October 17, 2006

Blame Religion?

With the world in continued turmoil, and especially conflict between groups identified as Muslim, Jewish, or Christian, as well as Hindu, you hear a lot of people say something brilliant like "we should abolish all religions!" That's a sentiment that is getting a lot or airing these days, in private conversations, letters to editors, and so on. But, wait a minute; is there really any logic to this knee-jerk reaction to the violence we all abhor? Let's think about it more carefully.

All the major, world religions (ie. those numbering multi-millions of adherents) believe and teach peace among all people. At least they do in their sacred writings. Moreover, if you poll the members of any of these world religions, the ordinary believers almost overwhelmingly desire peace and detest war. Yet... we have the constant specter of 'sectarian violence' hanging over our heads almost everywhere in the world. So, what gives? In the Christian scriptures, Jesus projects himself to the 'great judgement' at the end of this age (Matt 7:22-23): 'Many will say to Me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.'

Jesus could foresee exactly what has happened-- in the name of religion. There are plenty of shysters around who can talk up a good forgery of religion, complete with ostensible miracles. But in their heart, these people are not truly religious, not converted to the true principles of God, which basically and simply require putting others ahead of ourselves. These fakes are experts at playing the religion game, using it to make a lot of money and gain a lot of power and influence. These individuals are occasionally discovered and revealed in various Christian communities; but they scramble their way to the leadership of all the hierarchical religions. (Hierarchical religions are those that do not practice a 'priesthood of all believers;' rather, they have professional clergy who run the churches, synagogues, and mosques, and have a supporting cast of administrators.)

When you look back over the ages, it's those religious leaders who instigated violent policies toward selected groups, generally 'heretics'-- those who oppose them internally; and then, 'unbelievers'-- those who hold to other views. These men were Jewish insurgent leaders, Catholic Popes, and aggressive Imams. And it's men who must shoulder the blame, since the major religious institutions have almost invariably shut women out of their governing structures. But one may rightly ask: how have religious authorities succeeded in assuming control of the religious agenda, and turn the message of peace into an acceptable pretext for war? That's the real crux of the matter!

The answer is right in our own hands... we 'ordinary' members of the assorted religions. Or rather, in our minds, for we have allowed ambitious men to bamboozle the masses with fiery rhetoric, fallacious and unscrupulous use of holy scripture, and general psychological manipulation. And the masses fall for all these mind-traps for one, salient reason-- they are too complacent to do even minimum 'due diligence.' The masses of believers are too lazy to read the scriptures and exercise the prayerful study that would easily dispell much of the misinformation they are being fed. The result over the ages has been absolutely tragic.

Finally, anyone who has read my other essays touching on religion may demand to know why I now seem to be defending religion when I am normally so critical of it. The answer is that it's due to a weakness of the English language. I am distinctly opposed to 'religion' in the sense of an organization, an institution; this is a construct of human nonsense. However, I respect 'religion' in the sense of a science of the knowledge of God; a system for elevating the human spirit. So, there is no contradiction.

In my mind, the conclusion is clear: do not blame religion for the endless conflicts among humans; the real culprits are 'religions'... and their blind believers who will not think for themselves.

Wheat and Tares (Matt 13:24-30, 36-43)

In the parable of the wheat and tares sown simultaneously in a farmer's field, Jesus explained the symbolism to his curious (and unimaginative) disciples (vs 36-32). So, we don't need to go over the basic allegory again. Still, there is the nagging quesiton: why does God allow the 'tares' to keep growing until the end of the age? Sure, Jesus gives a brief explanation. However, there may be a little more to the story that we haven't thought about... maybe because we haven't been this close to the 'harvest' before these 'latter days.'

