Are All Muslims Extremists?

A commentary on “Islamic or Muslim Extremists”.

On June 21, CBC.ca reported that a Muslim woman was attacked in a shopping mall. The article says a Muslim woman shopping with her four-month-old son was attacked in a London, Ontario supermarket and according to police the fourth reported event against visible minorities in the city in the past eight months. The day before, CBC reported A pig’s head left outside a Quebec City mosque was the latest in a string of incidents pointing to a rising tide of Islamophobia across Quebec. This is just days after the horrific attack in Orlando, Florida when a gunman massacred 49 people in a nightclub.

On June 12, the night of the attack, Donald. Trump, GOP presidential nominee tweeted: What has happened in Orlando is just the beginning. Our leadership is weak and ineffective. I called rtx1gzco (1)it and asked for the ban. Must be tough. In other words, his view is to ban all Muslims from entering the USA, a position he put forth during the primaries.

On June 13 Donald Trump gave an address on terrorism, immigration and nation security. During that address he said;

The immigration laws of the United States give the President the power to suspend entry into the country of any class of persons that the President deems detrimental to the interests or security of the United States, as he deems appropriate. I will use this power to protect the American people. When I am elected, I will suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies, until we understand how to end these threats.

It’s no secret that Mr. Trump plans to ban Muslims from entering the United States. So what is happening? Is Mr. Trump, along with many other individuals, stereotyping Muslims, that is, categorizing them as potential “radical Islamists”? So I have to ask the questions: Is it fair to lump all Muslims together and label them potential “radical Islamists”? Should we fear Muslims because they might be terrorists? To answer these questions I did some research.

Globalresearch.ca is a Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG). It is an independent research and media organization based in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. Since the CRG is a registered non-profit organization and was created to do research on global issues, I would then conclude that it is a credible source. This organization has concluded that non-Muslims carried out more than 90% of all terrorist attacks in the United States. (see Non-Muslims…) The article cites a graph that provides statistics from 1980 to 2005 from the FBI Database. According to this data, there were more Jewish acts of terrorism (7%) within the United States than Islamic (6%).  The article also says the U.S. News and World Report noted in February 2013: Of the more than 300 American deaths from political violence and mass shootings since 9/11, only 33 have come at the hands of Muslim-Americans, according to the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security. 

The Economist’s article, The plague of global terrorism reports:

Last year (2014) 32,700 people were killed in attacks worldwide, nearly twice as many as in 2013… Most of the deaths last year (and every year) are in the Middle East and Africa, not the West. Iraq, Nigeria, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan together account for three-quarters of the global total. Western countries suffered under 3% of all deaths in the past 15 years…The Paris attacks and the downing of a Russian airliner in Egypt killed more than 100 people each. Such lethal attacks are rare but are increasing. Last year, there were 26 compared with a handful in 2013. Most were carried out by ISIS, and most occurred in Iraq. And terrorism is spreading. 67 countries saw at least one death last year compared with 59 the year before.

So according to the Economist, less than 3% of all deaths in the West in the past 15 years were due to terrorist attacks. According to globalresearch.ca article, The Terrorism Statistics Every American Needs to Hear, the leading cause of deaths for Americans traveling abroad is not terrorism or murder or even a crime of any sort; it’s car crashes. With the exception of the Philippines, more Americans died from road crashes in all of the 160 countries surveyed than from homicides. The article also claims, you are 35,079 times more likely to die from heart disease than from a terrorist attack It too says you are 33,842 times more likely to die from cancer than from a terrorist attack.

The World Post has an article titled, Muslims Are Not Terrorists: A Factual Look at Terrorism and Islam, which makes some interesting points. One of their points is: Even if all terrorist attacks were carried out by Muslims, you still could not associate terrorism with Islam. It supports that statement with the fact that there have been 140,000 terror attacks committed worldwide since 1970. Even if Muslims carried out all of these attacks, those terrorists would represent less than 0.00009 percent of all Muslims. To put things into perspective, this means that you are more likely to be struck by lightning in your lifetime than a Muslim is likely to commit a terrorist attack during that same time span.

This article also says that if you’re going to claim that all Muslims are terrorists, then  you must also claim all Muslims are peacemakers. The article says that the same statistical assumptions being used to falsely portray Muslims as violent people can be used more accurately to portray Muslims as peaceful people. If all Muslims are terrorists because a single digit percentage of terrorists happen to be Muslim, then all Muslims are peacemakers because 5 out of the past 12 Nobel Peace Prize winners (42%) have been Muslims.

So what are my conclusions? My take on things is that the media has perpetrated the belief that most or even all terrorism is due to “Muslim extremists”. I say this because as typical of the news media, terrorist attacks, especially those carried out by “Muslim extremists”, get sensationalized in the media.. This myth perpetrated by the media is contrary to the evidence I sited earlier. It is blatantly unethical to group all believers of Islam as potential terrorists. That is why Donald Trump’s call for the Untied States to ban all Muslims for entering the States is unmerited and is based on misconceptions. Besides, banning Muslim immigrants does not guarantee a nation’s safety from terrorism since the latest incident in Orlando, Florida was carried out by an American born, non-practicing Muslim. I do not believe all Muslims are potential terrorists. I believe that most Muslims are peaceful, law-abiding people. Mr. Trump has used the phrase “Islamic Extremists” numerous times as have others. To think there is only extremism in Islam is naïve. The Christian religion has had its share as well. One of the latest, according to Wikipedia, was in November of 2015 when Robert Lewis Dear killed three and injured nine at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The Christian terrorist voiced on several occasions his support for radical Christian views and interpretations of the Bible, and praised people who attacked abortion providers, saying they were doing “God’s work.” It’s interesting to note that this incident was not talked about for numerous days afterward.

Is our world less safe than it once was because of extremism? Yes it is. But should we be fearful of Muslims and Islamic terrorists? No. If we become a culture of fear then terrorists groups, such as ISIS, have succeeded in their mission which is to instill terror. Besides you’re more likely to be killed in a vehicle accident than in a terror attack.

