Category Archives: religion

Liberalism: A response to Extremism

 

I recently commented about the recent uncomfortable rise of violence inspired by religious fervor. This is not a new phenomenon. Our history is soaked in the blood.

The people of Europe have paid a hefty price in lives for disputes over religion. It is estimated that 1 million were killed in the Arian schism, another 1 million  during the Carthaginian struggle, 7 million during the Saracen slaughters in Spain, 5 million during the Crusades, 2 million Saxons and Scandinavians were killed resisting conversion to Christianity, and yet another 1 million  killed in Holy Wars against the Dutch, Albigenses, Waldenses, and Huguenots.  The cost of religion is high.

Of course in the Americas estimated again vary but some have suggested that 30 million indigenous people were slaughtered resisting the benefits of Christianity and perhaps 9 million burned as witches. Of cou8rse religion was usually not the sole cause for slaughter, but often it helped.

Much of Europe was devastated by the Religious wars of the 17thcentury. The conflicts culminated in the Thirty Years War from 1618 to 1648. These were often religious wars at least nominally, but not entirely of religion. Of course we have to remember that these wars were fought by Christian countries and Christian princes. They were not wars against he infidels.  After the Reformation the various Protestant   Christian sects and the former universal Church—i.e. the Roman Catholic Church—were all eager for a fight. These were wars of Christians against Christians.

By the time the major wars of the 17thcentury were over, Germany which was the scene of much of the fighting, was ravaged and one-third of its people were killed. In some areas more than half the population were killed. For example the Swedish army alone destroyed 2,000 castles, 18,000 villages, and 1,500 towns during its 17 years in Germany. For decades mercenary armies and armed bandits roamed Germany like a packs of vicious wolves slaughtering people like sheep.

Most of Europe participated in the wars. It began as a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics, but ended as a political fight over who would control Europe. Huge swaths of Europe had been scavenged bare and much of Europe by foraging armies. Massive damage was inflicted on churches, monasteries and other religious institutions. By the time the war was ending Catholic France joined the Protestant side because it feared the rise of Catholic Hapsburg power. Many of the European powers involved were bankrupted and famine and disease were rampant.

Although calculations vary, some counted the dead this way:  France and Austria lost 80,000 each, Spain 300,000, Sweden and Finland 110,000, German principalities 400,000. Other countries lost lesser people.

When the wars were over, or at least had subsided, most of Europe was understandably sick of religious wars. Nearly everyone agreed a better way was needed. After that with only minor exceptions, Christianity ceased to be an important motivator for mass scale murder. Someone should be thanked for that, but I am not sure it is God.

I would suggest that as a response to all of this slaughter an important philosophy arose: Liberalism. It is not supported enthusiastically in many places these days. That is a pity, because it is the anti-dote to extremism of all stripes.  And by liberalism I do not mean its bastard offspring such as the Liberal Party or even worse, neoliberalism.  But liberalism was a better way. British philosopher John Locke is often considered the father of Liberalism. He advocated for tolerance, which really means respect for others even if you disagree with them. The world at the end of the 17thcentury and then again at the end of the 20thcentury was in short supply of tolerance. It still is.

The Reformation and the problem of religious minorities were central to Locke’s political philosophy because those were the burning issues (literally burning issues) of his times. Until then this was not an issue at all because values were shared. Everyone in Europe was a Roman Catholic. Until then the issue of minority rights did not arise for there were no minorities.

But after the Reformation and the bloody wars that followed in its wake political theorists had to figure out how can we live together in a society when we don’t all share the same values? That is a problem that continues to haunt us today, as can be seen by the recent spate of religiously inspired murders in the last year.

According to University of Manitoba Professor, Steve Lecce, the key question of modern and contemporary political theory is “How should we live together in society when we don’t all share the same values?[1]Where values diverge, as they now inevitably do in any post Reformation society, and in particular in modern societies that include immigrants from around the world, how can we live together in peace and harmony without resorting to might is right or without resorting to the ability of the majority to crush the minority? Liberals say that there are some things the majority or the powerful should notbe able to do. First we need a method of settling disputes fairly. Fair tribunals such as courts of law. The state has to be like a referee or umpire.

This was very important in the Reformation when religious freedom was the critical issue of the time. It is still important. Until the Reformation a common religion bound us all so that this was not an important issue. Religion until then was the social glue that kept us together. After the Reformation, religion became an explosive issue that could blast society apart. And it often did and continues to do. Before the Reformation religion was the basis of societal trust.  After the Reformation religion became an instrument of distrust. We still live in this post-Reformation world.

