Category Archives: Politics

Rex Murphy talks some sense

I was thinking about writing a post about my thoughts on the recent Canadian election. But what do I know of politics.  So here’s a clip of Rex Murphy talking sense about Stephen Harper and the Conservatives (other than the unnecessary jab at intellects). I don’t know Murphy’s political bent. For the record, I didn’t vote Conservative, so this isn’t about my political proclivities. I just don’t like the fear-mongering that goes on.

The Lord helps those…

I’ve dived (dove? doven?) right into my reading for this semester.  The first book I started is Rodney Stark’s The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religious Force in the Western World in a Few Centuries (a mouthful with the subtitle).  It’s written from a sociological perspective and one of the chapters deals with the fact that, among other things, Christianity was able to mobilize a human response to epidemics in a way that pagan religion was not able to.

What was new and different about Christianity was the “notion that more than self-interested exchange relations were possible between humans and the supernatural” and that “because God loves humanity, Christians cannot please  God unless they love one another” (86).  Emperor Julian–not a fan of Christianity–noted the benevolence of Christians and wanted pagans to at least match this activity, “but for all that he urged pagan priests to match these Christian practices, there was little or no response because there were no doctrinal bases or traditional practices for them to build upon.  It was not that Romans knew nothing of charity, but that it was not based on service to the gods” (88). The pagans mostly fled the cities to save themselves from epidemics; Christians stayed in the cities and cared not only for their own but also for those sick pagans who had been left behind.

There were, in Stark’s view, a number of implications to this Christian charity which contributed to the rapid rise of the faith, but that’s another matter (though an interesting one).  However, this particular passage struck me:

I suggest reading the following passage from Matthew (25:35-40) as if for the very first time, in order to gain insight into the power of this new morality when it was new, not centuries later in more cynical and worldly times:

For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me…Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.

When the New Testament was new, these were the norms of the Christian communities. Tertullian [one of the church “fathers”] claimed: “It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents. ‘Only look,’ they say, ‘look how they love one another!'” (87)

This immediately put in mind of the relatively recent brouhaha over universal medicare in the U.S. Run from your church if they talk about social gospel!, says Glenn Beck (inexplicably the new spokesperson for what appears to be much of the Christian right).  What is the social gospel?  As far as I can tell, these words of Jesus in Matthew are the essence of the social gospel. And it comes from the mouth of Jesus!

How it is that the “Christian right” came to oppose the notion of universal healthcare is beyond me.  It seems to me that they ought to be the ones who most strongly support it.  I’m not suggesting that state sponsored medicare is a biblical mandate.  What is a biblical mandate is care for those who are hungry, thirsty, imprisoned and what have you.  The state steps in because Christians are not doing what they are supposed to be doing. Somebody needs to heed Jesus’ words.

It would be one thing if the Christian right opposed universal healthcare on the grounds that they wanted to provide it instead of the Joe and Jane Taxpayer, but from what I can gather those within the church who opposed universal healthcare are not afraid of the government shuffling into their territory.  At least, not the territory of taking care of orphans and widows in their distress.  But the territory of tax dollars and the American dream?  Yes.  After all, God helps those who help themselves, it says somewhere in Hezekiah.

It scares me to think that many Christians seems to be drifting away from this “notion that more than self-interested exchange relations were possible between humans and the supernatural”.

Ground Zero Mosque

I haven’t been following this Mosque on Ground Zero business very closely (is it actually on ground zero or near ground zero? It seems to depend on who you ask), but theologian John Stackhouse has some good things to say about it, if you’re at all interested.

From his first post on the subject:

If we don’t think all Muslims are implicated in the attack, then of course they should be allowed to build a mosque or community centre or whatever the heck they want to build wherever the zoning and funding will allow—just like any other citizens.

I’m a Christian. In fact, I’m an evangelical Christian. Am I implicated in the shooting of abortion doctors? Am I implicated in the policies of the Harper government here or the Bush administration recently gone? Am I implicated in whatever James Dobson or Pat Robertson or Franklin Graham or Benny Hinn says? If so, then I’m a pretty dangerous guy. If not, then you’ll have to treat me like anyone else you hardly know: as a neighbour, a fellow citizen, who must be allowed the full exercise of his rights and liberties until I have manifestly proven myself unworthy of them.

