Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Life by Proxy

May 4, 2008

A couple nights ago, there was a story on the news about the little McCann girl who went missing in Portugal.  This one took a different angle.  It looked at it from the point of view of a Canadian clergyman who was assigned to the Anglican church in the Portugese town where it happened, a few days after the tragic event.

In the course of the story, the minister’s wife spoke of how she and the entire congregation prayed constantly for the little girl’s safe return.  They’re still waiting and praying.  She then asked, “How can so many people pray for the same thing and it not happen?”  If ever a question answered itself…  It was screaming out.  I wanted to scream it out.  “Because there’s no one on the receiving end of the prayers, of course!”

How she couldn’t – or wouldn’t – see it is beyond me.  Why millions of others can’t see that prayers aren’t answered is beyond me.  Everyone in a competition can pray for victory, but only one will win.  Millions have prayed for loved ones to come home from wars who didn’t.  Other people will survive complicated surgeries or be found by the police, but these are the results of human actions, not  prayers.  I guess people really are that desperate.

At best, praying for someone is extending good wishes and hopes by proxy, albeit an imaginary one.  But, why channel good wishes through a third party?  Why not give them directly?  It expresses the sentiment you feel and, ultimately, is more sincere.

Prayer could actually be seen as a selfish act.  It makes the person praying feel better.  It does nothing for the target of the prayers.  There was even a study done in Europe recently that monitored results for people who prayed and those who didn’t.  It made no difference.

I was going to say, “At worst, prayer is a selfish act”.  Then I remembered another news story that demonstrates it can be worse.  If any of you are thinking praying can’t do any harm, think again.  Remember the story of the girl who died because her parents chose to pray for her rather than take her to a doctor?

If you want to help someone or extend your good wishes, do it in the real world.  Send them a card or letter.  Phone them.  Tell them face to face.  Take them to the hospital or feed them.  Contribute to a fund or charity (one that does practical things rather than convert people and pray for them).  You might just give them a little comfort, rather than yourself.  You might even save their life.  Praying won’t.

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New Carnival of the Godless is out

April 28, 2008

No time to write because I have to do my taxes.  In the meantime, the new Carnival of the Godless is out, including a post by yours truly.  You can find it at:

http://www.nmmng.co.uk/4814e44f

Great job, No More Mr. Nice Guy.

Showdown: Law of the Land vs. God’s Law

April 24, 2008

The arrest of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leader Warren Jeffs in the U.S. for forcing an underage girl to marry an older man, and recent removal of young women and children from the sect’s temple compound in the belief there may be more underage girls who have been married off, have again raised the question of when the British Columbia and federal governments will finally act against a similar sect in Bountiful, BC, led by Winston Blackmore.  It’s no secret that the Bountiful sect practices polygamy and that polygamy is illegal in Canada.  Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham has written extensively about the goings on in Bountiful.  It’s featured on local TV news in Vancouver from time to time and, occasionally, there’s a story about it on national news broadcasts.

So, why doesn’t anyone do anything about it?  They’re afraid.  They’re afraid any prosecution will fail because it will violate the Charter of Rights.  They may, by extension, be afraid of being sued for violating someone’s rights.  You see, whoever drafted the Charter included some stuff about freedom of religion, as opposed to freedom of views on the subject of religion, that could be construed as meaning there is no higher principle than one’s religious values.  The result is that BC’s Solicitor General, Wally Oppal, has been waiting for months – although it seems years – for advice as to whether or not prosecution would be constitutional.  I hope he gets it soon and, if it wouldn’t be, that changes will be made to the Charter.

The core conflict was summed up by one of the American sect members in a televised interview with the CBC a couple nights ago.  He said it doesn’t matter if the girls are underage.  He pointed out that the Book of Mormon instructs him to take many young women.  He then made the definitive statement, “When it comes to an issue of whether I choose to obey the law of god or the law of the land, I choose to obey the law of god.”  That is the situation in a nutshell.  Do religious rights supercede secular laws or are they subject to secular laws?  Do secular laws supercede religious rights or are there different laws for different people?

If we allow different laws for different people, how will we decide who gets special treatment and who doesn’t?  There have already been some special, and controversial, exemptions on religious grounds upheld by the courts.  Sikhs in the RCMP can wear turbans instead of hats, for instance.  On the other hand, a request some years ago by a muslim group to allow the use of Shar’ia law within their own community was denied.  That would seem to represent a precedent.  The underlying principle was that you can’t have a group of people enforcing a different set of laws.  There has to be one set of laws for all the people.  I like underlying principles.  They are something you can build on.  They are a solid foundation.