Many Islamic leaders have condemned attacks carried out by “Muslim extremists”. I believe they will continue to do so and I have heard of many Muslims working to change the image people have of their religion. An ad campaign was launched in the United Kingdom to improve the image of Muslims. (see U.K. ad campaign). To quote the late Muhammad Ali, Terrorists are not following Islam. Killing people and blowing up people and dropping bombs in places and all this is not the way to spread the word of Islam. So people realize now that all Muslims are not terrorists. I say it is time to stop the senseless attacks on Muslims. Not all Muslims are a threat!actions do

Orlando: Hate or Terrorism?

A commentary regarding the massacre that occurred in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, June 12.

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USA Today headlines June 13, 2016

I was horrified to learn that on Sunday, June 12, 2016, a gunman pledging allegiance to the Islamic State opened fire inside a crowded gay bar and dance club in Orlando, Florida, leaving 49 people dead and 53 injured. This sickening event is being called the deadliest mass shooting in the history of United States.

President Obama, once again commenting on a mass shooting, said it was “an act of terror and an act of hate.” So that begs the question: Was the Orlando massacre an act of terrorism or was it a hate crime? Dictionary.com defines a hate crime as a crime, usually violent, motivated by prejudice or intolerance toward an individual’s national origin, ethnicity, colour, religion, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability. Vocabulary.com defines an act of terrorism as the calculated use of violence against civilians in order to attain goals that are political or religious or ideological in nature. Now if we consider the two definitions, the answer to the question would be it is both an act of terror and a hate crime. Violence in the form of gun shooting was carried out against civilians, specifically the LGBT community, and was motivated or at least inspired by the terrorist group known as ISIS so it is an act of terror. Even more, it was a hate crime. It was a hate crime clearly directed towards the LGBT community. Omar Mateen, a man previously investigated by the FBI, was allegedly motivated when he witnessed two men kissing. Seeing the two men together apparently angered him enough to commit this horrendous act.

To me, this is much more a hate crime as opposed to an act of terrorism. There is no evidence that ISIS or any other terrorist organization directed Mateen to act. I was moved by the words of Tom Walters from Canada’s CTV news station. On the night of the shooting, Tom Walters closed the newscast with these words. I wish I could say these are my words because Mr. Walters captures the essence of the problem so brilliantly.

“In simple terms, the motive for the Orlando massacre is not mystery, it was hate. And finding out what kind will explain little because every reason to hate a stranger is just as senseless. Colour, religion, sexual orientation, these are mere fragments of a human being, not the summation of who a person is or the basis to judge what a person is worth. Consigning people to categories denies them their individuality and robs them of their humanity. This is what makes hate possible…only a handful [of individuals] could do this. Now in the aftermath, some would still put individuals into categories and ask us to fear and reject whole groups. Society will never be perfectly safe from the deranged few, but when they are fed the rhetoric of hate and have access to the tools of murder, common sense would say we are less safe. Now facing the monstrous evil of terrorism, a future with less hate may seem distant…and if hate itself is the poison, that future is out of reach until people everywhere reject the ideas that diminish the individual and enable hate. That could include any doctrine that says I belong here more than you or that my love for someone is more valid than yours or I am among the chosen and you are not…but in a world of individuals we can each make a choice to reject those ideas that would add another drop of poison to the common cup.”

As Tom Walters says, “consigning people to categories denies them their individuality…and makes hate possible”. The Orlando mass shooting is clearly an act of hate directed towards the LGBT community; a community who just want to be treated as equals and live their lives happily.

The mass shooting in Orlando is but a familiar story in the United States. It was the third mass shooting in 2016 that left at least three victims dead, following shootings in Hesston, Kansas. and Kalamazoo, Michigan in February. Six months earlier 14 people were killed in a rage in San Bernardino, California. Time magazine has complied a list of mass shooting since 1984. (see 34 years of mass shootings). Wikipedia lists the United States’ firearm-related death rate as 10.44 per 100,000 people per year. Canada’s firearm-related death rate is 1.97 per 100,000 people per year. That is a significant difference. The article Gun violence by the numbers by Global News lists the USA as having 90 firearms per 100 people whereas Canada’s rate is 30 firearms per 100 people. The American Medical Association called gun violence a “public health crisis” on June 14th and urged Congress to fund research into the problem.The association pleaded that a long-standing ban on federal government research into gun violence must be lifted to better understand and tackle the problem. It astounds me that researching the gun problem is forbidden. Does that make sense?

Now this information raises a second question: Why haven’t Americans realized that there is a connection between mass shootings and the amount of guns. Canada has always had tighter controls on guns. I am convinced that is why Canada’s firearm-related death rate is much lower than USA’s. The Global News article sited earlier says you’re more likely to be shot to death in the United States than you are to die in a car accident in Canada. It seems obvious to me that the more guns a society has the more gun related deaths there will be. Americans always cite the second amendment to the United States Constitution, adopted on December 15, 1791, as a defence to owning guns. This amendment protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms.  An amendment is a change or addition to a legal or statutory document so if Americans wanted to change their relationship with guns they could change (amend) their Constitution.

Donald Trump, GOP presidential nominee tweeted on the night of the shooting, “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” He later tweeted, “What has happened in Orlando is just the beginning. Our leadership is weak and ineffective. I called it and asked for the ban. Must be tough.” In other words, his view is that radical Islamic terrorists are to blame and so his answer is to ban all Muslims from entering the USA. Now that leads to a third question: Should we fear all Muslims because they might be terrorists? My answer to that is a resounding NO. To use the words of Tom Walters, what Mr. Trump is doing is putting “individuals into categories and ask[ing] us to fear and reject” Muslims.

