Shadeism (Part II)

February 25, 2014

Hi everyone! To those readers who have continued to follow my blog (despite my long absence) I offer my most sincere thanks. I am very sorry for not posting, especially when there is so much to talk about (Pope Francis’ letter on the Joy of the Gospel…Ukraine…Venezuela…human rights abuses and environmental destruction connected with the Sochi Olympics…)There really is so much indeed, and I promise to come back soon.

For now, I am simply going to share a short follow-up to the piece I posted in November. Shadeism – or discrimination based on skin colour within a given community – is a ramification of racism, imperialism, and in our present world, global capitalism. I recently completed an interview with Nayani Thiyagarajah, a Tamil-Canadian filmmaker who explores this issue. Please check it out…

http://rabble.ca/news/2014/02/resisting-shadeism-interview-nayani-thiyagarajah

Shadeism

November 21, 2013

I learned something new today. I vaguely recall being told as a child to learn something new everyday, and I find it does not often happen. Of course, like everyone else in our media-saturated society I take in plenty of information on a daily basis…But consuming information is not the same as learning. Today, I learned that the legacy of European colonialism is alive and well, all over the world. I learned that while here in North America the multinational Unilever markets itself by promoting “real beauty”(the Dove campaign), in lots of other places it’s telling people that to be attractive they have to be something other than what they are. But unfortunately, it’s not just multinational corporations spreading this message, but also family members and friends.

Watch this video. Some of you will be surprised. Others, I hope, will be able to find strength in knowing that you are not alone. We don’t need to give in to anyone who tells us that to be beautiful we must become other than we are.

http://shadeism.com/

Habemus Papam

March 13, 2013

Francis I…Even the name fills me with hope. Let’s pray that our new pope – the first Jesuit, the first Latin American, the first in a long time to choose a new name – will renew the Catholic Church in the spirit of love and simplicity that Francis of Assisi revealed to be at the heart of Christian life.

According to Rui Dai, our liberal, secular culture isn’t the main reason more North American young people are turning away from religion. It’s conservative culture.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/rui-dai/why-young-people-are-beco_b_1594786.html

History is being made. Again and again we are told this.  Every time a war starts or ends, every time a stock market crashes, every time a tower falls. But is history really made in sudden, monumental, movie-montage events? Or does it move more slowly, in the time of dinner table conversations and daily commutes, in the twenty years it takes to raise a child?

I’m afraid I barely noticed when President Obama made his first public statement on same-sex marriage. I was lazily browsing BBC News, and to be perfectly honest, stories about the increase of plastic waste particles in the ocean (a 100% increase in the past forty years) and Google’s plans to develop driverless cars caught my attention much more strongly than this. Maybe it’s due to my social privilege as a person who has not been the object of sexuality-based discrimination. More likely, though, I think it’s due to the fact that Obama’s stance really wasn’t any news to me.  I’d known all along that he is a supporter of LGBTQ rights, even if in official discourse he previously hedged the issue. However, as scholar Sarah Wildman has stated in a recent BBC news article,

“Among many progressives, a feeble stance on gay marriage has become almost a political liability. Witness the quick hurrah! response from Nancy Pelosi and Mike Bloomberg to the president’s statement.

But it is far easier to make a statement as a governor, a congresswoman, a mayor. The country needed the president to take a stand here. The country needed this statement to come from on high: a clear-headed recognition that these are people’s lives, that rights can’t be traded or put off for later. The pomp and circumstance of the White House is no gimmick. A major new direction has been announced for the country.

“Historic,” in this moment is not a cliche.

However, Wildman also takes the long view, noting that this moment is part of a long, gradual process that is unfolding. While there may exist a realm of eternal truth and good, we who dwell in Plato’s cave know only shadows…and the shapes and sizes of those shadows change over time. We are in the midst of a value shift that has been developing gradually over much time, and Obama’s annoucement is just one of many movements in that shift. I rejoice with Wildman in the implications of this change for human rights and freedoms.

“Malia and Sasha Obama might, rightly, be shocked by all the fuss this is causing. Certainly, by the time they are of an age when their peers begin to marry, 15 or 20 years from now, this day will glow with that Instamatic glow through which we view many of the civil rights successes of the past.

You mean women had to ask their husband’s permission to work? You mean interracial marriage was… illegal? You mean gay marriage was once… banned?”

