Has Humanity Listened to the Wrong People?

A commentary on humanity’s choices

A video came across my Facebook feed recently that got me thinking. The video is from Mindfulness Ireland. Have a watch, as it will likely touch your heart as it did mine. You’re probably wondering why it moved me, and why it got me thinking. Let me (#blogger #blog #somseason #YA #authors) explain.

Growing up, I was taught that humans were the pinnacle of creation, and that all other creatures—plants and animals—are inferior to humans. The Christian church I was raised in taught that only humans have a soul or spirit that goes to “heaven.” I even had a conversation with a priest about this topic once. The Christian church has traditionally seen humans as superior to animals based on Genesis 1:26 of the Christian Scriptures, which says:

Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’

Most Biblical intellectuals interpret this scripture text to mean that animals do not have an eternal soul in the same sense as humans do. The website, Catholic Answers says:

The soul is the principle of life. Since animals and plants are living things, they have souls, but not in the sense in which human beings have souls. Our souls are rational–theirs aren’t…Animals and plants can’t do anything which transcends the limitations of matter. Although some animals seem clever, they don’t actually possess conceptional intelligence. They can’t, for instance, conceive of the abstract notion of justice.

To summarize, plant and animal ‘souls’ don’t live on after death. Science conventionally says the same as explained by Dr Arthur Saniotis from the University’s School of Medical Sciences:

“For millennia, all kinds of authorities – from religion to eminent scholars – have been repeating the same idea ad nauseam, that humans are exceptional by virtue that they are the smartest in the animal kingdom…The belief of human cognitive superiority became entrenched in human philosophy and sciences. Even Aristotle, probably the most influential of all thinkers, argued that humans were superior to other animals due to our exclusive ability to reason.” (Source:  Science X).

GospelWay.com has an entire essay, Superiority of Humans to Animals in God’s Plan, that argues that  God values humans the most because animals have no spirit, no moral responsibility, no eternal destiny, and are not held accountable for right and wrong. 

I have always respected the Indigenous or First Nation’s world view. Speaking generally, Indigenous people all over the world have a deep respect for the land, the plants and the animals. Animals played a very important role in their lives, providing them with food and clothing, taught them lessons, and served as messengers and spirit guides. In Honouring Earth, on the Assembly of First Nations website, it says:

Mother Earth…bestows us with materials for our homes, clothes and tools…If we listen from the place of connection to the Spirit That Lives in All Things, Mother Earth teaches what we need to know to take care of her and all her children…First Nations peoples’ have a special relationship with the earth and all living things in it. This relationship is based on a profound spiritual connection to Mother Earth that guided indigenous peoples to practice reverence, humility and reciprocity…Everything is taken and used with the understanding that we take only what we need, and we must use great care and be aware of how we take and how much of it so that future generations will not be put in peril.

Indigenous spirituality highlights a “connection to the Spirit That Lives in All Things.” On the Working Effectively with Indigenous Peoples Blog, it says: 

Many Indigenous Peoples believe that “the Animal People have spirits and enter the human world to give their bodies to supply men with food, fur and other materials. After their flesh is used the animals return home, put on new flesh and re-enter the human world whenever they choose.”

Many Indigenous people believe animals have souls or spirits which live on after death since those animals “put on new flesh and re-enter the human world whenever they choose.” Even science is re-evaluating what it believes about animal kingdom.  Many researchers say animals have feelings and emotions, as in the articles; What Kind of Emotions Do Animals Feel? and Do Animals Have Feelings? Examining Empathy In Animals. In the first article it says:

Instead of considering ourselves [humans] so refined and rational, it’s time for us to squarely face the degree to which we–like other animals–are driven by emotions.

Animals do have emotions, and any pet owner will tell you that. Those videos showing animal affection touch the heart. The video, Unbelievable Friendship! People and Wild Animals, show convincing evidence of this: Have a watch:

Science is even admitting that animals are intelligent as the articles, Animal Intelligence and Everything Worth Knowing About … Animal Intelligence report.  This video certainly shows the intelligence of the family Corvidae of birds, otherwise known as crows and ravens. Here is the video.

I’ve personally experienced the intelligence of ravens. A number of years ago, while on a hiking trip in the Canadian Rockies, I watched two ravens hover around a table where two hikers were about to eat their boiled eggs for breakfast. Before the hikers got to eat them, they got up and left their table. Two ravens swooped down and grabbed their eggs. This was planned, as ravens and crows are strategic and plan their moves before they act. (see Crow Facts).

By now, you are probably wondering why I am babbling on about humans and animals. Here’s why. All my life, I have watched humanity claim to be the most intelligent animal, yet continually make choices that put humanity and our planet in danger. The article, 50 Reasons Why the Human Race Is Too Stupid To Survive, lists 50 stupid things human have done, and I believe there are way more than fifty.

As mentioned earlier, Indigenous people have a deep respect for Mother Earth—the land, the plants and the animals. They believe animals teach them lessons, and are messengers and guides. I have always felt the Indigenous world view made more sense as opposed to the European world view. Perhaps if the European settlers had adopted an Indigenous-Centric world view instead of keeping their Eurocentric view, with its beliefs of superiority and that the natives were inferior savages, our world would be better off. Since Mother Earth guided the indigenous peoples to practice reverence, humility and reciprocity, there most certainly would be less, or even no bullying (#bullying #antibullying).

