The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – What is a Religion?

A good example of a vague definition is the tendency to define religion as “worldview” — but how can every worldview qualify as a religion? It would be ridiculous to think that every belief system or ideology is even just religious, never mind a full-fledged religion, but that’s the consequence of how some try to use the term. –Austin Cline- “What is Religion” (December 2018)

The title of this piece is not intended to be provocative of debate on the merits or demerits of the various existing religious beliefs. Rather, it is a necessary continuation of the discussion I commenced in my last essay in this space where a judge of the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court ruled that the existing laws in St Christopher Nevis that forbade the cultivation and possession of marijuana for the purposes of supply under pain of criminal sanction were unconstitutional in that they infringed the claimant’s guaranteed freedom of conscience (sc. freedom of religion) and his right to privacy.

I also adverted then to the actuality that Barbados guarantees the identical freedoms to people in its Constitution, although, remarkably, neither document expressly defines the word “religion”. Yet, as Ventose J recognized in his judgment, the principal issue to be resolved in that case was whether Rastafari is a religion for the purposes of sections 3 and 11 of the Constitution of Saint Christopher and Nevis…”

And while the judge supplied his own research-

Rastafari is a relatively young religion (sic), which has its roots in Jamaica in the 1930s. This development followed the coronation of Haile Selassie I as King of Ethiopia in 1930. Rastafarians believe Haile Selassie is God and that he will return to Africa members of the black community who are living in exile as the result of colonization and the slave trade. Rastafari theology developed from the ideas of Marcus Garvey, a political activist who wanted to improve the status of fellow black people

and the Claimant supplied his own evidence-

The Claimant in his affidavit filed on 31 July 2017 in support of his application by way of originating motion avers that he is a member of the Tewoladi (Begotten) Sons of David, Church of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I. He also avers that:

(1) cannabis is a sacred herb to the Rastafari religion; (2) the use of cannabis is integral to his religious experience; (3) cannabis is smoked or burnt in a chalice or pipe and the Claimant would smoke cannabis in the form of a spliff as a religious rite when worshipping at gatherings, which occur every Saturday; and (4) he uses cannabis every day when he gives praise. This practice, the Claimant contends, puts him in a spiritual mood and brings him closer to the “Almighty”. The Claimant further contends that the cannabis herb is also used as part of the burning of incense during sacramental orders and functions of the congregation. The Claimant avers that Rastafari is a recognized religion in many Caribbean countries including Saint Christopher and Nevis and that, as a Rastafari, he believes in the Holy Bible and other holy scriptures including the Apocrypha. The Claimant also avers that cannabis is a sacred herb to Rastafarians as it is used in spiritual rites when worshipping and at gatherings. The Claimant states that he uses cannabis each day when he gives “praises” to the “creator” and that cannabis is a natural God given plant and is used to nourish the spiritual values of Rastafarians-

Ultimately, the point at issue was not thoroughly litigated since the Defendants conceded the point, while noting nevertheless that “free access to cannabis, even to a single community, namely, the Rastafarian community, poses several problems for law enforcement in Saint Christopher and Nevis insofar as the Rastafarian community has not been incorporated under any legislation for houses of worship or incorporated entities”.

In addition, the judge accepted the earlier determination of his learned brother, Benjamin J, who had held in Francis v Commissioner of Police and the Attorney General of Antigua and Barbuda in 2001 that, first, Rastafari was indeed a religion within the meaning of the Constitution-

I hold no reservations whatsoever that Rastafari is a religion within the meaning and context of section 11 of the Constitution and I hereby declare that Rastafari is a religion entitled to protection thereunder…”;

and, second, that “the criminalization of marijuana operate[d] to hinder the applicant and followers of Rastafari in the enjoyment of the sacred herb as part of their religious worship, practice and observance”;

even though he was reluctant to hold the law unconstitutional for this reason-

“…Given the state of medical knowledge, the State is\obligated in the interests of public safety and public health to shield the entire society, inclusive of Rastafari from potential, unknown and uncertain dangers in respect of which answers are still being awaited…”

To revert to the critical question of what constitutes a religion in law, it seems clear that in the absence of a stipulated definition, the answer must be found in the common law. Indeed, this is not as simple a task as it might first appear. Scholars seem to disagree in limine of the very etymology of the word itself. For some, it comes from the Latin “religere” which means “to tie” or “to bind together”, a feature of most faiths. Others contend that its origins lie rather in “relegere”, meaning to “re-read”, connoting the ritualistic nature of most religions.