Slate, an online magazine, has an article called, The Truth About Islam. The article says Muslim societies are among the least violent in the world. It goes on to say,

The reality is that Islam—like Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and other major world religions—is neither inherently violent nor inherently peaceful. Like every other great religion, the history of Islam is darkened by periods of violent bloodletting. And the holy texts of all religions can be mined for quotes to legitimize terrorism—or indeed principled nonviolence.

The Christian and Jewish religions have had their share of “darkened periods of violent bloodletting”. In 1095 the Christian crusades began. This was when armies responded to Pope Urban II’s plea to go to war against Muslim forces in the Holy Land. The inquisition was the Catholic churches attempt to remove heresy. Both were filled with bloodletting. Judaism has a history of radical Zionism, a movement for the re-establishment of a Jewish nation. Zionism promoted aggressive war justified with biblical texts.

To categorize all Muslims as terrorists is stereotyping and that makes it wrong. There are many peaceful Muslims just as there are Christians and Jews. The Islamic Society of Wichita condemned the attack, as did many Islamic leaders. The group issued the following statement Sunday.

“Along with our fellow Americans, the Islamic Society of Wichita condemns the hateful act of violence in Orlando, Florida. In this holy month of Ramadan, we will be offering special prayers for the victims and their families. As people of faith, we stand unified against acts of terrorism and violence and will continue our work to defend all people against hatred and brutality. We urge local Muslims…to donate blood for the victims of this heinous act.” 

I would like to reiterate Tom Walters’ words to reject “any doctrine that says I belong here more than you or that my love for someone is more valid than yours or I am among the chosen and you are not.” Mr. Trump is saying that Muslims do not belong in America because they are potential terrorists. Trump is stereotyping. That is why he is calling for a ban on Muslims entering the United States. “Consigning people to categories” such as all Muslims are potential terrorists, “is what makes hate possible”. It is time to stop the labelling of groups because it “makes hate possible”. Not all Muslims are radical Islamic terrorists! The lifestyle of the LGBT community is not sinful!  Is a heterosexual’s love for another more valid than homosexual’s love? Who are we to judge? Guns kill when they fall into the hands of people who stereotype and hate. America, it’s time to decrease gun availability so they don’t fall into the hands of those who hate. After all, authorities tell us that the Orlando killer purchased guns a few days before he went on his rampage. So long as a person doesn’t have a criminal record or has no history of mental illness they can purchase a gun. Guns were created for one purpose only and that is to kill. Guns are just too plentiful and much too easy to obtain in the USA.

Power of the Mind

Buddha_in_Sarnath_Museum_(Dhammajak_Mutra)I’ve always been intrigued with Buddhism. The founder of Buddhism is said to have declared, “What we think, we become.” What does this really mean? I have been pondering that question for some time now. Others have said something similar. Ralph Waldo Emerson, an American essayist, lecturer, and poet, once said, “We become what we think about all day long.” Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, once said, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” That is just a sampling of like-minded thinkers. So that begs the question, what do these quotes really mean?

I suppose the Buddha’s comment “What we think, we become” could be referring to self-esteem or self-talk. I know from personal experience and from observing my students as a teacher for 35 years, that self-talk is huge. I remember one particular student who thought that she could not pass my exams, and in fact, rarely did. What was interesting is this did not change until her thinking changed. I recommended to this student to visit the school counselor. She did and the counselor after much questioning discovered that her self-talk was such that she believed she could not pass my exams. The counselor worked with the student for a long while to change her thinking and lo and behold she started passing my exams. I also have worked with numerous students who told themselves that they were stupid, and these students were seldom successful. I suspect that this self-talk was reinforced at home. So quite literally “What we think, we become.”

Now this ties into what is known as the law of attraction. According to Wikipedia, “the law of attraction is the name given to the adage “like attracts like” which in New Thought philosophy is used to sum up the idea that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts a person brings positive or negative experiences into their life. This belief is based upon the idea that people and their thoughts are both made from “pure energy”, and the belief that “like energy attracts like energy.” So this law would say if you think about something long enough, you will attract it to you. Now I’ve had experiences that could be explained by this law. A number of years ago we took a family vacation to the east coast of Canada using a rental car to travel around. As we often did, we stopped to pick up pudding cups for a treat. Since I didn’t want my children to spill pudding in our rental vehicle, I didn’t allow them to consume theirs in the car. The decision was solely mine as there was much protest from my children and my wife. We all stood outside and ate our pudding. After all my lecturing to my children, along with their opposition and my wife’s belief that I was being a “worry wart”, guess who slopped  all over themselves. You guessed it, me. You could call that law of attraction or as Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “We become what we think about all day long.”

 Now the law of attraction would say that when we worry about something, say “I hope the car won’t break down” or “What if the car breaks down” that we attract that into our life even though we may not want it. I can also relate to this. Many years ago my wife and I took a road trip. Out of the blue my wife asks, “What would we do if the van breaks down?” I responded with, “find a mechanic.” Well, a few hours later our van died as the alternator failed. We had to find a mechanic. Was that the Law of Attraction? Perhaps. Orison Swett Marden, an American inspirational author and founder of SUCCESS magazine, said, “Worry clogs the brain and paralyzes the thought. A troubled brain can not think clearly, vigorously, locally.” This law would say that because we were worrying, thus constantly thinking that the van might break down; we attracted that into our experience.

What I find particularly fascinating is that science is providing evidence that the mind can affect matter. Here are two studies that caught my attention. The first is what is called the placebo affect. We’ve all heard of the use of placebos used in the study of new medications. A Baylor School of Medicine study, published in 2002 in the New England Journal of Medicine (see Study Finds…), looked at surgery for patients with severe and debilitating knee pain. The patients were divided into three groups. The surgeons shaved the damaged cartilage in the knee of one group. For the second group they flushed out the knee-joint, removing all of the material believed to be causing inflammation. The third group received a “fake” surgery, where the patients were only sedated and tricked that they actually had the knee surgery. For the patients who received the “fake” surgery, the doctors made the incisions and splashed salt water on the knee as they would in normal surgery. They then sewed up the incisions like the real thing. All three groups went through the same rehab process, and the results were surprising. The placebo group improved just as much as the other two groups who had surgery.

