Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas: Holding Forth Justice

Post 28—:

This post is being written on Christmas Eve, 2010. The Christmas event is too large to just let it slip by without at least a nod. So, I am interrupting the flow of thought to offer you something Christmasy. I am going to place this post also on my other blog, .

I am offering you some quotes from the Old Testament Prophet Isaiah. This is a prophet of peace and justice. He repeatedly talks of the future in terms of hope for peace and justice. The Messiah whom the Jews had long been waiting for would introduce a new framework for society that was to be characterized by those two features, peace and justice. A new set of standards, if you like. To be sure, even Isaiah’s vision was an Old Testament one that allowed practices that we no longer approve today but have not yet been able to stem in our own lives and nations. And, of course, it is all written in terms of an ancient culture most of us no longer understand. Hence, it takes extra effort to understand it all. Don’t even try. Just go over these passages a few times and appreciate the emphasis on and the hunkering for peace and justice.

Of course, some readers will object that it is all very nice and idyllic, but tell me about it once Christians actually demonstrate or live up to this perspective. I fully understand the objection and am ashamed to admit that it is a reasonable one. Christians will be the first to admit their failure to live up to this picture. We believe in Jesus, in God, to save us from ourselves. We do not believe in ourselves, in our own capacity to make this all come true. We cannot create utopia. It is God who will one day turn this hope into reality. In the meantime, we struggle towards it as best as we can and ask for forgiveness where we fail.

There are more such prophecies in Isaiah and in other prophetic writings in the Old Testament. However, I am giving you perhaps more than you can or care to chew for one day. I will probably continue featuring such quotations next Christmas. In the meantime, here goes. Participate in the poetry; ponder the promise.

Isaiah 2--The Mountain of the LORD

1 This is what Isaiah son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem:
2 In the last days
the mountain of the LORD’s temple will be established
as the highest of the mountains;
it will be exalted above the hills,
and all nations will stream to it.
3 Many peoples will come and say,
“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD,
to the temple of the God of Jacob.
He will teach us his ways,
so that we may walk in his paths.”
The law will go out from Zion,
the word of the LORD from Jerusalem.
4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.
5 Come, descendants of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Isaiah 9:5-7

6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

Isaiah 11:1-9

(Jesse is the father of King David and ancestor of Jesus.)

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the LORD—
3 and he will delight in the fear of the LORD.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes,
or decide by what he hears with his ears;
4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy,
with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth.
He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth;
with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
5 Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
6 The wolf will live with the lamb,
the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
and a little child will lead them.
7 The cow will feed with the bear,
their young will lie down together,
and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8 The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
9 They will neither harm nor destroy
on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 32:15-20

15 till the Spirit is poured on us from on high,
and the desert becomes a fertile field,
and the fertile field seems like a forest.
16 The LORD’s justice will dwell in the desert,
his righteousness live in the fertile field.
17 The fruit of that righteousness will be peace;
its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.
18 My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest.
19 Though hail flattens the forest
and the city is leveled completely,
20 how blessed you will be,
sowing your seed by every stream,
and letting your cattle and donkeys range free.

Isaiah 42:1-9 The Servant of the LORD

1 “Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
2 He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
3 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
4 he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”
5 This is what God the LORD says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
6 “I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
7 to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.
8 “I am the LORD; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
9 See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Transparency in Government (2)

Post 27—

I have for some time planned to do a post on transparency in government but was not quite ready for it. Then the WikiLeak issue sprang up and suddenly the entire (media) world is up in arms about a deluge of government documents flooding cyberland with promises of more to come. So I felt forced to jump on the bandwagon now rather than look like a Johnny-come-late.

The reason I have been planning to write on the subject is my growing annoyance with the BC Government for making it so difficult for people to access information. Vancouver newspapers regularly feature stories about the obstacles, the time and the money it takes to obtain information that should easily be accessible to the public. Government may need to keep some issues and documents secret, at least temporarily, but after all is said and done, Government has no interests beyond the interests of the people it governs. It has no interests of its own; even less, interests that clash with the interests of the people. Well, it shouldn't have.

I have been out of BC for most of my working life and so have to rely on written history. One thing I have learned is that government opposition leaders, like Gordon Campbell, frequently berated the government of the day for refusing to divulge information and even promised that if elected, the would make access to archives easy in the name of democracy. A subsequent premier, also by the name of Gordon Campbell, and his underlings have made it almost impossible and expensive, especially for reporters and journalists, to get the info they need for their research. I feel absolutely annoyed, cheated, humiliated and despised as a citizen. Downright angry and ready to punch those responsible for such high-handed treatment of info in the nose. Who do they think they are?! Please don't expect me to be polite in such an environment.

I am no expert on this issue of transparency versus secrecy in government, but when citizens, including journalists, routinely run into serious obstacles such as lengthy delays and high charges, if not outright refusal, then you know they are not served right. Then you also know, or at least, have good grounds to suspect that the government is up to something that cannot see the daylight.

Although I could reference many articles on the subject from various Vancouver newspapers, I restrict myself to a recent article by Vincent Gogolek, “Province Loses Fight to Keep IBM Deal Secret” (Vancouver Sun, Dec. 3/2010, p. A13). Gogolek reports that it took his organization, the BC Freedom of Information and Privacy Association six years—yes, six years!—to obtain a copy of the Government’s workplace agreement with IBM. Six years! Imagine that. Gogolek rightly argues that transparency of government contracts “is the best possible way to guarantee these arrangements are honest, free of conflicts of interest, and the best possible use of public dollars.” Both parties, Government and IBM, “fought tooth and nail to keep the contract from being released.” It was only the ruling by an adjudicator from the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner that forced the issue. And then I wonder why they took so long to act.

This one particular paragraph is written and inserted into this post a day later. Things are getting worse. After I wrote that post, I came across an article in 24th News Vancouver by Mike Klassen under the title :City's Chokehold Tightens on Info." The city he refers to is my city, Vancouver and its Mayor, the man who campaigned on such a populist platform. The info screws have become increasingly tight over the life of the current administration, according to Klassen.

With my apologies, this paragraph is inserted a few days later still. The issue is getting more serious. I've talked about the BC Government and that of Vancouver City, but now I'm running into stories about Canada's Federal Government (FG) as well. So, here's another insertion. Glen McGregor of Postmedia News reports that the FG took four years to release a requested expense report about Prime Minister Stephen Harper flying from Ottawa to Edmonton with six Members of Parliament along with some staff members in order to attend a Stanley Cup hockey game there. If you know Canadian geography, you will realize that this was a long trip. This lag of four years, according to McGregor, "is emblematic of the long delays that critics say are weakening Canada's open-records law." It is "unclear why the department resisted releasing the records." A member of the opposition commented that "most Canadians would have trouble with the idea that you load it [the plane] up with your friends and head off to a playoff game." Harper's office in due time provided some explanation of the adventure, but I will tell you about that four years from now, at least, if I get an official request for information. What's the hurry? [For your interest, I am member of the PM's party, but not sure I will remain there. Too many disappointments.] (Glen McGregor, "PM's Stanley Cup Expenses Released, 4 Years Later," Vancouver Sun, Dec. 20/2010.)

Gogolek and Privacy Commissioner Elizabeth Denham both ask why the public should have to file such requests for info to begin with. Why not make them routinely available proactively? It would be in line with a constant theme of legislative committees dealing with the issue.

To that I can only shout a loud, “Amen!” The people need to know and be assured their taxes are spent justly and judiciously. Obstacles that prevent the flow of legitimate info only serve to undermine the credibility of government. It is these obstacles that finally called for WikiLeaks. The latter is a reaction to unhealthy secrecy.

Authorities who resist transparency have things to hide and are not to be trusted. They should be booted out at first chance and never voted for again. As you can see, nothing strong or bullish about my opinions!

Friday, December 10, 2010

WikiLeaks and Government Transparency

Post 26—

In these days of Wikileaks, government transparency is once again on the front burner in the media. Article upon article and report upon report have been filed and published or televised. These leaks have caused governments both serious damage and embarrassment. By the sound and looks of it, will continue to do so for the immediate future. Of course, the US government, the world’s busy-body superpower, gets the brunt of it, but other governments feel embarrassed and threatened as well, including Canada. It also hits individuals. William Crosbie, Canada’s ambassador to Afghanistan, offered his resignation after his slamming the corruption of the Afghanistan regime was revealed.

The question is whether all this unrestricted exposure of government secrets benefits anyone, apart from the operators of Wikileaks themselves—and, of course, all those in the media business and, yes, I need to admit it, it gives bloggers something to write about! But Fen Hamson of Carleton University is not so sure. Crosbie, he argues, was doing his legitimate job, but his kind of comment is not the sort “that can withstand public scrutiny.” Public servants should have the confidence that, in the pursuit of their legitimate duty, their confidential statements and reports created in the course of policy development are kept confidential. How can governments engage in their business of policy creation, especially when it comes to rogue and other hostile nations, without the confidence of confidentiality? This kind of exposure of documents is “corrosive to Canada’s foreign relations and to international diplomacy in general.”

