Posts Tagged ‘faith’

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.

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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.

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.

Fear of the Void

February 10, 2008

The void must be a very scary thing to many, if not most, people.  As far as I can see, people believe in god because they’re afraid of the gaps in human knowledge.  They feel a need to fill in these gaps and that’s where god comes in handy.  Everything is defined and can be traced back to a source, even if it, itself, is undefinable.

I had a phone conversation with a family member a while back that turned into a discussion about religion, god, and society.  We disagreed, so maybe debate would be a better word.  She seemed to rely on the fact that I didn’t have all the answers as proof that her belief was justified and, therefore, that our society should be founded in religious principles.

At one point, I had her cornered.  She had no response and, suddenly, there was real panic and fear in her voice as she started accusing me of some violation of the rules or principles of debate, then found an excuse to end the conversation and hang up.  I realized that she didn’t just want to believe she was right.  For some reason, she needed to.

I don’t understand this fear.  I accept that there’s a lot we don’t know.  I even accept that what we know is dwarfed by what we don’t know.  I’m OK with saying, “I don’t know”.  It’s a perfectly valid, and honest, answer.  We gradually fill in the knowledge gap, or void, with facts as we expand our knowledge.

But that’s not fast enough or good enough for some people.  They want a complete package now.  And, if any facts threaten their complete, but false, universe, they reject them – often vociferously.  They seem to think the world will fall apart without one.  Some, who have been misled or lied to and then realize it, do have or let their worlds fall apart, sometimes with tragic consequences.

Even some people who reject god and religion continue their pursuit of perfection.  They need a perfect system or philosophy to replace the old one they discovered wasn’t perfect, or even real.  They need an irrefutable core that everything else can be traced back to.

But we are imperfect people in an imperfect world.  We do the best we can for ourselves and to balance our own needs with those of society.  We try to interact with others in a way that is as mutually agreeable as possible.

Maybe we will find a perfect philosophy or system one day.  Maybe not.  Until then, we have to accept our imperfection and make do with what we do know.  We should not accept a false system of belief that offers misleading perfection, or an illusory perfect world view.

A society based on lies will eventually come crashing down.  Better to bring about a soft landing than to delay the inevitable crash by trying to hold up the sky.

Am I Hearing the Voice of God Or Just Crazy?

February 8, 2008

You’re walking in the desert with your child.  The sun is beating down on your head.  It’s baking your brains.  You hear the voice of god telling you to kill your child.  You’re going crazy, right?

That may seem obvious, but if you place the story long ago and call the father and son Abraham and Isaac, many people believe it was nothing more than a test of faith and loyalty to god.  The fact that he didn’t kill his son proves it, apparently.  God intervened and stayed his hand.  Just testing ya – good job.  It couldn’t be, of course, that he recovered just enough lucidity to stop himself in the nick of time, perhaps because of his son’s terrified pleas, “Please don’t kill me daddy!”.

But that was a one time miracle, you may be thinking.  It could never happen again.  Really?  Well, it did happen again – recently.  But this time, god did not intervene.  A man in northern BC, Blair Donnelly, heard the voice of god telling him to kill his wife and children.  When his wife and one daughter were out, he came up behind the other daughter and stabbed her to death.

The worst part of the story is that the man told people at his church that he had been hearing the voice of god, and they were pleased for him.  Being people of faith, they believed he was actually hearing god’s voice.  Nobody suggested he seek counselling.  Nobody questioned his ‘good fortune’.  Faith can be a dangerous thing.

Maybe, rather than waiting for god to intervene, solve problems, or sort things out, we should realize it’s up to us.  Prayers before or after the fact do nothing.  They are a poor substitute for practical solutions or actions.

If you hear the voice of god, you’re not having a religious experience – you’re losing your mind.

Here is more info on the story from someone who knows him:

http://primordial-blog.blogspot.com/2008/01/sad-twisted-tale-of-blair-donnelly.html

Beware the Ever Present Bogeyman

February 3, 2008

A couple nights ago I watched another movie on TV that I’d avoided on its release because I’d expected religious propaganda – with good reason.  M. Night Shyamalan’s previous film ‘Signs’ was a very bad, blatant attempt to say that keeping faith in god will save you.

But ‘The Village’ is a much more intelligent, thought provoking, and honest movie.  The story is set in what appears to be a nineteenth century Mennonite type village.  Life is simple, people are innocent and respectful, and old world values are adhered to.  A council of elders are in charge and their edicts are abided by.

This may seem idyllic but the village is in an isolated valley, surrounded by woods inhabited by hostile creatures.  Only the elders seem to have been around before the current truce.  The rest of the community takes their word that there was trouble in the past.  To keep the creatures away, the colour red is banned because it supposedly attracts them.

There is a metaphor here for religion and politics.  There is a clearly defined boundary at the edge of the woods which must not be crossed.  When Lucius Hunt wants to visit the outside world for medicine that would benefit the community, he is forbidden because he would have to pass through the woods.  Medicine?  Science?

One day, Lucius ventures into the woods and is seen by one of “those of whom we do not speak”, as they are referred to.  The red-robed creatures invade the village that night and leave red warning symbols on doors.  This provides the elders an opportunity to reinforce the rules and the consequences of breaking them.

Later, the village idiot stabs Lucius out of jealousy over the legally blind woman they both love.  She volunteers to go to ‘the towns’ to get the medicine Lucius needs to survive.  The elders allow it and, when she asks what she should do if she encounters the creatures, one of them reveals an astonishing truth.  There are no creatures!  It is the elders in costumes who terrorize the village.