I think this is the strongest argument–American rights and freedoms.  I’m not sure how it could be seen otherwise.

In his second post he deals with the question of Islam and violence, pointing out that humans are prone to violence and will use whatever they can to legitimize it–whether it is Islam, Christianity, Buddhism or some other ethos:

We cannot, therefore, oppose the Ground Zero mosque on the grounds that even mainstream Islam legitimizes some violence sometimes–as if Christianity (or secular humanism, or what have you) doesn’t. It all depends on what violence is legitimized in what circumstances. And so the key point here is that the particular violence in question, the violence of 9/11, has been explicitly and repeatedly condemned by the Muslim leaders who want the mosque and community center to be built.

That’s *A*moral (coupla things…)

I read a remarkable essay by William T. Cavanaugh for my Ethics class: “Discerning: Politics and Reconciliation“.  As it happens, that entire essay is available for preview at Google Books (it’s found in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics).  That’s not the best format for reading the essay, but it’s the only online version I could find.  I’d like to cover it in depth here, but I don’t have time.

In a nutshell, Cavanaugh briefly traces the rise of liberal (small-l) political theory (the foundation of our representative governments) and how it is based the autonomy of the individual and the inevitable conflict that rises between autonomous individuals.  Some form of political authority (ultimately representative government) is necessary as an enforced reconciler or peace-keeper.  Liberal political theory is based on the inevitability of conflict (and possibly the necessity of war with other nati0ns) and the continual suppression of this conflict–a forced peace, if you will.  Violence, in other words, is the norm in liberal political theory.  It is a tragic theory and true reconciliation is never realized.

The Biblical story on the other hand argues that conflict and violence is not “the state of nature”, it is not natural or foundational to being human.  The Biblical story, particularly in the first couple of chapters of Genesis, shows that the way things are now is not the way they’ve always been.  Our current plight is not the norm, not the way things ought to be. The Christian story, in other words, allows for true reconciliation to be realized.

He then goes on to argue that the Church’s liturgy (that is, its gathering to worship) is a way of enacting this reconciliation.

I haven’t done justice to Cavanaugh’s essay, so I urge you to read it for yourself.  It’s quite something.

(I see that there is a Christian Century interview with Cavanaugh available online: “Liturgy as Politics: An Interview with William Cavanaugh“.  I haven’t read it, but it sounds like it might cover similar ground.)

* * *

Also watch the IdeasExchange podcast page at Aqua Books for last Saturday’s talk by Dr. Chris Holmes, my ethics and theology professor.  The title of his presentation is “‘Christianity is Basically Amoral:’ Reflections on Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Principle-free Christianity”.  I’m not sure how long it will be before it’s posted (it’s not up yet), but look for ‘Christopher Holmes 10.24.2009′.

In the meantime, here’s a Bonhoeffer quote from his talk and from Bonhoeffer’s Ethics, which we are working through in Christian Ethics:

Behold God become human, the unfathomable mystery of the love of God for the world.  God loves human beings.  God loves the world. Not an ideal world, but human beings as they are; not an ideal world, but the real world.  What we find repulsive in their opposition to God, what we shrink back from with pain and hostility, namely, real human beings, the real world, this is for God the ground of unfathomable love. God establishes a most intimate unity with this. God becomes human, a real human being. While we exert ourselves to grow beyond our humanity, to leave the human behind us, God becomes human; and we must recognize that God wills that we be human, real human beings. (Bonhoeffer, Ethics, p. 84)

Illegal alien?

Took my passport application to the local Passport Canada service centre.  They said it would take 4 weeks plus mailing time to get my passport if I submitted it through them.  That’s cutting it too close.  They told me the application process would go significantly faster if I took my application directly to the processing centre in Saskatoon.  So Madeline and I made an unscheduled trip to Saskatoon this afternoon.

Things at the Passport Office went relatively quickly.  Ran into my high school physics teacher there, too, of all places. Small world.  I was at the Passport Office for about half an hour.  It would have taken less time than that, except the girl looking after me had to confer with her boss a couple times.

You see, I had to fill in an extra page for my application because I am not a naturalized Canadian and neither of my parents were born in Canada.  I explained how I acquired my citizenship (it was a legitimate acquisition, folks) and then she told me that the reason I had to fill out the extra page was that my citizenship may have expired.  I was already a little nervous about arriving in Saskatoon and discovering that I was missing a page from my application or had dropped one of my passport pictures in downtown Prince Albert.  The possibility of not actually being a citizen, and therefore ineligible for a passport, wasn’t helpful information.