Another fascinating example of how science is showing the power of the mind influences matter is the work of Dr. Masaru Emoto.  Dr. Emoto has been studying the effects of thoughts and feelings on water. He did this by producing different focused intentions through written and spoken words directed towards water samples. He did the same using musical styles. Dr. Emoto would literally present these thoughts to water samples and the water appears to “change its expression”. One of his books, The Hidden Messages in Water (1999), explains how he demonstrated the effects of human thoughts on water. More specifically, he observed the crystals of frozen water after exposing the water to music or thoughts. I have personally read this book and found it quite captivating and he has since published many more. (See Masaru Emoto)

There are many more captivating scientific studies that provide evidence that thought, or the human mind, can influence matter. See the 10 Scientific Studies… to learn more.

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Henry Ford, Time Magazine, Jan 1935

So maybe there is something to the Buddha quote, “What we think, we become.” Or as Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can or can’t, you’re right.” If we think we are a failure, we become a failure. If we think we are brainy, we become brainy. Now I’m not suggesting it is magic. If we think and believe we are good at something, say hockey, doesn’t mean we magically are. However, the wanting to be good motivates a person to practice and become good at it. Eckhart Tolle, a German-born resident of Canada, best known as the author of The Power of Now and A New Earth: Awakening to your Life’s Purpose, says, “The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly—you usually don’t use it at all. It uses you.” I get that now. If we control those negative or destructive thoughts then our mind can’t use us. If we use our mind in positive and creative ways, then we grow as human beings. It is true. What we think, we become.”

Legalized Discrimination

I’ve always held the belief that at least in the developed world human rights were considered sacred. I wanted to believe that because we live in the 21st century we had moved beyond discriminatory practices and racism. I thought the human race was evolving for the better. It seems I’m naive and that my assumptions were wrong.

On December 10, 1948, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a document listing universal rights entitled to all human beings. A human right is a right that is believed to belong justifiably to every person. Article 6 of UDHR states, everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Article 7 of that document states, all are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

So why am I bringing up the UDHR? Well it appears that even in this modern era where we have an international declaration enshrining our human rights, that there are still people hell-bent on denying certain groups of people their rights.

On March 30 of this year, the State of Mississippi in the United States passed an Anti-LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) Bill. Some of the law in Mississippi states, so long as individuals are motivated by “a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction,” any of the following behaviours would be considered legal by the government:

  • Religious organizations can decline to honour any same-sex marriage or provide any services related to recognizing that marriage.
  • Religious organizations can refuse to hire, fire, and discipline employees for violating the organization’s religious beliefs, basically protecting those who carry out above mentioned actions towards the LGBT community.
  • Religious organizations can choose not to sell, rent, or otherwise provide shelter to namely the LGBT community.
  • Religious organizations that provide foster or adoptive services can decline service without risking their state subsidies.
  • Any person can choose not to provide treatment, counselling, or surgery related to gender transition or same-sex parenting.

On March 23, North Carolina passed the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act that states, All public schools, government agencies and public college campuses to require that multiple-occupancy bathrooms and changing facilities, such as locker rooms, be designated for use only by people based on their “biological sex” stated on their birth certificate.

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from nohatespeechmovement.org

Clearly the laws passed in North Carolina and Mississippi are in violation of UDHR, namely article 6 and 7. In essence these states have legalized discrimination.  Now this is not without consequences. The Guardian says President Barack Obama has called for North Carolina and Mississippi to overturn state laws that affect gay and transgender residents. The United Kingdom Foreign Office issued to its citizens a statement warning LGBT tourists of the dangers of visiting North Carolina and Mississippi after both introduced “anti-LGBT” laws.

According to BuzzFeedNews entertainers such as Pearl Jam, Cirque du Soleil, Bruce Springsteen and Bryan Adams have cancelled plans to perform in those states. The Corporation PayPal cancelled its plans to open a new global operations centre in the city of Charlotte, North Carolina. The German Deutsche Bank announced that it was freezing plans to create 250 new jobs in North Carolina due to the state’s anti-LGBT law. At least 13 conventions in Charlotte were cancelled over concerns over the bill. Actress Sharon Stone, scheduled to film a movie in Mississippi, decided to change the location after the passage of the controversial law.

NewNowNext reported the corporation holding the rights of the musicals West Side Story and Footloose have withdrawn permission for their musicals to be done in the states of North Carolina and Mississippi, because of the anti-LGBT laws. The Blue Man Group tour was also withdrawn.

These anti-LGBT laws were passed despite the fact that the Supreme Court of the United States, the highest court of the land, ruled that same-sex marriages  were legal throughout the entire country.

Now the justification for these laws is based on religious beliefs; the beliefs of Christianity. Yes you can find passages in the Christian scriptures supporting the belief that homosexuality is sinful. Having said that you can also find numerous passages in scripture justifying slavery as well. Does that mean that we should also pass laws legalizing slavery? I think there would be a huge public outcry if we did. Slavery was a socially acceptable practice in biblical times but now it isn’t. Perhaps the beliefs about homosexuality shown in scripture are also reflecting the social norms of day. From what I’ve learned about LGBT, it is not a choice. Their sexual orientation is a part of their genetic and/or spiritual makeup. They can’t help who they are.

First Nations or aboriginal people use the umbrella term “two-spirited” to describe same-sex attraction and gender variance. The term refers to a person who has both a masculine and a feminine spirit. I first heard of this term many years ago when I was teaching a scripture course to a group of aboriginal people. From what I was told, the LGBT community is much more accepted by the First Nations people.