There were 2 possible solutions to this problem of religion after the Reformation:

 

  • A religion can be imposed by force to achieve religious unity. This was tried with great vigor in the religious wars of the 17th The result was great misery and abject failure.
  • The second possible solution is the radical idea proposed by Liberals like John Locke–toleration. That had never been tried before. It was truly deeply revolutionary. It is important to remember this when modern liberals are often seen as dull and boring theoreticians. They are considered bloodless. Now we should realize that is a good thing. In the 18thcentury this idea was profoundly revolutionary. Many hated the idea of tolerance because they saw it as capitulation to evil.  Liberals said we had to accept differences.

 

Nowadays toleration, a value that was revolutionary in its day, and I would submit, is revolutionary today, can seem like very thin gruel compared to the spicy virtues reflected by much more aggressive and powerful groups like ISIS, Boko Haram, the alt-right, Antifa, Donald Trump, and their ilk. It can seem wishy-washy just like–well—liberals. It can seem humble. I think that is a good thing. The classic liberals like John Locke stand for permitting others to have their say. This is much less sexy than threatening to ban them, or build a wall to keep them out, or kill them. However, in a world charged with the most vicious of religious hatreds like that of Europe in the 17thcentury or our current world in the 21stcentury, tolerance is not wishy-washy at all. After all the 17thand 20thcenturies were the two most violent centuries in the past 500 years according to Steven Pinker. [2]Tolerance is the most vital of all the virtues! Liberals have to step to the plate with vigor and confidence. I would suggest that liberals actually represent our only chance for civilization to endure.  At least so liberals believe. And I tend to agree (in a wishy-washy way of course).

In the 17thcentury there were those who feared the worst from this revolutionary new idea of tolerance.  Would this not lead to the destruction of public morality?  Personal morality should never be permitted to undermine public morality, it was widely believed. This in fact is the essence of Conservatism! It is stillthe essence of Conservatism.

Liberals challenge this view. Liberals hold that we can each freely have our own personal opinions and morality without challenging the social order or value of society. Let people disagree. We can all get along provided each of us accepts limits. This will not destroy society. In fact modern liberals believe that the diversity of modern society will strengthen not weaken society. That means that we must put reasonable limits on our religious values too. We can hold them personally as much as we want, as vigorously as we want, but we cannot imposethose values on others. Even the majority should not do that. Real democracy is not rule by the majority. It is the rule of the majority within limits. That’s what liberal democracy is all about. The goal of imposing religious values was rightly discredited after the religious wars of the 17thcentury. We don’t want to go back there.

[1]Steven Lecce, “Right Wing, Left Wing, and In between,” April 14, 2016 at University of Manitoba

[2]Steven Pinker, The Better Angels of Our Nature, (2012) Penguin Books, p. 51

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Slaughter by Divine Right

Things have been getting strange. Nearly every day it seems like the crazies are winning.

For a number of years Myanmar has been wracked by murderous attacks against a Muslim minority group of Rohingya people. Myanmar is a Buddhist majority country with a significant Muslim minority. The UN states that the Rohingya people of Myanmar are among the most persecuted people in the world at this time. Myanmar security forces have driven the Rohingya people  off their land, burned down their mosques and committed widespread looting, arson and rape of Rohingya women.

There have been a lot of mass shootings recently involving religious groups from around the world.   We read about a shooting in a mosque in Quebec City in January 2017 where 6 worshippers were shot and killed while 19 more were injured. The lone gunman opened fire just after evening prayers.

In October 2018 at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburg Pennsylvania 11 people were murdered and 6 more injured by a gunman. This was the deadliest attack against the American Jewish community in U.S. history. The massacre was an unprecedented act of violence against American Jews—but it is by no means the first time that anti-Semitism has manifested itself in deadly violence against Jews in the United States.

In March 2019 there were 2 consecutive terrorist attacks at mosques in Christchurch New Zealand during Friday Prayer. The gunman who came all the way from Australia, launched two consecutive attacks that began at one mosque and continued at an Islamic Centre.  This case was also distinguished by the fact that the gunman live-streamed his first attack on Facebook. 50 people were killed and another 50 injured. These were the deadliest mass shootings in the history of New Zealand. The 28 year old gunman was described as a white supremacist and part of the alt-right movement that many Christians in America support. Just before the shooting he played “Serbia Strong” a nationalist song celebrating Radovan Karadžić who was found guilty of genocide against Bosnian Muslims.