Like many others of my generation, I find it impossible not to be a supporter of same-sex marriage. I am enough of a traditionalist to believe that marriage and family (and the lifelong commitment implied in each) are highly important moral institutions that should be preserved for the health of both the individual and society. Meanwhile, my postmodern education has suggested to me that traditions might be amended without forfeiting their integrity, that marriages and families can take on many forms, and that gender is a socially constructed as well as a biological category. However, when I try to discuss my perspective with my parents – who firmly see marriage as a union between a man and a woman with the goal of raising children – we reach a communicative impasse. On this particular issue, a gulf has formed between our values, and we stand on opposite sides.

But, for me the gulf is perhaps not so wide as it is for many of my fellow millennials. To an extent I can empathize with conservative journalist Rod Dreher, whose opposing BBC opinion piece concurs with Wildman in acknowledging that a value shift is occurring. But while Wildman rejoices in the change, Dreher laments it:

“As is commonly known, polling data show a stark generational divide among Americans on same-sex marriage. The younger the voter, the greater the support. The demographic tidal wave on this issue is undeniable…As long as the traditionalist position on same-sex marriage, almost universally held only 25 years ago, is treated as irrational hatred and nothing but by the media, business, and social elites, there will be powerful social and psychological pressure to shun it.”

Dreher discusses the many correlations made between the gay rights movement and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s (and tries to endorse the latter while distancing himself from the former). Ultimately, he argues that just as political and social pressure from elite opinion makers gradually forced small-town white Southerners to accept integrated schools, so this same pressure will ultimately force same-sex marriage opponents to accept the phenomenon as it spreads.

I believe that Dreher is most likely correct in his predictions, and while I don’t join him in decrying this change, I am intrigued by the conclusion of his article, in which he attributes the increasing support for same-sex marriage in America to a decline in religious practice:

Leaving aside the role of elites in forming mass opinion, it is not sufficiently appreciated why so many younger Americans support same-sex marriage.

It fits easily with what they already believe about the nature of marriage, of sex, of liberty, and of human nature. The high level of religiosity shown in US polls is deceiving.

More recent, comprehensive research by political scientists Robert Putnam and David Campbell, and sociologist Christian Smith, indicates that young Americans are not only abandoning formal religious observance in large numbers (while still claiming to be “spiritual”), but they see religion primarily in therapeutic terms.

That is, they believe that God wants us to be nice, happy and self-fulfilled – and that’s about it.

As the late sociologist Philip Rieff observed in his great 60s work of cultural analysis, The Triumph of the Therapeutic, Western culture had by then abandoned the Christian moral matrix, especially on sexual matters.

Given the haplessness of the churches as a counter-cultural force to the hedonism and individualism celebrated by popular culture, it should surprise no-one that arguments, Christian and otherwise, for traditional marriage are hard for young people to conceptualise.

Traditionalists keep winning battles, but we have lost the war at the level of ideas... Like it or not, this is what it means to live after the passing of the Christian era.”

It is on this point – the “passing of the Christian era” – that I can empathize with Dreher. Although I do not lament the increasing support for LGBTQ rights, I admittedly bemoan what I also see as the decline in religiosity in American society and the increase in what he calls the “therapeutic” mentality (so seductive, but so shallow in the end). I also think that there are many traditional values – particularly loyalty, commitment, and devotion to ideals higher than the self and individual well-being – that are worth preserving.

But, while I relate to Dreher’s concern about religion, I can’t help but notice the glaringly obvious flaw in his reasoning. What is the relationship between this decline in religious practice and support for same-sex marriage? There may be a correlation, but can we really say that one is the cause of the other? Most important, why does religious practice have to be coded as socially conservative? What about progressive Christians and LGBTQ churches and openly gay priests? Dreher speaks of the Civil Rights Movement – let us not forget that many of its great leaders, as well as its detractors, were professed Christians. The LGBTQ rights movement is different, but still, Dreher is incorrect in his categorical linking of religiosity with social conservatism.

We human beings are constantly making history, both collectively and individually, and we have a choice about which morals we want to preserve and which we want to change. It is true, as Dreher shows, that societal pressures will often compel us to choose one value over another…but ultimately, the decision is ours. And, these values do not have to come in a neat pre-packaged set. Being pro-same-sex marriage does not have to mean being secularist or nonreligious. Being a liberal does not have to mean rejecting certain traditions that one deems worth preserving. As always, values are messy. What matters most is to understand our own motivations for having them, their influence on our actions and their impact on other people.