Hamson is right, I believe. He goes further. These leaks are likely to have the adverse effects of governments creating more obstacles to the flow of information and make public access to it even more difficult, expensive, and time consuming. Probably more will be kept classified in the closet for a much longer time and more strictly controlled. Thanks, Assange.

But, as always, there is the other side of the coin. Please note that my question about benefits of such leakage is about “unrestricted exposure, ” not about all exposure of government documents, even secret ones. Yes, the Assange leakage shows allies spying on each other and members on the United Nations. Western democratic governments lecturing the rest of the world on corruption and human rights, turn a blind eye to these practices on the part of their “client states.” Secret backroom deals that are not meant to see the light of day and lobbying for causes and policies of doubtful benefit to some other nations are often conducted behind cloaks of secrecy.

Chris Waddell, also of Carleton, explains that governments often use national security as an excuse to hide the above kind of behaviour in order to “avoid embarrassment, to avoid having to explain the rationale for their policies and to say one thing publicly and something else privately.” He suggests that in general it is better for citizens to know more about the development of their government’s policy than to know less. We would be “better off if there were less of all three of those things” in the above paragraph.

I agree with arguments on both sides of the coin. But I would argue that the side we examined first should be much less common than it is. In our imperfect world, it would be impossible for governments to conduct legitimate business without secrets. At the same time, the tendency of the second side of the coin is all too prominent and makes a joke of transparency, a hallmark of democracy. This Calvinist blogger votes on the side of transparency, much more of it. At the same time, at the end of this article Iland up on the side of condemning the indiscriminate leakage perpetrated by Assange as too reckless and not having counted the cost and potential damage to peoples and their policies.

I close this post with a quotation that constitutes the closing of an article by the famous Canadian ethicist, Margaret Somerville of McGill University: “As I continued to read and think even more about WikiLeaks, I found it easier to know what was the ethical path to take with respect to it and its perpetrators. I believe that, overall, WikiLeaks involves grossly unethical conduct, some of which is also illegal.” (“Wiki-Leaks, Wiki-Leakers, and Wiki-Ethics,” Comment, 10/12/2010. I highly recommend reading this article for its first-rate professional ethical discussion.

The discussion to be continued.

(This post has made grateful use of Randy Boswell’s “Do Leaks Defend or Thwart Democracy?” Vancouver Sun, December 4, 2010, p. B3. Thank you, Boswell.)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Jesus in Any Colour

Post 25

What did Jesus look like? What was his colour? Since there are no photographs of Him or paintings by artists who have actually seen Him, His appearance, including His colour, has long been subject of discussion. In the Western world, the traditional homeland of the majority of His followers, people have long depicted Him as white skinned, often even with Teutonic or Nordic blue eyes like my own. Western artists such as Leonardo da Vinci, Fra Angelico and Michelangelo all depicted Jesus as white.

In our day of multiculturalism, such depictions are increasingly challenged, berated and even rejected as provincial, racist and wrong. People criticize the depiction of Jesus as a Caucasian as akin to the “sin” of creating Him in our own—I am Caucasian—image. A friend forwarded to me the following comments from a writer he did not, unfortunately, further identify:

"It has always bothered me that Jesus in the Sunday school pictures is white. Did they miss the part where it says he was born a Hebrew? Somehow I doubt he had blue eyes. There is a 10 000 Villages store not far from here that sells all manner of nativiy sceens -- African Jesus, Indian Jesus, Latin Jesus, even a curiously moving faceless Jesus. They're fantastic. Today I came across a site presenting "The Life of Jesus Christ: An African Interpretation by the Mafa People in Cameroun" and once again I'm taken by the beauty of a completely different view of a very old story. Who's to say that a black Jesus tending the sheep on the serengeti is any less valid than a white, blue eyed Jesus with little white children gathered at his feet?"

Well, I am the proprietor of the website where the writer found the artful Mafa depictions of all the Gospel stories in terms of West African, specifically Cameroonian, culture --< >. In this context, Jesus, His disciples and all the other people in the stories are depicted as Black and the surrounding culture as unashamedly West African. If you love West African culture, you will adore these paintings. We have had them all over our house for years and frequently use the various formats in which they appear for gifts and as greeting cards. Hospital patients and people in mourning especially appreciate the upbeat and inspiring messages embedded in these surprising and lovely Gospel depictions. My wife and I are proud to be associated with them. I urge you to check out my website for further info about this series and the various uses to which you can put them.

If some Whites are offended by depictions of a white Jesus, so are some Africans offended by black depictions of Him and the Gospel stories. When I first introduced the series to my friends in Nigeria, some of the more educated among them rejected them instinctively as presenting a false Jesus. He was not Black, they argued. So, what am I trying to pull off by foisting a Black Jesus on them? Their mistake was that they thought of these depictions as photographic instead of artistic interpretations. More traditional Nigerians did not have that problem and tended to enjoy looking at them. One recent convert from Islam was offended at one picture because he thought to recognize a large beer container. Beer in a picture with Jesus? Blasphemous!

If the Mafa materials are legitimate as a way of interpreting Christ in a specific culture, then so are all those expressions of the white Christ. Those are equally legitimate interpretations of Christ for white cultures. Too many people react negatively to a basically valid attempt to interpret Christ if He is portrayed as white. This is an unhealthy reaction, probably mostly driven by a guilty conscience for white racism. White racism cannot be denied, but attempts to interpret Christ for white cultures are legitimate. One could equally condemn the Mafa art because Blacks are equally racist.

As to whether we are creating a Christ in our image, whether black or white, that is not the issue. The issue is to make Him legible to different cultures. These are art works, not photographic representations. They represent meaning expressed in the various cultures. Do check them out.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Thomas Jefferson Quotes

Post 24--:

The past few posts have been a bit heavy and, for some, perhaps a bit dull. Let me redeem myself with something "light," quotations from Thomas Jefferson (1746-1826), one of the authors of the American "Declaration of Independence." In reality, there is nothing light about these quotes. Every quote is worthy of time and serious consideration. But here is an internationally highly revered historical genius who, let's face it, sounds like today's Tea Party in the US, the group that today is highly "irrevered," at least in Canada, as something akin to a bunch of crackpots not to be taken seriously.

I must confess that I have not done research into the accuracy of each of these statements. I have decided to simply assume they are genuine quotes from Jefferson. Given today's discussions and arguments, I think they are extremely interesting and, to me at least, surprising. I present them here for your edification, reflection and debate, but not because I agree with all of them. You will find parenthetical comments from yours truly under each quote.

Before I proceed, here is a relevant Kennedy story--or myth?

John F. Kennedy held a dinner in the White House for a group of the brightest minds in the nation at that time. He made this statement: "This is perhaps the assembly of the most intelligence ever to gather at one time in the White House with the exception of when Thomas Jefferson dined alone."

The Quotes:

When we get piled upon one another in large cities, as in Europe, we shall become as corrupt as Europe.
(Jefferson should know: He spent many years in Europe as American
diplomat. To make it more contemporary, an Al-Jazeera article of December 2, 2010, makes claims of serious corruption and wastage on the part of the European Union.)

The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work and give to those who would not.
(Do please note that he wrote "would not," not, "could not," a slight

It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.
(Do we routinely contract trans-generational debt because we have
grown in wisdom, understanding and economic knowledge since
Jefferson's days? Just a question!)

I predict future happiness for Americans if they can prevent the government from wasting the labors of the people under the pretense of taking care of them.
(Though I would hardly reject all government responsibility for
supporting the poor and vulnerable in society, try applying the quote
to our current practice in Canada and see where you end up.)

My reading of history convinces me that most bad government results from too much government.
(I could not agree more.)

No free man shall ever be debarred from the use of arms.
(I could not agree less, especially in view of the next one.)

The strongest reason for the people to retain the right to keep and bear arms is, as a last resort, to protect themselves against tyranny in government.
(Do we really expect a situation in North America where we feel so
threatened by our governments that we need arms to keep them at
bay? Under normal circumstances, we do not need that. When circum-
stances demand it, we will have reached such chaos that law no longer
is in effect. Of course, Jefferson lived during the American revolution.
There was war and chaos.)

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
(This may be a trend in history, but to assert this as a historical law
is unacceptable to me. Liberty under threat has more than once been
released by public leaders who amassed the power of the people to force
change and refreshment without resort to bloodshed. I am the heir to
such a revolution started in The Netherlands by Abraham Kuyper.)

To compel a man to subsidize with his taxes the propagation of ideas which he disbelieves and abhors is sinful and tyrannical.
(A modern example in many North American provinces and states is where
your tax money goes to schools run on basis of secularism, even though
you disagree with that philosophy. Another is when governments spend my
tax money on abortion.)

Thomas Jefferson said in 1802:
I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property - until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.
(Why does this quote sound so contemporary?!)

Enjoy your reflections and debates.

I do hope that the Jeffersonian origin of these quotes will never prove to be a hoax!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Secularists Opening up a Can of Their Own Worms?

