11 Jun Our Samoan ‘national character’ – about so much more than being Christian

Last week my daughter’s teacher told the class that the constitutional amendment to make Samoa officially a ‘Christian nation’ was a good thing and the next step is for Samoa to ban Muslims. Because, terrorism.

Because, I assume he also meant that Muslims are much more likely to be dangerous, criminally-inclined people?

Never mind that we have had no hints of terrorist activity in this country. Or that thus far, no Muslims have been sent to Tafaigata Prison for rape, sexual abuse, murder or beating the heck out of their spouses. Just Christians.

This teacher’s comments are an example of why the recent constitutional change is dangerous. Because it encourages mindsets like this, which in turn, lead to intolerance and bigotry.

They say that the new law won’t endanger freedom of religion. That everybody can still exercise their religious beliefs as they deem fit.

If that’s true – then what did we need the amendment for?

I am still bemused as to why our leaders felt the need to insert those words in our country’s constitution. Out of all the issues and problems troubling our people today, our government and legislative bodies prioritised time, resources and brain-space on getting this amendment passed. Meanwhile, we are still waiting for a Sex Offender’s Register, child protection laws that actually protect children – oh, and some attention to making it tougher for rapists to drive taxis would also be nice.

They tell us that the amendment confirms Samoa’s national religion ‘as reflective of our overall Christian beliefs and faith.’ That this acknowledgement was ‘always a part of our national character in sayings such as “Fa’avae i Le Atua Samoa” and in the acknowledgement of God, in the preamble of the Constitution.’

Really? Or maybe the wise writers of the Constitution while acknowledging our foundational belief in a higher being, also knew that belief could encompass all the many ways in which ‘Atua’ could manifest and be comprehended.

Maybe they also were paying tribute to our past and the fact that our identity as Samoans did not originate in Christianity. That our identity as Samoans was not birthed from the coloniser. That our ‘national character’ is about so much more than being Christians.

We just celebrated Independence. In doing so, we honor the strength, vision and courage of our forefathers (and mothers) who refused to bend to colonial rule, who held fast to the belief that we Samoans did not belong to another nation – either physically or symbolically.

Historians please correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m certain that Christianity didn’t have much to do with that.

When our ancestors were slow to work on German plantations (because according to the palagi, we were ‘lazy and indolent’) – it had nothing to do with Jesus. When they were frustrated by the NZ colonial administration’s exclusion of ‘native’ Samoans and ‘afakasi’ from governance, believing that we SHOULD be involved in our own leadership – that didn’t come from the Bible.  In the 1920’s when the rhinoceros beetle threatened the lucrative copra industry (owned and controlled mainly by the palagi administration), Samoans were ordered to scour the forests and collect the beetles under a per-capita beetle quota. Our people refused, even going so far as to breed the insects in baskets. You think this kind of (wickedly awesome) ingenuity came from our Christianity?!

Did they march in peaceful protest and spill their blood on the streets – because of their ‘national (Christian) character’?

I don’t think so.

Are we just buying into the world wave of unrest and agitation? The one that has leaders trying to put up walls, refugees setting out on leaky boats, dead children washing up on faraway shores, countries bombing another, extremists blowing themselves up, others burning down mosques, and more? Why must we go with the flow? Why must we join them?

It seems to be a natural inclination to be suspicious and fearful of those who are different from us. Those we don’t understand. Doesn’t the amendment feed that fear? Doesn’t it just feed the closed minds of those like my daughter’s teacher?

While we’re on the subject of religion – doesn’t Christianity teach us to love our neighbour? And who is our neighbour? Everyone.

We are Samoans and many of us are also Christian. But did we really need a constitution that says we are a Christian nation? Who are we trying to convince?

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