 

I just stumbled upon a very interesting article on Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/guest-voices/post/the-hunger-games-spiritual-but-not-religious/2012/03/21/gIQAgYJmTS_blog.html

If you haven’t read this chilling series, I would definitely recommend it (I can’t speak for the movie, but with a few exceptions books are usually better than their cinematic counterparts). Washington Post blogger Diana Butler Bass raises some interesting points about the absence of God and religion in Collins’ post-apocalyptic world that bears a disturbing resemblance to our own. God may be absent, she suggests, but religion is not. And ultimately, neither is faith.

Over the years I have encountered many people who inform me that they are “spiritual, but not religious.” I must admit that I’ve never been quite certain of what this ubiquitous little phrase actually means. Clearly, these individuals have rejected membership in any organized religion. However, they are still describe themselves in partaking in some sort of spirituality. But what exactly is this spirituality, and why is it so often described as something separate from religion?

Only once did I meet someone who described herself as “religious, but not spiritual.” In my senior year of college, having experienced my first major crisis of faith, I decided to approach my most excellent ancient Greek philosophy professor, Elfie Raymond, for advice. After teaching me a year-long course on pre-Socratic philosophy and Plato’s dialogues, Elfie had taken me under her wing, mentoring me on academic matters and occasionally treating me to dinner. Between bites of channa masala and sips of my mango lassi, I dared to ask her the question that had been plaguing me for as long as I’d known her. “Elfie, are you religious?” I asked.

She put down her fork and looked at me in something like disgust. “What kind of question is that?”

“An impertinent one,” I replied.

A moment of silence followed as Elfie gathered her thoughts. “I would say that, given my educational and cultural background, I am a religious person,” she said. “However, I would not describe myself as a spiritual person.”

I can’t recall just how that conversation finished, other than that it involved a good deal of frustration and a rapid change of subject. I had always tried to be – or at least to appear – as rational as possible in my formidably intelligent professor’s presence; she knew little of the strange stew of philosophical and personal confusion that had led me to inquire about her religious beliefs. And yet, her answer – as provocative to me now as it was then – has stayed with me.  Now, I think that it might offer some insight into this uneasy relationship between spirituality and religion.

But first, what exactly is religion?  Philosophers, sociologists and theologians have given many definitions to this often inflammatory word. According to Emile Durkheim, religion is an institution that serves a social need. For Clifford Geertz, it is “a system of symbols that acts to establish powerful, pervasive, long-lasting moods and motivations in men by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.” For Karl Marx, it is “the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world…the opiate of the people.” In my opinion, however, the best definition of religion can be found in the etymology of the word itself. Although the meaning of the Latin “religio” is disputed, some scholars connected it to the verb “ligare,” to bind or connect. Religion is a tie, a knot, or a bond.

In order to understand this idea, it might help to consider the way we use the word “religion” in our everyday speech. While this word is often associated with a particular faith system or social group, it can also be used to describe the everyday, secular business of one’s life. Think of how many times you may have heard the word used to describe a person’s daily activities: “She exercises religiously…She practices the piano religiously…She clips coupons religiously…” Very often, the word is employed to describe daily activities carried out with discipline and commitment. In this sense, religion is indeed a tie that binds us – perhaps to God and our communities, but also to any value that we deem worth dedicating our lives to. Someone who “exercises religiously” doesn’t just go for a run every couple of weeks or so. Exercising religiously implies waking up early when you’d rather sleep in, ignoring those inner voices urging you to press the snooze button. It means bundling up and facing the weather, no matter how unpleasant. And, it means refusing to give up once muscles become sore and the other demands of life threaten to crowd it out of your schedule.  A person who exercises religiously is not completely free to follow her urges of the moment. For whatever reason, the desire for good health gains priority over other desires. You might substitute for “good health” many other values – human rights, ecological justice, God himself.  Even when it is no longer fun, even when it starts to require genuine sacrifice, a religious person never forgets the tie that binds.

