Guyana Chronicle
October 3, 2001

Nowadays many people say that the only thing Christopher Columbus "discovered" was that he was lost; That Amerindians (Native Americans) were the true discoverers of the new world, having arrived here at a time when Europeans were still tending sheep in the hills, being a people incapable of imagining, much less building the grand ships that sailed across the oceans.

So why were we taught that Columbus "discovered" the Americas when clearly the region was already inhabited by humans? The answer is that history was being written by men who believed that people of colour were somehow subhuman and insignificant, deserving perhaps only an inferior life of enslavement.

Savages did not discover! The glory of discovery was reserved only for fine European Gentlemen. Today, many of the descendants of these "gentlemen" have recognized that the arrogance and prejudice of their forefathers corrupted the truth of history. These descendants, some of whom we know as the people of western civilization, are embarrassed of their ancestors view of the world. Many acquiesce to a corrected representation of the past.

But what about us? Are we willing to examine the historical record imposed on us by our former masters? We have celebrated our physical release from the most oppressive of European bondage, but still find it difficult to break from the moulds of psychological branding. We are left to mimic European behaviour and thought but we are never accepted as the real thing. It's our fault really, and it all has to do with the
way we think.

One letter writer, with whom I have just had an exchange of opposing ideas, says that "history" shows that kindness, moral and ethical behaviour and social consciousness grew from Christ's teachings to
humanity. It is obvious whose historical points of view are responsible for such ideas.

Are we to assume that prior to Jesus, before 2000 years ago that mankind was savage and beastly? That there was no compassion, no kindness? That non-Christians did not understand the value of life?

If we had to wait on Jesus for these ennobling traits then what was the God of the Old Testament teaching in the hundreds (thousands?) of years before He became man, before He came to sacrifice Himself to Himself?

It is known that Hinduism is the world's oldest religion, predating Christianity by thousands of years. Did Hinduism not teach kindness and grace and did Confucius of China not teach morality long before

(Some historians say that after the age of thirteen, Jesus travelled to India to develop spiritually and was actually tutored in the tenets of Buddhism. Much of Jesus' teachings hold Buddhist philosophies but this is not apparent to western modes of comprehension to which, unfortunately, our minds are firmly tethered.)

How could Jesus' teachings shape "the moral and ethical code of contemporary humanity" when a vast majority of the earth's population does not subscribe to Christianity? The letter writer made a widely

sweeping statement and makes a questionable assumption about the many peoples and the vast cultures of the whole world, of all "humanity."

Anyone who believes that any single religion is morally superior to another displays a profound ignorance of the teachings of the other spiritual faiths. Historians know that the philosophies of the Old and New Testaments are not unique and are in fact reflective of the various cultures existing around the writers.

The New Testament derived much of its instructions from the Torah of the ancient Jews which in turn borrowed and copied laws from the Babylonians, Assyrians, Sumerians, Hammurapi, Eshnunna and Hittites among others. The writings of Paul in the New Testament are easily recognised by students of ancient Greece; Paul lifted heavily from materials of the Greco-Roman world.

Could some of us be so brainwashed by western culture and social mores that we, much like those biased historians of long ago, now believe that a person needs to be Christian in order to be classified as a modern human, to be part of "contemporary humanity"?

But really, does one need to be part of Christendom to exercise the virtue of brotherly love? Without Christ's teachings will we all de-evolve into bloody claws and sharp teeth? Or is brotherly love just a conscience evolving, as Charles Darwin believed, through the "gradual enlightenment of human understanding"?

Anthropologists have noted an astounding social phenomenon while studying a few native African tribes, tribes far removed from "contemporary humanity" and which have not been exposed to Christian missionaries.
These humans have no policemen, no jails, no laws to break. There is no violence, no avarice, no jealousy, no selfishness. Food acquired through hunting expeditions is shared within the entire village and if any is left over it is given freely to neighbouring villages. Some are amazed that these people live in such grace and harmony without ever having heard the name Jesus.

These tribesmen, living in the ways of their ancestors, have created a kind of society that has continually eluded western civilisation which is guided by a Christian taught "moral and ethical code."

"Science," says the letter writer, "has not contributed a moral or ethical code to human society." Indeed, if this is so it is only because science has never arrogated to itself the task of imposing social rules and guidelines on humanity. Science only investigates and seeks to understand natural phenomena in a way that can be comprehended by the human mind In other words, science does not say we must practise "brotherly-love" rather it examines why, regardless of religious faith, all humans seem predisposed towards helping each other.

Science has discovered that morality does not start with God. Long ago, humans evolved a genetic trait called "reciprocal altruism." The "love thy neighbour" concept was incorporated into our gene code while our ancestors lived in caves.

Primitive humans understood the concept we today know as, "hand wash hand, hand come clean," or "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours." More scientifically, they understood that being kind to a person obligated that person to be kind to you in return, thus increasing the chances of survival for both of you.

For any species that recognise each other and possess a long enough memory, the drive to perform altruistic acts is present because it is a kind of insurance for future help. People recognise that as a group they survive better than they do individually, and kindness holds a group together and promotes loyalty.

Natural selection obviously selected for this trait of strength and those who possessed it lived longer and managed to reproduce more. Their offspring, also carrying this trait was able to pass it on to their descendants. In the beginning, this trait was selfishly inspired but after millions of years it got wired into our gene code, it's now a gut instinct. Modern man now finds himself with an inclination towards kindness and thinks he is so because, as the letter writer would have us believe, Jesus told him to be so.

Lutchman Gossai