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from joshuanhook.com

Moreover, if Christianity is going to be used as justification for these laws, then all of scripture must be considered. Christians are called to follow and emulate Jesus. In John 8:1-11 is a story about Jesus who sat down in the temple to address a group of scribes and Pharisees who confronted Jesus. They brought up the issue of an adulteress woman, and invited Jesus to pass judgment upon her when they asked the question, should she be stoned, which is what the Law of Moses instructed. Jesus responded by stating that the one who is without sin is the one who should cast the first stone. The religious leaders then departed, leaving Jesus and the woman alone. Jesus then asked the woman if anyone had condemned her. When she answers no, Jesus said that he did not condemn her either, and told her to go and sin no more. This story clearly shows that Jesus did not judge or condemn others for their lifestyles. NOR SHOULD WE.

No one should be denied their human rights no matter what their sexual orientation is or what the colour of their skin is or for any other reason for that matter. If the makers of these laws truly proclaim their actions are rooted in Christian belief, then they should take heed to Luke 6:35 (NRSV) where it says, But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he [God] is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting in any way that the LGBT community is wicked. I am only trying to get across the point that God treats everyone with kindness, even the wicked. As far as I’m concerned, LGBT individuals are like you and me. They are merely trying to happily live their lives like everyone else. No matter what our beliefs are, we must still learn to be tolerant and understanding of all people.

Fear or Love

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Banner reads ‘I am Brussels’ in French & Flemish – Reuters pic

One week ago on Tuesday, March 22, 2016, three coordinated bombings occurred in Brussels, Belgium’s capital. Two attacks occurred in the Brussels airport, and one at its metro station. During these attacks, 31 innocent victims were killed along with three suicide bombers. Even more disturbing is the 300 innocent people who were injured.

I feel great sadness when I hear of a terrorist attack especially when it occurs in Europe because just six months ago my wife and I were in Europe. In October of 2015, my wife and I visited Belgium. While Brussels was not one of the places we visited, we did visit several of the World War One sites in Flanders’ Fields. We also visited Paris, France on our trip so when the Paris attacks happened it deeply affected us both, as did the Brussels attack.

As I stated in my November 27, 2015  post about the Paris attacks, terrorism is something I cannot understand. I’ve tried to put myself into the shoes of a terrorist in order to comprehend how someone can cause harm and death to innocent people like the bloodshed that happened in Brussels. The news media repeatedly tells us that the people who carry out such acts of violence have been radicalized.  Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a radical as  “advocating extreme measures to retain or restore a political state of affairs”. So as I understand it, radicals are people who carrying out acts of murder for political gain.  This is what I can’t wrap my head around.  In my mind killing innocent people for political gain, or any reason, is wrong!

How can someone with any kind of conscience murder innocent people? As I mentioned in the November post, the only thing I can come up with is that these people have been brainwashed. It is the only explanation that makes sense.

What disturbs me the most is when a terrorist attack  happens on our planet panic sets in. Panic is a symptom of fear. The school that I taught in is taking a group of students to Germany this month. The Brussels event set off a wave of panic among the parents. These parents were fearful because their children were off to Europe, where terrorist attacks occur. Now I’m a parent, so I understand the need to protect your children. But when we cave in to fear, the terrorists succeed.

Perhaps it’s time to look at the issue of terrorism from a different perspective. According to many spiritual writers today, all behaviours and emotions can be put into two categories – love and fear. These writers tell us fear is the opposite of love. So what is fear? Fear results in a feeling of not being protected or feeling secure. So when it comes to terrorism, fear sets in because we feel insecure and vulnerable. In fact, that is what terrorism is all about, instilling fear. Terrorists want us to be fearful. They want to cause terror. In fact, ‘terror’ is the root word of ‘terrorist’ or ‘terrorism’.

Fear limits our minds. People who live in fear will do harmful things. They lash out at those whom they perceive to be the cause of their pain. The same could be argued for animals. When do animals attack? It is when they fear for their survival.

Now most people would argue that the opposite of love is hate but when you think about it, hate is really stemming from fear. A person might “hate” someone who has abandoned or disrespected him. Abandonment makes more sense in terms of the fear. When a person feels abandoned, their emotions are stemming from fear of being alone. Disrespect is when a person feels scorned or disregarded, so it stems from the fear a person has when they are not honoured or regarded.

In a CNN report, Republican front-runner Donald Trump is quoted as saying,

“It’s going to get worse and worse. In my opinion, this is just the beginning. It will get worse and worse because we are lax and we are foolish — we can’t allow these people, at this point we cannot allow these people to come into our country. I’m sorry…”

His remarks clearly come from fear. His and others like him lack love and compassion. Banishing others does not stem from love. It stems from fear which indicates that there is no love.

Love on the other hand doesn’t hurt. If it hurts it is fear. Love is a core emotion from which many other emotions are created. Emotions such as happiness, kindness, charity, faith, empathy, fairness and compassion all come from loving intentions. This type of love is what the Greeks called agape love. This love is selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. It is the highest form of love there is. With this type of love there is no exclusiveness.

Fear is the opposite of love because fear is the base emotion from which hate, prejudice, greed, stress, paranoia, and many other negative emotions are based.

1 John 4:18 of the Christian scriptures tells us, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.” It is also interesting that scripture scholars tell us the phrases “do not fear” and “do not be afraid” appears 365 times in the Christian Bible. I don’t think that is coincidence. Perhaps a basic message in the scriptures is, do not have fear because when you are fearful, you do not possess love.

The CNN report referred to above quotes Pascale Rouhier, a 38-year-old resident of Brussels, as saying, “I’m not going to change my way of living because Brussels is my city.”

The article also reports that 2,000 people gathered in front of  the Brussels stock exchange, with Belgium Prime Minister Charles Michel and other leaders who laid wreaths at Maelbeek metro station.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “Our strength lies in our unity, and our free societies will prove to be stronger than terrorism.” (see article)

These are all examples of people whereby fear has not taken hold. Their reactions and comments stem from love. Love unifies while fear divides.