I explained my citizenship process again: I received my Canadian citizenship at birth, even though I was born in the Netherlands, because my father, who was also born in the Netherlands, had acquired his Canadian citizenship by immigration in the late 40s or early 50s.  She went back to her boss again and returned with better news.  She had spoken too soon and citizenship probably wasn’t going to be an issue.

So I should have a passport in about 3 weeks, including mailing time.

My destination this afternoon was the federal building in Saskatoon.  I spent 30 minutes or less there.  The rest of the time: about 75 minutes drive to Saskatoon; 30 minutes driving through downtown Saskatoon trying to find a bloody parking spot; at least 60 minutes of driving (mostly idling, actually) between the federal building and the Cirle Drive/Idylwyld bridge to get out of the city (would have taken a more direct route, but there is construction on Idyldyld, so I got to that intersection by way of 22nd and Circle Drive, which in the end was probably no faster); 75 minutes from Saskatoon back home.  So, to sum up: 240 minutes of driving/idling for less than 30 minutes of actual business.  Saskatoon is a great city, but I hate it.  At least, I hate in it.

But that’s one less thing to worry about.

Stress Level: Midnight

My ongoing responsibilities:

  1. Family/Home
  2. Legal assistanting
  3. Church work
  4. Seminary course

I’m not a multi-tasker, so these have been interesting times.  The seminary work has been the biggest stress.  I just can’t seem to find the time or discipline to read when I’m awake enough to be fully aware of the text I’m reading.  I have quite a bit of time left, but with December mostly a write-off I’m feeling a bit of pressure.

Last Sunday I planned the worship.  It’s not one of my strengths.  Believe it or not, I find putting an order of service together much more stressful than writing a sermon.  So I came down from a fairly high-stress week after last Sunday’s service.  I preach this coming Sunday, but that’s not stressing me out so much.  Not yet, anyway.

I got a call at work this afternoon advising me that I’ll probably be heading to Chicago the first week of February for a conference.  This was all fine and dandy, until I told Dixie about it and she reminded me that I need a passport to get into the U.S.  That’s when my stress level shot up.  If I get my application in before Christmas, I should get my passport juuuuuuuuust in time to fly to the Windy City.

So I sat at the computer for an hour and a half trying to complete a 3-page online application form.  The site kept timing out on me, so I’d lose some information and have to sign in again.  (And it would have been nice to be able to renew the passport that expired in ’87.)  But I finally got that done.  Then off I went to Shopper’s Drug Mart to get my passport photo taken.  I sat there for 20 minutes while the poor guy there tried to get the flash behind me to sync with the camera-mounted flash.  He finally got it working and took the most dreadful picture of bewhiskered me.  Dixie says the picture is cute.  I think I look about 15 years older than I am.  You should see the bags under my eyes!  It doesn’t help that you’re not allowed to smile in passport pictures.  (Dixie says I never smile in pictures anyway, but my face looks particularly long in this picture.  The beard doesn’t help.)

Hopefully the application will be dealt with tomorrow.

Now I’ve finished everything I planned to do today.  Except study, work on my sermon, fill out the conference registration form and seal the air leaks around the door frame, but tomorrow is another day.

I don’t begrudge this stress.  It’s thrilling in some respects and “good” stress, as far as that is possible.  But it’s tiring.

Fair Trade fair?

There is an interesting discussion going on at Scot McKnight’s blog about whether or not Fair Trade is a good thing.  Naturally, there are good (non-self-interested) arguments for both sides in the comment (Scot is now blogging at beliefnet.com and I haven’t quite figured out how to get both the full text of the post and all the comments at the same time).

One comment (by a Joey) stood out for me:

Live local, buy local. I don’t claim to know tons about how the world market works or even the Fair Trade industry but it seems that the only sustainable and responsible way to do agriculture is to do it locally and to encourage others to do the same. We have plenty of farm land in the US to supply our nutritional needs. So do countries in South America. It is our attitude of entitlement that makes us think we deserve strawberries in January not our responsible stewardship.

(No comment linkage possible.)