In April 2019, on Easter Sunday, 3 Christian churches across Sri Lanka and 3 luxury hotels were targeted by  suicide bombers in series of coordinated suicide bombings. Approximately 253 people were killed and another 500 people injured. This attack was believed to be in retaliation to the shootings in New Zealand. This is the fact caught my eye. Sri Lankan government officials said the attacks were carried out by Sri Lankan citizens associated with National Thowheeth Jama’ath a local militant Islamist group with suspected foreign ties. The group was  previously known for attacks against Buddhists. The direct linkage between the two attacks was questioned by some experts. Yet these were clearly coordinated slaughters by a group of extremist Muslims apparently in retaliation for the recent attacks of the mosque in Christchurch New Zealand.

Then a couple of days ago, 6 months to the day after the slaughter at the synagogue in Pittsburg, there was another attack near a synagogue in California  where a man shot 4 people and killing one of them.  The suspect who turned himself in posted an 8-page manifesto online in which he boasted about being from “European ancestry” and expressed hatred of Jews.  He even said he had taken inspiration from the New Zealand mosque shooter in March of this year.

What do all of these events have in common? Violence? For sure. But violence of a particular sort. Violence in favor of or against a particular religion.  This is deeply disturbing. Have we entered the era of religious world wars?  They are happening everywhere.  What is happening here?

One of my favorite poets, William Butler Yeats, seemed to understand it best. As he said in his great poem “The Second Coming” which he wrote nearly exactly 100 years ago:

 

Turning and turning in the widening gyre

The falcon cannot hear the falconer;

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;

Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,

The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere

The ceremony of innocence is drowned;

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity. 

Surely some revelation is at hand;

Surely the Second Coming is at hand.

 

The Second Coming!

Hardly are those words out

When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi

Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert

A shape with lion body and the head of a man,

A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,

Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it

Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again; but now I know

That twenty centuries of stony sleep

Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,

And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,

Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

 

Although this poem presages a “Second Coming” in the poem it is a nightmare. Just like the Roman World was shocked by the arrival of Christ, Yeats suggests, our world will be shocked and rocked by the new arrival. It will happen he suggest, about 2,000 years after Chris was born. About now in other words. It will be a “rough beast” that slouches toward Bethlehem waiting “to be born.” It will “trouble our sight”.  It will loose another “blood-dimmed tide” and may drown “the ceremony of innocence” once again. As the narrator of the poem seems to fear, it will no doubt wreak havoc and terror.

Is this the terror that is approaching? Is the beast moving its horrifying  “slow thighs?” Things are falling apart and the centre no longer holds. “Mere anarchy” is loosed upon the world. Why “mere” anarchy? The Extremists are taking over. The religious wars are back again. The rest of us are doomed.So it seems.

As I have said elsewhere, when religion leads to hate it is no longer religion. What we have is actually a toxic brew of hate and racism. All of these are inimical to genuine religion, but find fertile ground in the soil of pseudo-religion.

Some people (too many people) seem to believe that they have the divinely granted right to slaughter other people as a result of having been issued a licence to kill by their personal revengeful god. How can this be? Where do we go from here?

Priests and Nuns

 

Priests have been not just been assaulting young girls and boys in their parishes. They have found other victims. They have found nuns.

I heard a former nun speaking on NPR and she demonstrated this phenomenon. She said that when she was a nun she was not allowed to think for herself. She was always taught that priests were superior to her, as was her Mother Superior. It was her duty to do as they directed without question. With hindsight, she believes this was spiritual abuse that prepared the way for later physical abuse.

One day a priest came to visit her in her room, and he started to remove her clothes. She told him, “You are not allowed to do this.”  He continued his actions. He continued to remove her clothes and then raped her. She felt compelled not to scream out. After all she was expected to do as the priest desired.

When the nun reported the incident to her Mother Superior, the superior got so upset that we was shaking violently and jumped on the table shouting wildly. And she was shouting at the nun. The Mother Superior was radically upset at the nun. She was mad at the nun for reporting the incident. Of course she did nothing to help the nun. Somehow it must have been the nun’s fault. The priests could do harm in the eyes of the Mother Superior.