Nor are the traditional definition sources of great assistance. The Oxford Dictionary defines “religion” primarily as the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. Merriam Webster gives (1)the service and worship of God or the supernatural; and (2)commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance. That there must be some element of the supernatural seems a necessary criterion. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy chooses rather to enumerate the traits of religion.

These include-

  • Belief in supernatural beings;
  • A distinction between sacred and profane objects;
  • Ritual acts focused on sacred objects;
  • A moral code believed to be sanctioned by the gods;
  • Characteristically religious feelings (awe, sense of mystery, sense of guilt, adoration), which tend to be aroused in the presence of sacred objects and during the practice of ritual, and which are connected in idea with the gods;
  • Prayer and other forms of communication with gods;
  • A world view, or a general picture of the world as a whole and the place of the individual therein. This picture contains some specification of an overall purpose or point of the world and an indication of how the individual fits into it;
  • A more or less total organization of one’s life based on the worldview;
  • A social group bound together by the above.

On this basis, contrary to the epigraph, is any world view excluded?

46 thoughts on “The Jeff Cumberbatch Column – What is a Religion?

  1. Definitionally, Jeff did not cover, maybe because it was beyond the point of his discussion, religion as a geopolitical construct.

    Specifically, the Baha’i so-called religion of Iran. A recently made-up religion as a means of subverting the nation state in the same ways the British deployed lodges to serve intelligence constructs ultimately for imperial control.

    Or even the Anglican Church. Is that a separate religion? Given the reason for its formation. We judge that all Christian denominations are Catholic regardless to what they may call themselves!

    Closer to home, the forces which have prevented the rise of Rasta and the lawful use and industrialization of ganja were never disconnected from the geopolitical. Never, merely matters of law, religion or constitution. They were primarily economic! As we are witnessing now that Western powers have determined that the money making potential of this plant must supersede all other considerations for social control.

    That Western permission could to granted to make money, the deck will be cleared for acceptance in the Caribbean. This, is the nature of a continuing colonial system. A system with Caribbean actors coming to the table when all the value propositions have long been determined – toooo late we say, too late!

  2. @ Pachamama
    you have used very strong words to describe the Baha’i Religion. I skirted with it in Trinidad, when a Iranian lecturer in Dept. of Chemical Engineering invited the graduate students to attend some “get-to-know” the religion discussions. Apart from the name of its deity( sounded like one was howling), I found the religion to be very tolerant of all religions and did not seek to pass judgement on persons. Being a skeptic after a while I discontinued my attendance. I have no problem with the religion.

  3. Robert Lucas

    Yes, the Western world is still being influenced by, and struggling with, wider issues as raised since the 19th century.

    These are obviously economy (Marx), the human mind (Freud) and morality (Nietzsche) as they intersect within the issues surrounding ganja.

    We had hope that you might have some insights into the current scientific and commercial conditions as they are evolving.

  4. re all Christian denominations are Catholic regardless to what they may call themselves!


  5. What are the most widely practiced religions of the world?
    Christianity (2.1 billion)
    Islam (1.3 billion)
    Nonreligious (Secular/Agnostic/Atheist) (1.1 billion)
    Hinduism (900 million)
    Chinese traditional religion (394 million)
    Buddhism 376 million.
    Primal-indigenous (300 million)
    African traditional and Diasporic (100 million)

  6. My sole and lame contribution to this topic. and before Lexicon asks
    “Ritual acts focused on sacred objects;”

    To Lexicon.. “Hell No! Masturbation does not count”.
    🙂 Forgive me folks. I will not be back 🙂
    That was very silly…. Forgive me

  7. Dean Jeff, totally unrelated to your topic today…

    I imagine that groping or in this context affixing one’s hand forcibly to the posterior of a fully clothed female without her consent is penalized under the Bajan Sexual Assault laws…but cant find the local statute.