Once we become adults, most of us think we can detect evil when we see it. Of course, most evil-doers, criminals, confidence-men, etc. try to hide their true intentions from everyone in order to accomplish their criminal activities. Yet, sooner or later, they almost always slip up-- the leopard cannot hide its spots indefinitely-- and we uncover the crimes and their perpetrators. It has been like this down thru the annals of human history. Cain killed his brother Abel, then tried to scam God with feigned innocence. For God, it's an easy matter to discern evil. But for mere mortals, it can be most difficult. We don't have moral X-ray vision that allows us to see into the psyche of others... altho some sensitive people do claim to be able to 'read the aura' of other individuals, and to detect various hidden attributes of the soul. Until we regain that ability on a general basis, we have to rely on what we observe. 'By their fruits you shall know them,' say the scriptures. And so, bad actors like Hitler, Stalin, serial killers, disgraced CEOs, and so on, are easily recognized and reviled.

The problem is that the fruit of evil can often be disguised and hidden for a long time, so that we are ignorant of the danger in our midst. This is proving to be particularly true in the case of institutions. For whatever reasons, we humans tend to have almost an inherent trust in our institutions. I'm talking about such things as governments (at least 'democratic' ones), universities and schools, churches (including 'denominations' and clergy), medical systems, corporations and so on. What the late 20th century revealed to us in often shocking terms was that these organizations can in fact be very corrupt. While presenting the outward appearance of beneficence and decorum, there emerged stories of endemic abuse of human rights, corruption of officials in positions of trust, denial of justice, illegal siphoning of funds, and a great many other perversions of the public trust. By the 21st century, many of us have become cynical of institutions of all kinds. And yet, for those who call themselves Christian, it is difficult to accept that the same corruption could affect the churches that they are affiliated with.

Yet this corruption of nominally Christian institutions is the greatest challenge that faces all who aspire to the Christ-based faith. This is not the personal paranoia of this writer; Jesus and other NT authors warned their flocks-- of their age and the ages to come-- of the great dangers posed by "wolves in sheeps' clothing" who come to destroy the church of Christ. These warnings were not minor mentions to be relegated to the remote recesses of believers' consciousness. They were delivered in stark language by every writer of NT scripture.

The most strident warnings came from Jesus himself. His words that at the 'end of the age' will come deception so powerful as to deceive 'the very elect' leave no room for cautious word wiggling by unctious preachers. Will it be impossible to discern the evil in our midst, in that case? Certainly not, I insist. At least not for those who are true followers of Christ-- not of denominations or fast-talking 'evangelists'-- and who do even a modicum of Bible self-study. The ones who will be deceived are those who think they already have all the truth they need, be it secular or religious truth. Those who have shut their minds from further evaluation of new revelation; who have hardened their attitudes towards learning anything new in the realm of religion. These are the ones who will not be able to distinguish a stalk of wheat from a weed, who will be vulnerable to the strong delusion coming from Satan's worldly puppets.

For the 'wise virgins' who seek out the additional 'oil' of knowledge for their spiritual lamps, the fruits of evil are apparent at an early stage. (Matthew 25:1-13) They can discern the good wheat from the evil weeds in our midst, without being deceived by institutional baffle-gab and self-serving obfuscation by co-opted spokespersons. In these early years of the 3rd millennium, we are seeing an increasing demarcation between good and evil... and more importantly, between 'ostensible good' and 'so-called evil.' When seedlings are young and still growing it can be difficult to tell the good plants sown by the 'farmer' (God) from the weeds sown by the 'enemy' (Satan). But when the plants mature, there can be no mistaking the heads of 'wheat' (good results) from the spikey, domineering weeds (evil works). This distinction is the fulfillment of Jesus' parable, in preparation for the coming harvest. It is God's grace that lets the tares become so evidently evil that even the 'willingly blind' will have no excuse that it was too difficult to distinguish the evil-doers.

There are well-meaning Christians who believe they must protect the Church by overlooking the evils committed by church representatives. And there are those who are using the organization in a deliberate way to achieve certain personal ends, be they financial, political, or whatever. The most pernicious 'tares' are represented by organizations that pretend to have a benign purpose, but which have become infested at the highest levels with self-seeking, ravenous leaders. Those leaders may not themselves be the hands guiding the actions of the institution, but they are in the full control of often hidden manipulators who are the real powers behind the officers. Those organizations have been carrying out their grisly business for a long time, disguising their ugliness with clever 'PR' and buying of official favor. But the day is coming when their true evil intentions and actions will be unmasked. That will presage the Day of the Harvest.