We later discover that the elders, all traumatized in the past, had established the village as a shelter from the outside world.  They invented the creatures as a way to control the people and prevent them from leaving or seeking the outside world.  In the end, the elders decide to continue the lie.

A hierarchy creates a bogeyman to instill fear, control people, and preserve a way of life that suits them.  The colour of passion is banned, innocence is emphasized.  Science cannot be pursued if it challenges the rules.  Sound familiar?

The True Origins of a Specious Argument

January 29, 2008

The faithful often try to tell us that without god the world would collapse into chaos.  They claim that god provided us with laws or commandments to live by and that societies base their laws on them.  This strikes me as a rather arrogant assumption that overlooks some very basic history.

In fact, the relationship probably works the other way around.  Religion took its laws from those that already existed.  Let’s look at the ten commandments, for example.  It is claimed that they brought rules to a world without any.  The implication is that people ran around killing, stealing, and raping with impunity before them.  But codes of law had been written long before the alleged burning into stone.  Hammurabi’s Code was written 400-500 year’s earlier, and there were others before that.

Another thing about Hammurabi’s code that may seem familiar from the first testament is the eye for an eye justice it espoused.  Fire and brimstone Christians will recognize much of what they believe and stand for in it.  So, rather than codes of law being based on the ten commandments, it seems to be the other way around.

This is not the only time that the old was recycled into something new by a religion.  Many older ideas, stories and myths from various cultures have been integrated into them.

So, where did these laws come from?  What inspired them, if not some kind of divine intervention?  Where did the moral authority come from?  The answer is rather mundane, actually.  These laws were come up with as a practical solution for managing the problems of the growing city states in the ancient world.

As settlements grew into towns, and towns grew into cities, it became necessary to govern the behaviour of the growing populations.  A system was needed.  Property had to be recognized.  Order had to be established.  Rules were needed to make clear what was allowed and what wasn’t.

The fact that civilization emerged at all probably indicates that those who would kill their neighbours and take their property were always in the minority.  If they weren’t, they would have killed off the more passive minority and then fought each other.  So, it seems the majority of people have always been inclined towards co-operation and peaceful co-existence, at least at the local level.

Practical problem solving using rationality and common sense.  Isn’t that how most things get done?

Belief Does Not Make You Good

January 28, 2008

There is no correlation between morality, or ethics, and religion or belief in god.  The one doesn’t require, or guarantee, the other.

China is officially atheistic but they have strong traditions and morals.  Women are taught to be modest.  They might even be considered prudish compared to western women, including Christians.  They believe a man wants to marry a virgin, so – no sex before marriage.  I’m not saying this modesty makes them better, but a religious zealot would aspire to a society of such ‘virtue’.

Things are changing, now that the country that used to talk of western decadence has adopted the mantra, “It’s glorious to be rich”.  So, it seems that economics and the pursuit of material wealth have more to do with influencing ethics and morals than belief or non-belief in a god.  You could be a highly ethical atheist or a sleazy believer.

I was once in the presence of someone who I think may have actually killed someone, and he told me he believed in god.  I found myself in the London flat of someone who knew someone I knew.  Someone else was there, too, sitting across the coffee table from me.  The conversation revealed that he was twenty-six and he’d just got out of prison after serving eight years.  So, he was sentenced at eighteen.

Maybe the situation is different in Britain these days, but at the time the papers were screaming about wishy washy liberal judges who were soft on criminals and more concerned with their rights than the victims’.  They also complained about parole being automatic.  So, if he served eight years, he was probably sentenced to at least twelve to fifteen.

I wondered what an eighteen year old kid had to do to get a twelve to fifteen year sentence from a wishy washy judge who thinks he deserves another chance and that, given the position of disadvantage he started from, it was inevitable that he would make some bad decisions.  The only two things I could think of were murder or a particularly brutal rape.

But, he believes in god, so, according to his fellow believers, he’s a better, more ethical person than me.

God’s Free Gift

January 27, 2008

A couple of years ago, on my way to the supermarket one Sunday, I was walking along East Broadway and passed a church.  There was a man standing just inside the church’s property line facing a couple of young girls, who were probably about twelve or thirteen years old, standing on the sidewalk just outside the property line.  As I approached, I heard one of the girls say something like, “So, if we come in, do we get to keep the presents?”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  Had the religious really stooped to such new lows?  Luring unaccompanied children – without parental consent – into their churches with presents?  I glanced at the man.  Incredibly, HE shot ME a dirty look.  I guess I offended him by catching him doing what he must have known was wrong.  If he didn’t know it was wrong, he would have carried on nonchalantly and wouldn’t have noticed me passing.  Couldn’t he hear his own conscience?

Imagine there wasn’t a church behind the man.  You see a man offering young girls presents to come inside.  What would you think?  Utterly abhorrent, predatory behaviour.  For some reason, religions get away with things we would otherwise find offensive, or even criminal.

Although this was the first time I’d ever seen such blatant and crass religious marketing, I later found out it was by no means an isolated incident.  A Korean student told me last summer that it’s common in Korea.  Christian churches routinely offer children presents to come in and join a mass.  Korea and Asia are ‘growth markets’ for Christianity.  Make no mistake, they’re in the god ‘business’.

Looking back, the guy standing just inside the property reminds me of the legal fine line the girls standing in the doorways of the ‘hostess’ bars in London’s Soho district tread.  Now there’s a comparison to be proud of!

I feel a little ashamed that I didn’t do anything about this guy.  I wish I’d called a cop.  But, being the nice, tolerant Canadian that I am, I didn’t.  We have to respect religion, after all.

Why?