You see, I believe we have much to learn from Mother Earth, especially her animals. The One Green Planet article, 10 Important Life Lessons we can Learn From Animals, says there are ten lessons that we can learn from animals. Two lessons, according to this article, are ‘We’re All Connected’ and ‘We Must Stick Together.’ This is what Chief Seattle, who advocated accommodation with white settlers, meant when he said:

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

Considering the present state of our world at the moment, with all its division, power grabs, and bullying, maybe we would be wise to pay attention to the animal kingdom and Indigenous wisdom. We have nothing to lose, and much to learn. Clearly, the old ways have not worked.

Are We Canadians Really That Naïve?

Another commentary on systemic racial bullying

In my June 7th post, I asked the question: Does Canada Have a Systemic Racism Problem?  In that post, I mentioned that Stockwell Day, Doug Ford and Rex Murphy, all prominent Canadians, denied that systemic racism existed in Canada. It seems this trend has continued. The Guardian’s article, Canada urged to open its eyes to systemic racism in wake of police violence, refers to Quebec’s premier, François Legault, who refused to acknowledge the systemic nature of racism;  the biases, policies and practices entrenched in institutions. Canada’s RCMP commissioner, Brenda Lucki, said: “I think that if systemic racism is meaning that racism is entrenched in our [the RCMP] policies and procedures, I would say that we don’t have systemic racism.” The Globe and Mail’s article, Alberta watchdog questions benefit of collecting race data, says:

The agency that investigates serious incidents involving police in Alberta says it is unclear what would be gained if it tracked data on the race of people killed or injured by officers, arguing such statistics would do nothing to address systemic racism.

Why are so many prominent Canadians denying that systemic racism is a part of Canada? I wanted to know. The 2017 article, White Supremacy: An Illness Denied, by Huffpost says:

The late Dr. Frances Cress Welsing said in the Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors, “that ‘racism is a system.’ Racism is white supremacy, and white supremacy is racism, she said. White people live in fear that they will lose their power, and so they perpetuate racism and white supremacy, all the while denying it…White supremacy is so ingrained in the minds of white Americans – no matter their geographic location – that it has become wearily accepted as something that ‘just is’…They are taught that black people are inferior, not equal to whites…

In the Now article, In Canada, white supremacy is the law of the land, Indigenous leader and activist, the late Arthur Manuel, said:

Canada, as a society, is still in denial about its historical and current colonialism when it comes to Indigenous peoples, and how the country is still largely based on the white supremacism of its founding document, the British North America (BNA) Act…  I know, calling Canada a white supremacist country sounds controversial to some, but it shouldn’t. Blacks and Asians were systematically excluded from Canada until well after the Second World War and the few allowed in were here for very specific reasons – cheap and expendable labour to build the transcontinental railway in the case of the Chinese and as domestics or railway porters in the case of Blacks.

As a former History teacher, I (#blog #blogger #YA, #authors, #somseason) know this to be true, and I have to agree with the Huffpost and Mr. Manuel. It explains why so many prominent Canadians deny systemic racism in Canada.  The answer to the question: Why are so many prominent Canadians denying that systemic racism a part of Canada? is that white supremacy is ingrained in the minds of white Canadians, that we’re taught that Indigenous, Asian, African Canadians, or any visible minority for that matter, are inferior, and that most Canadians deny Canada’s historical and current—yes colonialism is still happening today—colonialism.  Although there are various definitions of colonialism, essentially it is a practice of domination, which involves the subjugation of one people to another.

Now if you’re doubting that we’re indoctrinated to believe that visible minorities are inferior, watch this video:

The fact is, Canada is a country founded and built on white privilege and systemic racial bullying (#bullying #antibullying).  Just how does white privilege and systemic racial bullying work in Canada. Allow me to give you a concrete example.

The Edmonton Journal reported in its June 6th article, Northern Alberta chief accuses RCMP of beating him, ‘manhandling’ his wife over expired licence plate, that Fort McMurray Chief Allan Adam of the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation accused Wood Buffalo RCMP of beating him, and pushing around his wife outside a Casino in March. According to the chief, the incident happened in the parking lot when officers noticed his truck had an expired license plate. Chief Adam says he had not realized his registration had expired. The Indigenous chief left the vehicle and confronted the officer when he wasn’t allowed to leave. At that point, a second officer who was not part of the initial stop ran over and tackled Chief Adam to the ground leaving his face bruised and cut. While Adam’s wife was released without charges, Chief Adam spent the night at a Wood Buffalo RCMP detachment and was released the following morning. He was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting an officer. Here is a video of the incident.

The video is rather disturbing, and granted, Chief Adam did become confrontational at times, but not enough to warrant the treatment he received in my opinion. The treatment of the RCMP was excessive. Don’t take my word, be your own judge. Watch the video.

I wondered if this was normal behaviour for the RCMP. I found a news article in the Global News titled, Tickets for expired vehicle registrations spike in Alberta. This article came out in 2017, just after April 2016,  when the government, as a cost saving measure, no longer sent out a letter in the mail reminding Albertans to renew their driver’s license or vehicle registrations . This article describes how a 32-year-old white male from Sherwood Park, Alberta, was pulled over by police. The police, as per normal procedure, checked to see if the driver had a valid driver’s license and vehicle registration. The Sherwood Park resident’s vehicle registration had expired because he had forgotten to renew it as he never received a reminder in the mail. He was fined $310. There was no manhandling or beating involved.

