listening also feel that level of emotion and enthusiasm that is being brought from a culture that prides itself on enjoying itself without the  level of self consciousness that others have. I hope that you also realise why such a high energy response is needed from us. We are up against religious people who are every bit as passionate and determined to take the Caribbean back for Jesus, we just simply can't let up.

Happily the momentum is building for us and the development of the Caribbean Atheists Facebook page and the Caribbean Freethinkers' Society blog highlights that fact. We have seen islands themselves getting more visible too. Jamaica Atheists United being one leading the way and at the regional education level, there is an online group of (University of the West Indies) UWI Freethinkers. I see evidence of the various activities and groups feeding off of each other and this is heartening. I am gradually hearing discussion of freethinking and atheism entering into the discussion on Barbados call in programs and I expect that similar is happening in other islands.

However, we still have a long way to go, when you think that we have a government senator actively endorsing a German Pastor who the senator and many others in the island are absolutely certain has the power to raise human beings from the dead. This pastor is guaranteed a sellout crowd in Barbados and will rake in contributions in the thousands at least, at a time when the country is still in a serious recession.

So, we have  to keep clearing our throats and stepping up the decibels to be heard above the din. You have to yell if you want to be heard in the market. Whether it's a Caribbean fish market in Castries, Bridgetown, St. Georges, Kingston or Roseau or in the marketplace of religious ideas where many have been selling at their stall years before we freethinkers made it in to town.


David Ince is a Barbadian who nows lives in Calgary Canada where he is completing a doctoral degree in Renewable energy, focusing on the Caribbean.

Check out David Ince's Bio Page or jump directly to the Caribatheist blog.

And of course, start listening to freethinking island!

3 comments:

  1. Thanks Leighton. Happy New Year to you too!

    That is a very good question. Generally, i would agree with you and say 'no.' Freethinking refers to how you think and not the conclusion you come to. Belief or lack of belief in God is what you come to as a result of your freethinking. I don't see belief as a choice, however. I didn't choose to not believe in God. It is just the place where freethinking brought me to. Indeed, it was not a position that I was particularly comfortable with at first but over time I have come to settle into it because it is a conclusion that I came to honestly and it means I no longer have to pretend.

    Nonetheless, although freethinking does not equal atheism, i have to admit that I find it difficult to see how following the freethinking route can bring you ultimately to a place of belief in a God. Most people start out their thinking by assuming God is true rather than arriving at it through careful thought and study.

    Belief in God for many people is seen as a matter of faith, accepting something by faith (in a religious sense at least) means assuming something is true without having the necessary evidence to support it. When you do that you are making a decision not to question that article of faith the way you would other claims, which means you have sacrificed your freethinking to some degree. Having said that, no one is perfect and I am sure there are areas where many of us atheists fall down in being as critical as we should be about claims. That's why I constantly challenge myself and others to keep questioning ideas, particularly ones that we hold dear.

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  2. I have lived/worked on and off in the Caribbean for 10 years and I'd choose Caribbean culture over Canadian culture any day. Unfortunately, Canadians do not have true access to life in the Caribbean as Europeans do. I hope that as atheists gain in acceptability in the Caribbean (though I experienced less stupid religiosity there than in Canada), that they will not lose their laid back style, placing friendship before capitalism. English Canada's uber politeness is one of our worst traits. As a lifelong atheist, I've always spat on faith. I miss Trinidad dearly.

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  3. Yes, I hope Caribbean maintains that fun loving culture with that innate friendliness that so many people love. As atheists seeking to lead the populace away from the dogma of faith we should be careful not to strip the region of the cultures that surround these traditions and beliefs. I am convinced we can do that. It's hard for a West Indian to be un- West Indian whether he or she is a believer, atheist or neither.

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