Post 23—

We are still on the issue of why some secularists want to effect changes in the Public Schools of BC. The secularists under discussion are, of course, good friends of mine and fellow members of World Views Collaborative (WVC). So, I am talking here about and even to these friends. They are three and I could name them for you. Their initials are E and K and E. Well, you know that bit about privacy that’s in the BC air.

They invited me to join them in a “crusade” to have Public School authorities in BC agree to a new high school course that would teach about all major BC world views. That would include the various religions as well as Humanism, their own world view. I joined them because I agreed this would be a good thing and I am glad I did, for I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know my WVC friends in a setting where everyone is very definite about their own world view but also very open, respectful and courteous about that of others.

I have tried to warn E, K and E that they could be opening up a can of their own worms. As it is, their world view is actually the reigning one in the Public Schools. There is no course teaching their world view, but theirs is the entire basis of the system and all courses are based on the secular world view. Now, of course, like other religions/world view, secularists are also divided amongst themselves, so that many of them will have some critique of the Public School system. However, by and large it is theirs that is the very atmosphere that the students and teachers breathe in these schools as the assumed truth that is hardly ever subject to scrutiny in those schools. The entire world view is simply assumed and considered neutral enough that everyone can subscribe to it. ‘t Ain’t so. Many do not subscribe to it and hence have transferred to schools more amenable to their own world view—after they have been forced to pay the taxes to have the establishment world view of Secularism taught.

E, K and E, do you not realize how privileged your world view is in the Public School? Without anyone overtly teaching it, students just soak it in effortlessly without realizing it. I know, for I have been through it and did indeed soak it up without realizing how I slowly veered away from my own Christian world view. Oh, I did not lose my faith, but my views of the world and events and scientific discoveries, etc. all became increasingly secularized. It was not until I began taking courses in Christian philosophy at university level that I began to realize that I had been secularized in much of my thinking. The secular world view of the system almost achieved its purpose with me.

But no one seems to realize that secularism is really the establishment faith or world view. It is exactly that. Now, if the schools are going to teach that course, including Secularism, students are going to question that world view that previously they simply imbibed unconsciously. Students and parents may suddenly begin to realize that there is nothing neutral about this perspective and that it is as subjective as all the other world views taught in the course. It, too, can be questioned and rejected like all the others or accepted. Its privileged status in the schools will be questioned. That is the can of worms I am talking about.

And with its privileged status now being questioned, people will begin to ask why the Public School only supports this one particular world view and not any of these others. Canadians have long ago rejected the notion of an establishment worldview, at least, when it was a Christian one. Catholics long had that dubious privilege in Quebec and they still enjoy the financial residue of that in Ontario. Anglicans have been the establishment in Ontario and, if my BC history is not completely off the track, even enjoyed a minor version of it on Vancouver Island. People have revolted against such arrangements and many take it ill of these churches for the establishmentarian roles they have played. E, K and E, is that what you are looking for? You really want those worms out of the can? Having an annual Christmas tree in these schools or one or two other tokens of our Christian past is a small price to pay for having your world view presented as unquestioned gospel truth.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Why Many Christians Opt out of Public Schools (2)

Post 22--
Post 21 was a bit theoretical and vague. I made a big point of the fact that all human beings, including Secularists, Humanists and Atheists, are believers. We all build our lives on a set of values that we believe, but that we cannot prove. We call that total package of beliefs our “worldview.” Christians are very aware of that; most Secularists—from here on in this blog I use this term to refer also to Humanists and Atheists—are not. That is their blind spot and serious weakness. They believe in autonomous reason and in its ability to potentially understand everything and determine good and evil, but few realize it is a belief they have not proved and will never prove. Christians, on the other hand, recognize that the human race went through a serious fall or break with God, with themselves, their neighbours and all of the universe way back when in our history. The first chapters of Genesis are a poetic or mythical representation of that tragic event. That fall also created a serious disconnect between our reason and reality, a disconnect that can only be restored with the help of divine revelation.
This divine revelation comes in two forms: the Bible and the book of nature or creation, often called “natural revelation.” The knowledge gained in the second form requires correction from the Bible. These two supplement each other. It is the same God who reveals Himself, His wisdom and His will in both.
What does all this mean in practical terms? It means that Secularists draw conclusions with the aid of their autonomous self-directed reason about what is good and wise in this world, while Christians also check out the Creator’s will and wisdom for this world by consulting the Bible. This difference drives the two groups towards different conclusions. Let me illustrate the point by random use of abortion as an example.
Secular abortionists defend the practice of wholesale murder, a less euphemistic term than “abortion,” of human fetuses on basis of the priority they have placed on the freedom of women to control their own bodies. Probably in reaction to centuries of restricting the freedom of women, they now advocate total freedom for women to control their own bodies. Away with all restrictions! In view of the history of women in most or even all cultures, this attitude seems to make some rational sense. If you have no point of reference beyond yourself, your community or science, that’s kind of a natural way for you to go. The human race is like a pendulum that keeps swinging from one extreme to another without ever resting at a balanced situation. So, from centuries of chains, as some would interpret the history of women, to complete unrestricted autonomy over my own body.
Christians on the other hand…. Well, many Christians, not all. Many have been taken in by the powerful rationalism of secularism. The practice of abortion has become so widespread that it has lost all shock value. Many of us have gotten used to it. The horror associated with this wholesale destruction of human beings has evaporated. It’s become as common as making a grilled cheese sandwich. These two factors, the secular air that we all breathe in and the daily practice of abortion have led even people who want to take God’s Word seriously at other fronts, to accept abortion, though they will tell you they don’t really like it. But, they may argue, you can’t tell others what to do or not to do!
Oh, you can’t? Why can you tell people not to kill that same fetus that has just now made its way into the world? On what basis? What is the difference? The difference lies in your point of reference. Autonomous reason and autonomous women’s bodies? Off to the clinic we will go. The Word of God? Then the life of the fetus trumps the freedom of the woman. Freedom is part of the Christian message, but it is freedom within the law of God and within His priorities.
Most Christian denominations in the world--as well as most other religions-- oppose wholesale abortion. Though they also wish to see women enjoy freedom, there are other considerations that they pick up from the Bible. There is the Biblical emphasis on the absolute sacredness of life that has priority over female freedom to abort a life already started. These Christians are also pro-choice, but the choice is made at the time of sexual intercourse leading to pregnancy. That’s when they make their choice. If pregnancy results, a new life has been started that is sacred from its inception. It is God’s gift that is to be accepted with gratitude and faith and as a challenge.
So, the difference is not that some people are cruel and others nasty. Or that some prefer women; others, babies. The difference is our point of reference, autonomous reason or reason guided by the Word of God. But both are matters of belief. This same difference crops up in many social, political, sexual, cultural and economic issues.
Many Christians and people of other religions opt out of the Public Schools, because there the autonomy of Secularism holds sway. God’s Word may not serve as a point of reference. All things religious are banned, except perhaps some cultural residues like Christmas trees. But the main atmosphere is that of Secularism—all the way from kindergarten through university. In fact, in most of those quarters religion is scoffed. We Christians have high regard for reason and for the scientific enterprise, but we prefer our reasoning to be directed by the Word of God and reject autonomous reason.
The next post will try to explain why my secularist friends from World Views Collaborative are unhappy enough with a Public School system to change it, even though it is based on their worldview!

Monday, November 1, 2010

Why Christian Opt out of Public Schools

Post 21

I promised you in the previous blog that I would explain why many Christians have opted out of the Public School system, the system that was supposed to make everyone feel comfortable but, in fact, seems not to do that.

By Christians I mean Protestants and Roman Catholics. I make a point of that, for I get the impression that at least some Catholics apply the term “Christian” only to Protestants. Catholics, we may have our differences, but when it comes to the public school system, we’re in the same boat. In fact, in BC, Protestants and Catholics, along with some other groups for reasons of their own, have banded together in an organization called Federation of Independent Schools Associations of BC (FISA).

Not all Christians attend these independent schools. Some cannot afford it, even after their faith community will often subsidize them. Others prefer the Public Schools; they are committed to them for a variety of reasons. I am not discussing these Christians and I am not casting doubt on their status as Christians.

This Federation has its secretariat in downtown Vancouver. Since 1966, it has fought a long and hard battle on behalf of the various independent schools in the province, both religious and secular. While it educates 11% of BC’s primary and secondary students, it receives only 5% support from the BC government school budget. The maximum grant to an independent school is 1/2 the per pupil grant to a public school. The rest has to be coughed up by the parents, who are already paying the same hard cash for the Public Schools that everyone else is paying. Good deal for the province and public school supporters. Should these schools close down, it would be a financial catastrophe for the Ministry of Education, especially in these days of dollar shortages and school closures.

