Change: A Dirty Word in The Bahamas

One of the dirtiest cuss words to Bahamian ears is change. For as long as I can remember, speaking the word within earshot of Bahamians and you will would get the scalded cat reaction—loud shrieking and a lightning fast dash to escape. Recently, though, my people have accepted two new notions with alacrity— protest and rejection in the face of change that will force them out of their comfort zone.

The Bahamian comfort zone nearly always includes the protection of one’s personal agenda with little or no questioning of the validity of the change, or of the degree to which the change might contribute to the greater good. It makes the non-reflective Bahamian pigeons reading for the plucking. No better theatre can be found anywhere on earth as when the change has been proposed by government and tabled in Parliament for passage into law.

The newly publicised Non-Profit Organizations Bill, 2018 (NPO Bill) is an excellent case in point and, so far, it has already called forth a number of Golden Globe-worthy performances on the most accessible of public stages—letters to the editor or the direct statement to the press, if you have enough social or economic clout. I am pressed to discuss two of the most remarkable.

The first that came to my notice concerns a letter appearing in one of the major dailies on Monday, December 11, purportedly written by a man styled “Rev.”.  The goodly gentleman took marked exception to NPO, 2018, particularly Section 7 (1), which speaks to requiring all non-profits, including religious institutions, to register with the appropriate government authority. Subtly or not so subtly, the writer suggests that dire consequences will result should parliamentarians be so dead of soul as to turn the bill into enforceable law.

The first assertion is that a NPO Act would impair or even curtail freedom of worship in contravention of the provision in the Bahamas Constitution, which underpins this liberty. The letter offers priceless examples of logical fallacies that should take pride of place in any good textbook on the subject of how to bypass an honest reasoning process in order to win an argument. The first fallacy employed is one the logicians term the “Slippery Slope”. The letter notes:

“One does not have to be a lawyer to see that section 7 (1) of the NPO Bill violates article 22 (1) of the constitution, among other things, the unhindered enjoyment of freedom of religion, either alone or in community with others, and both in private and in public.”

Consider one of the scenarios implied by this unconscionable claim. A woman kneels beside her bed and gives thanks to the Almighty for another day of life. Now, according to the good “Rev.”, she would be in breach of the law, should the NPO Bill passes into law. A few questions, pastor. With whom will she register the likelihood that she will be praying, in her home, alone? What mighty force, either fleshly or electronic will government use to monitor such infractions of the law and for what purpose? To fatten the treasury by fining her? What if she can’t pay—will she be arrested, charged and tried? If she loses the case, will she be imprisoned? Imagine 100,000 Bahamians desiring to say a word of prayer—wouldn’t we need a prison island to contain them? The current facilities of the Department of Corrections would hardly serve, would they? Of course this example is ridiculous, but then is not the writing that stimulated my response as laughable?

Let’s look next at the “Straw Man” argument, which involves the writer’s enlarging/distorting his own original exaggeration/misrepresentation. The writer claims that with the requirement to register non-profits, “the government will be adopting the oppressive practice of communist countries that do the same.”

One would think that the pen-friendly religionist had already sufficiently offended reason and fair play. Hadn’t he pulled out the stops on the “Appeal to Ignorance” fallacy that is almost certain to inflame that cadre of Bahamians, who would rather react than read and reason? Obviously, at least one other person—a well-known officer of the court and ‘activist’ thought the jumble of illogicalities was not nearly enough. Sadly, with the brain he has, he would surely have laughed at the foregoing flood of fallacies, but they would serve what appears to be a trend in his agenda—cause to fail ignominiously an administration already sorely tried by internal fighting and labour unrest. So, saddling and mounting his widely familiar white and voluble charger, he adds further fuel to fire up the Bahamian’s newly sharpened rights consciousness and protest synapses, highly likely to lead nowadays to voluble but unquestioning protest.

“It’s an invasion of our right to privacy, of our constitutionally protected right. It’s a complete invasion of our right to private correspondence. It’s an abomination against civil society,” our doughty champion is reported to have said as he joined the man of the cloth on the field of combat.

Yet, with all this, neither gentleman explored another side, asking such questions as how religious organizations, supposedly non-profit, seem to mint money and account to no one for it or pay taxes on it. Surely, it has occurred to these men that religious non-profits in The Bahamas could provide the washhouse, detergent and bleach to launder illegal funds. I believe that this was surely a part of government’s thinking in drawing up the NPO Bill, no doubt goosed into action by international watchdogs such as the OECD and the IMF.

My own puzzlement arises from the perception that many local pastors spend more time these days dabbling in politics, fighting against rendering to Caesar that which is Caesar’s and constructing earthly empires, rather than building up treasures in heaven, an error against which Matthew 6, 19-20 counsels:

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth

and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal:

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor

rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:

To the literary pastor, I say, there are enough Bahamians who need to hear you share the gospel and live it, given our persistent crime statistics. To the legal eagle, I say that when the perpetrators are brought to justice, there are many who might be redeemed from the perdition of what passes for ‘correction’ in the Fox Hill prisons. Maybe bombast and deliberately engineered fallacies may serve your personal agendas by furthering the ignorance of our people, but surely they do little to promote peace in our country.

By all means dissect every Bill brought before Parliament—We have sufficient evidence to surmise that parliamentarians are not infallible nor always honest, but neither are they always willfully wrong in their conceptions. Nevertheless, if you are truly on the side of the angels—forsake the politically motivated bombast. Help our people to appreciate and accept that good change is essential for progress, and, simultaneously, teach them how to reason and discern truth. It may cut into your popularity, but the cause is a worthy one.