Following this definition, I can begin to understand the ways in which my professor may have been “religious, but not spiritual.” For Elfie, morality was not arbitrary – there really existed an objective good worth striving for. Our overall equality as human beings – what she called our ontological parity – was a sacred law. Reason, or Logos, was not merely a mental faculty, but a reality permeating the entire cosmos, an objective, unquestionable truth binding us to the rest of nature and to one another. The path toward truth could be initiated from many points of origin, but Plato and various medieval and Reformation Christian philosophers were the key for this committed yet undogmatic philosopher. Elfie may or may not have been a churchgoer; she may or may not have believed in a personal God. Nevertheless, she was unquestionably religious, always obedient to Logos on the path toward truth.

I doubt that people who describe themselves as “spiritual, but not religious” would say that they reject religion as I am trying to define it. Indeed, spirituality is itself incredibly difficult to define (and even more so to distinguish from religion). In Catholicism, spirituality is often described in terms of prayer, meditation and contemplation – all practices aimed at achieving a deeply personal communion with God. As Fritjof Schuon has posited in his The Transcendent Unity of Religions, all the world’s religions can be viewed as having two layers: the “exoteric” realm, which concerns beliefs, moral codes, and ritualistic practices, and the “esoteric” realm, which concerns the mystical search for union with the divine. According to Schuon, religions may appear contradictory and incompatible when viewed at the exoteric level; however, at the level of esoteric spirituality, they are very much the same. And so, if I had to define spirituality, I would describe it in similar terms to those by which Schuon describes the esoteric: as an inward journey toward mystical union with God (or nature, or the universe, or perhaps just one’s own inner being).

I would suspect that many people who describe themselves as “spiritual but not religious” are those who have rejected the exoteric side of religion (that of beliefs, doctrines and laws) in favor of the esoteric, experiential side. This seems to be the case for author Tim O’Donnell, whose recently published book A View from the Back Pew narrates his gradual metamorphosis from practicing Catholic (who always questioned his faith) to “spiritual, but not religious.” Alternating between autobiograpy and historically-based critique of church doctrine, O’Donnell concludes his journey with a strong faith in “Our Father, Who Art Inside Us.” The truth is not to be found in doctrines or precepts, but in one’s individual experience.

I can certainly empathize with O’Donnell’s conclusion. Even a cursory glance at my blog should reveal that I take issue with many “exoteric” Catholic doctrines; meanwhile, spiritual, mystical communion with God remains one of my greatest desires. Whenever my belief in the divine has floundered, spiritual experiences – often of the most subtle  quality as a walk in the city park or a conversation with a kind stranger on a bus – have managed to restore my faith. I can certainly understand why many people have remained dedicated to spirituality while rejecting religion as it is so commonly (even if contraditorily) defined.

But, what of religion in the sense that I am trying to describe it here? In seeking the divinity within, do we not come in danger of forgetting the tie that binds? What of living in the service of higher values? What of sacrificing one’s urges for the sake of a greater good? What of the connections we forge and maintain with our families, communities and indeed the human race as a whole?

In recent years many thinkers have sounded the alarm about the breakdown of our communities. The Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor states that we are in a “malaise of modernity” in which we strive to live authentically – true to ourselves, one might say – but inevitably suffer grave isolation from one another due to the erosion of once-shared value systems. Meanwhile, following the lead of Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, some Marxist economists have observed that the changes in our North American and European economic system – from mass production during the Henry Ford era to increased specialization and job instability during this present “post-Fordist” age – have made it an economic necessity to focus much more intently on the “I” than the “we.” In this framework, it is possible that “spirituality” as practiced by so many of us in this secular age might risk appearing like just one more facet of a cultural turn toward greater individualism.

However, I do not believe that religio is in danger of being untied any time soon. Following the definition that I have offered, the Occupy movement might be seen as religious, as is the Arab Spring, as are countless other social movements through which individuals come together in support of a commonly held value. In an age of ever-increasing freedom of choice, it may be true that the ties between individuals and communities – as well as individuals and higher moral values – may be loosening, but many people are choosing to tighten them up once again.

I can easily understand how it might be possible to be “spiritual but not religious,” just as I can understand that many people are “religious but not spiritual.” In my own experience, both religion and spirituality – however you choose to define them – are difficult paths to follow. The discipline demanded by religion is hard to cultivate; meanwhile, the openness and stillness required for spirituality can be equally hard to put into practice. Ultimately, though, I believe that these two slippery yet important concepts are complementary. Spirituality without religion runs the risk of becoming solipsistic and fickle. Religion without spirituality runs the risk of becoming stale and passionless.