What struck me was how different the treatment of the white male was compared to the Indigenous man.  Both men had expired vehicle registrations. Both men said they didn’t realize their registration had expired.  The white male was fined and left alone, but the Indigenous man was beaten, arrested, and charged with assault. Why wasn’t the Indigenous man fined and left alone, like the white male in Sherwood Park?  Instead, a RCMP officer tackled him while the other officer was manhandling Chief Adam. Of course the Indigenous man was resisting. Who wouldn’t. Could systemic racism be a factor here? Was Chief Adam reacting to him being a constant target of racial profiling ? Racial profiling is the use of personal characteristics or behaviour patterns to make generalizations about a person. I wonder.

This sounds like systemic racial bullying and a case of white privilege to me. If you disagree with me, that is okay, but I have to wonder. Are you are disagreeing with me because you were taught that Indigenous people are inferior making it is okay for them to be treated disrespectfully? If I were hassled on a regular basis, I’m sure I would become bitter, angry and confrontational too.

Has the True Message of Christmas Been Lost?

A commentary on the Christmas message.

from http://www.shutterfly.com/

A saying often seen on Christmas cards is, “Rejoice! Rejoice! Rejoice in the birth of the Lord – for unto us a child is given this night to bring peace and love to all [hu]mankind.” Another is a quote from Luke 2:13-14 from the Christian scriptures which says, “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” Peace and Goodwill is a message we hear every Christmas season. New Year’s greetings often involve a wish for peace,  examples being, “Wishing you a New Year filled with peace, prosperity and good fortune,” or “May the New Year bring joy, peace and happiness to you and your family.”

Yet, despite the fact that we are in a Christmas  and New Years season with its message of peace and goodwill, we see stories of intolerance, cold-heartedness, and rejection.  On December 23, 2019, two days before Christmas, the headline, 11-Year-Old Vegan Ordered To Eat Grass By School Bullies appeared on my newsfeed.

The story describes how bullies rammed a tuna melt into a Archbishop Ilsley Catholic School student’s face, and then told the 11-year-old to eat grass. According to the victim’s parents, their son has faced torment in the Acocks Green, Birmingham, England school because he doesn’t eat animal products; in other words, chooses to be vegan. The victim’s dad says “It’s got so bad he [the victim] is now pretending to be ill just to avoid school.”

This story shows intolerance, cold-heartedness, and exclusiveness of another. It is a sad example that shows what the Christmas and New Years message of “Peace and Goodwill” is not. In order for peace to occur, there must be tolerance, understanding and acceptance. Without these three things, peace is impossible in my view.  Cambridge Dictionary defines tolerance as willingness to accept behaviour and beliefs that are different from their own. Understanding a person, according to Cambridge Dictionary, is when a person has the ability to know how other people are feeling; in other words, they have empathy.  Acceptance of a person is the act of agreeing to a person belonging to your group as an equal. Peace occurs when differences of any kind are accepted, and it is understood others think and do things differently. To quote Neal Donald Walsch; “My way is not the only way. It is just a way.”

A common expression I hear during the Christmas season is, “Jesus Is the Reason For The Season,” which is correct since Christmas is a celebration of  Jesus’ birth. Since this bullying occurred in a Catholic School, it should be safe to say the bullies were familiar with the Christmas message.

from thecatholicrealist.com

Jesus was one of the most tolerant, understanding and accepting people ever. In Luke 15:2 of the Christian scriptures, Jesus drew anger of the scribes and Pharisees for eating with sinners and outlaws. In Luke 7:34, Jesus is accused of being “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” The tax collectors in Biblical times were Jews who worked for the despised Romans, as tax collectors were seen as traitors to their own citizens. Matthew 9:9-13 tells the story of Jesus calling Matthew the tax collector to be his disciple. In Mark 2:15 Jesus sits at table with many tax collectors and sinners. Luke 5:32 describes how the scribes and Pharisees grumble about the company Jesus keeps. Jesus tells them that he has “not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.”  Clearly, Jesus was tolerant, understanding and accepting of everyone.

The truth is, I am baffled. I am trying to understand how a Christian festival that has been celebrated for thousands of years; a festival that celebrates a child who is said to bring peace and love to all humankind, and yet we continue to have a pervasiveness of intolerance, cold-heartedness, and exclusivity in our world. Has Christianity failed with its message of love, tolerance, acceptance and understanding? Has the message been lost? Has humanity failed to understand the Christmas message? All I know, is something has gone wrong.

The reality is, rejection of others comes from a place of fear. It is a fear of difference, change, or the unfamiliar. The article, Accepting Other Peoples Differences, says many people are fearful of others because they’re not sure how to go about communicating with those who differ from them. They fear that their own little ‘cocoon of protection’ might be threatened. To say it another way, they make the mistake of believing that others’ viewpoints and opinions might threaten their way of thinking and acting . Every person’s culture, values, uniqueness, and viewpoints deserves respect even if we don’t understand or agree with it.

Jesus commands in John 13:34, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  When we “love one another” we are tolerant and understanding of others, and we accept them with all their differences. That is the Christmas and New Years message that seems to have been lost because of fear. I long for the true meaning of Christmas to return, and be understood. Perhaps this year your New Years resolution should be to practice tolerance, acceptance and understanding, and to teach your children to do the same.

Was I One Those Teachers Who Smothered Creativity, or Indoctrinated Children?

A commentary on our education system.