Perhaps former Beatle John Lennon sums it up best when he said,

“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.”

Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States was right when he said during his inaugural address on March 4, 1933,   “Let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is…fear itself.”  If terrorists succeed in their mission to instil fear into the world then they will create a culture of fear; a culture where there is no love; a world full of hate, prejudice, greed, stress, and paranoia. But, if we don’t allow fear to take hold then we will have a culture filled with happiness, kindness, charity,  empathy, fairness and compassion; a culture where there is love. The choice is ours.

Adventures with Mother Nature

Every summer since 2002, starting when my son was 8 years old, my son and I have taken hiking excursions to the Canadian Rockies. Traditionally, we go with my brother-in-law and his two sons. Sometimes my brother and his son would join us as well as a friend and his two sons at the beginning. These excursions entail carrying 40-pound backpacks containing food and cooking equipment, sleeping gear and a tent. On some occasions we carried our 40-pound packs 14 kilometres (8.7 miles) before reaching our destination.

Most hikes were to the backcountry, a remote undeveloped rural area accessible only by hiking trails. We would hike to places such as Landslide Lake, Ribbon Lake, Lillian Lake, Utopia Creek, Glacier Lake, and Celestine Lake to name a few. I realize that these names likely don’t mean much to many of you but I can assure you that these settings are some of the most breath-taking, beautiful scenery in the world.

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Lillian Lake

We’ve had some adventures over the years. In what is called Kananaskis Country, we did a day hike to Ribbon Falls after a good night’s rest at the Ribbon Lake campground. To reach our destination, we had to maneuver down a vertical cliff. Thankfully, there were chains attached to help a person propel downward. By carefully finding footholds and hanging onto the chains we successfully got to the bottom part of the cliff. Being that I am afraid of heights, this was a terrifying experience for me. Climbing up the cliff was much easier.

After hiking the Galatea Creek Trail, also in Kananaskis Country, and arriving at our destination of Lillian Lake we put our backpacks down and went to scout out a site to set up our tents. Several minutes went by before we returned to collect our equipment to take to our chosen site. To our dismay, we discovered a chipmunk chewing its way through the top of my son’s brand new pack which I had just purchased for my son. In fact, this was his first trip with it. The chipmunk had chewed a hole into the top of the pack in an attempt to get at the trail mix inside. I was not happy with that animal and yelled some choice words at the creature. Thankfully the little beast was not successful in retrieving any of the trail mix.

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Geraldine Lake trail (boulder hoping)

One of the most difficult hikes we’ve done was to Geraldine Lakes in Jasper National Park. It involved a very steep climb beside the waterfalls between Lower and Upper Geraldine Lakes where you come to kilometres of boulder hopping across what is called talus field. To say it was exhausting hopping from boulder to boulder carrying a 40 pound backpack is an understatement. At one point I was feeling sorry for myself asking, “Why am I doing this?” Thinking that I was getting too old for this hiking business (I was in my 40s), we came upon a fellow hiker in his 70s. He told us that Geraldine Lakes was one of his favourite trails and that he had hiked the trail many times. I needed an attitude adjustment at that point and my outlook changed after talking to the senior hiker. If a 70-year-old man can hike that trail, I had nothing to complain about being I was 30 years younger than this man. It’s all about your mental attitude. Being in shape, of course, helps.

One of my favourite hiking experiences was our hike to Utopia Creek in Jasper National Park. There were eleven of us on that expedition. On the Saturday evening we decided to take a different trail back so that we could climb up to what is called the Sulphur Skyline, which has some of the most breathtaking panoramas in Jasper National Park. This meant hiking the Fiddle River 11 kilometre horse trail from our campsite, then going up a 700 metre (2300 feet)  elevation gain of about 2 kilometres (1.2 miles) to reach the skyline. The trailhead had a sign saying, “Trail not recommended,”  but this didn’t stop us. What we did not realize is that we had the cross the Fiddle River not once, not twice but six times.

On our first crossing we carefully hopped across the river from boulder to boulder with our backpacks on until the last bit whereby we took our packs off, tossed them a fair distance to another person on the riverbank and then hopped onto the bank ourselves. Thankfully no one fell into the water and our packs remained dry.

During the second crossing we decided to take our hiking boots off, put on our sandals and cross the river in our sandals. The current was strong and the glacier water literally made my feet hurt.

Now the third crossing was done in our bare feet. By this time the ritual of taking off our boots was becoming burdensome, so when we had to cross the river on the fourth, fifth and sixth occasion we just kept our boots on. The current was strong so there were times when I had to hang onto my son, age 12 at the time, to prevent him from being swept downstream by the current. We stopped at a trailhead leading to Mystery Lake to ring out our wet socks and dried our boots as best we could. We eventually made it to the Sulphur Skyline with one of the most spectacular views I have ever had the privilege to appreciate. The chipmunks on top of the skyline were brave creatures as they would come right up to your fingertips looking for food.

In 2009, nine of us spent three hours hiking the 7 kilometre (4.3 mile) trail to Celestine Lake in Jasper National Park. A friend of mine and I were the last to arrive at our campsite as the younger ones of the group were much quicker than us older ones. What made this adventure so memorable was the fact that when my friend and I arrived at the campsite, we were told that we had to go back as there was a forest fire nearby. Now we didn’t believe them, of course, until we saw the warden’s helicopter take off. Apparently, the park warden arrived in a chopper and called to my brother in law saying, “I have some bad news guys. You have to leave as there is a fire in the area.” So it turned out that we were told the truth. We had to spend the next three hours returning to our starting point.

2013-07-13 01.19.38Now I have been asked over the years why I would go into the back country where there is no contact with the outside world; where there are bears and cougars and it can sometimes get to below freezing at nights. Those are good questions. My first response to those questions is always that it is quality time with my son. But it is more than that. I do it for the adventures. There is nothing like being in nature and the experience of standing on top of mountain with the wind blowing through your hair. The beauty that Mother Nature has to offer is far-fetched until you see it, and even then it can be surreal. For me, being in the wilderness is a chance to touch the divine. It is during those times that I feel closest to God or the Universe.

