OK, so we’ve had our beastly fun casually dissecting the Houseflies. They’re such irresistibly easy targets, aren’t they, made to measure as they are for the transparent purposes of the presumed holier-than-thou. So now let’s sit back and take a good look in our rear-view mirrors at last week’s storm in a teacup. (BTW: is a storm in a teacup, say, in the United States, dimensionally the equal of a storm in a teacup on the Rock of Sages? Yes, you say? Then is that why whenever America sneezes we catch rockin’ pneumonia?)
Perchance you might learn from it, dear patient reader, as I have, I beg to offer my favorite story about Voltaire: the old boy was taking a late afternoon stroll with some visiting fellow philosophers in an artsy section of the City of Love (otherwise known as Gay Paree) when one of them inquired about a gaudily-painted structure that stood out from the regular gray architecture.
“That’s a whorehouse,” said Voltaire, “for homosexuals.”
And his friend asked: “How do you know?”
“Oh,” Voltaire replied, readjusting his glasses. “I’ve been there.”
“And how was it?”
Shrugging his shoulders, the great man said: “It was all right.”
“Just all right?”
“Yes, it was all right.”
“How many times did you visit?” asked the group’s oldest member.
“Just once,” Voltaire assured him.
“Only once? If it was all right, then why just a single visit?”
At which point Voltaire delivered the line that would forever be linked with his name: “Once a philosopher, twice a pervert!”
Which returns me to last week’s somewhat overheated confabulation that centered on an alleged “good boy” MP and a committed detractor, rather than on the real problem that is local politics. And now I ask you: What is it that makes one politician a good boy and another not so good? What’s the yardstick? Are political goody-goodies different from, say, Holy Name Society card bearers? How conducive to the people’s welfare are good politicians, as opposed to their suspect House and party colleagues? Is it possible for political good guys to coexist with their rotten colleagues and yet retain the qualities that render them exemplary in the eyes of the electorate? Do good-boy and nice-guy MPs deserve their people-approved status even as they selfishly permit their bad House brethren to be bad with impunity? Is a regular good boy automatically a political good boy?
Lest we forget: relatively few Saint Lucians had ever heard of Robert Lewis until his name was officially associated with a political campaign, when Lewis proudly boasted about an ascetic lifestyle synonymous with the principles of the Good Book. First among his public pronouncements was that his religious beliefs had always taken and would forever take precedence over all other considerations. If he were ever called to MP duty after six o’clock on a Friday evening, he pledged, he would without the smallest hesitation decline in favour of faithfully observing the Sabbath. Which, of course, sounds wonderful, if only at first hearing. On the other hand, when a politician suggests what defines and separates him from the rest of the herd is his faith—his good-guy image, let us say—then how can he be surprised when the first shots fired in his direction by his opponents are aimed at proving him a sheep in wolf’s clothing? We’ll return in time to Robert Lewis.
Of course, before Robert there had been other AIPs, by which I mean Adventists in Parliament. Barely 21 years old, Menissa Rambally had in 1996 abruptly abandoned school studies in Trinidad & Tobago to fill in for her father Hezekiah, a much-loved prominent businessman and an Adventist who in mid-campaign had succumbed to heart disease. Barely had the grieving Menissa announced her SLP candidacy when the incumbent UWP, with good reason concerned she stood to benefit from what was referred to at the time as “the sympathy vote,” unleashed on her trail one of its more vicious dogs of war. As coincidence would have it, the irascible former SLP hyena and Menissa were related by marriage: he was married to her aunt and for most of her short cloistered life Menissa had loved and respected him as “Uncle Peter.”
With little to say that was convincingly dirty and demeaning about the Labour Party’s youngest star, Peter Josie set out to portray her as too naïve to realize she was little more than a sacrificial lamb marked for slaughter. To be fair, with no track record to qualify Menissa for a seat in parliament, let alone as the answer to the nation’s multitudinous pressing problems, not least of them economic, the SLP’s make-over artists had made much of her youthfulness, her pristine reputation and her undeniably tele-genic features that some referred to as angelic. Ah, but what they banked on was her strict religious upbringing and her publicized close relationship with God that set her apart from the garden-variety election candidate, many with no visible means of support, hard-drinkers and random inseminators of damsels in distress. Ironically, the UWP candidate chosen to oppose Menissa was not only her deceased father’s brother, but he was also well known as an Adventist Church leader, especially adept at exorcising demons. If the UWP wished to defuse the SLP’s not-so-secret weapon they would have somehow to convince the electorate that Menissa’s saintly image was just another devilish mirage generated by her party’s notorious propaganda machine.
During an unforgettable performance in William Peter Boulevard, when he referred to her as “just a child,” Josie not only predicted the imminent deflowering of the SLP’s latest female recruit by George Odlum but he also demonstrated how a certain journalist-Mr Universe would go about reshaping Menissa’s booty. By all measures, it was a demonic demonstration but hardly surprising given Josie’s notorious proclivities. Of course, he paid the price: on the remembered evening there was hardly an observer whose sensibilities he did not pulverize. In 1996 the inexperienced, barely-past-her-teens Menissa Rambally,
who had never in all her life held a job, was one of the SLP’s biggest election winners!
