Holy Week?

As Easter morning, the most holy time for the Christian church approaches, it strikes me as ironic that the U.S., arguably the most Christian nation on earth with a Christian president elected by Christians, dropped somewhere between $60 million and $400 million of bombs and missiles on two different countries this week (depending on whose numbers you use).

According to cost estimates from Feed the Children, it costs about $1.00/day to feed a child in Africa. That means the money the U.S. military spent bombing Afghanistan and Syria this Holy Week could have fed between 164,000 and 1.1 million African children for a year.

On this Easter, I have to ask Christians, “What do you think Jesus would have done?”

#WhoWouldJesusBomb  #LoveYourNeighbor

The 'Mother of All Bombs'

Trinity Western, Religious Freedom and Law School

Determining the appropriate boundaries of freedom, particularly religious freedom, can be complicated.  Trinity Western University is a private Christian school outside of Vancouver in British Columbia.  TWU wants to open a law school.  The complication is that they require faculty, staff and students to sign a covenant that prohibits same-sex intimacy.  In other words, they discriminate against homosexuals in their hiring and admissions based on their religious beliefs.  In order to open a law school, TWU needs to be accredited by a Law Society.  The Law Societies in B.C., Nova Scotia and Ontario have all refused to accredit TWU on the basis of its discriminatory practices.  In response, TWU is claiming their “concerns for religious freedom and liberty of conscience” are being violated.  Does not allowing TWU to have a law school infringe upon its religious freedom?

Most people would likely agree that a private religious organization that gets no support from the government has a right to only admit people who conform to its religious views—whether it’s a church or a school.  That’s freedom of religion and it isn’t dependent on the correctness of the organization’s views.

The B.C. Law Society’s refusal is based on both “statutory mandate and constitutional obligations” as well as the view of its members that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is wrong.  It isn’t a religious organization, but the society and its members clearly have a moral view regarding this discrimination.  So the irony is that TWU is attempting to preserve its own “liberty of conscience” while forcing the members of Law Society to violate their own standards of morality.

Does the freedom and morality of a religious organization trump the freedom and morality of people who may or may not be religious but are members of a nonreligious organization?  More fundamentally, does refusing to accredit a law school at a university really mean that religious freedom is being compromised?

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms states, “Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms:

  1. Freedom of conscience and religion;
  2. Freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication;
  3. Freedom of peaceful assembly; and
  4. Freedom of association.”

Clearly freedom of religion is protected, but operating an accredited law school appears to have nothing to do with religious activities.

The issue is not black and white, but the line of thinking that TWU is pursuing seems tenuous at best.  On the basis of its religious principles, TWU claims the right to discriminate in its hiring and admissions.  That seems well established as a protected right.  However, it is also demanding that the B.C. Law Society implicitly endorse its discrimination so that it can enter a field that has nothing to do with religious practice.  Freedom of religion should be an inviolable right, but that right should be centered around the freedom required to practice religion–beliefs, expression, speech and assembly.  TWU is expecting the right to discriminate against or exclude a segment of society in an area unrelated to practicing religion.  That seems like an expansionist approach to defining religious liberty to me, but I guess it will be left to the courts to decide.

TWU covenant not unlawful, Nova Scotia judge rules in law school case:   Vancouver Sun

Gun Violence – The U.S. vs. Everyone Else

Given the recent spate of shootings of police officers and by police officers, my mind continues to go back to the following article that I wrote about six months ago:

After yet another school shooting, I just had to ask. What’s the most effective way to limit gun violence? I am an analyst by nature, education and vocation. I am also driven by logic and reason. So I couldn’t help pulling together some numbers when the question came to me. For the most part, it’s just numbers and facts. The numbers are what they are. So bear with me and tag along if you’re interested…

To ensure that I don’t get shot by some random mentally-unbalanced person who is having a bad day, a government will generally use one of two approaches. One is to allow me to carry a gun. I can then attempt to determine when that person is about to shoot me and try to shoot him first. The other approach is to attempt to prevent either one of us from having a gun. By definition, one of those two approaches has to be better than the other.

The approach in the U.S. is the former as relatively completely unrestricted gun ownership is considered an important constitutional right. The U.S. has 89 guns per 100 residents, by far the highest rate of gun ownership of any country in the world. Serbia is the next closest at 56 and most other countries range from near zero up to 30 guns per 100 residents. In 2005, the U.S. had a firearm-related death rate of just over 10 people per 100,000 residents, about 10% lower than Mexico which is in a virtual civil war with drug cartels.

Most other developed countries use the latter approach, with nationwide laws that restrict ownership of certain types of guns, require registration, etc. Based on a simple average (because I’m too lazy to do a population-weighted average) of the UK, Netherlands, Spain, Australia, Germany, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Canada, and France, the firearm-related death rate is in those countries is about 1.3 people per 100,000 residents or about 13% of the rate in the U.S.

Using this data, I can confidently forecast that barring dramatic changes, the U.S. will continue to have approximately 8.7 people per 100,000 residents die from firearms each year over and above the number that would die in similar developed countries—that’s 27,840 additional people per year based on the U.S. population of 320 million.

I know that correlation is not causation. The fact that guns are present does not by definition mean they are the cause. But what are the more logical, reasonable alternatives? Does the U.S. has eight times as many mentally ill, angry or evil people per capita as other developed countries?

