bermuda

How do we determine who has the right to absentee voting?

The latest throne speech had some very interesting ideas that will be coming up in the next legislative session.  One of these is the introduction of absentee voting.  This is an idea that is long-needed, and is a step closer for Bermuda to becoming an even more modern society.  It is an idea that should be praised.  However, it does not go far enough.  From the throne speech, we find out that it will only be granted to students enrolled in accredited colleges and universities.  There should be limits on absentee voting, there is no doubt about that.  But this initial limit should highlight some concerns.

One of the arguments that I have seen is that these students should be allowed to vote because they still hold residence in Bermuda, while temporarily living abroad to complete their studies.  Well what about young professionals that are also living abroad on temporary work visas, and  have no citizen status in the country where they temporarily live?  One may argue that we do not know if they will ever return so they should not have the right to absentee voting.  But this argument falls apart when you really apply some critical thought.  First, there is no guarantee that the students will ever return to Bermuda.  Life happens, people marry citizens in the countries where they are living.  People decide to pursue careers in other countries, instead of returning to the island.  Who is to say that these students will return, especially those holding dual citizenship.  I was once told, you can never prove intent.  So you cannot say that the intent of every student is to return to Bermuda. Also, if a student is living abroad they are not a resident of Bermuda.  They would have been granted temporary resident status in whatever country they are in.  Just like a young professional on a work visa abroad has been granted temporary resident status.  If you are going to still consider a student a continued resident of Bermuda because of their temporary status abroad, than young professionals, living abroad temporarily, should be afforded the same.

Then there are the Bermudians that have relocated abroad temporarily for technical or other short-term training. They are living abroad temporarily to better their lives and learn new skills or advance their careers.  Why should they not have the right to vote in the country of their birth, thus ensuring that they direct the fate on some level, for a country that they may return to one day.  Why are they not allowed to participate in a country where they may still have family, children and loved ones?  For example, the government not too long ago sent people to learn butchering.  If these persons were sent abroad by the government and an election was called, that same government would then tell them they do not have the right to absentee voting, and they would have to disrupt their studies and purchase their own airfare to return home to vote.  Why is this group of students, ones that are trying their best to improve their lives, and may come back to Bermuda to make contributions to our society, also being disenfranchised?

Then there is another, more social-economic concern.  Higher education costs money.  Money that some do not have.  If a Bermudian family is living abroad temporarily, but do not have the funds to send their child or children to college or they can only afford a short-term or technical training program that is not accredited, why are they being denied the right to vote on an absentee basis, but others with the financial means can?  This starts to suspiciously look like classism.  Is this the type of society that we are striving to have; one where money equates to privilege?  I mean to be flatly honest, it already works that way, but are we to blatantly tell people, if you cannot afford college or university, you cannot vote.  In the past, if you could not afford (or you were not allowed to own) land, you could not vote.  Is this where we want to return, to that blatantly discriminatory era?

Of course opening the vote up for absentees needs controls.  What about persons that have never lived in Bermuda, born to Bermudian parents, have dual citizenship, and are students.  Are they allowed to vote on an absentee basis once they come of age to attend some affluent college?  Is it right that this faceless person, who has never set foot on the island, and may never set foot on the island outside of vacation at their holiday home that is still in Bermuda, be allowed to vote?  Should there be a time limit on how long someone can be abroad and still vote?  Say up to five years or one voting term, since a person has left the island, before they need to reestablish physical residence in Bermuda, for a set period of time. Even the UK has a 15 year time limit.  What should ours be?

If we are going to pass a law that allows absentee voting, all Bermudians should be afforded that right.  The students at university, should have the right to vote.  The people that are just overseas doing training as opposed to being at an accredited, higher education institution should have the right to vote.  Young professionals, with or without dual citizenship, but are only living abroad temporarily should have the right to vote.   And certainly those who can not afford college or university, but have opted for technical training or other short-term training should have the right to vote.  Everyone should be given the right to absentee voting if they are temporarily abroad, within certain limits, but more than has been put forth in the Throne Speech.  If the government is for all Bermudians, they need to be for all Bermudians.