I urge you to explore their website and then follow especially the links to the websites of the Christian members of the FISA, for they will give you more of the Christian rationale. I also highly recommend their major publication: Victoria Cunningham, Justice Achieved: The Political Struggle of Independent Schools in British Columbia. This is a very enlightening history of the work of the FISA in obtaining legal recognition and partial funding for independent schools in British Columbia, 2002 (311 pages).

Why do these parents choose private schooling? Speaking for Christians, it is that matter of worldview or belief or faith. Christians want to see God and His Word penetrate every subject that children are taught. Of course, there are different types of Christians and I cannot represent them all in these blogs. So, I will restrict myself to my own Calvinist tradition. These Christians—I should say “we,” for I am one of them—do not accept the secular definition of religion, at least, not of the Christian religion. The Christian religion is a wholistic world view that covers all of life. The idea that Christianity is personal, for private and church matters, is the idea of secularists, not ours. We do not accept their limiting religion to a small slice of life, while the rest of life is supposedly based on a neutral platform that is rational and that everyone has in common. We do not accept that education or politics or any other sphere of life can be conducted without reference to God and His revelation, which is found both in the Bible and in nature, history or human experience. We do not want our children to get the impression that God can be left out of our daily affairs and therefore do not want Him ignored during the many hours and years our children spend in school. As if He is of little or no account.

We are rational like everyone else, but not rationalistic. Our rationality, both Christian and secular, is not a neutral objective entity where we work with what we have in common. The neutrality of reason is itself a belief. Belief in the ability of human reason to find all truth and to solve all our problems amounts to an exaggeration of our rational abilities. That belief has never been proven by anyone; it is an article of faith. Christians believe in reason, but not in an independent reason. Human reasoning is imperfect and limited. There are many areas where it cannot reach or where it is liable to going astray. Thus, while secularists believe in the ability of independent or autonomous reason to find our way in this world, Christians, along with some other religions, believe in the need for divine revelation to correct our reasoning processes that have been affected by the fall. We all believe! We are all believers. We are all in a boat, but not in the same boat, since our beliefs differ. But it is all belief! You cannot get around that.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Public School System--A Discrimination Factory?

Post 20

In the last blog or so I have referred to Humanists cum Atheists—from here on I will refer to them all simply as “Humanists”-- in the Public Schools. They tell me they feel excluded. The schools may celebrate some religious holidays, especially Christian, but no one ever pays attention to or singles out Humanism. As if they do not exist. That’s the complaint I keep hearing from my Humanist friends of World Views Collaborative (WVC).

Humanists are not the only ones to complain. In fact, it seems almost everyone complains. Almost everyone feels excluded in one way or another or at one time or another. Jews and many others feel excluded during Christian celebrations like Christmas. Almost every year, some people will take their Public School or their Public School Board to task for being so pro-Christian and, thus, discriminating.

So you would think that of all the various groups, Christians would be the happiest with the Public School system. After all, according to some, the system reflects their values more than that of any other group.

But this raises the question why it is that Christians in BC have established so many private schools of their own and have opted out of the public system. Humanists haven’t opted out and neither have Jews, but Christians have, by the thousands. Christians of all stripes, with the Catholics and the Reformed family of churches in the forefront, but also Evangelicals. Do Humanists, Jews or others who complain about the Christian culture in the Public Schools ever wonder about that? Christians are so unhappy with these schools that they spend fortunes of their own money on these alternative schools, money that others spend on luxuries and travels. Christians also feel discriminated against in the Public Schools.

So, now we appear to have a system no one is happy with and everybody feels it discriminates against them. I have not even mentioned the complaints of the gay community. Why does the public put up with a school system no one seems to like and everyone experiences as discriminatory? That’s not the way it was supposed to be. Everyone was supposed to feel at home in this system because of its alleged neutrality when it comes to religion or worldview. We all were expected to be happy with the common platform provided by secularism, but, it seems, many are not.

In the next blog I will explain why so many Christians have opted out. Good night.

Friday, October 8, 2010

World View Collaborative (WVC)

Blog 19 --Religion in the Public Schools

The last two blogs featured discussions about ethical dilemmas that were generated and discussed in the framework of WorldViews Collaborative (WVC). Though I have already briefly introduced this organization two posts ago, let me elaborate a bit more.

WVC’s main mission at the moment is to promote the teaching about religions and worldviews in the BC public schools. I mention both “religions” and “worldviews,” for at least one group represented does not view itself as a religion so much as a worldview. I refer to the Humanist members, who also describe themselves as Atheists. While in our time Christians and Atheists are engaged in a pretty fierce battle, especially in books, journals and magazines, the members of WVC respect each other and their views, sometimes discuss them, but always amicably. This does not mean that we are lukewarm regarding our individual world views. In fact, we are all quite adamant and convinced within our own minds of the truth and value of our beliefs. None of us are world view slouchers. (From here on, I will avoid repetition of the term “religions and world views” by simply using “world views” to cover both of them.)

However, it came to the attention of the Atheist founder(s) of WVC that the people of BC do not really know much about what makes us all tick or what different people find important in their lives. Our public schools don’t help us in this regard, for religion is taboo there. Our schools are secular. Punkt. Religion has no place there. The system is said to be “pluralistic” and “neutral.” It emphasizes what we all have in common and ignores what separates us. As a result neighbours don’t know their neighbours; public school pupils don’t know each other either.

Nevertheless, according to these founders, though no worldview is overtly taught in our public schools, there is a strong Christian bias that permeates the school culture at the disadvantage of other worldviews, including Humanism. Of course, they are not the first to have noticed this. Especially at Christmas time, non-Christians often feel marginalized in our Public Schools and will either complain in the press or to their local school boards. It happens every year.

So, the solution that occurred to these Humanist friends of mine—yes, we have become good friends!—is to find a way to promote the teaching about all major world views in BC—Christian, Humanist, Atheist, Hindu, Buddhist, Sikh, Muslim, all of them—in the Public School system. The purpose is not to convert anyone or to proselytize, but simply to present the main contours of each world view in an objective manner as information, so that pupils of different world views will get to know each other better, also later as adults.

Rabbi Dennis Prager once blamed certain “liberals” who are in charge of the system, apparently “liberals” of a different stripe from those who founded WVC as follows:

Liberals… are always talking about pluralism, but that is not what they mean. They mean “melting-pot.” Pluralism… means that Catholics are Catholics, Jews are Jews, Baptists and Baptists, etc. That’s what pluralism means—everyone affirms his values and we all live with civic equality and tolerance. That’s my dream. But in public school, Jews don’t meet Christians. Christians don’t meet Hindus. Everybody meets nothing. That is… why their children so easily inter-marry. Jews don’t marry Christians. Non-Jewish Jews marry non-Christian Christians. Jews for nothing marry Christians for nothing. They get along great because they both affirm nothing. They have everything in common—nothing. That’s not pluralism. But that’s exactly what the liberal world wants. They want a bunch of secular universalists with ethnic surnames. (Quoted by Paul Marshall in A. Van Ginkel, ed., Shaping a Christian Vision for Canada. Markham: Faith Today Publications, 1992, p. 20.)

So, the point of WVC is to make the citizens of BC aware of their differences as well as commonalities, so that we can know each other better. My neighbour to know what makes me tick and vice versa. Pupils will come to realize that these different world views represent deep depositories and traditions of truths and insight from which we can all obtain greater wisdom, even if we do not agree with all we hear. The various colourful parades and other events are not just “funny” things that Indians or Pakistanis do, but they represent depths of thought that would never have occurred to us. This project will hopefully take away the shrouds of secrecy and mystery with which we surround ourselves and remove the ignorance with which we observe each other. Exchange fear with respect and interest; suspicion with challenging dialogue.

For reasons I do not quite comprehend, the founder, retired Professor Ernest Poser of UBC and, before that, McGill, somehow found me and judged me a suitable candidate for this project. Perhaps he fell upon my website ( ). But I am glad he invited me, for I have enjoyed meeting this inter-religious group tremendously. For one thing, I have noticed that not all liberals, Humanists, Atheists and secularists are the same. There are tolerant ones amongst them, very gracious and compassionate. I write a lot about adherents to that world view and often quite vociferously. When these friends read my writings, I want them to know that my frustrations with their co-liberals are not aimed at them, especially not personally. Of course, the deep differences and disagreements remain, but we enjoy each other’s company. Poser and I especially enjoy our occasional souperamas either in our homes or in restaurants, during which we engage each other in great discussions. Thank you, Ernest!--as well as you, Kathy and Eric.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Ethical Dilemma (2)

Please re-read the introduction to the previous post, Ethical Dilemma (1), so you know what this one is all about.

The Dilemma: The Case of the Lying Refugee
A young woman, in another part of the world, faces an arranged marriage to
a man she hardly knows and does not wish to marry. She therefore
secretly leaves home to seek asylum on another continent. Fearing that
her family might trace her whereabouts and arrange for her repatriation,
she gives a false name and age in her application for citizenship in the
host country. When found out, should she be denied citizenship in her
chosen country of refuge?