For God's unerring justice to be fully revealed with no room left for lingering doubts, it is necessary to allow the noxious weeds to flourish among the good wheat. For dim human consciousness to finally recognize evil when it pretends to be good, it is necessary to wait for the harvest. Then, at the end of this trying age, will come the answer long anticipated by the saints slain throughout the ages, the victims of those vicious tares, when they ask in Revelation 6(10): "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?".

October 5, 2006

Canada's Troops in Afghanistan

As each week passes and another flight returns from Afghanistan with the remains of one or more of our soldiers, the rhetoric of rationale is recited with increased fervor. Foreign Affairs minister MacKay notes the polls that show Canadians are highly skeptical of our role in that far-off land, but responds with the familiar refrain that he is pleased with the support Canadians are giving our troops.

Whenever challenged about the real reasons why Canadian forces are in Afghanistan, the government's standard response is to make a blatant emotional appeal to the natural desire to uphold our own. The subtext seems to be that no-one wants to be understood as criticizing our brave troops. So, the skeptics carefully explain the obvious-- that to question the mission is in no way to disapprove of our forces. In fact, it is our duty to question the mission, for the very safety of those citizens. During both World Wars, it was regarded as unpatriotic to question the conduct of the war. And history reveals that thousands of lives were needlessly lost to the sheer incompetence of both political leaders and military commanders. Had these prominent men been more accountable to the public, many soldiers would have returned home alive who, instead, spilled their blood on foreign soil.

In the unfortunate Afghanistan situation, there are humanitarian reasons one might cite to justify our presence; for example, subduing the Taliban to prevent the return to harsh Islamic rule that quashes the basic rights of women. But this government hasn't used that argument. To do so might invite questions about why we don't use the same grounds to intervene in Darfur. So, instead, our officials mumble something about making Canada safer from terrorists by attacking them in their strongholds. This is the line of reasoning borrowed from the Bush administration; and everyone knows it makes no sense. But, you can't question the mission because we don't want to shake our troops' morale.

Yet there's an especially sinister reason why we must re-evaluate our commitment to Afghanistan. If our government is really so concerned about the welfare of Canadian soldiers in the Middle East, then why are they allowing our troops to be exposed to one of the deadliest menaces in modern warfare? This menace already took its toll on 'Coalition' troops in the First Gulf War of 1991. This menace is depleted uranium dust that is created by the illegal weapons deployed by American forces. The North American media have been virtually silent about DU and its horrible effects, yet DU weapons have been used in Iraq in both Gulf Wars, and in Afghanistan. When these shells explode, they generate clouds of microscopic particles of uranium that are breathed in by all living things. That dust is virtually everywhere in Iraq, and some studies show that an area of danger radiates for about 1000 kilometers beyond Iraq.

The effects of DU on humans are well known among Gulf War veterans, and have come to be known as 'Gulf War Syndrome.' Coalition forces suffered virtually no casualties in that first Iraqi war; yet many soldiers from Britain, the US, and Canada who served in that conflict either died prematurely, or survive in a living hell of debilitating symptoms-- that are often still denied as legitimate by military health authorities in all three countries. None of the governments or military organizations involved wants the public to become aware of the terrible risks posed by depleted uranium weapons. If this knowledge became widely known, the public-- who supply the bodies and the funds for our valiant leaders' foreign adventures-- would start asking some very serious questions about the real reasons why Canadian forces are risking their lives and their future health for a highly dubious cause.

If Canadians simply stand on the sidelines cheering our brave soldiers onward, while ignoring the big questions of what we really-- and realistically-- hope to achieve in Afghanistan, we will do our troops a far greater disservice, than to speak up and demand solid answers from this government that seems willing to needlessly sacrifice Canadian lives in a futile mission. History will demonstrate, once again, that the real patriots are the peace-lovers, not the war-mongers. Every Canadian should take the time to get educated on depleted uranium weapons, and then contact the Prime Minister and his cabinet to demand some answers.