According to the article, How Does Nature Impact our Wellbeing, put out by the University of Minnesota,

“Being in nature, or even viewing scenes of nature, reduces anger, fear, and stress and increases pleasant feelings. Exposure to nature not only makes you feel better emotionally, it contributes to your physical wellbeing, reducing blood pressure, heart rate, muscle tension, and the production of stress hormones. It may even reduce mortality, according to scientists such as public health researchers Stamatakis and Mitchell.”

Maybe that’s why I do it. Without knowing why, it made me feel better. So, go out into nature and reduce your stress. Speaking from experience it works. It is so easy to get so wrapped up in our daily urban lives that we forget what nature has to offer. Visit Mother Nature to de-stress. When you do you will discover that she is worth protecting.

 

Seek Some Awe

William James, an American philosopher and psychologist, once said, “Religious awe is the same organic thrill which we feel in a forest at twilight, or in a mountain gorge.” I totally understand what Mr. James is communicating. I have had many experiences of awe when out in nature. But first, we should understand what awe is.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines awe as a feeling of great respect sometimes mixed with fear or surprise. Now that word fear usually confuses me especially when talking about awe.  We typically think of fear as being afraid of something or someone. However, Dictonary.com says in addition to being afraid, fear is reverential awe, especially toward God. The Free Dictionary describes awe as a feeling of respect or reverence mixed with dread and wonder, often inspired by something majestic or powerful.

Dacher Keltner, Professor of psychology at the University of California, defines awe as the feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends your understanding of the world. So the way I understand awe is that awe are those moments when we experience something majestic or powerful; when we feel wonder. They are the times when we have an encounter with the divine. They are moments when we in some way experience God or the Source of all Being or something mystical. It’s when you are touched at a soul or spiritual level; when what we are witnessing or experiencing is beyond our understanding.

The_Earth_seen_from_Apollo_17Many astronauts talk about their experiences of awe when looking at the planet earth from space. Alan Shepard, Apollo 14 astronaut said, “When I first looked back at the Earth, standing on the Moon, I cried.” Russell “Rusty” Schweikart, Apollo 9 astronaut said, “When you go around the Earth in an hour and a half, you begin to recognize that your identity is with that whole thing. That makes a change … it comes through to you so powerfully that you’re the sensing element for Man.”

One of the best known for his experience of seeing Earth from space is Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell who said:

“That’s a powerful experience, to see Earth rise over the surface [of the Moon]. And I suddenly realized that the molecules in my body, and the molecules in the spacecraft and my partners had been prototyped, maybe even manufactured, in some ancient generation of stars. But instead of being an intellectual experience, it was a personal feeling… And that was accompanied by a sense of joy and ecstasy, which caused me to say ‘What is this?’ It was only after I came back that I did the research and found that the term in ancient Sanskrit was Samadhi.”

Oxford dictionary defines Samadhi as a state of intense concentration achieved through meditation. In Hindu yoga, this is regarded as the final stage at which union with the divine is reached. In essence what Mr. Mitchell is saying is he felt some sort of union with the divine.

Susan Santucci, a learning specialist and author says, “Watch for glimpses of the divine order.  Find those experiences, sights, and sounds, which fill you with awe.  Any experience met with awe can be spiritual:  a safari through an animal kingdom, taking in a sunset, a hike to an awesome mountaintop.”

P1030507editedI have hiked in the mountains with my son and friends and family for many years. I have to agree with Susan Santucci as every time I stand on top of a mountain, I feel that sense of awe. For me, it is a spiritual experience. It is an experience where I am overtaken with the beauty of the mountain landscape. I have this same experience when I am at the ocean. Standing on an ocean beach, looking at the vast amount of water in front of me sets me into a state of awe. Sunsets do the same. When my wife and I were in Europe a few months ago, we were blessed to see numerous sunsets and even sunrises. It never ceases to amaze me how beautiful those magnificent colourful skies can be. Each sunrise we beheld on our trip was uniquely beautiful. I have a sense of awe or wonder every time I am lucky enough to see the northern lights or the aurora borealis. For me, each of these experiences were, as Dacher Keltner put it, a feeling of being in the presence of something vast that transcends ones understanding of the world.

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Yes, I understand some of the science behind how mountains are built with colliding tectonic plates. I comprehend that when the Sun appears lower and lower on the horizon, its light needs to pass through more of the atmosphere to reach our eyes, so as the sun drops towards the horizon, it progressively loses violets and blues, then greens and yellows, and finally even the oranges, leaving only the reds behind. It is mind-boggling to comprehend that 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean, and the deepest known area measures 11 kilometres (6 miles) deep.  I understand that the aurora borealis occurs when collisions between electrically charged particles from the sun enter the earth’s atmosphere and collide with its gases. As amazing as the science is, when I experience the above-mentioned things I experience something beyond my science understanding. My experience is met with awe and wonder. When I am experiencing these things I touch the divine.

I had another one of these experiences when my daughter showed me a video of Jeffrey Li, a 10-year-old boy from Canada, and Celine Tam, a 7-year-old girl from Hong Kong, performing a duet of the song “You Raise Me Up”. I was blown away. These two singers literally took my breath away. What I heard from these two young people touched me at a soul or spiritual level. It made me ask, “How can a seven and ten year old have singing voices like this?” The singing voice of these two “kids” was beyond my understanding. If you haven’t seen the video, check it out below.