There is nothing stopping the BC government from laying charges under the current laws of the land.  Polygamy is illegal.  If the members of this particular religion want to challenge the charges under the Charter of Rights, let them.  Let it be decided by the courts.  One of two things will happen.  Either the principle that secular laws supercede religious rights will be firmly established, or the opposite will be.  If it’s the latter, I’m sure enough people will be sufficiently reviled by their Charter of Rights upholding polygamy and the partnering of young girls with old men that some changes to the Charter may actually be possible.  The changes would have to make it clear secular laws come before religious codes, that there are principles that outrank religious belief.  Those changes could even accommodate atheists and agnostics, recognizing their equal rights.  If things go really well, maybe we could even lose those opening words recognizing that there is a god.  They only serve to snub non-believers, after all.

What is the BC government afraid of?  Is it the legal costs?  Are they really going to allow some religious nuts to flout the law to save a few million dollars in legal fees?  Is it the constitutional issues?  Are politicians really so afraid of constitutional talks that they’d allow archaic traditions that exploit young girls to go on in a country that prides itself on, and, in many ways takes its identity from, being progressive?

Once again, the issue appears to be leadership.  No doubt the BC and federal governments will adopt a wait and see attitude.  Wait for the Americans to do something and see what happens.  I say go after them.  If they challenge under the Charter, fight them.  Dare to establish a precedent and a principle.  If the Charter is flawed, change it.  Bring it on.

Pope Ropes a Dope, Does Boffo Box Tax Free

April 17, 2008

The pope is in North America on his latest concert tour.  This is one tour I won’t complain about not coming to Vancouver, as it covers the U.S. only.  The easily impressed flock to see him so that they may feel graced by his presence.  They buy up all the souvenirs and concert T-shirts and hold up their lighters shouting, “Yaaaaahhhh!”

Seriously, this is big business.  A papal tour is worth hundreds of millions.  I mean, $695 for a porcelain statue of the guy?  The mark up on these mass produced mementos is – dare I say it – a sin.  Well, it would be if there was a god for it to qualify as a crime against, but, you get the idea.  The pope has criticized Canada in the recent past for not doing enough to narrow the gap between rich and poor.  Then the church gouges its own followers like this?  Talk about excessive profits.  Is a ‘toy pope with your Happy Meal’ McDonald’s deal next?

Ever since they were introduced by his predecessor, papal tours have been a nice little earner for the Catholic church.  Souvenirs of all kinds have been sold at extortionate prices to the suckers – I mean, faithful.  Remember the famous John Paul II pope-on-a-rope soap?  I wonder if it washed away sins.  His tours turned him into a larger than life personality – rivaling Jesus, himself – that the church capitalized on.  Well, who could blame them?  There was a lot of money to be made.

But, what about all that money?  Couldn’t all those good Catholics have used it to feed hungry people instead of the church and their own pride?  Let’s face it, those souvenirs will be shown off as proof that they’ve seen the pope.  Bragging rights will be theirs.  Bragging will ensue.  Some might say the profits are used to feed the hungry.  Are they?  I’m not so certain of that.  The Catholic church is a large organisation with broad financial interests.  They invest on the stock market and are probably one of the great institutional investors of the world.  At one point, I believe,  they were the largest – possibly the majority – shareholder of Coca Cola.  That’s pretty big.

They know how to market the pope like a rock star.  Pretty savvy.  They know how to exploit their star to turn a healthy profit.  That’s entertainment.  They know how to invest and manage huge sums of money.  That’s rich.  And, they don’t pay a penny in taxes.  That’s really rich.  Even Hollywood couldn’t hide profits that well.

I’ve written before about how the church doesn’t use nearly all the money it takes in for charity.  In fact, the crumbs they give out to the truly needy along with their prayers are probably nothing compared to what they have available to them.  This is a very large corporation with vast assets that generates huge revenues and profits, but doesn’t pay tax.  It’s time that came to an end.

Recent Carnivals

April 7, 2008

In addition to the European Travel Blog Carnival mentioned in my previous post, I’ve also recently had posts included in several other carnivals, including:

The Carnival of Ethics, Values, and Personal Finance

The Carnival of Observations on Life

The Carnival of Consumer Focused Real Estate

The Carnival of the Godless #87

The Carnival of Fraud

 Check them out.

A Certain Ennui

March 24, 2008

I haven’t written much lately.  In fact, aside from yesterday’s brief observation of global conquest, it’s been a week.  I’ve been feeling a kind of malaise, a lack of motivation to write posts even though I’ve commented on a few other people’s.  I just haven’t felt like writing.