Western culture tends to condemn arranged marriages. In addition, we are familiar with this case and she is upheld as an international hero and writer. Hence, most of us might almost naturally approve of her refugee application and discount her lies. My worldview takes the following into consideration and leads to the following decisions:

• The Bible does not condemn arranged marriages. A case might be made that the Bible would prefer such arrangements to those of the West, where marriage occurs in an extremely individualistic framework and breaks down much more frequently than in cultures where it is arranged.
• This person had a very rebellious attitude about her that did not tolerate the restrictions of her native culture. It was not a matter of religious or political persecution that endangered her life. Such a person might make a good immigrant, but refugee provisions are not meant to cover her circumstances. So here we have a person taking up refugee resources of time and money that should have been applied to genuine refugees.
• Since her entire refugee case is a bogus one, I would not accept her as a refugee. I would recommend she be deported to her native country and apply for immigration. I would insist on deportation to discourage others from making bogus application. I would advise her that, if she wants to come to this country, The Netherlands (NL), she apply from her home country as an immigrant. She might return to NL under bond to pay expenses NL incurred from her bogus refugee claim.
• Alternatively, in this particular case, while awaiting lengthy refugee proceedings, suppose her life style, ambitions and considerable ability had become clear. She demonstrated that she would be a valuable citizen. Hence, her case could be transferred to the immigration dept and treated there within NL. However, to qualify as an immigrant, she should be bonded to repay the expenses incurred in processing her bogus application.
• I will tolerate “lies” from genuine refugees whose lives are endangered at home for religious or political reasons. Here compassion would kick in as well as my conception of truth vs lie. I am a product of WW II, where people saved each other’s lives by so-called “white lies.” Such “lies” are used worldwide. I do not consider them lies but a life-saving device to be used in dangerous circumstances. The case of the KGB Russian in Vancouver who told the truth about himself, should teach us that truth is not always appreciated in the halls of refugee administration. In the murky circumstances of refugee culture the “white lie” is standard and needs our sympathy but not our unqualified approval or affirmation. It should be considered allowable in selected cases. That would not be the case in our example.

Neither life nor reason nor the Bible are always all black or white! The refugee in question, after being accepted as refugee and citizen, ended up chastizing her new country for being too tolerant of refugees!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ethical Dilemma (1)

Post 17

I belong to a small organization that is busy at promoting the teaching of BC’s different world views in the public school system. The organization is called "World Views Collaborative" (WVC). Its members are consciously recruited from different religions and world views. They include secular Humanists, Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus, Unitarians and various kinds of Christians. We are all aware of the stark differences between our respective worldviews, but, in the interest of a common mission that we all espouse, we have decided to work together and have gradually developed strong personal bonds between each other. Though we are all firm adherents to our respective world views, we have decided to be tolerant of our differences. We talk about them freely, accept and respect each other and, though disagreeing, we do not criticize each other’s perspective.

Among other exercises, we have devised an ethical dilemma project in which each member explains how she would solve the dilemma on basis of her worldview. So, various members have submitted their contribution, all of which are found on the WVC’s webpage

Below I reproduce the first ethical dilemma assigned to all of us, after which I reproduce my response to the dilemma from a Calvinist perspective.

Dilemma (1) – Medical Intervention vs. Death

Your 80 year old brother, who lives at a great distance from you, has been hospitalized with pneumonia. He has no "living will." The treating physician asks your sister-in-law to authorize a surgical procedure that would make it very difficult for the patient to speak and would also require that he be fed through a gastric tube for an indeterminate length of time. Without these measures the patient is not expected to survive longer than a week.

A Calvinist Perspective (slightly edited from the website version)

My basic Christian view is that, even under extraordinary circumstances, human life is always inviolate and sacred. It must be protected. That is true for everyone’s life, poor and rich, young and old. At both ends of life. One of the issues in this case may be resources and finances, where a choice must be made between the life of this one elderly man or of some younger or more vital people who are responsible for the lives of dependents. The example is not clear. But given his age and the information at hand,

I would recommend the procedure–

-- if the brother can live with the intervention in reasonable comfort;
-- if his post-pneumonia health is of viable quality that could still qualify as life, in distinction
from a very poor and painful existence;
-- if there are viable care-taking arrangements in place.
-- if the procedure and subsequent care will not make heavy demands on the public purse that
would lead to younger people with dependents being bypassed.

I would recommend that the situation be allowed to take its natural course–

-- if his life during intervention would be (next to) intolerable;
-- if there are no viable care-taking arrangements available;
-- if the resources expended on extending this life would be at the expense of a younger persons
lives, especially those with dependents.

I invite readers to challenge me on this one, especially fellow Christians. We are facing unfamiliar situations today. Medical technology allows amazing life extension sometimes, but usually at terrific expense. In Canada and many other Western countries, such expenses will often have to be borne by the public. The public purse can be stretched only so far and therefore choices have often to be made. Should this life be preserved at any cost, even if it should mean that a younger, more vital, person with dependents would not get needed treatment and be kept from supporting his dependents? Should that course be followed, the total expense would be horrific. A fragile life would be preserved, most likely under very negative conditions hardly worthy of the designation "life." The younger persons with dependents might go down the tube, with several promising lives perhaps forever thwarted, which would potentially drag out expenses over many decades of distorted lives. In BC, at least, the cost of a street person is something like $60,000 per annum. All lives are sacred, that of the younger person and her dependents as much as that of this fragile elder who has lived his life. What would be your solution?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

For the Love of Food Animals (3)

Post 9

I was going to move on to another topic, but an article by Peter Fricker in the Vancouver Sun caught my attention. The title is “Are Food Animals Victims of Their Poor Image?” (Vancouver Sun, 20 Sep/2010). Fricker is a departmental director for the Vancouver Humane Society and has given me leave to use his article as I see fit. For not knowing me at all, that’s pretty generous and daring. So, thanks, Peter.

In the previous post, I dealt shortly with how food animals are treated and insisted that they must be treated with respect, compassion, mercy and in ways appropriate to their nature. They are, after all, creatures of God who are entrusted to us for care, protection and, where necessary, control.

Fricker wonders why not more outrage is expressed at cruelty to animals in general, including food animals. His is not the only one. A couple of years ago there was a public campaign against Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC)for the atrociously cruel way they treat(ed) their chickens. It was fought on various fronts, including on the sidewalk in front of KFC outlets. I understand the company promised to do better and the street campaign, at least, has ceased. I hope it is true.

Chickens seem to be among the most vulnerable of food animals. They run into the billions. According to Fricker, Canadians slaughter 580 million of them annually. Our giant cousin, no fewer than 9 billion p.a.! Now that’s some chicken!

How do they suffer? Well, they are bred to grow so fast that “their bones cannot support their weight, leading to chronic painful conditions and injuries.” When they are to be transported for slaughter, “they endure rough handling, often breaking (brittle) bones.” En route, they are “exposed to extreme weather over long distances, with some dying” along the way. Survivors so far are often “shackled upside down, dragged through a sometimes ineffective stun bath and having their throats slit.”

Though Christian tradition and the Bible allow animals to be used for human consumption, that does not make it acceptable for them to “be treated so inhumanely.” Fricker suggests that “breeding for unnaturally fast growth could be stopped” Based on the responsibility for treating animals according to their kind, I would see that such breaking should be stopped. An imperative, especially for Christians who should know better. They should also be allowed more space to move around beyond the “half-square foot of space,” as Fricker puts it. While en route, they should be fed and watered more frequently. Slaughter methods should become more human—by gas perhaps, as Fricker would prefer to see.

Like our pets, chickens “feel fear, pain and distress. Capacity for suffering is something all animals share,” but “it appears that, for most of us, that is acceptable.” Thanks, Fricker, for this pungent article.

One of the things that bothers me in all this is that Christians are among these poultry keepers. There are several of them in the Fraser Valley of BC’s Bible Belt. Why is that we do not hear them speak up in protest as professionals and as people who are aware of Biblical teachings? It is perhaps because few people write about it and few express outrage. Preachers hardly ever preach on the subject. I have never heard one sermon on the subject, not even from my own mouth!

The problem I believe is that handy little escape hatch many Christians use as an excuse. It goes by various names. My favourite name for it is “<dualism.” It describes the worldview held by many Christians that divides religious, spiritual and churchly concerns from the rest of culture. We are left with two realms: religion and the world. In the world you do as you please, as long as you do God’s things in the religious real. Chickens are part of that world cut off from religion. So, therefore you can do with chickens as you please. It is not of God’s concern.

I’ve got news for you, you Christian dualists. That ain’t the way things are or go. The entire world and all that’s in it belong to God and they are to be treated accordingly. That’s one of the time-honoured emphases of the Calvinistic tradition. That dualistic perspective is a secular worldview with which Christians ought to have no truck. The Christian Religion is not that cheap or easy.

The same reasoning and perspective hold for keeping any other animals for profit. Profit is legitimate; it is the oil of the economy. But it cannot be the sole bottom line. I invite you to take it from there.