Several months ago, a news article came across one of my news feeds titled, We are born creative geniuses and the education system dumbs us down, according to NASA scientists. My immediate reaction was: No way was I a part of a system that “dumbs down” kids. I made them smarter. The truth was, this headline disturbed me, and when I first saw it, I ignored it and never bothered to read it, thinking I’ll read it some time later. Well, later is here, and I read the article. Here is the jest of the article.

Scientists gave a test that looks at the ability to come up with new, different, and innovative ideas to 1,600 children between the ages of 4 and 5. What they found was that 98 percent of children fell into the genius category of imagination?  The scientists were so astonished that they decided to make it a longer study and tested the children again five years later when they were ten years old. The result? Only 30 % of the children fell in the genius category of imagination. When the test was given at the age 15, the figure had dropped to 12%. Curious about adults, they tested them as well. Shockingly, only 2% of adults are still in contact with their creative genius after years of schooling.

The results were replicated more than a million times, implying that the school system robs us of our creative genius. That is especially disturbing to me because that means I played a part in it. I was a school teacher for 35 years. I had to ask myself: Did I really “dumb down” kids? I refused to believe it, but these results suggest otherwise. This bothered me, so I set out to prove otherwise.

The Huffpost’s article, How Schools Are Killing Creativity, says this about schools.

You were bullied, made fun of, and you had this teacher that told you to stop dreaming and live in reality. So what did you learn at school? You learned to stop questioning the world, to go with the flow, and that there’s only one right answer to each question. The “whys” you have always wanted to ask are never on the test, and they are omitted from the curriculum.

I had to admit, there is a lot of truth in that. I taught in a system that gave standardized tests which counted 50% of the student’s final mark. My focus as a teacher was preparing students for the government test, so I’ll be honest, all creativity went out the window. We didn’t have time to create and look at a diversity of viewpoints. We taught only what we had to in order to  prepare students for the test.

Benjamin Greene, founder of Britain’s biggest brewery says, “The biggest atrocity of all is to indoctrinate our children into a system that does not value their creative expression, nor encourage their unique abilities.”  I would have to agree, and sadly, I had to admit I may have contributed to it.

During my research, I came across numerous articles suggesting that our school systems indoctrinate children. This was even more disturbing to me, as in my mind, there was no way I was a part of a system that indoctrinated kids. I was preparing them for life and the “real world.”  Was I naive?

Most dictionaries define indoctrination as, “The process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.” American Journalist and author, Peter Hitchens said, “Is there any point in public debate in a society where hardly anyone has been taught how to think, while millions have been taught what to think?” Do our education systems teach children what to think? Having been in the education business, I would have to say yes.

Curriculum presents a point of view, and even though we as teachers try to teach kids to think critically, they are reluctant to do so. Students resist thinking critically, unless forced to, and with standardized tests, they didn’t have to for most part. Richard Dawkins, in his book, The God Delusion said, “Do not indoctrinate your children. Teach them how to think for themselves, how to evaluate evidence, and how to disagree with you.” I must agree. I believe we as an educational system have failed to teach our students how to think for themselves, or at least do it well. Instead we teach them “facts” to learn for a test.

American astrophysicist, Neil deGrasse Tyson said, “When Students cheat on exams it’s because our School System values grades more than Students value learning.”  Therein lies the flaw with the education system. There were thousands of times during my career when students would say to me, “Just tell me what I need to know for the test.”

American journalist, H.L. Mencken said, “The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed a standard citizenry, to put down dissent and originality.”  Are we teaching kids to be submissive? If we are, I am troubled!

I taught in the Catholic School System, and so I had to ask: Do Catholic schools indoctrinate? Catholic Answers’ article, In Defense of Indoctrination, does not hesitate to admit that Catholic schools indoctrinate, for it states:

…indoctrination itself is not wrong, because children have to be taught something in order to grow up to be functional members of society. The question is, what should they be taught? This means that Catholics and other Christians should have the right teach their children about God and his moral law without being unfairly labeled as practitioners of “indoctrination.”

Maclean’s article, Why are schools brainwashing our children? maintains that education systems in the Western world are “brainwashing” young children to be social activists, saying,

Increasingly, faculties of education in Canada and much of the Western world are preparing their student teachers to weave social justice throughout the primary school curriculum…as well as into a range of cross-curricular activities, events, and projects. The idea is to encourage kids to become critical analysts of contemporary issues, empathetic defenders of human rights and gatekeepers of the beleaguered Earth.

Is that a bad thing? Depends who you ask.  An article by The Federalist, says,

Many people have long suspected that governments sometimes attempt to indoctrinate their people to increase the government’s own power and influence. Unfortunately, ambitious governments will not stop at merely controlling what their people can do; they must control their minds.

The article goes on to say,

Few people seem to have a clear definition of indoctrination, and thus call anything they dislike indoctrination (e.g., “Leftists professors are indoctrinating their students,” “Those fundamentalist Christians are indoctrinating their kids,” or “Facebook is indoctrinating its users.”).

What is the solution to indoctrination then?  This same article states:

The only real solution to indoctrination, then, is good teachers. Good teachers (which include parents, mentors, and other knowledgeable adults) train students in methods of thought while supplying the stuff of thought. They teach a person to evaluate an argument properly, find actual solutions to problems, and determine what is true and what is false.