I couldn’t even be bothered to finish any of the partially written posts I have saved just for such occasions.  Yes, I’m familiar with the concepts of forward planning, putting some away for a rainy day, and having a ‘Plan B’ in your pocket.  Imagine you’ve been putting money in the bank just in case you ever need it one day.  Then, when that day comes, you can’t be bothered to go to the bank to get it.  That’s how I’ve been feeling about blogging this past week.

There could be other explanations.  As my blogroll grows, I find myself reading other people’s work more, leaving less time to write.  I’ve also been trying to teach more online.  Since the students are in Korea, the classes are late at night and in the early morning hours.  That means I’ve been sleeping well into the day.  When I can fill the whole night, and I’m told it will get busy in April, it’ll pay off.  Right now, I’m just tired.  Then there’s the fact that my mind drifts to what I’d like to do.  Torn between what I want to do and what I have to do, I don’t put enough time or energy into either.

But, I’ve also been procrastinating.  I sometimes wonder if the time of year has something to do with it.  As far as I can remember, March has always been a slow month for me.  Even in my senior executive level negotiation days with an international publisher, I don’t think I ever closed a deal in March.  Budget and fiscal issues may have played into it because April was usually good, but I still feel below par in March.

I started to feel this way about the middle of the month.  Now, I even have a mild cold or flu to recover from.  Beware the ides of March, indeed.  Maybe its the darkness before the dawn – the final days of winter just before spring, the time of renewal or return to life.  Most cultures celebrate this time of year for that purpose.  Easter was actually hijacked from an earlier pagan celebration, Eastre, as many religious holidays are.  Of course, some will say that is not true – Easter is a unique celebration of the rejuvenation of a corpse and its ascent to heaven.  If this be true, I be Caesar.

As I look around my one bedroom East Van apartment it’s apparent that, not only am I not Caesar, it’s also in need of a spring cleanout and renewal.  Whatever.  I’m just waiting for April to roll around.

Family Reunion

March 16, 2008

I arrived at my aunt’s house in Glasgow for a family reunion, of sorts.  The whole family wasn’t there, but it was crowded enough.  My brother had found me in London and told me about it.  I’d been working on a movie, which was exhausting, so I figured I could use a getaway and some relaxation.  I must have been exhausted, because I’d forgotten that the words ‘family’ and ‘relaxation’ were incongruous.

Besides my brother, there was my sister and her husband, their daughter, a couple of cousins and their spouses, their mother, and my older cousin’s daughter.  Those were just the ones visiting from Canada.  We were all staying in my aunt and uncle’s house.  Then there was all of their children and grandchildren who were there most of the time, as well as other occasional visitors that weekend.  I’d have left the keys with someone and told them to call me when they’re clearing out.

Despite the chaos, it was nice to see my siblings and cousins after many years.  We talked and filled in some of the gap.  At some point on the first day, we Canadians were on our own and somebody told me that one of my Scottish cousins’ son, whom I had met for the first time a little earlier, was basically a sociopath.  His mother took a liking to me that weekend, and it was mutual.  I would have found it difficult to not like her.  Although she appeared to suffer from low self-esteem and, possibly, occasional depression, she had a lovable quality about her.  Maybe a need to be loved, too.

I thought back to the last time I had been in that house.  I recalled a late night conversation with my aunt years earlier.  She talked about her pregnant teenage daughter.  There are some words spoken that you just never forget.  They leave a mark.  They affect you.  They inform you about the world around you and become integral to who you are.  She said, “She made a mistake and now she has to pay for it.”  I grew at that moment.  If that’s the way that kid is going to be raised, I thought, what chance does he have?  If he’s going to be treated or made to feel like a punishment from god, what hope is there for him?

Now, I remembered why I hadn’t been back up to Glasgow since then.  I also remembered why I hadn’t been back to Canada to see my family.  This Catholic christian attitude that seemed to come with the territory was annoying, off-putting, and even offensive.  This kid, who was raised in an environment that considered him something dirty, was now being described as a sociopath and the description did seem to fit.

If he didn’t seem to care about other people, I was told there was one exception.  Before returning to London, I had another one on one talk with my aunt.  This time, she talked about her grandson, the sociopath.  She said that only she could get to him or tell him what to do.  She is the only one he’ll listen to.  Only she could teach him right from wrong.  The same person who created the idea that he was a punishment from god was now his only salvation.

My aunt can be a nice lady, but she is a personification and microcosm of her faith.  By being that, she seems to have undermined her own daughter’s self-worth and manipulated her grandson.  It’s no wonder my very likeable cousin seemed to need love.

