By Jerry Edwin
The Cuckoo Church of religious imbecility added another member to its ranks and it would be of no moment except that this individual is no ordinary fanatic. It is a movement that seems to have started in 2011 that we should all pray for climate change.
Jerry Edwin is an attorney practicing in the Caribbean and in the US. He also specializes in anti money laundering compliance.
Dr Dessima Williams was Grenada’s former ambassador to Washington for the People’s Revolutionary Government (1979-83) and the NDC government (2008-20013). Unlike the ordinary citizen who cannot use the public podium to articulate their vision for policy change and direction, Dr Williams has instant credibility. And perhaps now, she has in one stroke squandered an otherwise outstanding career of public service.
Williams issued a press release on grenadabroadcast.com calling Grenadians to link hands and wade in the waters of Grenada’s northeast shoreline this coming Sunday August 16 for remote prayer.
It appears Dr Williams has joined the snake oil movement and this should not escape the public view. Proving it’s a truism that silliness is not regional, she joins a global group that is on the fringe not the mainstream of people looking for real solutions to abate climate change.
I was awed by the hopeless audacity of Ambassador Williams’ and her colleagues’ call to prayer because exhortation to God is too serious to be trivialized in this manner.
Far from mocking prayer, we humans recognize prayer is linked to deep personal faith and should stay there; or in the community of believers at the Sabbath worship. Otherwise prayer is symbolic, like starting a meeting on reverential terms in the hope of regulating people’s conduct.
When officials are given the responsibility of advocating in the national interest, praying for the problem to go away reveals inadequacy of thought and from that, an inability to get the job done.
Speaking on behalf of the Association of Small Island States at a critical UN sponsored meeting in Durban in 2009, Williams sensibly observed the failure of developed countries to establish measurable indicators of progress in fighting the devastation of climate change:
“Ambitious targets mean nothing if the rules for counting emissions, including those for land use and forestry, are full of holes, or if they allow the carrying over of hot air from previous commitment periods. In our rapidly heating climate, the last thing we need is more hot air.”
Fast forward to August 2014 and it is Williams herself who is emitting hot air when she asks Grenadians to pray for among other things that:
“World leaders [would] be generous at the Ban Ki Moon Climate Change Summit in September, so there are sufficient sums of money available for a meaningful climate agreement in Paris December 2015.”
With her head bowed in prayer, Dr Williams is simply saying, “Show me the money.”
Ambassador Williams knows that her colleagues in Durban in 2009 would not have taken kindly to joining hands and stepping into the Atlantic asking God to deliver money to fight climate change so she had the good sense to stick with reality in South Africa.
But to a Grenadian audience, her sky worship for climate change dollars is just a grand idea.
Under other circumstances, this would be passed off as a laugh; nothing more than a religious hustler reaching for the lower rung of personal integrity. But Williams was and may very well again represent Grenada to the world in another high level role and she has the resume to fit. Is anyone wondering what she may pray for at an international forum?
And why waste prayer on the receding coastline?
Grenada has over $2,000,000,000 in debt. Perhaps Williams needs to surround the Treasury building in St George’s and chant a Psalm to the hedge funds in New York that hold Grenada’s debt, praying they would show some mercy. The targets of those prayers would be substantial: spiralling unemployment, underfunded education and social services, struggling health care, slow development projects…
Probably no public figure in Grenada, perhaps in the Caribbean, is more religious than Dr Keith Mitchell, the current prime minister. On any given Sunday he can be found not in the grand Cathedral in St George’s, but in the neat and humble community church around his village home where neighbours and friends gather, accompanied by an off-key choir as they submit their collective souls to and pray and worship.
But the day that Dr Mitchell suggests publicly that Grenadians join hands to pray for the alleviation of the national debt or pray for the development projects that his party promised citizens, is the start of the beginning of the end of his political career.
I recall rumours flying around Grenada early in the day of September 6, 2004, when there was news that a massive weather condition was approaching Grenada. Many locals laughed off the surging national disaster: “God is a Grenadian,” they said wrongly.
And after Ivan the Terrible mash up the place, make-shift churches everywhere on this 29-square mile island were overflowing.
And before you could say, “Oh God, whey me galvanize,” another pastor was setting up a tent somewhere on the island.
The most infamous came down from the US, immaculately dressed, and that man put down some prayers in Happy Hill that made almost every non-believer confess. His prayers produced large accumulations of cash offerings in the tens of thousands; he was later arrested jailed on various charges of fraud.
Religious fanatics love the public square.
They will light themselves on fire in public to demonstrate uncompromised fervour to their gods and deities in the name of policy disagreement. They speak in confused languages, not in the quiet of their homes or religious sanctuary but in the middle of the congregation where everyone can observe their apparent deep faith.
Some, mostly young acolytes of extreme religious fanaticism, are lulled into believing that, instead of fighting with their heads and their hands, they should strap on explosives.
This latest hands-around-the-world-for-money-to-retard-climate-change is what gives the anti-climate change crowd fodder. But the science is irrefutable because in the Pacific and in the Atlantic, in Africa, the Caribbean and South America, even on Long Island in New York, real shoreline degradation is happening. In Antarctica, ice caps are melting too fast.