 

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Keep it Personal

Recently, a petition was given to the Bermuda Government in support of same-sex marriage.  After this, there was some media coverage, which included an interview with a pastor.  In her interview she said that while the advocates were concerned with being “on the right side of history”, she only concerned with being “on the right side of eternity.”  She also went on to say that government could not change “divine marriage” and that she has been married for 30 years and gays will “never have that.” I would like to interject here that there are some same-sex couples that have been together longer than her 30 “divine” years.  In conversation with a friend, my friend said that this pastor lacks in expressing compassion for the number of couples that have loving, long-standing relationships that, if left up to people like the pastor, will never be recognized and celebrated in the same way this pastor’s relationship is.  It doesn’t make hers better – it just highlights how quickly some humans can dismiss the lives and feelings of others.  My friend also said that same-sex marriage advocates want equality through marriage enabling all to receive the full rights that everyone claiming to be heterosexual freely enjoys in our society.

So what am I getting at here?  My question is, what happened to the concept of a personal relationship with God?  Dictionary.com defines personal as “of relating to, or coming as from a particular person; individual; private”, or “intended for use by one person.”  So why is it that some religious people say that they have a personal relationship with their God, but constantly try to inject their beliefs into other people’s lives, specifically, using the law?  And when I say beliefs, I am not talking about a high level view of a general philosophy; I mean the nitty-gritty, “Thou shalt or thou shalt not” types of beliefs.  Some are quick to point out to others that they are sinners, worthy of death and need to repent (they even say this to other Christians).  I have even heard someone say how a person who had recently died deserved it because they were not living a “righteous, Christian life.”

We in Bermuda live in a diverse society.  There are Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheist, and the list goes on.  Yes, I will admit that in the 2010 census 70% of respondents stated that they were affiliated with some type of Christian denomination (or non-denomination). However, nine percent responded that their religion was “other” and 19% were not affiliated with religion at all.  On top of that, “other” grew by 56% between 2000 and 2010, while “not affiliated” or “nones” grew by 34% during the same time period.  The respondents that identified with a Christian denomination decreased by 12% from 2000 to 2010.  It is obvious that the religious landscape in Bermuda is changing.  With more “others” and “nones”, you would hope that the religious would be more cognizant of this fact, but there continues to be the push to interject beliefs into other person’s lives by some, including through the law of the land.

Do not get me wrong.  Everyone is entitled to their beliefs, but this constant barrage of judgments, condemnation and/or evangelism is not fair to those who live their lives another way.  Trying to keep certain laws in place because they are seen as “God’s law” is infringing on the rights of people that do not believe the same.  For example, do you remember the prohibition of alcohol sales on Sunday?  As times have changed, this law became outdated.  It was once put in place to enforce some religious belief that not everyone followed or agreed to.  Just because some think it is “sinful” to drink on Sunday, doesn’t mean that everyone should adhere to that belief.  If you don’t think you should drink on Sunday, well, don’t drink.

In order to live up to the ideals of the cosmopolitan society we are striving to build and maintain here in Bermuda, there has to be a level of understanding and acceptance that everyone is different, and everyone has a different set of beliefs.  There also needs to be an understanding that just because we believe our principles are the “right” ones for us, that does not mean that everyone else should follow them.  Aristotle said, “It is the mark of an educated mind, to be able to entertain a thought, without accepting it.”

I believe that everyone has the right to pursue a philosophy in life that makes them happy and adds value to their lives, as long as it does not infringe on other people’s lives in a negative way.  For some it’s religion, for some it’s education or personal development; there are many ways for people to enrich their experience and live their lives to their fullest potential.  If you have a personal relationship with a God and have a set of personal beliefs, why not keep it just that, personal.  If there are rules that you have personally agreed with your deity to live by, then you live by them.  Do not expect everyone to follow your rules; they are yours and yours alone.

My Journey (…still ongoing)

question2I like to say that I have always been a skeptic. But, I accept that sometimes our memories can be figments of our imagination. However, I did have questions growing up. I remember hanging out with one of my best friends when we were teenagers and questioning the things we were taught from the Bible. As a gust of wind would go by, we would laugh and say that God was going to kill us because we were asking questions about the secrets of his nature.

Yes, I had questions. But for most of my youth I was a devout Christian, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist (SDA) church. My upbringing was pretty fundamental. I wasn’t supposed to go to the movies, couldn’t wear jewelry, no drinking or dancing and we basically became hermits between sundown Friday to sundown Saturday, only to emerge from into the light of day to attend Church and evening Adventist Youth (AY) sessions. All in all, however, I had a pretty good childhood. The comradery that is associated with Christian fellowship is a nice one at times, especially as a child and as I entered early adulthood.

Yet, I had questions.