Spiritual Methadone

March 9, 2008

About a week ago, there was a story on the local news that followed up on a story from months earlier about a drug addicted beggar who knocked down an old man he had asked for money.  The old man was giving him $5, a generous enough sum, but when the guy saw the old man’s wallet he grabbed it and knocked him over, injuring him.  The incident, captured on security cameras, happened in a church.  Let’s ignore the presence of security cameras in an institution built on faith, for the moment.

Today, the mugger is in a religious retreat.  He can’t explain his actions of that day but now he is a changed man, he says.  He has found god.  Hallelujah.

Neither he nor the pastor at the home he is in made any mention of real world counselling, therapy, or treatment.  He doesn’t appear to be addressing any real issues.  What he is doing is reading the bible.

No doubt the pastor thinks he has done good work.  He has converted a man who was ‘lost’ and brought him into the fold.  A good get.  Another soul saved.  And, because his soul has been saved, he is cured.  In fact, the man is just hiding behind god.

I’ve written before about AA and other twelve step programs requiring addicts to trade in their old addictions for addiction to god.  This is no real solution, but it does increase the numbers of the Lord’s army.

It seems a rather perverse outcome for a man who would attack an old man in a church to find shelter in a Christian retreat.  He didn’t seem to think there was anything special about the church before.  Why should he think it can save him, now?  It can’t, and it won’t make him any better.  Only he can take responsibility for his actions and decide what to do or not.  Pretending that it was all part of god’s plan isn’t taking responsibility or control.  And substituting one addiction for another doesn’t address the real underlying problems.

Preying For God

March 5, 2008

If anyone doubts my claims that religions, particularly Christian missionaries, employ predatory recruitment and conversion practices, grab a sick bag and watch this news story.  In a case of perfect timing, I just watched the news and saw this story about what’s happening in post-tsunami Thailand.  It confirms what I wrote about yesterday and in the past.

http://www.cbc.ca/national/blog/video/internationalus/christianity_comes_to_thailand_1.html

The scum of the earth claim the moral high ground while they prey on the needy and desperate.

It still doesn’t answer the question of what is being done with the huge sums of money donated to charities after the tsunami to help the victims recover and rebuild.  If they had been used for their intended purpose, these predators might not have much of an audience.

Not So Passive Aggression

March 4, 2008

Passive aggression can be a dangerous thing.  The good people of the church appear to be quiet and peaceful, on the surface.  In practice, however, they are aggressively expansionist.  They want to spread the word, spread the faith, and convert the heathen.  One of their favourite methods of doing so is under the guise of Christian charity or aid.

Conditional charity is not uncommon.  Asking recipients to pray or attend a service in return for food or other assistance happens, as I’ve mentioned before.  This can lead to international incidents with consequences.  A while back, a group of South Korean missionaries were taken hostage in Afghanistan.  One was executed, I believe.  Their government negotiated the release of the rest, eventually, no doubt after paying a hefty ransom.

There is a debate going on in South Korea about this incident.  What the western media didn’t seem interested in reporting is that these missionaries weren’t just helping people, they were trying to convert them and spread Christianity.  Should the government be responsible for them?  Should they bail them out and pay taxpayers’ money to save them from a situation they got themselves into?  Why should the country pay for their aggression and mistakes?

South Korea has the second highest proportion of missionaries in the world.  As I’ve mentioned before, it is a growth market for Christianity.  How did it become so popular in a traditionally Confucian or Buddhist country?  It’s growth has its origins in the aftermath of the Korean War.  I use the term ‘aftermath’ loosely because, technically, the war is not over – there is only a truce.  After the cessation of hostilities, the U.S. military stuck around to keep North Korea in check.  With American soldiers on the ground, Christianity was able to spread.  This should come as no surprise.  Religion has often followed armies around and spread with empires.  Christianity spread throughout the Roman empire and expanded with it.  The pace accelerated after Constantine’s army, reputedly ordered to display the Christian logo on their shields, were victorious at Milvian Bridge and he took control of the empire.

Faith and the sword became partners again in the medieval age when Christendom responded to the spread of Islam with Crusades and Inquisitions.  I’m no expert on the subject, but I suspect this may also be when the death sentence for leaving Islam may have been introduced.  If you think you have problems today, consider yourself lucky that you weren’t a Moor given a choice between “Convert or die” and “Convert and die”.

Missionaries came to the New World, protected by European soldiers, to convert the indigenous populations.  The results were often disastrous.  From the New World the faith has spread to Asia.  So many souls to convert and save.  So many donations to collect.  The temptation is too great to ignore.

It’s not enough to keep the faith and live by the word.  They have to spread them.