Freedom can take different forms. Allowing anyone and everyone to have as many guns as they want of any type is one form of freedom. Living your life in peace with your family, without worrying about being in the wrong place when a disgruntled student, employee, shopper or former spouse cuts loose with an assault rifle, is another form of freedom.

I know the choice I would make. And when yet another inevitable shooting takes place, I’ll pause for a moment and feel sad for this year’s 27,840 unlucky U.S. residents who were born in a country where the ideology of unrestricted access to guns was considered more important than their lives.

Note:  Unfortunately, I haven’t retained the data sources, but it came from credible, publicly available sources.

Torture and U.S. Christians

White Christian Evangelicals and white Catholics are among the Americans most likely (68%) to say that torture is “often justified” or “sometimes justified” in the latest poll.

I missed that verse in the bible when I was growing up and being taught what it meant to be a Christian.  But there it is in Republicans 3:16 from the latest translation.  Right after the edict to love your neighbor, Jesus says, “You have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, but I say unto you, if there’s even a chance he might have any useful information, go ahead and waterboard the bastard.”  How could I have missed it?

Among that same group, consisting of people who generally claim that the Bible is the “divinely inspired” and/or “inerrant” word of God, only 11-12% say that torture is never justified.  I find this incredibly ironic and appalling.  Meanwhile, 32% of people who claim no religion say that it is never justified.

It used to be that tales of secret police quietly arresting people under the cover of night, imprisoning them indefinitely without a trial and torturing them only came from places like El Salvador, East Germany and the Soviet Union.  We now know it’s happened in the land of “liberty and justice for ALL” and most Americans, particularly religious people, don’t seem to mind.

What does the Christian church in the U.S. stand for today?  It doesn’t seem to include the most fundamental biblical imperatives to love our neighbors, act justly, love mercy and treat others as we would be treated.

God bless America?  I can’t imagine why he would.

Ferguson and the Two Realities

I don’t have the knowledge of the evidence or the legal background to know whether the decision not to indict the officer who shot Michael Brown represents justice.  But after making the mistake of looking at my Facebook feed, I am saddened and discouraged by the reaction to the decision.  Certainly, I feel bad for the family of Mr. Brown, but it’s more than that.

Lee Atwater, a political strategist, once said,

Perception is reality.

Yesterday’s decision and the reactions once again make it clear once again that there are two distinct perceptions and two distinct realities of life in the U.S.

One reality is the America where economic opportunity is only limited by a person’s willingness to get an education and work hard.  In this reality, people who need government assistance are lazy indigents and need to just get a job. It’s an America of pleasant suburbs, good schools, dual incomes and the potential for upward mobility.  In this America, justice is applied equally and fairly.  A young black male shouldn’t have been walking in the middle of the street or shouldn’t have had his hands in his pockets or shouldn’t have made an aggressive move.

The other reality is the America where jobs are scarce and businesses are closed.  Even those with jobs frequently work part-time and for minimum wage, living in poverty and using food stamps to feed their children.  Neighborhoods are in decay, violence is endemic and hopelessness is prevalent.  Mothers pray for their children to escape the bullets and gangs on their way home from school.  Young black males with no jobs, no role models and no future wander the streets, wondering when they will next be harassed by the cops.

The rare person who does bridge the gap between the realities frequently lives under a cloud of suspicion.  Mothers leave the park when he arrives, women cross the street when he comes down the sidewalk or neighbors assume that he’s the gardener.  Police pull him over in his own neighborhood to search his car under the pretext of the license plate bulb not working properly.

We need to build a bridge between the two realities.  And more than anything, we need empathy.  If every white American were to wear the skin of a young black male or a poor, single mother for a week or even a day, I suspect our views, our reactions and our proposed solutions would be different.

Until we acknowledge that there are two realities, the killing of Michael Brown and the unrest that followed is destined to repeat itself in another city. Until we have empathy for our neighbors who live in the other reality and commit to changing it, we will be complicit in maintaining the divide.

Awe and Obligation

In my view, religion is constituted by two distinct but related impulses: a sense of awe and a sense of obligation. The feeling of awe emerges from our experience of the grandeur of life and the mystery of the divine. This feeling becomes religious when a sense of obligation lays claim to us, and we feel a duty to the larger life that we share…

What should be our defining religious discipline? While obedience, love, and even submission each play a vital role in the life of faith, my current conviction is that our defining discipline should be gratitude…

The discipline of gratitude reminds us how utterly dependent we are on the people and world around us for everything that matters. From this flows an ethic of gratitude that obligates us to create a future that justifies an increasing sense of gratitude from the human family as a whole. The ethic of gratitude demands that we nurture the world that nurtures us in return.

– Galen Guengerich from “The Heart of Our Faith”

What If I’m Wrong?

If I believe that my particular perspective or solution for any given political, religious or social issue is the only right view, it creates a problem.  It means that everyone else in the world who thinks differently is wrong.  That seems both arrogant and dangerous.

Katheryn Schulz has an insightful TED talk on the subject.

Think for a moment about what it means to feel right. It means that you think that your beliefs just perfectly reflect reality. And when you feel that way, you’ve got a problem to solve, which is, how are you going to explain all of those people who disagree with you? It turns out, most of us explain those people the same way, by resorting to a series of unfortunate assumptions. The first thing we usually do when someone disagrees with us is we just assume they’re ignorant.

If we would all ask ourselves, “Is there some possibility that I’m wrong?” before we respond to others, the world would be a better place.