I tried to be one of those teachers, and it’s true! Most of the articles related to indoctrination and the education system are critical of the system’s use of a LGBQT Inclusive Curriculum, or promotion of a liberal agenda, or a conservative one, or a sex-education curriculum that they believed promoted promiscuity, and on and on. All maintained that the school system is indoctrinating children. According to the definition of indoctrination, they are. The reality is, you cannot remove viewpoints from school systems, as every curriculum designer, and every teacher has their point of view.  Is that Good? Depends on your perspective.

As far as I am concerned, if teachers are ‘indoctrinating’ kids to stand up for human rights and to protect the planet, then I am proud that I was one of those teachers. I say bravo to the teachers who do so. If our educational systems are stifling creativity and teaching kids to be submissive, then shame on them. As The Federalist article says, teachers must be allowed to teach their students “to evaluate an argument properly, find actual solutions to problems, and determine what is true and what is false.”

Is Hate the New Norm?

A commentary on the increase of hate crimes.

Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of news reports about hate crimes; reports that I find both disturbing and alarming. Here are a few examples.

I recently read about a homophobic attack on a lesbian couple in London, England. The couple were travelling on a city bus where they were assaulted by a group of teens after they allegedly refused to kiss each other on demand (see Homophobic Attack).

The New York Times reported that in “Staten Island, the phrase ‘Synagogue of Satan’ was spray painted on a wall outside of a Jewish school. In Brooklyn, a pro-Hitler message was scrawled on a poster outside a Jewish children’s museum whose mission is to fight anti-Semitism. In Manhattan, two rainbow pride flags were set on fire outside of a gay bar.” (see Swastikas and Burning Pride Flags).  Another New York Times article reports “The number of reported murders, rapes and robberies in New York is lower now [2019] than it was a year ago…These recent figures show that the drop in crime that began in the mid-1990s has largely continued…Reported hate crimes are up 64 percent compared with this time a year ago. A majority of those incidents were targeted at Jews, officials said” (see Hate Crimes Up).

In my country, Canada, CBC News reports that “the number of police-reported hate crimes reached an all-time high in 2017, largely driven by incidents targeting Muslim, Jewish and black people, according to Statistics Canada data… [saying] hate crimes have been steadily climbing since 2014, but shot up by some 47 per cent 2017, the last year for which data was collected” (see Hate crimes reach all time high).

This is just a small sampling of articles I’ve seen about hate crimes. Not only was I alarmed and disturbed, but began to wonder if hate was the new norm. One of last times hate was so prevalent on our planet was pre WWII, during a time when Hitler set out to eliminate Jews, LTQB, and other undesirables. It was also the time of the Nanking massacre in China by the Japanese. The last time the world went down a path of hate; a path lead by Hitler and other extremist leaders, WWII occurred.

I used to naively think that the human race had learned from WWI and WWII and would never make that mistake again. Now I am not so sure. One thing that strikes me, is many of those who are perpetrating hate claim to be Christians. THEY ARE NOT TRUE CHRISTIANS.

A meme recently went across my Facebook feed which is a quote from Jimmy Carter, the 39th president of the United States.

I agree with the former US president. Homophobes are not real Christians! I saw another meme on my Facebook feed.

That sums it up. Hate is the choice. We cannot choose homosexuality no more than we can choose to be heterosexual. It wasn’t a choice for me. I was just attracted to the opposite sex. I did not choose to be Caucasian. I did not choose to be born in Canada, although I am grateful I was. I did not choose to  come from European heritage. I can, however, choose to hate because I fear someone different than me. I can also choose to include and love those different from me.

Pope Francis is quoted as saying: “A person once asked me, in a provocative manner, if I approved of homosexuality. I replied with another question: ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person? We must always consider the person” (see  America Magazine in 2013). Pope Francis also said, “It is deplorable that homosexual persons have been and are the object of violent malice in speech or in action. Such treatment deserves the condemnation from the church’s pastors wherever it occurs.”

Where is all this hate coming from. One word answers that. FEAR. Much of that fear is propagated by extremist leaders.

Kevyn Aucoin, American makeup artist, photographer, and author, once said:

Fear is the most debilitating emotion in the world, and it can keep you from ever truly knowing yourself and others – its adverse effects can no longer be overlooked or underestimated. Fear breeds hatred, and hatred has the power to destroy everything in its path.

How true that is. Angela Merkel, former Chancellor of Germany, once said, “Hatred, racism, and extremism have no place in this country.” I agree with Ms. Merkel wholeheartedly. Hatred, racism, misogynism, anti-immigration, or anti-tolerance of any kind has no place in any country, especially my country.

The bottom line is unless humanity makes the choice to love one another, humanity is headed down perhaps another dark path like those that caused WWI and WWII.  After all,  Jesus commanded in John 13:34 of the Christian scriptures,

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”

This is what a true Christian does!

Did the Pope Really Refuse to Apologize?

A commentary on whether the Pope should apologize to Canada’s Indigenous people.

Back in May of 2017, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau met with Pope Francis and asked him to apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential school system where abuse of indigenous children occurred (see Newsweek).  When I first heard about this, I was confused as I thought the Pope had already apologized. I  wondered why the Catholic leader was being asked to apologize again.  Newsweek’s article explains that in 2009 the previous pontiff, Pope Benedict, met with survivor of the system Phil Fontaine, then national chief of the Assembly of First Nations. The article asserts that the pope did not formally apologize. Instead, he simply shared his ‘sorrow’ and ‘sympathy.’

