Category: intolerance

Excerpt from MOUTH: RANTS & ROUTINES

Christians and Taliban

My assertion that a fundamentalist Christian regime would be indistinguishable from the Taliban’s brutal reign in Afghanistan doesn’t sit well with some of the Jesus freaks I know, but I defend its essential accuracy and challenge anyone who believes otherwise to make their case.

C’mon, let’s hear it.

Because, to me, any theocracy, regardless of its creed or region of origin, will claim to be ruling on behalf of, or in accord with, its sacred deity. Which means all of its laws and edicts come stamped with the seal of approval of their chosen god—how can you possibly debate or amend a piece of legislation boasting the smoking signature of the Almighty?

Let’s take this one step further: if those in power believe themselves to be, literally, official spokespeople for some divine spirit, what is the point of opposition parties and free and open elections? Wouldn’t any expression of dissent, however mild, be the equivalent of willful defiance against god’s personal representatives? Wouldn’t that constitute heresy?

And you know what happens to heretics.

Theocracies aren’t big on laughs. Our great comedians and satirists wouldn’t fare well under sharia law; they would be among the first to be rounded up, for mocking the official state religion, daring use humor to make their point. Think of the former Soviet Union—some poor sonofabitch makes a joke about Stalin’s moustache and the next thing you know he’s on his way to a gulag, never to be seen again.

Know any great comedians working during the Third Reich? What are the stand-up acts like in Saudi Arabia or Iran—pretty toothless, I’m guessing.

Once a theocracy is installed, suddenly capital punishment comes back into vogue, have you noticed that? The more gruesome the method of dispatching wrongdoers, the better. Gouts of blood and torn bodies make a strong impression on the plebs.

Why stop there? Why not resurrect the lost art of stoning for dealing with adulterers and miscreants of every stripe? Chop off the hands of thieves, burn witches (and other troublesome females), bring back the Inquisition and, what the hell, crucifixion for the really intractable cases.

In some Moslem countries there are religious police who confront truant worshippers, shaming or arresting anyone who isn’t suitably attired or fails to conform to their puritanical standards.

I can see whack-job Christians nodding in agreement. “Great idea, let’s steal it…”

Yeah, like you did the virgin birth, the Great Flood, resurrection and a good deal more of the details and tenets of your faith.

Liberal education? Fuggetaboutit. Schools and universities will have their curriculums rewritten, bowdlerized, ensuring that nothing contrary to scripture makes it into young, impressionable minds.

Science? Are you kidding? The religiously inclined don’t believe in nonsense like dinosaurs or evolution or (guffaws of laughter) the moon landing.

Health professionals will be constrained by statutes outlawing abortion, birth control; we will no longer retain autonomy over our own bodies. Human rights and individual freedoms amount to nothing when they run afoul of dogma.

Sounds good to me, pipes up a grey-haired, fat, ugly, white man, speaking on behalf of the religious Right.

Fundamentalists believe we have strayed too far from our simple, god-fearing roots. We’ve forgotten our Sunday school lessons about what a jealous, vengeful deity demands of his flock and the genocidal horrors awaiting us should we wander from the appointed path into the surrounding wilderness.

The Taliban used to execute criminals and political enemies in soccer stadiums or other public venues. I’ve read reports of gay men and women thrown off high buildings, sometimes by their closest relatives. The Iranians, I recall, in the aftermath of their 1979 revolution, used to string up dissidents (“terrorists”) from cherry pickers.

But, of course, no innocent parties were ever punished by mistake.

Theocracies don’t make mistakes.

Theocracies are fair and impartial and unmarred by even the suggestion of corruption or scandal. God keeps his priests and officials on the straight and narrow. Each of them a paragon of virtue, no one abusing his/her station for personal gain.

And so any kind of oversight is an absurd concept. God watches over the ruling caste, not some outside agency (and they can quote chapter and verse why this is so).   An independent media is similarly irrelevant.

Religious fanatics making laws and rendering “just” verdicts. For some, this is the best possible scenario as far as governance goes; for the rest of us it is a prison without bars, a conversation where everyone is listening, a stagnant, oppressive society directed and administered by fiery-eyed preachers and homicidal zealots.

No privacy (that grants the possibility of critical thought).

Public displays of loyalty are mandatory.

The buses to the killing ground constantly filled to overflowing.