Monday, September 20, 2010

For the Love ofAnimals (2)--and Control

Post 8

Yes, it is a cause for celebration that we are so much more humane in relationship to the animal world around us. But, based on the Bible, theology and well-established Christian tradition, animals are not our equals. We need to respect them and protect them. We are meant to enjoy them, but we need also to control them. The safety and well-being of people have priority over those of animals.

When in emergencies we are forced to choose between rescuing people or animals, we choose the former. When animals become dangerous to the human community, we must do what we can to accommodate them, but they must give way. When deer and bears attack people in their towns and villages as they do in some BC communities like North Vancouver and Grand Forks, then ways have to be found to move them away or, under extreme circumstances, even kill them. When rabbits on a university campus as in Victoria, threaten to take over the place, government regulations should not prevent authorities from taking the necessary steps to alleviate the problem. When Canada geese poop all over the lawns of Stanley Park so that they can no longer be used for recreational purposes by the tax payers, then there must be freedom to solve the problem, probably by killing them. When large birds endanger airplanes or disrupt power supplies, the community must protect itself against such onslaughts, possibly by killing them.

Biblically, we have priority. An early Bible account has Adam and Eve giving names to animals. You don’t give names if you don’t have the authority to do so--except perhaps place names changed arbitrarily by colonial adventurers—or if you don’t have the required insight into the nature of the individual animal. Our earliest ancestors in the Bible stories are given the assignment, the obligation, to rule over the entire world and all its creatures. The fact that the human race has often messed up this assignment due to the fall does not reduce our authority over animals or our obligation to rule and control them.

We have zoos, where we keep animals out of their natural habitat for human entertainment, but also for education. Is this legitimate? Purely for recreation, probably not. For education, I believe it is, especially if they are kept in humane ways and in environments as natural as possible. How many children have not enjoyed and profited from seeing wild animals, perhaps even petted them? It should lead to awareness, admiration and respect on their part.

For a long time, people have hunted and fished to supply themselves with food and this continues to be so. This is a legitimate use of the creatures placed under our authority. However, when hunting and fishing is reduced to recreation, then it becomes another issue. Recently my grandson and I watched some recreational fishermen on the White Rock BC dock roughly pull the hook out of small fish or even cut them with knives and then throw them back in the water. My 8-year old grandson was rightly horrified and indignant. I know of people who derive pleasure from shooting elephants in Africa, those magnificent beasts! Just imagine: pleasure! The fact that the villagers got to eat their meat does not undo the affront of the pleasure. That is not the authority over and responsibility for our animals that can be Christianly justified.

But hunting and fishing as part of a community’s food chain is legitimate—as is the raising of animals for meat. At least, in my estimation and understanding, though I have considerable sympathy for the vegetarians among us. I may well be ever so slowly moving into that direction, but I am not ready for it—yet! But raising chickens or hogs or any other meat for human consumption must take into consideration their nature, something that has been ignored for too long. Thousands of chickens in crowded batteries is no Christian way to treat them. The Bible says, they all have their own nature and must be treated accordingly. Filling them with chemicals for greater profit is an abuse of human authority and cruel, quite apart from the human disease such practices cause. At the same time, raising rabbits on the ground may be natural to them, but will lead to their disappearance and, quite likely, lead to an out-of-control rabbit plague.

And with this,I leave you to ponder.

Friday, September 17, 2010

For the Love of Animals (1)

I love it when birds carelessly stroll in my path on the city sidewalk, pecking away at seeds or insects invisible to me. I feel so honoured that birds and other wild creatures have come to feel so much at home with us humans that they share intimate space with us without fear. Though our society has plenty of raw sides that I can and in due time will rant and rave about, it says some very good things about our communal values. Not only do we humans regard untamed animals as our friends and respect them, but they have also learned to accept us in what is their territory just as much as ours.

This mutual sharing of space and respect is, probably with the exception of our bovine friends in India, hardly practiced in most non-western countries. There animals are seldom treated with kindness. Even domesticated animals such as dogs or cats, those we consider pets, are routinely roughly chased out of people’s way without a grain of kindness. I have lived in such countries for 30 years and have seen it all. Closer to home, the other day I watched an obviously foreign mother with two small children in Stanley Park. The children were, playfully to be sure, chasing the large gaggle of Canadian geese strolling in the grass. The mother, rather than restraining and teaching them the better way, obviously encouraged the children. I was there with two grandchildren who were also tempted to the chase, but my wife and I restrained them, even though I am no particular lover of those geese in the Park for reasons my Vancouver readers will understand. So much for my fellow immigrants accepting Canadian values. Or has love of, respect for and delight in animals not yet been included in the hallowed status of Canadian values?

But neither has it always been that way in our own western society. When I was a child, pets were usually treated with kindness by its owners. Other than that, animals were seldom treated with respect or love. Of course, cattle and other animals kept for profit were treated well, but others were readily chased away with no one challenging it. We had no birds or ducks sharing our space, for they knew we were their enemies.

During my forties—a long, long time ago, I admit it—I was once part of a relaxed circle of chatting friends. One of us—not me, I rush to say it!—saw an ant close to his foot and he casually crushed it with his foot. Another member—not me, I hesitate to admit—stopped the conversation and asked that friend why he so callously crushed that ant for no reason. He had no explanation, of course, certainly not a valid one. That incident was a turning point in my life when it comes to treatment of insects, animals, birds, fish, whatever, and my relationship to them, though the friend who gave the challenge did not remember the incident when I reminded him years later.

It is good that we in our society have come to this stage in our relationship with birds and animals, including wild ones. It is good, for these are God’s creatures that He made for a purpose. They enrich nature and, once you begin to study their world, you will delight in how these creatures fill this world with incredible diversity in the sky, on the land or under the waters. It has taken us way too long to reach this stage. Apart from that, of course, they largely keep the entire ecological system in balance, though imbalance can and does set in occasionally.

Perhaps there is an explanation for this difference between the West and others in this respect. Part of it, no doubt, is the continuing penetration of Christo-humanism in the minds of Westerners. Growing realization of the need to respect creation in general based on a combination of both Bible and reason for some and only on reason for others. It is part of the promise of Jesus that God will lead us collectively into truth as we make our way in this world.

But there is also the economic factor of greater wealth that makes us more relaxed. My wife and I were in our office in Nigeria together with a Nigerian friend. A beautiful bird was flying about outside, jumping from tree branch to branch. My wife and I both commented on its beauty, but our Nigerian friend shrugged his shoulder and muttered, “But you can’t eat it!” Though he may not have been poor himself, he was part of an economically challenged community that naturally reacted in that way. It had no value for him and he had no respect for it. We don’t crave the meat of animals in the space around us, for we are already satiated. And we have the time to admire animals without that craving.

But then we have other animal issues that seem to militate against the love and respect we have for them. I will deal with some of these issues in the next blog.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Qur'an Burning Condemned

This is a new blog that has not yet established a reputation sufficient to draw many readers at this point. I trust this will develop as time goes on. Nevertheless, rather than re-inventing my own wheel, I hereby pass on to you the statement from Barnabas Aid condemning the plans of an American church to publicly burn the Qur’an. Barnabas is a British-based international organization that ministers to oppressed Christians the world over. It is currently busy collecting money for Pakistani Christian flood victims. See < >.

Though I might have said it somewhat differently, I wholeheartedly support the main thrust of this statement. I herewith go on record as strongly opposing the burning plan. Furthermore, I urge American authorities to stop this deranged church from engaging in a project that is sure to further enflame anti-Christian, anti-Western and anti-American emotions among Muslims everywhere, including Americans. It is almost sure to lead to bloody riots, loss of lives and destruction of properties. It flies flat in the face of Christian attempts to promote a more positive image of Christ among Muslims. Though I fully support and insist on freedom of speech and expression, I do not support extreme forms of it that seem calculated to cause violence and bloodshed.

Here, then, the Barnabas statement:

Qur’an burning: “an unnecessary, offensive and dangerous gesture”
Barnabas Aid statement on the proposed burning of Qur’ans in Florida

A church in Gainsville, Florida, USA, the Dove World Outreach Centre, has announced that it will burn copies of the Qur’an on Saturday September 11 to mark the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The stated purpose of this action is to raise awareness of the ideology and teaching of Islam and to warn against its dangers.

Barnabas Aid condemns the proposed action, for the following reasons:

1. Barnabas Aid is fully committed to making known the aspects of Islam that result in injustice and oppression of non-Muslims, not least the persecution of Christians. But we believe that the biblical and Christ-like way to do this is by speaking the truth in the power of God’s love, and by extending that love to Muslim people even when they are hostile to us. In that context it can never be justified to destroy a book that Muslims regard as sacred, however firmly and profoundly we may disagree with its contents.

2. The effect of the proposed action on Christians in Muslim-majority contexts is likely to be extremely serious. Already Muslim militants in Indonesia have promised to kill Indonesian Christians if Qur’ans are burned in Florida, and the history of anti-Christian violence in the country suggests that this is not an idle threat. Barnabas partners in Iraq have expressed concern at the probable Muslim backlash against an already beleaguered Iraqi Church. And Christians in numerous other places who live in daily fear of potentially deadly attacks will at once be placed in much greater danger. It cannot be right to exercise our freedom to protest in a way that puts at risk the lives of our brothers and sisters, for whom Christ died.