Maybe it is time to seek out more of those awe experiences, whatever they may be for you. In fact, doing so just may make the world a better place. Articles such as High on Wonder: People Who Experience More Awe Are Nicer, Better People, and The Key to Fulfillment claim science is providing empirical evidence that awe is the emotion that motivates people to do things that enhance the greater good. If we choose to get rid of the some of the distractions like cell phones and watching television in our lives and seek to put ourselves in new situations such as going to new places, and meeting new people, this may increase our chances of encountering awe. If it is true what the studies are saying, experiencing awe will make us better people. I implore you to seek out some awe and wonderment in your lives. You will be better for it!

Namaste, a Reverent Gesture

A_yoga_namaste_Hindu_culture_religion_rites_rituals_sights.jpgOver the years I have been periodically greeted with a greeting known as “Namaste”. This is a gesture that entails a slight bow made with hands pressed together, palms touching and fingers pointed upwards in front of the chest. I have witnessed speakers and performers greet their audiences with this sign. Many years ago our school hosted an exchange student from Thailand who when she first arrived would greet her teachers and fellow students with the Namaste gesture. Some of my yoga instructors concluded every practice by uttering “Namaste” while bowing with hands pressed together. Even in Taekwondo we bowed to our opponents although not with our hands together. A bow in Taekwondo was a sign of respect which is its meaning in all martial arts. We even bowed when we entered the dojang or gym as a sign of respect for it.

Whenever someone greets me with the Namaste gesture, and especially when saying the word “Namaste”, I feel very honoured. I feel respected and accepted. It truly is a wonderful feeling when acknowledged with a gesture of Namaste. So what does this form of salutation mean? Where does it come from as it is not a common form of greeting in my part of the world?

In my part of the world, the handshake is the popular form of greeting. A handshake is a ritual in which two people grasp one of each other’s like hands and give a brief up and down movement of the grasped hands. The origins of the handshake are unknown as historians say that the handshake predates written history, and therefore is somewhat difficult to track down. What I find fascinating is there are some historians who claim the ritual dates to the Romans who would approach each other and grab the forearm to make sure the other man was not carrying a weapon. If that is true, then the handshake has a very different connotation than Namaste does.

The  Namaste gesture is widely used throughout India, Nepal, and parts of Asia.  Namaste or namaskar is used as a respectful form of greeting, acknowledging and welcoming a relative, guest or stranger as well as with goodbyes. It is also used when a person expresses gratitude for assistance offered or given, and to thank the other person for his or her benevolence.

The gesture (or mudra) of Namaste is a simple act made by bringing together both palms of the hands before the heart (sometimes the forehead), and lightly bowing the head. In the simplest of terms it is accepted as a humble greeting straight from the heart and reciprocated accordingly. But does it have a deeper meaning? Being a teacher who taught Religious Education, I knew it did. So here is a lesson.

From the great religion of Hinduism, the sign of Namaste is an ancient Sanskrit greeting still in everyday use in India and especially on the trail in the Nepal Himalaya. Translated roughly, it means, “I bow to the God within you,” or “The Spirit within me salutes the Spirit in you,” a Hindu knowing that we are all made from the same One Divine Consciousness. More specifically, nama means bow, as means I, and te means you. Therefore, Namaste literally means, “bow me you” or “I bow to you.”

Now this can be thought of in many ways. These are some of the ways the meaning of Namaste has been explained to me.

  • The Divine light in me acknowledges the Divine light in you.
  • The God in me greets the God in you.
  • I honor the spirit in you that is also in me.
  • The Divine wisdom in me recognizes and acknowledges the Divine wisdom in you.

Hinduism Today says the Namaste gesture

“bespeaks our inner valuing of the sacredness of 216px-An_Oberoi_Hotel_employee_doing_Namaste,_New_Delhiall. It betokens our intuition that all souls are divine. It reminds us in quite a graphic manner, and with insistent repetition, that we can see God everywhere and in every human being we meet. It is saying, silently, ‘I see the Deity in us both, and bow before It. I acknowledge the holiness of even this mundane meeting. I cannot separate that which is spiritual in us from that which is human and ordinary.’”

One practicing Hindu put it this way.

“I’ve heard it means, ‘I salute God within you.’ The true Namaste gesture is accompanied by bowing the head and shoulders slightly. This is a gesture that lessens our sense of ego and self-centeredness, requiring some humility to do it well–whereas shaking hands can be quite an arrogant event.”

According to Buddha Weekly, it is not just a salutation. For Buddhists the gesture is called Anjali and it serves many purposes. In spiritual activities, the mudra Anjali (offering with both hands), indicates we are making a “divine offering.” In a Buddhist context, it is the “cure” for pride, one of the great obstacles in their practice. In day-to-day life it indicates respect, literally meaning “I bow to you.”  Also, in acupuncture terms, the tips of the fingers activate certain energies.

Now I was raised a Christian, so how might this fit into a Christian context. In 1 Corinthians 3:16 it says, “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (NRSV) To me that aligns with the Hindu claim that the divine is within us. Christians just call it the Holy Spirit. I was taught that at baptism or confirmation, depending on the religious tradition, that the Holy Spirit entered and from then on resided in us.

In Galatians 5:22-23 it is written, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (NRSV) So Christians believe that if a person allows the spirit to be active in them, then that person should express love, joy, peace, and so on. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if Christians supported this belief with the Namaste gesture, a slight bow made with hands pressed together.

namaste-2No matter how Namaste is interpreted, it invokes a sense of sharing a spiritual connection and creates a sense and feeling of oneness. It is a way to feel connected. It conjures up feelings of respect. It is a sign of universal oneness. Maybe this world would be in a better place if all humans practiced this simple gesture. As the Buddhists believe, it just may be a “remedy” for pride that is the cause of many problems. I’m convinced this simple gesture brings about more feelings of reverence and honour for others. Mohandas K. Gandhi allegedly said once, “Namaste. I honor the place in you where the entire universe resides. A place of light, of love, of truth, of peace, of wisdom. I honor the place in you where when you are in that place, and I am in that place, there is only one of us.” Such a simple sign, a bow with hands together, with the intended meaning as Gandhi explained, just might make all the difference in this world.