One stone each, wait until you get the signal.

God himself has sanctioned this punishment and, therefore, you’re not in a position where you can safely refuse to take part. Any hint of reluctance or expression of doubt is tantamount to treason.

A single tear could give you away.

And they’re always, always watching.

* * * * *

This essay appears in my collection of diatribes and broadsides Mouth: Rants & Routines, which will be published in e-book and Kindle formats later this month (Black Dog Press)

Somber Days

I won’t lie to you: it’s been a grim month here at Casa Burns.

We lost a couple of people very near and dear to our hearts and that’s never easy.

Awhile back, I posted a poem titled “The Grief Path” that did a good job of alluding to the sense of emptiness and pure anguish one experiences with the death of a loved one. It exposes the rawest emotions, the agony reaching right down into your soul, the seat of your faith. Only the passage of time offers a slim promise of solace. There is simply nothing you can do for it except keep putting one foot ahead of the other and wandering up that long, lonely track. Keening your song of sorrow and woe.

And then just when it seemed like the atmosphere was lightening, some of the spiritual and emotional pall lifting…

…the decision in the Colten Boushie case was handed down.

I had the privilege of meeting Debbie Baptiste, Colten’s mother, last summer, within weeks of her son’s senseless death at the hands of Gerald Stanley. I was immediately impressed by her poise and dignity, despite the weight of the incredible burden that poor woman was bearing. I couldn’t help wondering how she felt when she heard that terrible verdict read, realizing that in the eyes of a court of law, a fundamental Canadian institution we have been taught to honor and respect, her boy’s life was deemed worthless.

What can we say to her?

Is it sufficient to remark that sometimes Justice really is blind…and deaf and dumb too? Somehow, I doubt that will cut it. She has been let down at every point of this ordeal and at the end of the day, whatever happens next, she won’t be getting Colten back.

She and her many supporters have every right to demand answers regarding how the RCMP handled the initial investigation and their behavior toward Debbie and her grieving family in the immediate aftermath of the shooting.

I’m pleased to hear talk of altering the rules of jury selection, but don’t foresee any speedy or significant changes to a system that has failed, disproportionately, our First Nations people since before Confederation, compounding the misery that everyday, casual racism inflicts on them, the stereotypes they must endure.

The only thing that gives me hope are the on-going efforts we’re making—through education and increasing knowledge of aboriginal history, cultural exposure—to reach out to each other, share our stories, growing together as a nation of nations. I know people intimately involved in this process, men and women who recognize the power we can tap into whenever we collaborate, combining our energy and spirit on meaningful endeavors that celebrate our diversity, the collective strength of the many.

That’s why I grieve, but I do not despair.

I know in my heart the good guys are on our side and the better angels within us will prevail.

It will take time, tremendous effort but we cannot fail, cannot allow the small-minded, the vulture-hearted, to steal the future from us and color it blood red.

We’ll do it for Colten and all the others who die without fulfilling their promise.

We’ll do it for Debbie and the mothers who weep for the children taken from them.

And we’ll do it for ourselves, to prove we are worthy of our roles as stewards of Creation and the children of a wise and loving god.

 

September 11, 2007

wtcjpeg.jpgI don’t want to talk about the “lessons” of 9/11. I think that sounds too glib, professorial.

I’ve thought long and hard about writing this post, not wishing to exploit the anniversary of 9/11 just so I can have great subject headings for “tag surfers”.

I was doing my morning prayer/meditation–it was six years ago today that the Towers fell so my mind, naturally, began pondering that and I started remembering… and discovered I had vivid recollections of what transpired—

We were in the midst of our morning routine. My wife was out of town on a business trip so it was up to me to make sure my sons’ lunches were made, their homework collected and their milk moustaches wiped off before I sent them to school. Their backpacks and shoes were by the front door, coats on the banister, ready to grab on the way out…I thought I was ready.

It’s was just about 8:00 so I had another ten minutes before the school bus pulled up in front—bus2jpeg.jpg

As usual, we were listening to CBC Radio, though the reception here isn’t that great. I don’t remember the actual announcement verbatim but Sheila Coles, the regular “Morning Edition” host, came on, sounding a bit baffled, taken aback:

We’ve just received a report that a plane has struck the World Trade Center in New York…” Details were still sketchy–

By then I had the TV on and was switching back and forth between our two stations, looking for more details. Because even at that point it sounded odd. Out of all of the buildings on the New York skyline, an aircraft had smacked into the Trade Center?