Pope Francis

In March, the headline, Pope’s decision to not issue apology , appeared on the CBC News website. The article says Pope Francis claimed he could not personally apologize for residential school abuses. This month, Global News reported that the Canadian Parliament held a “historic” debate on whether to ask Pope Francis to formally apologize for the substantial role the Catholic church played in the residential school system. This week The National Post reports that Canadian Members of Parliament (MPs) passed a motion to invite the Pope to Canada to apologize for residential schools. The vote was passed by a margin of 269-10 .  One of the advocates of the motion was residential school survivor and MP, Romeo Saganash. The article says that an apology is one of the 94 Calls to Action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission; a Commission that recommended an apology be delivered in Canada by the pontiff, for the church’s role in the residential school abuse of First Nations, Inuit and Metis children.

All this talk about another apology from a pope piqued my curiosity. If the previous pope, Pope Benedict, already issued an apology, what is this all about? I set out to find out.

The National Observer’s article, Bishops try to clarify Pope’s refusal to apologize for residential schools, says the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops sent a background paper to MPs and senators. The paper says the church has “on a number of occasions expressed regret and remorse at the involvement by various Catholics” in the schools. It also reminds us that Pope Benedict met with a delegation of Indigenous leaders in 2009 “and expressed sorrow and regret for the abuses suffered” in the schools. The Bishop’s paper said Phil Fontaine declared that the meeting with Pope Benedict “closes the circle of reconciliation.” It also said

  “To suggest that the Catholic community has not accepted responsibility for its involvement in residential schools is simply inaccurate. The Catholic Church has apologized in the way it is structured.”

The New York Times article, A Pope Given to Apologies Has Nothing for Indigenous Canada, says that Phil Fontaine has since stated, “It was right for the moment,” about Pope Benedict’s expression of sorrow. “But there’s a lot we didn’t know about in 2009: We didn’t know the number of deaths, the numbers of those abused. So much has been exposed through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, it’s really so different now.”

 I have to agree with Mr. Fontaine. Since 2009 we’ve learned a lot more about the horrors that occurred in those schools. In fact, I was shocked to learn doing this post that CBC News reported that Ontario Provincial Police files reveal that an Ontario residential school, St. Anne’s, had built its own electric chair. In my last post, Hockey is Part of Canada, I talked about how residential school students lived in substandard conditions, endured physical, emotional and sexual abuse by brothers, priests and nuns who claimed they represented God.

This begs the question: Was the 2009 apology a true, sincere apology, and what constitutes an accurate apology anyways?  Mindtools.com in its article, How to Apologize: Asking for Forgiveness Gracefully, says to apologize correctly, an apology must:

  1. start with two magic words: “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize.”
  2. admit responsibility for actions or behaviour and acknowledge what an offender did.
  3. take action to make the situation right.
  4. explain that the offender will never repeat the action or behaviour again.

Psychology Today’s article, The Five Ingredients of an Effective Apology, says in order for an apology to be effective, it must have the following ingredients:

  1. A clear ‘I’m sorry’ statement.
  2. An expression of regret for what happened.
  3. An acknowledgment that social norms or expectations were violated.
  4. An empathy statement acknowledging the full impact of the offender’s actions on the victim(s). In other words, to truly forgive, a victim needs to feel that the offender completely understands the full impact their actions had on them.
  5. A request for forgiveness.

So, do the Canadian Conference of Bishops have a valid argument? Has the Catholic Church given a proper apology? Using the above criteria, l shall analyze Pope Benedict’s 2009 apology.

CTV News in 2009 reported, that the pontiff expressed his sorrow and emphasized that “acts of abuse cannot be tolerated”.  Pope Benedict went on to say,

“Given the sufferings that some indigenous children experienced in the Canadian residential school system, the Holy Father expressed his sorrow at the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church and he offered his sympathy and prayerful solidarity.”

Both Mindtools.com and Psychology Today say the words “I’m sorry,” or “I apologize” need to be used. They were not used by the pontiff in 2009. This is the primary argument for why it was  not a real apology. Pope Benedict’s apology definitely fails on this point.

Psychology Today says there needs to be an expression of regret for what happened. The Pontiff expressed his sorrow at the anguish. I’d say that shows regret, so it’s a pass on this one.

Mindtools.com says an apology needs to take responsibility for actions or behaviour as well as acknowledge what occurred. The Holy Father did acknowledge what happened, i.e. “the deplorable conduct of some members of the church”.  It’s debatable whether he’s taken responsibility. Another word for responsibility is accountability, which means being answerable for one’s actions.  Expressing “sorrow” and “regret” is not being accountable . I’d give a fail for this one.

Psychology Todays says an empathy statement acknowledging the full impact of an offender’s actions on the other person, needs to be given.  Benedict talked about “the anguish caused by the deplorable conduct of some members of the church” but that is hardly acknowledging the full impact of the actions. I would give a fail on this one.

Mindtools.com says the offender must take action to make the situation right and promise to never repeat the action or behavior. The pope’s apology fails on these points. Psychology Today says there needs to be a request for forgiveness. This did not happen, so a fail on this one as well.

Canada’s Parliament Buildings

Is our Prime Minister and Canada’s Members of Parliament justified in asking Pope Francis to apologize? After my analysis, I would say a resounding YES. Furthermore, aboard the Papal plane back in 2016, Pope Francis told reporters that gays — and all the other people the church has marginalized, such as the poor and the exploited — deserve an apology (see CBC).  It would seem to me that the indigenous people were marginalized, meaning they were seen as less important by members of the church, as late as 1996 when the last federally operated residential school closed. Actions speak louder than words. The pope needs to put his own words into action and deliver a sincere, acceptable apology to the indigenous people of Canada on behalf of the church he represents. It’s the Christian thing to do!