 

 

 

 

 

It has now been about four months since I last wrote a proper post for this blog. A few things have happened. I studied for – and passed – my doctoral field examination, which means that I’m now what is commonly known as an “ABD” – “all but dissertation.” (In other words, I’ve completed my entire PhD except for the most important part).

What else has happened? I mourned the death – and celebrated the life – of my dear uncle, Robert Cummings, who passed away last November. I enjoyed a wonderful Christmas with my family. I travelled to southern Arizona -one of the sunniest places on earth – where I explored a cave, climbed a canyon, and reconnected with a dear old friend whom I hadn’t seen in eight years. I assisted with the organization of one academic conference and presented a paper at another. I spent some time pretending to write a novel (I’m currently at about 48,000 words; I hope to reach  60,000 in a month or two). And, as always, there are my 179 bright-eyed undergraduate student to attend to!

So now, as I approach this blog again, I can’t ignore a slight feeling of trepidation. It’s not unlike walking barefoot on a beach at the beginning of summer. There’s always a sting in that first splash of cold water over my feet! So, once again, I must try not to flinch at that chill and then step further into the sea, trusting that as soon as I can get waist-deep, it will feel as warm as bathwater.

Needless to say, readership of this blog has declined dramatically since I stopped writing on a regular basis (not that it was ever that high to begin with)! Nevertheless, I am grateful to those of you who have continued reading, as well as to those who have stumbled on my blog by chance. In mid-January someone was even so kind as to post one of my articles on Twitter, which definitely gave me a thrill. Like many aspiring writers I dream of reaching wide audiences, but at the end of the day that is not what this endeavor is about. If I can learn something by writing this blog – whether from the comments I receive or from the process of writing itself – then my time is not being wasted. And if there’s any chance that you can learn something, then my efforts are not in vain.

So, in attempting to dip my toes in the water, I’d like to start by sharing a few items that have been on my mind during the past four months – items that I would have written full posts on if I’d only found the time:

 – The US Health and Services Mandate for Contraception/Sterilization Coverage

The United States department of Health and Human Services has mandated that all institutions that provide healthcare to employees must now include coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortifacients in the healthcare plans they offer. In others words, the US Federal Government is obligating religious organizations who oppose these forms of healthcare to place their moral convictions aside and comply with the moral stance of the federal government. The Catholic Church and other religious organizations have reacted with indignation; in the words of  New York Archbishop Timothy Dolan, “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.” Meanwhile, the entire conflict has sparked a national debate on the somewhat unclear boundary between the secular law on which our country is founded and the diverse religious and ethical stances which that law is meant to protect.

Where do I stand on this issue? If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you will know that I firmly oppose the Catholic Church’s stance on contraception. Nevertheless, I cannot back the HHS Mandate. I believe that workers should have access to the healthcare they require, but I also believe that religious institutions have their own right to operate according to their conscience. I am not so sure that this is an issue of “freedom of religion” as some religious leaders are saying, but it is definitely too deep of an intrusion of the federal government into Civil Society. Therefore, I have signed the petition against the mandate, and I hope and pray for a peaceful solution to this dispute.

– The 2012 Presidential Election

Unfortunately there’s not too much I can say on this one. My vote doesn’t really count anyway, as my home state is true blue, but naturally I’m concerned about the outcome. This seems like another case of a “lesser of two evils” decision. Another four years of Obama seems unlikely to bring us anything good, but would giving the reins back to the other team really put us in any better shape.

I have a sneaking suspicion that I’ve just said nothing. I’ll give this issue some more thought and get back to you in a month or two.

Poland’s 2011 Parliamentary Elections, which took place last October

“Huh? Poland?” you might ask, scratching your head in confusion. Yes, Poland. Given that this is supposed to be a Catholic blog, doesn’t it make sense that I would take an interest in what is arguably the most Catholic country in the world? Perhaps my interest goes the other way – my love for Poland is the very thing that has preserved my long-standing love for Catholicism. No matter. I bet some of you didn’t even know that Poland was a predominantly Catholic country, did you? Unlike in so many other European nations, where twentieth century Catholicism became a symbol for fascism and the old regime, in Poland it was emblem of freedom, of national identity, and of a well-loved culture that people refused to let forty-four years of totalitarianism wipe away. For the Polish people, Pope John Paul II was more than just a religious leader. His  invocation to “Be not afraid” became something of a rallying cry, and the Solidarity movement which  resisted (and ultimately defeated) communism during the 1980’s  transformed Christian symbols into national ones:

However, the Poland of 2012 is not the Poland of the 1980’s; as in many places, secularization – at least of the public sphere – continues to occur. In last October’s Parliamentary elections, Palikot’s Movement – a new political party led by the unapologetically anticlerical Janusz Palikot – garnered forty seats, or ten percent of the vote. Not bad for a political party that isn’t even two years old. Palikot’s popularity with Polish youth reveals that Poland (and the place of religion within it) is changing, and I for one will be watching these changes with interest over the coming years.

The New Translation of the Roman Catholic Missal

The first Sunday of Advent 2011 found Catholics throughout the English-speaking world bending over prayer cards and fumbling through once-familiar songs and responses. The wording of long-ago memorized prayers had been altered – sometimes quite significantly. Translation  – particularly literary translation – is a very strong personal interest of mine, so I am naturally interested in the Third Translation of the Roman Missal since the Second Vatican Council’s decision to replace the Latin Mass with the vernacular. This new version, which was initiated in 2002 by  Pope John Paul II, aims toward greater faithfulness of the original Latin, a more elevated use of language, and more lucid Scriptural references (even most Catholics are not aware of the extent to which the liturgy is based on quotations from the Bible).

In an essay entitled “The Task of the Translator,” philosopher Walter Benjamin has stated that the process of literary translation causes the target language to become foreign to itself. I have found this to be the case when translating Spanish literary texts into English – usually, when I look back at my first draft, I find that my English sounds strange, perhaps like Spanish, but not quite. I must admit that I experienced this same kind of dissonance as I struggled over the prayers last Advent and even into this year – the old prayers were always there on the tip of my tongue, empty and clanging. Indeed, the experience of learning the new translation has definitely been a cause for reflection, for greater attentiveness to the words that we are actually saying, to the many layers of meaning embedded in the strange prayer we call the Mass. The adoption of the Third Translation is a process that has not yet been completed, and I will certainly have more to say about it in upcoming posts.

– Movies

Yes, you heard me right. Movies. After years of rarely even setting foot inside a cinema, I found myself seeing many interesting films which I would have loved to have written reviews of for you. By now they are long out of theatres, but I’m sure that they are viewable by other means. Some of the films I have seen and enjoyed include the following:

La piel que habito (The Skin I Live In) by Spanish director Pedro Almodovar. Once again, this fantastic director compels his audience to recognize the complexity of humn nature and  to acknowledge the violence latent in each one of us and, at the same time, the utter vulnerability and humanity of those who commit acts of violence. To make a long story short, this film calls upon us to feel compassion for a rapist…and due to Almodovar’s brilliance, we do.

The Way by the American Emilio Estevez. This is a Catholic film if I ever saw one. A middle-aged man, having recently learned of his estranged son’s death, goes to France to retrieve the remains and decides to walk the Santiago Pilgrimage Route through Spain. It’s a beautiful story of a spiritual journey, friendship, and self-acceptance. The going matters more than the getting there…in fact, there’s no such thing as “getting there,” for we are always there already.

Surviving Progress, a Canadian documentary by Mathieu Roy and Harold Crooks. The message is simple: we are destroying ourselves. All our technology, our urban development, our “progress” is ultimately leading us toward global catastrophe. However, this is not just another doomsday documentary; the makers of this film suggest that there is still hope to be found, though it will require a radical effort on the part of all of us. Specifically, the film offers interesting snapshots of modern China (where economic development is rapidly creating a new middle class of people eager for more consumer goods) and Brazil, where a government that purports to seek protection for the Amazon often has conflicting interests of its own. Overall, the film is sobering, but necessary – by far the most important I’ve seen in a long time.

Pink Ribbons ,Inc. which takes a critical look at corporate involvement in breast cancer philantropy, exposing the startling contradictions of corporations who purport to support breast cancer research while often using carcinogens in their own products. Another problem highlighted by the film is the undefined nature of the “research” that the funds are going toward – only a tiny amount of which is directed toward cancer prevention. The moral of the story? “Think before you pink.” In choosing your products, don’t be swayed by “pinkwashed” cause marketing. And should you choose to donate money to charity, try to find out about where that money is actually going.