I usually would ignore these questions or if I asked an adult, I was met with the cliché answers, “That is part of God’s plan” or “God works in mysterious ways.” As I watched people get sick and die, families being separated by divorce, and as things happened in the world such as war, famine and disease, I conjured up fantastic images of a loving god. One who was looking down and allowing all of these to happen so that we could look from the safety of our lives and somehow learn from these events. When they happened to me or my family, I just knew that everything would be OK, because I was cradled in the arms of a wonderful deity that had a plan for my life and these life events would somehow make me a better person and bring me closer to him.

Still, sometimes, I had questions.

I think the first time that I started to actually and seriously question my religious upbringing was when I went off to school at Oakwood College in Huntsville, AL, USA. This was a historically black college and affiliated with the SDA church. Even though I was still following the dogma of my upbringing, I started to notice things. Hypocrisies, intolerances and untruthfulness on the part of the administration there ran rampant. Rumors of the women’s dormitory dean stealing money from the school. Pastors kids dealing drugs (my roommate) and personal incidents of theft of my property. I won’t even go into the black-separatist, black power (racist?) atmosphere of the campus. I was faced with a new question. If I was part of such a powerful, truthful and righteous way of life, why was I surrounded by such seemingly vile individuals (not all of course, there were some nice people there). Unfortunately at the time, still entrenched in religious doctrine, I quelled these questions with believing that “all have fallen short of the glory of God” and everyone was a sinner and….well you know where I am going with this.

Also during this time, I was really falling into a violent inner war with myself in terms of my sexuality. I went through some deep, dark depressed states, contemplating suicide and begging my heavenly father to save me from sin. My relief never came from above.

And now, I had even more questions.

Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all

My bough broke when I was living in Atlanta. By this time, I had become disillusioned with my past SDA upbringing and had decided to “get saved” into the Baptist church. It was the easiest ticket to heaven I had ever received. All I had to do was say “Yes, I believe” and that was it. One Sunday, after listening to the Bishop, and during a musical selection by the choir, I was overcome with my questions. Why would God just love me for no reason, no matter what I did, who I hurt, or the like? I was so confused. I left church that day confused. I needed an answer. I was tired of living without answers. So, I did what any person should do, living in the 21st century. I went to the Internet.

Since then, I have learned that it is OK to ask questions and that if the answer is “Just accept it”, you need to look for a different source for your answers. Starting to look for real answers has wiped the mysticism from my eyes and I now see the thinks in a more puristic view.

I have given my story to let other’s out there know that there is nothing wrong with questions. It is when you ignore the questions and delay trying to figure out the truths or facts that you lend yourself to living with ambiguity and possibly never living your life fully.

Do not be afraid to always question!

My experience of being atheist in Bermuda

hi mom

Over a year ago, a lady at my job asked me if I believe in God. My answer was no.

What transpired after that was surreal.

First she asked me if I loved my parents. Clueless as to how that even fit into our conversation I answered “yes, I do, why?” She asked me if they were sick or hurt, would I not pray for them. Of course my answer was “no”, and I had to tell her that did not mean that I did not love my parents. Then she called another lady to let her know that I was atheist, and this other lady told me she loves me (um, lady you don’t even know me) and then they said that they would pray for me at some prayer group.

Other instances are my father telling me, “I know you will come back to Christ one day” and my aunt told me, “When I was your age, I left the church, but I came back, so I am not worried about you.” A cousin of mine asked me “why do I hate God so much?”

I bring these stories up to make two points. One is that there are a lot of nescience and mis-truths surrounding atheism in Bermuda. Being such a conservative and [alleged] christian society, it seems that there are a lot of false narratives out there.  This, most likely, has been perpetrated by religious organizations attempting to squash questioning of parishioners in regards to their faith, and some of it just pure ignorance.

Secondly, I inherently do not mind that someone is religious. If that is your belief, than I am happy that you are happy. My problem comes when people of these beliefs feel it is their duty to make you feel as if you are something broken, or failed or that something is wrong with you.

Some people in Bermuda need to understand that atheists are persons who are just not convinced in the existence of a God, because we have not seen the evidence for such a being. We have morals just like anyone else. We love, we cry, we go through hard times and good times, but we do not look for something supernatural outside of ourselves for dealing with life.

If you are an atheist, stuck in the closet, just know that you are not alone.  There are many others who do not believe in the supernatural.  I just heard the statement that “coming out atheist in Bermuda is almost as bad as coming out as gay.”  But as with the gay movement, the movement of the non-religious is also gaining momentum around the world.  Hopefully one day you can come out of the atheist closet and be comfortable, even in our sunny island.