Hockey is Part of Canada

A commentary on two tragedies that affected all Canadians

Since my last post, two events have occurred that deeply impacted me on an emotional level.  I’ll start with the first; a horrific event. On April 6th,  the bus taking a hockey team, the Humboldt Broncos to a Saskatchewan Junior Hockey League playoff game, collided with a tractor-trailer in rural Saskatchewan.  Sixteen people were killed with the youngest victim being a 16-year-old Broncos player. Even though I am not part of the hockey world and never have been, I was still shaken and saddened. For me, it is more about family members of the victims. I thought about my own children and the many times they were on buses going to basketball or some other sport.

A memorial at the stairs that lead to Elgar Petersen Arena is shown in Humboldt, Sask.. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Liam Richards ORG

What struck me most about this event, was the reaction of Canadians and even the world. According to CTV News Saskatchewan, Humboldt’s only florist received hundreds of orders from as far away as Australia to send flowers to anyone and everyone affected by the crash. The Canalta Hotel offered free rooms to family members travelling to the Humboldt after the crash, plus provided food and support. Restaurants handed out free food. In one instance, an individual driving through a Tim Hortons bought coffee for the next 50 people in line. The food manager for the City of Humboldt said he has watched semi-trailers full of water, soda and edibles come into the Humboldt Uniplex every day. Flags were flown at half-mast across the nation to show compassion for Humboldt.

What is even more astonishing is people across Canada and from around the world contributed to a GoFundMe campaign for the victims and their families, which has exceeded fourteen million dollars, one of the largest drives in Canada’s history. As Maclean’s magazine put it, Humboldt’s GoFundMe account expresses a nation’s grief in dollars and cents.

An initiative #JerseysforHumboldt was first proposed on Facebook by a group of hockey parents in British Columbia as a way to honour the Saskatchewan junior hockey team. The movement snowballed resulting in Canadians across the country putting on jerseys as a massive show of support for the Humboldt Broncos hockey team. (see Jersey Day)

One person started a phenomenon by tweeting a picture that showed a lonely hockey stick left out on the front step of a home with the message, “Leaving it out on the porch tonight. The boys might need it … wherever they are.”  Numerous people have tweeted their pictures under the hashtag #PutYourStickOut to show their support to the team and their friends and families. (see Hockey Sticks)

It was Al Gore who said (paraphrased) in his latest movie, ‘An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth to Power’, “It’s our suffering that unites us”. That is what seems to be happening in my country because of this awful event. Perhaps the late Nelson Mandela said it better with his words, “Our human compassion binds us the one to the other – not in pity or patronizingly, but as human beings who have learnt how to turn our common suffering into hope for the future.” Whatever is happening, I can honestly say that I felt proud to be a Canadian.

The second event was also a horrific event that also involves hockey, but in a different way. It was an experience that affected me just as deeply as the one I described above. On the weekend I went to the Canadian movie, Indian Horse, a movie released on April 13.  This is a movie I would encourage every Canadian, and even people of other nationalities to see if they can. It tells a story that needs to be told and Canadians need to hear, even though it is a story that will likely make you uncomfortable.

What is so special about this film is it connects hockey with Indigenous issues. The story is adapted from a novel by Richard Wagamese, and is executive produced by Clint Eastwood. It explores the career of an exceptionally talented young Indigenous hockey player and  a NHL hopeful who endures Indian Residential school and struggles against racism-even from his own team-when he is recruited to a farm team for the Maple Leafs in Toronto.

The Star says, “Indigenous elders were on hand, as they had been throughout production of the movie…guiding the cast and crew through some of the darker moments they experienced.” The movie disturbingly shows the horror that indigenous children endured in Canadian Residential Schools as well as the relentless racism directed towards them outside the schools.

Here is a video telling a bit about the movie.

The story centers around the main character, Saul, who is forcibly taken from his family and placed in a Catholic governed Residential School. Saul’s only way to cope with his school hell is to turn to hockey.

Here is a quick lesson on the schools. In the 19th century, the Canadian government developed a policy called “aggressive assimilation” to be carried out at church-run, government-funded industrial schools, later to be called residential schools. It thought indigenous people’s best chance for success was to learn English, adopt Christianity and the Euro-Canadian culture.

To truly understand the mindset of Canadian government at that time in history, we just need to comprehend the mindset of Duncan Campbell Scott, who was head of the Department of Indian Affairs from 1913 to 1932, a department he had served since joining the federal civil service in 1879. Mr. Scott said:

 “I want to get rid of the Indian problem. I do not think as a matter of fact, that the country ought to continuously protect a class of people who are able to stand alone… Our objective is to continue until there is not a single Indian in Canada that has not been absorbed into the body politic and there is no Indian question, and no Indian Department, that is the whole object of this Bill.”

It is clear that the Canadian government saw the indigenous people as a problem that needed to be dealt with. In fact, Duncan Campbell Scott once said, the “policy of this Department [Indian Affairs]…is geared towards the final solution of our Indian Problem.”

The movie boldly showed how students of the Residential schools lived in substandard conditions, endured physical and emotional abuse as well as sexual abuse by people who claimed to be God’s representatives.  Essentially, the Government of Canada initiated a cultural genocide, a genocide carried out by various denominations of church missionaries.