    Can you quote the relevant Act or ideally direct to an electronic link of our penal code if it’s not too much of a disruption to your day.

    Much thanks either way!

  8. Can you quote the relevant Act or ideally direct to an electronic link of our penal code if it’s not too much of a disruption to your day.

    De rien, dpi, It is found in section 11 of the Sexual Offences ActCap 154-

    Indecent assault
    11.(1) A person who indecently assaults another is guilty of an offence and
    is liable on conviction on indictment to imprisonment for 5 years.
    (2) A person under the age of 16 years cannot in law give any consent which would prevent an act being an assault for the purposes of this section.
    (3) In this section “indecent assault” means an assault accompanied by words or circumstances indicating an indecent intention.

    Good afternoon to you and yours!

  9. I have no problems with Rastas using cannabis or their tenets being called a religion. The native Americans of the Pacific Northwest had a similar problem with their use of peyote(has hallucinogenic properties) in their ritual ceremonies. They won the court case on the grounds that it had been used for centuries by them. I have no problem with people who feel that they must go back to Africa. I have a problem with the “Haile Selassie”: bit. He treated his people worst than dogs. He was also a sycophant where whites were concerned. At the coronation of one of the British monarchs, the sycophant lavished them with very expensive gifts to show his admiration. meanwhile his people were enduring abject poverty.Mengistu Haile Mariam did that country a service when he placed “Haile Selassie” in an animal pen to end out his days

  10. Thanks Dean Jeff… I will not draw u into the spectacle on the other blog as frankly it’s a lot ado about rather little…so I’ll suffice with that last section of your excerpt as an answer to the queries offered over there.

    Much thanks and you also have a lovely day with family…old age and ailments demands I get some exercise today so in your case I hope the game of cricket or other physical activity is for you more a discretionary part of your relaxing Sunday !

    Merci … (Good grief, that’s about the extent of my French now, que lastima 😎!)

  11. John
    May 26, 2019 12:09 PM

    So, all we need now is what are the sentencing guidelines on “indecent assault”!!

    …. and of course, why the police did not charge him with indecent assault … or did they??!!

  12. John
    Jeff says the assault charge can carry 5 years in prison.O’Rourke touched the lady twice.Once putting money in her breast area and secondly butt slapping her.Both damn serious offences.If that was my wife he would serve two 5 year terms to run consecutively.

  13. Don’t get dragged into this. For you, it will be an explanation of the laws involved. Then they will be twisting your words to suit their ugly agenda.

    This requires a gut level response and not high legal ideas.

    I reply because it could have been my mother or my sister.

  14. Jeff

    Written in the Constitution of the United States of America is the First Amendment which governs the Freedom of Religion and the Freedom from Religion … Commonly known as the Free Exercise Clause … but in saying that I want it to be known that Congress still reserved the right to make law governing the application of religion …

    For example: satanic worshippers use human and animal sacrifices in their religious practices, but Congress still reserved the right despite the Free-Exercise-Clause to govern the way in which that religion is practiced … the same would apply to Rastafarian practices as it relates to the use of marijuana in their religious practices if they were living in the US…

  15. Jeff

    Irrespective of what the Constitution of Barbados says about Freedom of Religion … the legislature arm of government still reserved the right to govern the application of that religion …

  16. since we are on religion, I would like to share this

    There was a feud between the Pastor and the Choir Director of the Hicksville Southern Baptist Church …

    It seems the first hint of trouble came when the Pastor preached on ‘Dedicating Yourselves to Service’ and the Choir Director chose to sing: ‘I Shall Not Be Moved’. Trying to believe it was a coincidence, the Pastor put the incident behind him.

    The next Sunday he preached on ‘Giving.’ Afterwards, the choir squirmed as the director led them in the hymn: ‘Jesus Paid It All’.
    By this time, the Pastor was losing his temper.

