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Religion and aggression

Over the past week there were many discussions about the rising aggressive behaviour among school children and their parents towards individuals in positions of authority. This discussion seems to rise its ugly head every time an aggressive act is highlighted in the media.

However, as my Jamaican friend would say “we Bajans will talk a lot and then do nothing”. So here again we are confronted with the same old problem and again the talk-a-lot behaviour has emerged.

Just as I was thinking to myself that I did not have anything to write about an old lady came to my rescue. This week I had a bit of free time (which is very unusual) so I decided to take a walk in the Fairchild Street bus terminal where I met an old lady, and while talking about the recent spate of aggressive behaviour in schools she said “when they took God out of the schools, in stepped the devil”.

It did not take me long to recognise that she was right in her assessment of the situation. When we were younger we all had to attend what we call hall prays/assembly every morning and during that time we all sang songs and the head teacher or year head would lead us in pray. Very often we would have to recite the Ten Commandments or the Apostle Creed, so we all knew that the Bible said “Thou shalt not kill.”

So although we all had fights which we would all wait to do the last day, we would all use the “poor man gun (big rocks)” because we did not want to kill anybody. So a lot of us got some licks the last day of school but by the time the new school year began (which seemed to take a long time to come around) we had forgotten our differences and school began afresh. While listening to the old lady I was trying very hard to remember if any of our friends or school mates’ parents had to come to the school. I then remembered only one incident where a child’s father was summons to the school and that parent spanked the child in front of the whole school because he had stolen another child’s lunch.

The next morning during assembly we all had to recite the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal”, and as a result lunch did not go missing for a long time.

The article this week is about the impact of religion/Christianity on aggressive behaviour.

As usual I examined some academic literature and found that religion at least conversion to Christianity in some countries has had some positive effects. For example, aggressive behaviour among a native tribe in Ecuador was greatly reduced after conversion to Christianity.

According to the literature, the Waorani people of eastern Ecuador use to participate in a vicious cycle of revenge killings that threatened to wipe out the existence of that ethnic group. So according to research by Boster et al (2004) after they were converted to Christianity the revenge killings in this rural community in hinterland Ecuador was reduced.

What used to happen was, after a member of the family was killed the clan would all go out and revenge his/her death by killing a member of the opposing clan. Later the other clan would retaliate and this would behaviour would continue like this and not solution was achieved.

So in order to end this foray of violence it was decided to try a wide spread conversion to Christianity programme where the emphasis was on reducing emotionally enraged behaviour. The researches argued that the new religious beliefs focused on commitment to positive growth instead of destruction so a positive change was achieved.

This was not the only success story, another study by White (1985) found that until conversion to Christianity people in the Solomon Islands were given to wide spread violence that threatened their very existence. However, after conversion these people began to develop a new “social identity” which included developing high levels of moral and social ideals.

Instead of fighting they developed new methods of coping with bereavement where instead of thinking that death was the end they now believed that there is a better life beyond the grave. As a result they became committed to the development of a “socially enabled society” that focused on overcoming the problems of survival by aggression.

Now do not get me wrong, there are other studies that demonstrate that religion has also failed to curb aggressive behaviour. One only has to look at Eastern Europe and the war between Croatian who believed in orthodox religion and the Bosnian Muslims to realise that religion does not always solve every aggressive act. Closer to home it does not take much for remember the war that consumed Europe for over 30 years and even closer to home the war in Northern Ireland between the Catholics and the Protestants not so long ago.

Nevertheless, one cannot but notice the difference in behaviour among the youth since religion and in some cases religious knowledge was taken off the school curriculum. We all know that despite getting a few lashes here or there in school the religious views instilled in us a commitment to maintaining high values, principles and policies laid down by national law or by organisations.

So what the old lady has said rings true, and until the stakeholders in this country become committed to upholding the social foundations of society which includes polite behaviour and mutual respect towards each other, aggressive behaviour like the one displayed at Parkinson school will continue.

Moreover, it is very common to observe some adults displaying rude and vulgar behaviour on a daily basis in public and it is also common to notice that no one intervenes or suggest to them that such behaviour is inappropriate. Therefore, it is not surprising that a parent would think that he or she could attack the principal of a school for carrying out his/her duty.

We are all in this together and just like the old adage suggest “it takes a village to raise a child” which I have translated to mean we are all guilty of standing by and condoning this behaviour. So, before it gets too late let us put some religion back in the school because that may be the only place where the child hears the words “thou shalt not steal or kill which could determine how they will behave in the future”. Until next time…

* Daren Greaves is a Management & Organisational Psychology Consultant at Dwensa Incorporated. e-mail:, Phone: (246) 436-4215

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