I left that movie feeling sickened that my country has this dark history. I felt compassion for indigenous Canadians. I felt annoyed that it is only in the 21st century that I am now learning about this dark history regarding Canada’s treatment of its indigenous people. And most of all, I left that movie feeling ashamed to be a Canadian and ashamed of my Catholic roots.

The Pope, a TED Talk Celebrity

A commentary on the importance of community.

A few days ago, I went to the CBC news website to see if anything significant was happening in the world. This is something I do frequently. I was surprised to see an article called, Pope urges powerful to put people ahead of products in surprise TED Talk. My first reaction was, “the Pope gave a TED talk? How cool is that. When I read the article, and watched the talk, I was taken with his message as it made me think. Now I don’t always agree with the pope, but in regards to this talk, I think his message is one that the world needs to hear. It was a message about how influential people are failing to help those in need, and what the pope refers to as a “culture of waste”, a culture that puts products ahead of people. If you haven’t seen the talk, here it is.

The first thing that struck me in the Pope’s TED talk were his words:

People’s paths are riddled with suffering, as everything is centred around money, and things, instead of people. And often there is this habit, by people who call themselves “respectable,” of not taking care of the others, thus leaving behind thousands of human beings, or entire populations, on the side of the road. Fortunately, there are also those who are creating a new world by taking care of the other, even out of their own pockets. Mother Teresa actually said: “One cannot love, unless it is at their own expense.”

The pope is absolutely right. Our society is centred around money. Our society tends to put money and possessions before people. According to Wikipedia, a 2012 study for the years 2002–2008 found that about 25% of all senior citizens living in the United States declared bankruptcy due to medical expenses, and 43% were forced to mortgage or sell their primary residence. A 2004 Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD)  report said: “With the exception of Mexico, Turkey, and the United States, all OECD countries had achieved universal or near-universal (at least 98.4% insured) coverage of their populations by 1990.” I will always be grateful that Canada has a universal health care system. Private, for profit health care is but one example where money and possessions are prioritized before people.

We are all familiar with those stories where people are treated as outcasts. The Syrian refugees would be one such group, but I would rather focus on the second part of the statement, that is, “creating a new world by taking care of the other.” One such example of this is Ontario’s basic income pilot project (see basic income). Basic income is when payments are provided to eligible families or individuals that ensures a minimum level of income. Ontario’s plan is to implement a pilot program. Supporters of the basic income say it could eliminate poverty and streamline government bureaucracies because a basic income would replace many other benefits, potentially including welfare, unemployment insurance, Old Age Security as well as others. Glasgow in the United Kingdom is considering such a project as well (see BBC). Sweden and Switzerland are also considering Basic Income programs (see Huffpost). The way I see it, basic income programs are merely a way of “taking care of the other”.

It’s interesting that research is indicating that “taking care of the other” is what happens in nature. Science Daily reports in their article, Species Take Care Of Each Other In Ecological Communities, that a University of Alberta study has determined that there are rules of existence in tropical rain forests. One species will not take up too much space so as to not squeeze out other species. Researchers say this is a way that ecological communities regulate themselves. Really, it is just “taking care of the other”.

Another message the pope had that caught my attention were his words,

Please, allow me to say it loud and clear: the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other. There is a saying in Argentina: “Power is like drinking gin on an empty stomach.” You feel dizzy, you get drunk, you lose your balance, and you will end up hurting yourself and those around you, if you don’t connect your power with humility and tenderness. Through humility and concrete love, on the other hand, power – the highest, the strongest one – becomes a service, a force for good.

“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” This is a quote by Benjamin Parker (Uncle Ben) in the Marvel comic series “Spider-Man”.  Those in positions of power have a responsibility to do what is best for all the people they have influence over. Political leaders must, as Pope Francis says, be willing serve others as a force of good. It was Mahatma Gandhi who said,

“The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.” This is so true and this is really one of Pope Francis’ key messages in the TED talk. Or, to put it in the pope’s own words:

But the future is, most of all, in the hands of those people who recognize the other as a “you” and themselves as part of an “us.” We all need each other.

The blog called Tiny Buddha, gives six reasons for why we need one another in a post called The Power of Community,. They are:

  1. Collective wisdom. No one person ever has all of the answers. This makes sense since the more ideas there are, the more likely a solution to a problem can be found.
  2. Pushing our limits. When a person is alone, it’s easy to give up when things get tough. When you’re with others you’ll have people to motivate, and push you to do things you likely wouldn’t do otherwise.
  3. Support. On those days when you most want to give up or just can’t seem to move forward, you need to lean on your community for support to get you through.
  4. New ideas.  In a diverse world, there are many views. That is a good thing as it provides many approaches to a problem since everyone sees things differently.
  5. Motivation.  Sometimes all we need to do is look around our community to be inspired.
  6. Accountability.  When you’re accountable to others you are more likely to “step up to the plate” and accomplish something.

There is no doubt, in my view, that we need community; that we need one another simply because we cannot do it alone. The poet, John Donne, says it best when he said, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” We need one another therefore we have a duty to take care of one another. There is an idiom that says, “I am not my brother’s keeper”, but I say we are our brother’s keeper. That is what Pope Francis is saying. If humanity is to survive, we must take care of one another. I would add we also need to take care of our home, the planet earth, as well because I know the pope would agree with that as well.