Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Turning to Divine Intervention

Crime and the economy were two of the recurring themes at a special church service I attended on Thanksgiving morning. Most who expressed their gratitude towards God were particularly grateful for having a job, though most still find it difficult to make ends meet. A gentleman stood up and said how grateful he felt for being able to spend Thanksgiving with his family, something which over 1000 people were not able to do. This represents the number of people murdered on the island thus far this year. According to the latest numbers published in El Nuevo Dia, the island's most widely read newspaper, as of November 27th, there have been at least 1,034 murders committed. This alarming statistic makes 2011 the most violent year in the island's history. During the same period last year, there were 889 registered murders.

In a recent survey conducted by El Nuevo Dia, public safety was ranked as the most worrisome issue facing the island. The economy, specifically unemployment, came in second. It was also revealed that nearly all of those surveyed have little or no trust in government institutions. The situation has become so dire that an increasing number of people are turning towards the church for a solution. Most believe the island is undergoing a social crisis, where morals and values have gone out the window. As 85% of Puerto Ricans profess to be Catholics, having the church intervene on societal issues is nothing anomalous. On numerous occasions, such as the student strike at the University of Puerto Rico as well as some labor strikes, the church has been called to intervene and serve as a mediator.

Puerto Rico has one of the highest concentration of churches per square mile in the world. Religion has exerted a huge influence in the island's culture and society, calling into question the existence the separation of church and state. The exact number of those who are actively practicing (i.e those who regularly attend church services) their religion is unknown. However, just from my observations, the majority of those who do go to church belong to a graying population. This phenomenon is also witnessed on the mainland U.S, where there is a notable decrease of church attendance amongst the younger generation. While listening to a brilliant debate on National Public Radio over the question, "Would the World Be a Better Place Without Religion?" I couldn't help but ponder over many of the excellent points which both sides were making.

A descendant of Charles Darwin was arguing in favor of this motion. In his closing statement, he argued that most societies with a highly religious population experience the most violence and have a high level of teenage pregnancies. He used the U.S as an example during the debate, but he could have easily used Puerto Rico as an example as well. On the other hand, a rabbi from the opposing team against this motion, argued that religion gave people faith and hope. Furthermore, a world without religion would be a very dark place. I would surmise that in Puerto Rico, religion has certainly not been a panacea to society's ills, despite the fact that many wear their religion on their sleeves, not to mention their car's bumper. However, it does inspire a sense of hope and community for some. Perhaps the bigger question is, can religion help a society, as a whole, instill a sense of values, morals and ethics, and act upon them? Thus far, unfortunately, the answer has been "no."