    Sunday morning attendance swelled as the tension between the two built. A large crowd showed up the next week to hear his sermon On ‘The Sin of Gossiping.’ Would you believe the Choir Director selected the song: ‘I Love To Tell The Story’.

    There was no turning back. The following Sunday the Pastor told the congregation that unless something changed, he was considering resignation. The entire church gasped when the Choir Director led them in: ‘Why Not Tonight’?

    Truthfully, no one was surprised when the Pastor resigned a week later, explaining that Jesus had led him there and Jesus was leading him away. The Choir Director could not resist: ‘What A Friend We Have In Jesus.’

  17. “Is any world view excluded?” (from your list of religious traits)

    Yes. . . . . Dread of the Afterllfe. Undisputably, the raison d’etre of all religious movements. We are all in search of the impossible guarantee of immortality. The worldview we should be celebrating and adoring is the phenomenon that gives us life and supports it while we have it: NATURE.

  18. Poorpeace

    Nature is just a word … but what is it? Where does nature comes from? Who created Nature?

  19. @Lexicon
    Who says Nature was created? If you get yourself into that loop, you can’t get out. The next question will be who created the creator of Nature and so on ad infinitum.

  20. Tee White

    The absent of evidence does evident the absent of proof … My question is who created Nature? Because human knowledge has reached an explanatory threshold as far as who created Nature is concerned that doesn’t mean that Nature was not created…

    Before Newton’s Classical Physics who ever thought of Plank or Einstein Quantum Mechanics or Quantum Physics? So because our human knowledge hasn’t reached to point of explaining who or what is responsible for creation of Nature … that does not mean that Nature wasn’t created Sir …

  21. Tee White

    Think about and think about this statement carefully: the absent of evidence … does not evident the absence of proof ….

  22. Tee White

    Here is another fact that you ought to bear in mind: even our basic common-sense tells us that for everything that is created there is a creator … the question then becomes: well who created God? And when and where did all of this it all started? Here is God speaking: “My thoughts are not your thoughts; and my ways are not your ways.” Our basic human intelligence hasn’t reached the point of explaining these facts, but that does not mean that there aren’t answers that is beyond our human understanding at this point ..

  23. Tee White

    Here is something else I’ve discovered about my body in my 51 years on this Earth: I did not know how important my Achilles tendon was to my balancel until I injured it last year. Now what I am I driving at: well true knowledge comes about somethings by accident … so I am quite sure one day we will discover who created God ( if such can be said) the Earth and Nature … but until then we cannot assume an absolute …

  24. @ The LUMINARY Jeff Cumberbatch

    Yesterday and today are All Day Memorial Affairs so this will make my BLOGGING scarce.

    I am adding this at what is blog 24.

    And the only person who mentioned this pressingly is Leximoron

    “…Satanism is a group of ideological and philosophical beliefs based on Satan. Contemporary religious practice of Satanism began with the founding of the Church of Satan in 1966, although a few historical precedents exist.

    While some forms of Satanism believe in spiritual entities, others have a materialistic worldview, and in relation to faith and religion, they are atheists or agnostics.

    Satanic spiritualists on the other hand, contend that Satan is a god or a chief evil spirit and they pursue interaction with him and other evil spirits…”

    Given your provocative comments and definition about religion which as my fellow myope, Dr GP, points out, incredulously did not go to any regious sources to obtain a religious explanation, I would ask you to comment on Satanism as it meets your definition, in part.

  25. @ the Honourable Blogmaster your assistance please with an item here for the Luminary Jeff Cumberbatch

    As we can see, the Leximoron returned and spoiled his former tangent of thought.

    Simply too good to be true, was it not?

  26. Old Man

    You are liken to the Buridan ass who has been placed equally between a stack of hail and a pail of water, and because an ass goes to what is closest … he dies of hungry … so what am I am saying: your education hasn’t equipped you with the intellectual artifacts to think on your own …

  27. Lexicon
    May 27, 2019 6:23 AM

    Tee White
    Here is something else I’ve discovered about my body in my 51 years on this Earth: I did not know how important my Achilles tendon was to my balancel until I injured it last year. Now what I am I driving at: well true knowledge comes about somethings by accident … so I am quite sure one day we will discover who created God ( if such can be said) the Earth and Nature … but until then we cannot assume an absolute …

    I came across this post by accident and would like to offer some true knowledge in your quest to discover who created God.