How ironic, then, that she would be the MP to bring before parliament two of the most controversial bills in recent memory: the so-called abortion bill and the gaming act that would legalize casino gambling in largely Roman Catholic Saint Lucia. Was Menissa manipulated by her prime minister to front what her more experienced colleagues, Mario Michel and George Odlum, for instance, would not? Did Josie prove right after all?
Her uncharacteristically raucous, near hysterical addresses in support of selective abortion and Vegas-style gambling seemed to spit in the face of the collective church. But perhaps the final nail in her coffin was when she publicly compared the bragging 80-year-old Sir John Compton’s sexual power with that of her far younger party leader—whom she purposefully referred to on the eve of the 2006 general elections as “my man.” Despite a later concerted effort at reassuring her disappointed church brethren, they turned away in droves to side with her opponent Guy Joseph, whose campaign had concentrated on Menissa’s ostensible betrayal of the most basic principles of the Seventh Day Adventist faith. Since then, of course, the parliamentary representative for southeast Castries has kept his religion well away from his sleeve. I cannot recall a single statement from him that was remotely indicative of his faith. He has earned for himself, for better or worse, a reputation as the slickest politician since George Mallet and JMD Bousquet! By popular acclaim, Guy Joseph is Saint Lucia’s Mr Teflon.
We return now to our AIP of the moment: There is nothing on the record to indicate Robert Lewis’ position on abortion or gambling. He was not yet an MP when the Kenny Anthony government quite controversially made some abortions legal. Presumably, he is on the two issues at one with his church. But then, the general notion notwithstanding, where precisely does the Adventist Church stand on abortion? Is it in harmony with the Roman Catholic Church’s total condemnation of the unborn child as sacrifice?
Judging by its somewhat confusing “Guidelines on Abortion,” the Adventist Church appears to leave it to pregnant women to decide whether or not to abort. While the church advocates that “prenatal life is a magnificent gift of God” and reminds adherents that “God’s ideal for human beings affirms the sanctity of human life in God’s image and requires respect for prenatal life,” it also conveniently advises that “decisions about life must be made in the context of the fallen world.” Moreover, while “abortion is never an action of little moral consequence . . . the church does not serve as conscience for individuals.”
Abortions for reasons of birth control, gender selection or convenience are not condoned by the church. However, “in exceptional circumstances that present serious moral or medical dilemmas, such as serious threats to the pregnant woman’s life, serious
jeopardy to her health, severe congenital defects carefully diagnosed in the fetus and pregnancy resulting from rape or incest,” the fate of the unborn child is finally to be determined by its mother. Seemingly in contradiction of its line about “the context of the fallen world,” Guidelines on Abortion reminds Adventists to “make their choices according to Scripture and the laws of God, rather than the norms of society.” Presumably, society “in the context of the fallen world.”
What about the Roman Catholics in parliament who made abortion legal in certain circumstances, in the process criticizing their own church—and on the contemptible basis that opponents of Section 166 are not under any obligation to avail themselves of the services of state-approved abortionists. Can it be morally right that an unborn child be destroyed because it was conceived, through no fault of its own, during a rape? According to Section 166, a husband commits rape if he insists on his so-called conjugal rights despite his wife’s protestations.
Should pregnancy result from sex between a horny old-fashioned husband and his protesting wife, Section 166 affords her the right to abort.
Does Lewis endorse that particular provision? Obviously the House Catholics do: despite severe church criticism, they created the law. Ironically, the nice guys of the current administration that when in opposition had strongly protested against amending the law that made abortion illegal unless performed to spare the pregnant woman’s life, appear now to endorse Section 166—albeit tacitly!
And what about casino gambling? Here, there is no room for misunderstanding: “The Seventh-day Adventist Church outright rejects gambling as against God’s principles and will not solicit nor accept funds derived from gambling.” Where do Robert Lewis and Guy Joseph stand on gambling?
Not so long ago someone—you may rest assured he was defending a party colleague’s hypocrisy— observed that MPs do not swear allegiance to the Scriptures, they take their oaths only in support of their country’s constitution. OK. But don’t the vast majority swear on the Bible? The ritual cop-out is that when contentious positions are to be voted on in parliament, Cabinet members are permitted to abstain on moral grounds. Alas. Such freedom evidently does not apply to victimization, pedophilia, nepotism, maladministration, lying to parliament and the other horrors that political partisanship
and palpable hypocrisy have allowed to be the natural order of things in Saint Lucia.
We are fond of describing local politics as nasty and wicked and hypocritical. Is that why it attracts so many of our most upstanding citizens? For our House Mr Good Boys and Mr Nice Guys, the following from Corinthians might prove a useful reminder: “Bad company corrupts good character!”