Eventually, here in Bermuda, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers, humanists, etc. can have a voice in their own country and not be met with intimidation or misunderstanding.

If you have a story about being an atheist in Bermuda, leave it in the comment section.

The White Man’s Disease

Niankh

There is a common misconception among some people of African decent.  It is that homosexuality and transgender behaviour is a “white man’s” idea, disease or burden.  People like to spread that the white man came up with it (usually in France) and is now spreading it throughout the world and corrupting the poor black man.  Where does this idea come from and why is it not true?

In an article written by Colin Steward entitled, “21 Varieties of traditional African homosexuality”, Steward gives us an insight of what was going on in the pre-colonial times in Africa.  He states, “Throughout Africa’s history, homosexuality has been a ‘consistent and logical feature of African societies and belief systems.”  Some of the examples that he has given are, “explicit” bushman paintings, which depict same-sex sexual activity, the Ganga-Ya-Chibanda (priest from the Congo) who routinely crossed-dressed and referred to as “grandmother.  Another example is in 1606 it was documented that men in southern Africa behaved “womanly” and were ashamed to call themselves men.  One last example was practice of female-female marriages amongst the Nandi and other various tribes.

Here are some other pieces of history of homosexuality:

  • In East Asia, same-sex love has been referred to since the earliest recorded history.
  • Homosexuality in China, known as the pleasures of the bitten peach, the cut sleeve, or the southern custom, has been recorded since approximately 600 BCE.
  • Homosexuality in Japan, variously known as shudo or nanshoku, has been documented for over one thousand years and had some connections to the Buddhist monastic life and the samurai tradition.
  • The Laws of Manu, the foundational work of Hindu law, mentions a “third sex”, members of which may engage in nontraditional gender expression and homosexual activities.
  • When English and French-Canadian fur trappers first grew acquainted with the cultures of the Native Americans among whom they found themselves, they were surprised to find that there were significant numbers of men dressed as women among the tribes of the region.

The list goes on…and not one of these cultures are “white people.”

Where does this notion come from?  Is it because of black people’s adherence to religion, more so then their white counterpart?  Or is it because Muhammad Ali, in 1969, stated that white people where the cause of homosexuality and that idea stuck with black people?

Where ever this came from, if one looks at the facts, and ignores the rhetoric, one would see that homosexuality is present throughout history, and throughout cultures.

Bermuda Needs Secularism

In an article entitled, Island misses out on UK’s gay marriage move, it is stated that “Premier Michael Dunkley said in 2012 that he did not support [same-sex marriage] because ‘marriage to me is a union between a man and a woman’.”

Since when did Michael Dunkley become God?  I didn’t get the memo.  How is it that he can decide on all Bermudians civil rights, based on his opinion?  Bermuda, so it seems, has been held hostage by the churches since the birth of our country.  One cannot deny that everyone has a right to worship how they feel, but why is it that the religious leaders and organizations in Bermuda have so much influence politically and socially, and get to dictate their beliefs to everyone else? When will Bermuda become a secular nation?

Now most people are not sure what secularism is.  The various religious entities in Bermuda and around the world portray scenes of immoral debauchery, perversion, chaos and every other way to slander this idea that they can find.  Secularism, however, has a much more noble purpose.  If you go to Wikipedia, you will find that the real purpose of secularism is the separation of government institutions and persons mandated to represent the state from religious institutions and religious dignitaries.  That’s it.  No sinister plot, no plan to turn society upside down.  It is to protect everyone so that all will be equal before the law.  I would even venture to say that keeping dogma and religious tradition out of the law is a human right.  No one should be forced by legislation to be coerced into following someone else’s religious opinion.  And when those opinions are found in existing laws, it is the responsibility of our legislators to move our society to a more equal plane.

On the converse, one would wonder if the opposite is better.  Well, we have many shining examples of theocracies around the world.  Many countries in the Middle East use Sharia Law.  According to James Arlandson of American Thinker, Sharia Law can bring out the most violent traits of humanity.  Based on a holy book, when someone commits an “offence” they can be injured or murdered. Is this where we want to go in Bermuda?  I think not.

So when the Premier and Leader of the country, Michael Dunkley states that his opinion is that marriage is between a man and a woman, and when the Opposition leader, Marc Bean, can feel comfortable stating that same-sex marriage will turn civilization upside down and upon its head, it is time for us to tell our political leaders that their religion has no business being forced upon people who may not share those same beliefs, through law.  Bermuda needs secularism.