Far from being the progressive voice of pragmatic solutions that she once espoused, Williams has apparently gone down the road of religious imbecility. I thought the adage was that with age comes wisdom.
The former leader of the National Democratic Congress, Tillman Thomas has said publicly that he heard the call to lead his party while he was tending his garden patch and an angel appeared to him with the good news.
Thomas used his heavenly mandate not to craft effective public policy but instead, with his personal angels backing him up, Thomas is better known for bludgeoning some of his political brethren in the nastiest display of political ingratitude witnessed in recent Grenada history.
No surprise, Thomas’ angels abandoned him on February 19, 2013, making sure that neither he nor his fellow pilgrims get another glimpse of Grenada’s Parliament for a very long time.
Dr Dessima Williams follows in a tradition made more outrageous by Sir Eric Gairy.
In November 1978, Gairy informed a plenary session of the United Nations that Grenada had roused the world’s attention to several important issues such as,
“… the universality of God, …the problems of man and his environment… man and his material and spiritual behavior, the Bermuda Triangle, unidentified flying objects and extraterrestrial phenomena…”
Yes, that was Grenada’s Father of Independence sprinkling reality with sky worship. One feels the urge to reverse time and slap a muzzle over that man in those moments of his madness.
So too, is the present feeling for Dr Dessima Williams’ exhortation to pray for money to flow from rich countries to support climate change in small island developing states.
Is it possible for science to measure if prayer works?
In 2012 Harvard University Press published ‘Testing Prayer – Science and Healing’ written by Candy Gunther Brown, in which she suggests after years of research that science is unable to prove the healing power of prayer and that scientists should study its measurable effects on health.
Three years before, in 2009, India’s official Journal of Psychiatry released a study on the effect of prayer on health -- exactly what Brown thought should be done.
The scientists measured health and wellness outcomes after prayer because one cannot measure, say, whether prayer works by looking at sea level after fasting and prayer. Climate changes are measured by scientific investigation and analysis.
The results of the Indian scientists research is that prayer works sometimes and other times it does not. Just like looking for work: Sometimes you get the job and sometimes you don’t.
Just like real life: sometimes you kiss your family goodbye in the morning and end up in the mortuary and sometimes you come home in the evening after work and help the kids with their schoolwork.
Studying the effect of prayer on infertile women, the Indians researchers looked at in vitro embryo transfers in South Korea, one of the most religious countries in the world. The women were randomly divided into distant prayer and control groups and the prayers were conducted in the United States, Canada and Australia.
The Indian psychiatrists did not inform the patients, who could not know about the prayers that were said on their behalf. Neither the investigators nor the statisticians knew about the prayer groups until all the data had been collected so the study was randomized, triple-blind, controlled and prospective in design. Good science.
The study found that 25% of the prayer target got pregnant and 16% of the non-target group did not conceive.
They also studied baby animals, a nonhuman primate species with a tendency to inflict chronic self-injuries. Prayer was conducted for four weeks and both groups of young animals were administered with a medicine. They found that the prayer group had a greater reduction in wound size and a greater improvement in blood loss levels than the control animals.
Then they studied cardiovascular outcomes from post-surgery patients. Approximately 800 coronary care unit patients were discharged after surgery. Again, the groups were randomized with prayer conducted by five persons per patient at least once a week for 26 weeks. By the end of 26 weeks, the results were not statistically significant because 25% of the patients in the prayer group died, suffered cardiac arrest, were re-hospitalized, developed cardiovascular disease or had an emergency room visit for cardiovascular disease. 29% of the non-prayer group had the same outcome.
So prayer works for pregnant women and baby animals but not for people with heart disease? Not necessarily.
The scientists studied worse outcomes associated with prayer meaning, people whose conditions changed after prayer.
For Dr Williams’ benefit, the hypothetical was whether more praying leads to greater financial flows and reduced sea levels decelerating climate change.
To test worse outcomes, the Indian scientists chose three groups of people who had undergone surgery. Two groups did not know for certain whether or not they were receiving prayers while one group knew about the prayers.
Complications occurred in 52% receiving prayers and in 51% who did not get prayers. The group who knew for certain that they were receiving prayers suffered 59% of post-surgery complications. Re-hospitalization and 30-day mortality rates were similar across the groups.
The study demonstrated that remote prayer did not improve outcomes after artery bypass graft surgery. They studied patients in Israel with no demonstrable changes after prayer.
The report in the Journal
is more complicated and makes for intriguing reading.
Something is wrong when public figures resign themselves to religious solutions.
It is a sure sign that the experts need to replace the pretenders. In the case of climate change priorities, it’s the experts that have to address the problems not the diplomats.
It is a supreme failure of imagination when citizens are called by people who should know better, to link hands and pray instead of being rallied to roll up their sleeves to find the hard solutions to the pressing challenges we all face.
Dr Dessima Williams of 2009 would agree that climate change is a problem to be tackled by enforcing legislation regarding waste transfers and disposal, optimal energy uses which are issues for experts who know and have studied the science of land and marine degradation.
Sadly, Williams has morphed into a religious charmer in 2014 but hers is too valuable a voice to abandon. Hopefully, like climate change, a man-made problem, her attitudes can also be reversed.