Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Who is responsible for my decisions and choices?

I found this in my Facebook stream. It is there attributed to Dr. Wayne W. Dyer, an author and self-help guru.

At the risk of alienating some Facebook friends, my response is that this seems to me like a half-truth that mainly applies to middle and upper classes in the First World. What's written is largely true except, sometimes, the age part. I understand where this is coming from. The author is telling us to take responsibility for our own lives and not get bogged down on blaming others for the hole we find ourselves in. But the temptation is to turn it around and wash our hands of responsibility for others by saying that they are responsible for themselves..

What's missing in this inspirational message is that the choices we make before reaching the age of reason or after acquiring dementia could not be responsible choices. After that, the choice options available to many people are often very dependent upon where they were born, where in the world or city they live, whether they even have a job or schooling, the weather in a world of climate change. Choices available to child soldiers and girls sold off in arranged marriages are zero to none yet they are often held responsible and punished, or abandoned, as if they had freedom of choice. Adults and juveniles in families facing severe hunger and deprivation make choices under desperate conditions but often are still held equally accountable as their more privileged counterparts.

You are responsible for your choice only to the extent that the choice is understood and freely made with full knowledge. Such freedom and knowledge is on a sliding scale, not on an on/off switch. This is why politicians who preach simplistic, slogan-based responsibility with automatic, minimum, punitive sentences are so dangerous.

For all these reasons and more, I do not agree with the catchy slogan: you and only you are responsible for every decision and choice you make.

However, I also operate on the principle that I had better take responsibility for getting myself out of the hole I am in regardless of whose fault it is that I am in the hole.


Saturday, 12 November 2016

David Remnick from The New Yorker: last interview with Leonard Cohen

This is a beautiful interview. Perhaps, not so much an interview as a testimony.

I hope this doesn't sound too glib, but I honestly believe a major strength of Leonard Cohen was his preparedness and ability to hold paradoxical contradictions in tension as, perhaps, only a poet can do: life, death; sex, love and loneliness; dark and light; brokenness and healing; guilt, melancholy and humorous self-deprecation; relentlessly seeking God, banging on God's door which for the longest time seemed to be closed; and then, at the end of his life, in his "white-knuckle" pain, relaxing into "hearing God speaking" - no longer in judgement, but compassionately: "Eat something, you're losing too much weight."

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Remembrance Day - Lest We Forget

Wilfred Owen
Wilfred Owen, who wrote some of the best British poetry on World War I, composed nearly all of his poems in slightly over a year, from August 1917 to September 1918. In November 1918 he was killed in action at the age of twenty-five, one week before the Armistice.
Source: Poetry Foundation

Anthem for Doomed Youth


What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
      — Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
      Only the stuttering rifles' rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
      Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
      And bugles calling for them from sad shires.

What candles may be held to speed them all?
      Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of goodbyes.
      The pallor of girls' brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.


Sunday, 6 November 2016

Christmas storm in a coffee cup

As a Christian I feel the need to speak out and defend the right of coffee vendors not to put Diwali decorations on their take-out coffee cups, nor Eid decorations, nor Chanukah decorations nor Christmas decorations. They have the right to decorate or not decorate their coffee cups in any way they choose subject to the law of the land. If we do not uphold and defend this right then the alternative will be too ghastly to contemplate.

Denigrating them for not decorating their coffee cups with our particular flavour of religious celebration may be free speech, but it borders on harassment, badly models our own religion and is certainly one way of opposing the vendor's right. Tolerance is a prerequisite for the love that most religions claim as their hallmark. Let's at least get that much right as the festive seasons unfold.

(Photo credit:

Friday, 5 August 2016

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson on abortion - with due respect, I have to disagree

"Catholics need to stop voting for pro-abortion politicians," Supreme Knight Carl Anderson told an international gathering of the Knights of Columbus in Toronto, Canada, Aug 2, 2016.

Supreme Knight Carl Anderson. Photo credit: Knights of Columbus

I am a pro-life Catholic who believes in the sanctity of human life from the moment of conception, and an active member and office bearer of the Knights of Columbus local council, so why do I find this statement by the Supreme Knight extremely concerning?
The reasons are many and complex.

Simplistic dualism

Firstly, at its most elemental, it simplistically divides politicians (and, by extension, people in general) into two groups, anti-abortion and pro-abortion, representing good and evil, clean and dirty, right and wrong, life and death, righteous and damned (if they don't repent.) If only life were that simple - black or white with no shades of grey…

With that simple statement to stop voting for pro-abortion politicians, Brother Carl Anderson has reduced the decision making process around the presidential elections facing Americans today to an obvious, no-brainer choice that is really no choice at all. Hillary Clinton is pro-abortion, Donald Trump is no longer so - well, except with "caveats" such as rape and incest and other "it depends's". (See the piece in Charisma News.) Therefore American Catholics must vote for Donald Trump! Say, what?