    Change your shoes!!

    Buy a pair of good hiking boots that support your ankles and wear them all the time till the pain from the injury subsides!!

    That way you will keep your balance in your walk forward on your quest.

  28. Blogmaster

    If you don’t get rid of the Old Man and his treasonous comments about the government …he going to land this blog in a lawsuit … he is a dangerous man …and his comments must not be taken lightly …

  29. Blogmaster

    I’ve already forwarded his comments to Inspector Lynch of the Barbados Special Branch …who I believed is actively investigating them …

  30. John now that I have you here … Listen! A lot of veterans are pissed off at the fact that Trump should have been placing flowers on the headstones of veterans who gave their life for this country, instead be on a tour of Japan … today on memorial Day…

  31. @ Lexicunt

    What the fvck dies Trump in Japan has to do with this Topic about Rastafarian Constitutional rights to the use of marijuana as part of their religious beliefs?

    Send that to Inspector whatever de Ef at the Royal Baygon Police Force

    Was he one of your ” friends ” at District A, with the Dean girl and the horses?

    He got ti be careful when Donkey the Dompey or is that Dompey The Donkey calling he name cause we dun hear bout your unfortunate incident in the horse stables there…

  32. You Honourable Blogmaster are showing how effing childish you can be now

    Imagine “…Duplicate comment detected; it looks as though you’ve already said that!…”

    How can that comment be generated when I have changed the Satanism blog comment 7 different times?

    But um is you blog boasie and I is jes a blogger so heheheheh do you ting

  33. Old Man

    You as well as many here have made unrelated comments to stress a point on a preview topic … So don’t worry about me ….try to focus more on your enlarged prostate gland which is restricting your flow …

  34. Nature is available for us to see, hear, feel and taste with out feeble human senses. Why search beyond when you are trying to define existence. We all share the uncomplicated survival instinct that even an ant has? While we are we wasting precious time bickering about a search for a Creator, Man, the destroyer has managed to wipe out over a third of visible nature. I would begin to agree with Nietzsche’s nihilistic worldview (that nothing is meaningful) – until I see a fresh shoot grow out of a tree I cut down two days ago. The energy of nature is the only real dimension that we must admire and celebrate along with all living species – biomes and bacteria included.

  35. Poorpeace

    For God I live and for God I will die, and no secular humanist philosophy can change my love of the Man who looks down low, and execute judgment from above …

  36. @Jeff

    You have taken note of the decision by the Court of Appeal to mull the sentence against Farley Smith? This is the 62 year old man given a year by Anika Jackson for stealing a $6.99 nail clipper?

    A waste of resources?

  37. Would you Honourable Blogmaster or the Luminary Jeff Cumberbacare to make this into a blog so that the sheeple and people can have a chance to peruse the legal reasonings behind this $6.99 fiasco?

    Especially when you recall dem let go O’Rourke for a more grievious crime!!!

  38. Andrew “Pilgrim represented Smith pro bono as a friend of the court”

    Yugge Farrell
    “The appearance of Pilgrim follows a recent statement by Grant Connell, the attorney who has been representing Yugge Farrell since her arraignment on January 5 that “I have been contacted by several senior attorneys throughout the Caribbean, who have expressed their willingness to render their legal services, pro bono”.

    Guys we talk a lot about lawyers, but this guy seems to be doing some very good work and flying under the radar…

    Wishing you the very best Mr Pilgrim. May the Good Lord keep you as a champion for the poor and oppressed.

  39. Theophillus Gazerts

    You still have remembered Yugge Farrell?

    Like I remember ABIJAH Holder and Nazzim Blackett

    People are quick to forget about these poor people and the plebians and serfs.

    Interestingly when Pilgrim goes to defend her, he is considered a hero worthy of an OBE but when you and I going into the fray we does get called picknoises and seditionists.

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