3. There is a further risk that Christian minorities may be divided among themselves as churches with links to the West come to be unfairly associated with the action taken in Florida and its destructive consequences. It is important for Christians under pressure to be united, as their division serves only to weaken the Church and increase its vulnerability to Muslim attacks. It is therefore wholly inappropriate to undermine that unity for the sake of an unnecessary, offensive and dangerous gesture.

For these reasons Barnabas Aid urges the Dove World Outreach Centre and its supporters to refrain from burning Qur’ans on the anniversary of 9/11. It invites all Christians instead to join with us in prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world, and that the hatred and violence that endanger them may be overcome by the grace and love of Christ.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo
International Director
Barnabas Aid
September 7, 2010

PS--I have published a statement on the same subject on my Companion Blog . That one is published by the Christian Reformed Church, the denomination to which I belong. The term "Reformed" is another word for "Calvinism."

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Tamil Refugees (3)

I do want you to realize that I am not talking about refugees or refugee programmes in general. I am talking only about the specific case of the Tamil boat people that recently arrived on Canadian soil. Well, sort of.... Should Canada accept them or send them packing? And what should she do about any future such arrivals?

Canadians reacted differently to their arrival, all the way from a warm embrace to a cold “send them back.” What is the real reason behind that negative attitude that I, as you will have noticed from the last two blogs, share? To dismiss the negative response haughtily as tribalism as did Stephen Hume is nonsense. That explanation is cheap and, it seems to me, represents mere political correctness that refuses to face a tough issue. But Hume did force me to examine myself as to the reason for my negative attitude in this situation.

Before I read his column, I came to the same conclusion about myself and others as did Jon Ferry. It is disgust with the Canadian federal bureaucracy more than with our uninvited guests. Ferry said it well. “But what really seems to annoy many Canadians is the feeling they’re being played for suckers by slick immigration lawyers and coerced into paying millions in legal fees, welfare payments and health benefits to migrants who, at least by their home country’s standards, appear to be quite well off,” since they reportedly paid a handsome price for their journey.

Yes, all that largess to strangers, needy strangers to be sure, while the citizens complain about the resources they require for their ordinary needs are not available. The ordinary tax payer works hard but is given the run around when she “hits a rough patch.” The system has been bled dry, according to one writer. He does not identify the culprits, but, if I may insert my own two cents worth, they are not refugees so much as members of the bureaucracy that cow tow to all too many citizens with their culture of human rights and entitlement without a proper balance of human and citizen responsibility.

I live in Vancouver’s West End and meet, see and hear all too many people who are indeed sucking the system dry. When you see with your own eyes strong, tall young men with heavy backpacks strapped to their backs, pick up rent checks from some whimpy bureaucrat, then you know something is amiss. When people who regularly travel the entire world, ride our transit system with nearly free annual passes, you know we are bled. When people who annually traverse the continent by Amtrack but have their rent subsidized and pay no MSP, you wonder who approved the cozy arrangement. And now another 500 of these refugees forcing themselves upon the already emaciated system! When is this blood letting of the system going to end?

Ferry writes, “…the overall cynicism among Canadians about the system is now so great, it needs a complete overhaul.” There we have the real reason. If this blood letting of the system, its abuse by our own entitlement “citizens” were not so rife, the country would be more relaxed. And if our bureaucracy developed the necessary spine to stop this local blood letting, people, myself included, would not be so upset about our Sri Lankan guests. And, not the least, if our politicians dared to clamp down on these bureaucratic wimps and our entitlement champions with tougher legislation, we might even embrace them with open arms. But as it is, we are tired of it all. Hard working tax payers need a break. They want some accountability in quarters where it now seems totally lacking

And if the Toronto Sri Lankan community wants to retain its reputation and respect at all with the Canadian people, it should take the bull by the horns as I suggest in the previous blog. Put your money where your mouth is. Practice being responsible Canadians instead of a tribalistic enclave. Demonstrate that your citizenship certificate is genuine, not just one of convenience and entitlement.

One final logical comment: The logic of the Sri Lankan situation could lead to the demand that Canada take in the entire Tamil tribe. Isn’t the situation basically the same for all of them? Why stop at this boat load? Most of those left behind do not have the $45,000 our current crop paid for the passage and are thus in greater need. Yea, and while we’re at it, why not all southern Sudanese as well? We have the room! But perhaps there are other issues besides those of logic?

Tomorrow, I promise, I will broach another subject. Don't know yet what it will be, but the media will bring up something of interest, if not significance. Enjoy your day in God's Kingdom.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Tamil Refugees (2)

Yea, that refugee question—a tough one. I am dealing with the issue kind of as stream of consciousness, considering various aspects that must be taken into account. Right now, I am glad I am free to write about it without having to make the final decisions. I happily leave that to our unfortunate Government. I recognize that this is kind of cheap and easy, but flatter myself into thinking that, cheap and easy as it may be, all such writings by citizens high and low, may help a government if it is inclined to listen. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Maybe my input on the subject will be read, if they realize I am a card-carrying member of the Conservative Party, albeit a disappointed one. Mr. Harper & Co., yoho! I am here! Your member! I voted for you—or would have if you had a candidate in my riding!

Tough as the issue is, Canada must respond to it and solve it to a degree that we can live with as a nation--and do so on the side of compassion and justice. At the same time, she should do so on her own free will, not forced by cheap majority votes at the UN. Free will does not mean considering only our own Canadian interest. Canada has a reputation, among its own citizens at least, of a helpful, caring nation that sacrifices for the sake of others. That tradition needs to be incorporated in that free will. As a TV commercial puts it, “because it’s the right thing to do.” Certainly the Calvinist thing. Erring on that side even. That’s why I pleaded in my letter to accept these people and not turn them back into the Pacific.

But there’s also a tougher side to my letter. While accepting the present group for refugee processing, Canada should let it be known loud and clear that she will simply force the next ships to turn around as soon as they reach Canadian territorial waters. Potential refugees in Sri Lanka should know that, $45,000 or not, they will not be allowed to land on Canadian soil. It has been suggested that any boat heading for Canada should be diverted to some isolated island for refugee processing. Those accepted could proceed to Canada; those not accepted must find their own way out. That should discourage those who know themselves to be risky for whatever reason or come with hidden agendas. It would be similar to the US’ operating immigration posts at foreign airports with the explicit aim of sorting out risky travelers away from US borders, before they get there. Diverting them might also separate the sheep from the goats. That is, those inclined to respect our laws and procedures and those who don/t. Not a bad way to go, I believe.

Jon Ferry, another Province columnist, has his heart in the right place. Like me, a former immigrant himself, he is full of compassion for the new Tamil arrivals, especially the women among them. Perhaps a tinge of chauvinism? They should be treated “as humanely as possible while they’re in our care.” Does that last clause suggest they should be rejected humanely? Even if Canada should dare do that, it would not be experienced as “humane” by them.

Then Ferry gets tough. He has no “sympathy at all for unscrupulous people smugglers and queue jumpers who come to our country by the back door. Their exploitation of our absurdly lax immigration rules is unfair to other would-be immigrants waiting patiently….” Canada is in a pickle, according to Ferry. If she accepts the group, she will be seen as a soft touch and encourage others to follow. If she rejects the group, she will “risk losing our reputation as a big country with a big heart.” Perhaps. She may also gain the respect of those honest enough to recognize what is really going on. Should Canada even worry about that? Once again, just do the right thing and let the chips fall where they may. I don’t think it will be a disaster, though the nefarious of this world may try to turn it so.

The Toronto Tamil community and their lawyers stubbornly defend the new arrivals. Some will no doubt have siblings and other relatives among them. They insist that they be admitted, even those they do not know. They totally disregard the Government’s suspicion of Tamil terrorists among them, possibly even knowingly are mute about them. After all, this is a tribe and tribal sentiment demands that, in response to outsiders, you close rank, regardless of the issues or individuals involved. Canada has already more tribalists than it needs. It shows up every time a nation with a sizable group of its citizens in Canada finds itself in turmoil. All the immigrants from that country will band together and make this or that demand on the Canadian government. They may even turn against each other on basis of home country divisions, as we have seen in some Asian immigrant communities.

I challenge the Tamil immigrant community. Put your money where your mouth is. If you want these people to be accepted so badly, then offer to put up substantial bail for each individual. In addition, put them up in your community, provide them with jobs and teach them English. Your first priority should be to keep them off Canadian welfare rolls. Prove yourself. Demonstrate your seriousness as Canadians first of all who have the welfare of Canada at heart! We don’t need your tribalism. That’s destructive to the nation.