At first there was nothing. I started getting the boys kitted up—and then the story broke wide open and there were interrupted broadcasts, shaken anchors and then the first footage…my God. Those of us who looked on that morning will never forget, we don’t need the commemorative issues and anniversaries. That second plane zooming into frame and then disappearing into one of the most famous, recognizable structures in the western world. Christ, even King Kong had climbed the fucking thing in that terrible 1977 remake.

kongjpeg.jpg

It was terrorism, no doubt about it. Hatred for our way of life, for our institutions and our hypocrisy. They hated us so that gave us the right to hate them right back. And we did. And do. We find it unforgivable that their tribal squabbles have led to carnage on our shores. We resent being victimized for other people’s historical (and evidently insoluble) conflicts.

Yes.

Atta and the others were fanatics, monsters. Anyone who claimed otherwise (hello, Bill Maher) in those jingoistic early days quickly paid the price for their ill-considered observations.

blowbackjpeg.jpgBlowback. When an operation on distant shores leads to shit happening right here at home.

Over 50 years of ongoing failure at trying to achieve the partition of Palestine into two equal, independent and viable states. Which has resulted in the largest refugee population in the world, a diaspora that has had a destabilizing factor on the entire region. The plight of the Palestinians is one the greatest single failures of Western diplomacy since World War II. It is the symbol in the Arab world of Western duplicity.

Hate is a powerful force. Look what can be accomplished when it is wielded by a master. Hitler. Stalin. Mao. Hate and its allies intolerance and xenophobia have caused the deaths of tens of millions in the past century…and were unquestionably responsible for those who perished in the Towers, the Pentagon and that field in rural Pennsylvania.

And in the midst of my meditation, a thought: this is what we come to when we reject our spiritual aspects and defy moral absolutes, the kinds of teachings passed down by religious figures and enlightened individuals for thousands of years.

This is what happens when you kill God (figuratively speaking).

hitchensjpeg.jpgI’ll agree with Christopher Hitchens and all the folks who subscribe to The Skeptical Inquirer: religion (man’s truncated version of God’s divine plan) has caused incredible suffering and privation…but I also hasten to point out what happens when you remove God from the equation: our species’ unbridled cruelty and greed (no longer held in check by fear of judgement or operating under divine fiat) running rampant, resulting in mass murder and the subjugation and exploitation of great populations…

God wasn’t responsible for the witch hunts, the Inquisition, World War I and II, Dresden, Hiroshima, the Holocaust, the Cold War, the atrocities of Pol Pot, Idi Amin, Charles Taylor. All were the result of human agents acting on behalf of a small cadre of brutal men. Am I simplifying or is this not historically accurate?

Put it this way: what possible part in God’s great creation could the horrors of Auschwitz play? The “killing fields” of Cambodia. The ghosts of Kigali. It’s ludicrous to suggest unseen hands at work when there is such overwhelming evidence of human culpability. Genocides occur because people are complicit by deed or negligence. Pinning the blame on God won’t wash, philosophically, theologically or any other way you want to look at it.

Every single religion I know of decries senseless bloodshed and counsels some form of tolerant co-existence with neighbours, even rivals and enemies. Each requires a code of conduct from its adherents and demands that they offer safety and shelter to strangers, charity and succor to those in need. None sanction cruel, lawless behavior and there are often stern punishments ordained (either in this life or the next) for those who fail to live up to the highest principles of their belief system.

skyjpeg.jpgGod did not cause 9/11.

What happened that day wasn’t divine punishment handed down by the vengeful god of Pat Robertson…and certainly not the true, revealed God (Blessed be His Name) of Mohammed Atta et all. God was not with Atta and his pitiless companions six years ago. He had been driven out by the hate that consumed them, distorting and withering their souls.

God is blameless, not responsible for the schemes of such men. They deny the message of the great scriptures, repudiate His will and desecrate the legacy of the teachers and prophets He has seen fit to send us.

It is God’s will that we flourish and thrive as a species.

If we falter, it is by our choice…and if we fall far enough, our savage natures and stupid indifference will consign us forever to a netherworld of perpetual fear and suspicion.

And even there, I think, God will not forsake us.

gods-hand.jpg