Not about the Fair Trade issue per se, but a good point nonetheless.  I keep thinking that I should, to begin with, buy more stuff at the local farmer’s market.

My Economics 101 professor in university told me that I should think about pursuing an economics major.  Economics 200 proved within the first two weeks of class to be disasterous for me, so that didn’t pan out.  So, I don’t have a clue about the ins and outs of international trade, economics and politics, but I’ve always wondered why we import grain and oil (for instance) from other countries when it’s my understanding that we’re quite capable of meeting our own demand for those products.

Incidentally, the other day I got to thinking that I should just start buying Tim Hortons’ beans, because, quite frankly, it’s the coffee I enjoy most (I don’t care what the rest of you snobs think).  Judging by their website (their website, mind you), Tim Hortons appears to be involved in fair trade practices (without, apparently, a stamp of approval from an arbitrary fair trade approver and stamper) and even addressing some of the concerns of some of the commenters on Scot McKnight’s blog.

They offer

direct financial assistance for technical training to improve the quantity and quality of coffee produced and assist farmers in getting their coffee to market at the best time and for the best price. Assistance is also provided on environmental management, in both proper farming techniques and reforestation projects, led by Tim Hortons.

Tim Hortons also recognizes the need for direct involvement with coffee growing communities for their social programs – providing assistance primarily in education and medical care.

The Tim Hortons approach is different from other world wide sustainable coffee initiatives. While admirable, some programs may require certification on behalf of the farmers which is an expense they cannot afford, plus the price provided may be less than what it should be and may have no relation to the quality of the coffee produced. In addition, the programs can have little or no involvement on the part of the coffee retailer. The Tim Hortons program ensures that the money spent actually reaches or benefits the coffee grower and the surrounding community. (link)

Am I just gullible or can I buy Tim Hortons coffee in good conscience?  (And if you think I’m gullible—how many of you have looked up the organizations that allow other FT coffees to put their stamp of approval on their packaging—how do we ever know if it’s really fair trade without going down to the plantations ourselves?)

Canada’s electoral system

Look like a slightly stronger Conservative minority government on the way.  I’m OK with that.

But I’m looking once again at the popular vote statistics and the numbers are out of whack.  I know I do this every election, but bear with me.

Currently a party wins seats in the house of commons based on the number of ridings won by its candidates, regardless of relative populations of those ridings.

So, hypothetical worst-case scenario: there are 3 ridings in Saskanada, Riding 1 has a population of 100,000; Riding 2 has a population of 10,000; and Riding 3 has a population of 5,000.  The Marc Party could form Saskanada’s government by getting 51% of the vote in Ridings 2 and 3, even if the Dixie party won 100% of the popular vote in Riding 1.  It’s more nuanced than that, I’m sure, but that’s the problem in an nutshell.

The problem is strongly evident in the division of seats between the Bloc Quebecois (which really only represents the interests of Quebec and not the nation’s and runs only in Quebec) and the Green Party (which runs nationwide).  The Bloc won (or is currently at) 10% of the popular vote.  The Green Party is very close to the Bloc with 7% of the popular vote.

BUT…because of our electoral system, the Bloc has won 50 seats in the House of Commons and the Green Party has not won a single seat .  In other words, a 3% difference in popular vote but a 5000%+ difference in number of seats won (of course, you can’t really calculate a percentage difference between 0 and 50).

This is why I’m for electoral reform.

Who would benefit from a government bailout?

song chart memes

It’s funny ’cause it’s true.  I’ve been thinking about this $700,000,000,000 since it was announced.  Where did this come from?  Why do the people who caused the crisis in the first place get such a bailout?  And where was this $700,000,000,000 when Bono & Co. were working on Third World debt relief? Why should the U.S. economy (or the Canadian economy for that matter) be bailed out, but not Third World economies.

It bothers me that this money is available, but it is brought out for purely political reasons.  I know there’s probably more to this than I understand: I’m not a finance and investment guy.  But still:  $700,000,000,000 is a lot of money to pull out of your arse just like that.

I guess that’s the perk of being a billion dollar corporation.  You can bring thousands of people and businesses to financial ruin, but the government will bail you out.

I think I’m an idealist—or I should be.  I think that might be my sermon topic this week: should Christians be idealists?  Were Jesus’ commands and way of life simply options for us to accept or reject?