To be continued in the next blog. See you there.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Tamil Refugees (1)

Welcome back. I was afraid I may have lost some of you after you read the previous entry. Though I do not intend to “go on the air” daily, I thought I better waste no time after that rather scholastic presentation. But, you’re back and I’m happy the damage was not irreversible. That blog was just something I had to do to make my location in the scheme of things clear for the sake of the academics among you. Now we’re ready to move into the real world.

The last month, much of Canada, but especially BC, was up in arms about the arrival of a shipload of nearly 500 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka. Totally uninvited or approved. This was the second such shipment from Sri Lanka. During summer 2009, a ship offloaded a mere 76 onto Canadian soil. Apparently each passenger paid someone $45,000 for the journey. The 2009 folks, according to an editorial in The Province , a Vancouver-based daily, are still “awaiting processing by Canada’s inefficient refugee-claims system.” The editorial agreed with the Federal Government’s claim that the group most likely included a number of “Tamil Tiger terrorists” who are planning to continue their Sri Lankan terrorist campaign from a base in peaceful Canada. The writer concluded that it is obvious organized criminals are taking advantage of “Canada’s too compassionate refugee and immigration laws.”

As to solutions, it was suggested that laws be tightened and the claim process sped up so that candidates don’t spend years in limbo. The people smugglers should be put behind bars for many years to “take the profit out of their terrible trade.” So far, this editorial. There are rumours of more ships on the way!

The paper published my response to their editorial, the first in the lineup, that reads as follows:
Your short editorial on the Tamil Boat Show is right on. Hohum, another boat full of…, yes, of what or whom? It is clear by now that we have developed a sucker reputation with people coming to our country by hook or by crook. They fully expect to be accepted by a timid, weak-kneed refugee administration that is supported by a citizenry so compassionate, it can’t think its way straight through such invasions.

If I’m not mistaken, we are bullied into these situations by UN provisions we have “voluntarily” signed on to under “moral” pressure from a UN majority. It is cheap and easy for that majority to pass such provisions, for few will ever face this mess. No one in their right mind would even think of going there.

Let’s accept this boat and make it clear to the world that it is the last. It is time for Canada to stand up, sign off from that convention and do her own thing. Be compassionate, absolutely, but that is different from being a sucker.


The Vancouver Sun’s Stephen Hume weighed in with a mighty shout of “Racism!” That was the only reason for people’s objections to their acceptance in Canada. His accusation brought a wild angry chorus of people deeply insulted by this charge. The f… word and its synonyms, always on the tip of most “sophisticated” Vancouver tongues, was used more than I have ever seen in any newspaper.

What do we have here? Would you agree with the sentiments in my letter? Am I a racist? Throughout my 30 years in Africa, I have several times been praised for the opposite. I want us to consider a few points without necessarily coming to a clear or final conclusion. Clear final conclusions are difficult to come by when there are so many unknowns in an equation.

First of all, we have a problem at the UN, where a majority votes in favour of measures that will never affect them. Western votes represent a minority there. Few of those voting in favour of the current refugee regime will ever be inundated with refugees. Canada has for too many years played the good boy or the saint on the block and submitted to the regime. She feels obligated to accept such shipments. I believe that Canada must be compassionate and not be afraid to err on that side. However, she must insist on realistic conditions that do not include terrorists. She must sign off from this UN convention and re-establish her independence. It is cheap for Hume to ignore a factor that government cannot ignore. He was not privy to confidential government information on this subject at the time.

Hume is right that a number of “developing nations” take the brunt of the refugee burden and that Canada’s load is comparatively miniscule. Tanzania, e.g., took in more than seven Western countries combined in 2006! Similar statistics hold for other non-Western nations. But most of these are the neighbours of countries that generate the refugees, where they naturally congregate. From what I have read, the suffering in many of these camps is heart rending. It is often from there that refugees find their way to the West, either by individual effort or by sponsorship. But that is not the case with our Tamil friends.

Well, I leave it at this for today and will continue with the subject in the next post. Sleep well. Give special thanks to God you’re not a refugee or that your country does not generate such folk.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Calvinism by Any Other Name

In my previous blog, I introduced myself as a modern-day Calvinist. I did not define it but encouraged you to continue reading my blogs and so discover for yourself what's involved. So, you got yourself a job--you've become a detective!

But things are not quite as simple as I put it last time. Like every philosophy, school of thought, worldview or religion, so Calvinism has numerous variations. You've got orthodox, conservative, liberal, Swiss, Dutch, Scottish versions. Then there's the American scene in which you find all of them. Even within these schools you find variations.

OK, here comes a bit of a boring paragraph. So, either brace yourself or just skip it. If you are academically inclined, you may find it interesting. I am about to describe my life orientation with reference to schools of thought. Here goes:

Though I am a Canadian citizen and live in Vancouver, I am born in The Netherlands and hold dual citizenship. I have also spend around 15 years in Michigan, USA, and nearly 30 in Nigeria. My root Calvinism is of the Dutch variety, the most unique of which is known by names such as "Kuyperian" after its founder Abraham Kuyper(see Kuyperiana page on my website). I tend to lean towards the "Neo-Kuyperian" or "Neo-Calvinistic" branch of this one, which is also described as "Reformational. I am only giving you these names in case you decide to follow up on some of my blogs in the future. Then having these terms at hand will facilitate your research on the internet. Apart from that, forget these names.

You still there? Great! It is from that Reformational perspective that I am going to approach things. Of all Western Christian perspectives, it is the most world-affirming Christian tradition that I know of,that has not lost its classical orthodox orientation. World affirming! Now you can understand the title of this blog and where this comes from.If you're interested in knowing more about this school and its world affirmation more quickly, without waiting for my blogs, you can google any of the terms found in the above paragraphs and you'll find plenty to occupy yourself.

I promised that I am mainly going to engage in discussions about current events and writings. I will do so in terms of the world-affirming perspective promoted by Kuyper and his followers. You will probably find that I move around quite a bit between left and right, liberal and conservative, if those are your categories of thought. You may even wish I could make up my mind about where I belong. The reason for that is that Kuyperianism is beyond those categories. It is simply different. I was almost going to say that it is a third way, but that is a tired claim made by so many who reject those narrow cliches. So, let's just say I am beyond the conservative/liberal axis, while clearly within the orthodox camp.

If this blog kind of gives you cold feet, relax, put your socks on. I promise next time to feature a current topic. I confess I don't yet know what it will be, for I have so many to choose from. If you have a suggestion, send it to me and we'll see where it takes us.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Switching Gears after a Long Break

It's been a year and a quarter since my last post. Things got too wild for me. Felt pressured to complete the last volume of my 8-volume series on Christian-Muslim relations. For details, go to my < >. I did get it completed after close to ten good years, a lot of dollars that I was surprised to be able to muster, several computers and printers and 2700+ pages. You can purchase them from me, from the publisher, from Amazon and their ilk. You can also access it free of charge as e-books from < >. Yes, free of charge! Just peck "janhboer" there and you will find them, all eight of them. The archives that emerged from this project are now lodged at Yale University.

After completion, I had to spend more time on getting the Nigerian side of the publication in place and I continue to be busy with that. Nigeria? you ask. Well, yes, my wife and I spent 30 years there. This series has ramifications for the entire world with its Christians and Muslims, but its primary focus is on Nigeria as a detailed case study of its 60 million plus of both Christians and Muslims. The place is a virtual laboratory of how these two religions can co-exist in relative peace.

Relative peace. I don't think you can expect more than that, if for no other reason than that they tend to have such opposite views about the functions of government. In addition to that, they have such different views on the nature and function of religion as well as on freedom of religion, that achieving anything more than relative peace may be asking for too much. But that is a whole lot better than what they have today, each with a knife at each other's throat. My series has a number of purposes, but the main one is to provide especially my fellow Christians there with more wholistic parameters so they can better understand the Muslim challenge and thus better respond to it.

OK, you got me going on a favourite subject of mine. Sorry. But you will hear more of that in the future, I am sure.

My early posts deal with some Christian foundational issues in the form of meditations on Genesis. These will remain foundational to my future writings. I will occasionally return to those subjects, but most likely in response to current events on which I intend to comment. Comment, not proclaim. Modern culture is too complicated to have many fixed ideas about almost anything of significance. Often my comments are going to be in the nature of scattering the seed for you to join me in the search for greater clarity. I am always interested in arriving at some Christian conclusion to issues, provisional conclusions, even if during the search I may sound dogmatic at times.

So, you cannot expect a consistent ongoing series of posts on a single subject for the immediate future. I am going to respond in a Christian spirit to events or to writers as they happen or write, without pretending to have the last Christian wisdom and I'm going to do this from a contemporary Calvinist point of view. If you stick with me, you will slowly discover what such an exotic perspective might look like. Yes, there is such a perspective and it is alive and well in Canada and many other countries. You might be surprised at the organizations and institutions it has fostered. It is active and working and making a difference, but often without flying the Calvinist flag, so that people do not recognize it even as they benefit from it.

This, then, is my re-introduction of my good self. I hope that in time you will draw your friends to this blog and join me in conversation. Till next time--inshallah!