Single-issue voting

This is the world of single-issue voting where you identify one issue that outweighs all the other issues combined. “What political issue could possibly outweigh this human devastation? Abortion is different. Abortion is the killing of the innocent on a massive scale,” says Brother Anderson. The argument is perfectly logical - but only up to a point:
Moral issues outweigh political issues.
Killing innocent children is a moral issue.
Therefore killing innocent children outweighs political issues.

From which the argument continues:
But abortion is killing innocent children on a massive scale.
Therefore the issue of abortion outweighs all political issues.

However, after this there is a leap to the next conclusion:
Therefore Catholics need to stop voting for politicians who are pro-abortion.

Why is this a leap of logic? … because the premise presumes that all other issues are purely political, non-moral issues - which is false.

There are many other moral issues than "killing innocent children in the womb". For instance, how about tolerating that, after being born, children are growing up malnourished (with the accompanying brain under-development that this causes) or even starving to death, or being exposed to perilous sea-crossings and long overland treks on foot, or months and years of sub-human living in refugee camps? Not just children, of course, but their parents and other adults as well. How about knowingly leaving impoverished communities to drink mercury-laden water, or water polluted with arsenic or other toxic substances from gold mining? How about continuing to export asbestos to third-world countries that do not yet have regulations in place to prevent exposure to asbestos and the resultant harm to health and life this causes?

Ah, the objection goes, but abortion is "on a massive scale", involving "millions of children". Far be it from me to try and defend abortion, but to try and make abortion the only single moral issue based on numbers is indefensible. How do you stack up and compare x million abortions against human suffering that cannot be measured, the human suffering that is being endured daily and has been endured for decades by the millions of environmental, economic and conflict-driven refugees that Pope Francis talks about in his encyclical, Laudato Si, for instance? What if your (somewhat) anti-abortion political candidate wants to ban refugees from immigrating and to build walls to address the 'security problems' caused by refugees, and shows little or no compassion for children who are homeless and hungry, dressed in dirty clothes and lacking the essentials of healthcare?

Photo credit:
Whenever I read the account of the sheep being separated from the goats in chapter 25 of the gospel of Matthew I am struck not only by what is listed in the "citation" but also by what is missing: the Ten Commandments are completely missing. The goats are not condemned for lying, cheating, stealing, adultery, fornication, buggery - or even murder - but for a lack of compassion! It's all about sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, assisting the sick and imprisoned. Read Matthew 25 and see for yourself.

Culture of Death

The other leap of logic is with the phrase, "culture of death." It is presumed as axiomatic that pro-lifers support a "culture of life" and pro-choicers a "culture or death." I am pro-life - in small letters. A couple of years ago I made a conscious decision to stop identifying with the "Pro-Life" movement (capital 'P', capital 'L') because of its exclusive fixation on life before birth. I see it as even worse with some fundamentalist evangelical Christian churches than with Catholic Pro-Lifers. The perception is that they will proudly and loudly, and extravagantly, go to the ends of the earth to elect politicians who will enact laws to prevent a child being aborted, but once the child is born they have no further interest in the child's welfare in terms of nutrition, health, home circumstances or education, or even whether the mother will be executed for 'immorality' - usually by stoning. It is perceived by its critics as a single issue movement that calls itself religious and Pro-Life but is mainly anti-abortion and loudly political.

Then there is the pejorative phrase, 'culture of death' that is juxtaposed (self-righteously?) against 'culture of life'. A number of my close friends and family who believe in a woman's right to choose to have an abortion are warm, caring and nurturing people. I would unhesitatingly call them 'good' people even though I do not share their views on abortion. If I have to compare, I would call them a lot more caring and compassionate than some Pro-Lifers I know or have read about, or seen on the news screaming "Murderers" at Pro-Choice activists. My point is that Pro-Lifers and pro-lifers do not have the monopoly corner on a culture of life. To suggest that a United Church minister of my acquaintance is spreading a 'culture of death' because he believes in situation ethics and is supportive of members of his congregation who have felt the need to have an abortion creates and perpetuates the kind of division between Christians that is actually contrary to a culture of life. Or to suggest that an agnostic doctor of my acquaintance lacks a moral compass and promotes a culture of death - a woman who is a loving mother, dedicated to saving lives and improving the health of her patients, but who is quite prepared to refer a pregnant patient for an abortion where she deems appropriate - would be blinkered, pietistic moralism devoid of any constructive, life-giving energy.

Election guidelines

In the 2015 Canadian federal election I was very pleased to see that the Canadian bishops did not propose simplistic, single-issue voting to the Catholic faithful. On the contrary, they published a very helpful guide covering a multiplicity of issues - none of which were purely political.  Actually, they published as many as 3 guides - all of which can be found at the above link:
Link to the Guide of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops (CCCB)
Link to the Guide of Development and Peace
Link to the Guide of The Canadian Council of Churches

May I propose that, in choosing a president, American Catholics follow guides such as those recommended by the Canadian bishops rather that the simplistic exhortation of the Supreme Knight who seems to imply that the only Catholic belief of political relevance is to be Pro-Life.