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Church and state – God and man

I also visited the Tower of London, which was quite scary. Queen Elizabeth the First was a tyrant and real bitch of a witch. Her predecessor, Henry VIII, the Tudor King, had six wives. Their fate can be remembered as “Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.”

– pg. 15, NOTHING TO LOSE, by Ray Lightburn, Image Factory, 2009

If journalism is history written under pressure, as Macaulay said, it can also serve as the first rough, vivid draft of history.”

– pg. xii, Preface, VIETNAM: A HISTORY, by Stanley Karnow, Penguin Books, 1997

If Henry VIII of England had been an African king, European historians, commentators, and writers would no doubt have had themselves a fine time over the centuries making a mockery of this incredibly depraved monarch who declared himself the head of the English church in 1534. As things unfolded, however, the British built an international colonial empire which poured fabulous wealth into their island kingdom, and no one in the “developed world” would expose Henry VIII and the British system for what it was: the use of the God concept to bless the most vile of crimes against humanity.

When the so-called Pilgrims sailed from Plymouth, England, to the northeastern shores of what we now call the United States of America in 1620, it was to escape religious persecution in the island kingdom. And so it was that when the Founding Fathers of the United States fought for their independence from Great Britain and wrote the American Constitution a century and a half after the ship Mayflower landed in America, they specifically and explicitly separated the church from the state. This was and is the remarkable thing about the American Constitution, that even though they were European descendants and devoted Christians, the Founding Fathers decided that the United States would break from the British system which had put God and religion at the service of wicked and immoral rulers.

The vast majority of Belizean citizens subscribe to Christian religions. In the case of native Belizeans, they were indoctrinated in denominational Christian religions in one of the primary schools controlled by those religions and largely financed by the taxpayers of Belize.

Belize was a settlement of British pirates which began to espouse religion, in the form of the English church, in the latter half of the eighteenth century. It was that English church which opened Belize’s first school, a primary school, in the first half of the nineteenth century, around 1814. In 1814, the enslavement of African people was still going on in Belize, and in fact there was a major slave revolt here in 1820.

After the Anglicans, the Methodists and Baptists opened schools in the settlement in the 1830s. It was after the Caste War began in the Yucatan in 1847 that the Roman Catholics began to open schools and churches in Belize to minister to the refugee populations which fled to Belize from the Yucatan. For example, the Catholics’ iconic Belize City primary school, Holy Redeemer, was opened in 1869.

British Honduras became a British colony in 1862, and a Crown Colony in 1871. It was under British colonial rule, then, that what we now know as Belize’s church-state system of education began. The Christian churches had opened the schools, and the white supremacist colonial government began to “piggyback” as the population grew: the colonial government assisted the Christian schools financially so that they could offer a rudimentary education to Belizean children. The colonial government did not care how much of that education was religious indoctrination, because the churches which ran the schools were of European origin and bias, like the colonial government itself.

The argument of the most zealous Christians in Belize has been that man’s nature is so savage that he dearly needs God and religion to tame and civilize him. On this score, however, it may be argued that the Christian-dominated education system in Belize has failed, because Belize has become one of the most sinful, immoral, and violent places on planet earth. Who can say otherwise?

When the modern era of Belizean politicians began in 1950 with the founding of the anti-colonial People’s United Party (PUP), quickly followed by the establishment of the pro-British National Party (NP) in 1951, it is safe to say that the majority of Roman Catholics here were PUP supporters in the early days, whereas the official Anglican Church here was definitely NP. Remember, Henry VIII had begun the governance structure wherein the King of England was the head of the English church. In British Honduras, ruled from the United Kingdom, King George VI was the head of Belize’s Anglican Church. Britannia ruled the waves.

Anyway, as the PUP grew into an irresistible force and the British government began to make concessions to the movement for Belizean self-rule, democratic elections were being held under the system of universal adult suffrage (one man, one rule). In the quest for the Holy Grail of electoral majority, the mass party politicians absolutely could not afford to alienate the major Christian churches in any way. The churches controlled too many votes. The church-state system of education in Belize became etched in stone.

The very first public challenge to that system came in 1969 when the United Black Association for Development (UBAD), supported by the People’s Action Committee (PAC), called for the teaching of African and Indigenous (Mayan) history in our schools. There had, however, been an experiment in government education, at the high school level, introduced by the British colonial government in 1952 – Belize Technical College. Technical became a great success. African and Mayan history was rejected by the educators and the political power structure in Belize.

Whatever, the issue of church-state education in Belize, and its manifest and massive failures, is one which the mass party politicians avoid. They avoid the subject because they have to: to challenge the church-state system would be political suicide. This is a sad state of affairs, because the statistics have shown for decades that more than half of Belize’s children who begin school each year will end their education without enough knowledge and training to earn a decent, honest living. The Belizean society is, therefore, condemned to a continuation of the socio-economic crises which have worsened since our independence in 1981. We have watched as our native populations have become flotsam and jetsam before our very eyes. This is an incontrovertible fact.

It should be no surprise to any of us that the Minister of Education during the nine years of the UDP’s three consecutive terms of office, the “tacos and pibil” man who is a bastion of the English church, seeks to become Belize’s next Prime Minister. Belize’s church-state system of education, we repeat, is etched in stone, and in the distorted vision of our local power structure, that system has been a great, abiding success.

When Henry VIII beheaded Sir Thomas More, it was because he was saying that the church must be in the service of his state. When the Founding Fathers wrote the American Constitution in 1776, it was because they were saying that the church should be separate from the state. In 2017 Belize, the reality is that the church, through the mechanism of the schools, controls our minds. In so doing, the possibility is real that the church controls our state. This is the direct opposite of what Henry VIII intended, and achieved. In 1534, however, England ruled no empire and owned no colonies. Between 1534 and 2017, the concept of white supremacy emerged. This is a concept which should be attacked in every school in independent Belize.

The reason why said concept remains in place in Belize, 36 years after independence, is a question for you educated ones to answer.

Power to the people.

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