There’s a lot more on my mind at the moment, but I think that this post is already far too eclectic. As you can see, each one of these topics could have been its own post, and I plan to say more about them in the coming months. Unfortunately, I suspect that my posts will continue to be somewhat sporadic, but I will aim for two per month at least. And, please be aware that my original goal for this blog was to open it up to other voices. I welcome your comments. I welcome entire posts on religion, spirituality, secularism, politics and culture.

Secularism Gone too Far?

November 4, 2011

The province of Quebec prohibits religious worship in any government spaces. Is this a case of secularism gone too far? How does one balance the desire for a secular society with the freedom to practice one’s religion openly? Where do we draw the line. And my personal question is…why couldn’t secularism entail embracing all religious traditions rather than none?

Read the article from Canada’s National Post here:

http://life.nationalpost.com/2011/11/03/quebec%E2%80%99s-new-secular-norm-fines-for-worship/

For Catholics in the United States, October is Respect Life Month. This month has always been important to me as I’ve gathered with other believers to pray for a greater respect of the sanctity of human life in all of its stages – from conception to natural death.

While my opinion on abortion has long been ambivalent, my deepest belief is that this action is inhumane and should be discouraged wherever possible. I stand with the traditionalist Catholics. However, my opinion diverges when it comes to contraception, which I believe should be encouraged wherever possible – in all parts of the world.

As I write this post,  the population of our world is about to hit seven billion. Just over a century ago in 1900 we stood at 1.6 billion. Difficult as it may be to accept, the planet and its rapidly dwindling resources simply cannot sustain the exponential growth which our population has been experiencing. Bob Harrington has pointed this out quite astutely in a recent article from Rabble.ca:

Today’s focus on the economy largely ignores the problem of human numbers and the Malthusian consequences: war, famine, and disease.

The economic focus also ignores Plato’s insight that a stable society can be preserved only if deeply moral philosophical concerns guide advances in technology. Lulling materialists with a never-ending cascade of new toys, our industrial society has foolishly felt itself exempt from judicious moral restraint and so has recklessly set the stage for disaster.

Humans need to realize the ramifications of their skills. Controlling our numbers is now a procedure we have usurped from Nature, but continue to ignore, and the ecological consequences are calling us to account. A terrible fate awaits humankind if we do not grasp the reality that Earth provides a limited carrying capacity for all species — and act on that knowledge before it’s too late.

As J. Anthony Cassils points out, “The good news is that populations that grow exponentially can shrink exponentially.” If all fertile women, worldwide, were to have only one child, global population would drop one billion by 2050. By 2075, human population would be reduced to 3.43 billion, and by 2100 it would be reduced to 1.6 billion!

An awareness is growing that our planet is becoming overpopulated. Harper’s, a widely read magazine, has repeatedly published full-page advertisements stating that, unless restrained, the U.S. population, now 300 million, will rise to 400 million within 30 years. Increasing demand for water, food, housing, recreational sites, and other resources are a natural result of increased population.

More examples could be given, but consider this salient point about increase in consumption-population ratios: “In the U.S., total consumption of virgin raw materials was 17 times greater in 1989 than it was in 1900, compared with a threefold increase in population.” (Young 1995a)

We must choose between starting now to reduce our population, or move rapidly toward apocalypse.

What Harrington says is urgently true. I’m not suggesting that we follow the recommendations of the Voluntary Human Extinction Movement and seek to bring the number of humans down to nothing (nor do I think that said plan would ever work). However, I am a strong  believer in the one-child family. And I think that it is certainly possible for families to control their reproductive capacity without resorting to abortion.

I believe in respecting life. However, I have always been a bit put off by the Church’s emphasis on the sacredness of human life to the exclusion of all the rest of God’s creation. What about the animals and plants that are quickly going extinct? What about the carbon resources that, after forming beneath the earth’s surface over millions of years, are now nearing complete consumption?

 I would urge us all to think a bit more about what “respecting life” actually means. Abortion is only part of the issue – there is also euthanasia, capital punishment, neglect of the poor and disabled, and misuse of our environment. This Respect Life month, I encourage us all to respect life not only in all its stages, but all its forms, and also to understand that humanity is on the verge of collapse if we continue to increase our numbers as we have done over the last century and into the present one.