Only years later did the nun realize that this was part of a pattern of abuse in the church. When she learned how some priests had abused young girls and young boys, the nun realized that she had to speak up. She had to challenge the abuse. She realized she had to speak out, even though other members of her church would not support her for that. Everyone believed the nun had done something she should not have done to lure the priest into trouble. It was the victim’s fault.

The woman who interviewed the nun could not understand how this happened. The nun explained to the interviewer that this is what happens often. When powerful men have power over powerless, defenceless, or vulnerable women (or even worse children) some men choose to use that power for their own self-satisfaction.

Such abuse reveals an ugly element of abuse. When the abuser is thought to have authority from God the abuse is even more poisonous. If God sanctions it, the victim feels, it must be all right.

Of course this is problem that is not unique to the Roman Catholic Church. It is a problem in every region where men have authority over women

This is actually what happens in many institutions. For example, this year in Phoenix it was discovered that a man who worked in an institution of seniors, had impregnated a woman who was basically in a vegetative state. When the powerful find themselves in control of the vulnerable, power often leads to sin.

The same thing happens in politics. As Martin Luther King said, the United States is the world’s greatest purveyor of violence. The United States is the most powerful country in the world, and it uses that power to get what it wants, as powerful countries have done since time began. The problem is inequality of power, not who is holding it.

Recently I suggested that maybe it is time to give women the chance to have power over men. I was not really serious about that. I don’t want anyone to have power over others because so often it leads to abuse. What I really want to see is equality, not just a changing of the guard.

Male Dominance: a Dying Ideology

 

There have been more discussions of the ongoing mess in the Catholic Church. Recently the highest Catholic yet was found guilty of sexually assaulting young boys. The mess never seems to stop.

It is my belief that this will never stop until the Catholic Church democratizes and adds women as full members including giving them the right to become priests. The bishops just don’t catch on. Pope Francis called a meeting of cardinals and bishops to discuss the issue in Rome. What took so long?

We heard a leading Catholic bishop from Chicago discuss the issue. He acknowledged that women had to play an important role in the church. He said before he makes any important decisions he always asks for advicefrom women in the church.  The bishop did not realize that this is not good enough. The reason is that he“decides.”  Women can give advice but only men decide.  That is a big difference.

The Roman Catholic Church needs transformation and until male dominance is ended it will never learn. The sickness in the church will continue. It is in its DNA. Male dominance must collapse or the church will.

I still remember seeing a portrait of the board of directors of T.E. Eaton’s and Sons just before they went bankrupt. Each and every member of the board was a man. Not one woman. Most of them, if not all, were also white. No one took into consideration that most shoppers are women. So how could women’s views be important? To me it was not surprising that a company that had been dominant in Canadian retail shopping went belly-up after 110 years in business. Could the same happen to the Catholic Church? Why not?

Male dominance is a dying ideology. It can’t die fast enough. It won’t be missed.

Sometimes it pays to listen to your spouse: Dead Cold by Louise Penny

Dead Cold

By Louise Penny

When I first heard about Louise Penny I was very surprised. She had been an unexceptional host on CBC radio in Winnipeg. As a regular CBC listener, I listened to her nearly every day. I heard she had moved to Quebec. Much to my surprise she wrote a book called Still Life. It was a murder mystery that took place in a small fictional village in the eastern townships called 3 Pines.  I found it a little difficult to believe that she could be any good. How could a young woman from Winnipeg be a good mystery writer? That prejudice shows you how stupid I can be. Later I learned she was on the New York Times bestseller list. That did not seem improbable; it seemed impossible.

Sometimes it pays to listen to your spouse. Chris became a Penny  fan and suggested I read her too. It took me a couple of years to follow her suggestions. Funny, how suggestions from a spouse are the last that are followed. And Chris says, “Should be the first to be followed. As a matter of fact, since Chris is a big mystery fan, when I learned this Winnipeg woman was an internationally respected mystery writer, I suggested she read her. Now Chris has conveniently forgotten my suggestion to her! Funny how that happens!

Eventually I read her first novel and concluded Penny is indeed a very good writer. Chris was right. Again I have to admit that.  I have started to read her series now. Chris has read them all. This year I read the second in the series, Dead Cold. This convinced me that Penny is an exceptional writer.

One of the great pleasures of the series is Penny’s description of this small town in Quebec and it’s many fascinating inhabitants. This is how she describes the small town in her second novel:

“Three Pines had what she craved.

It had croissants and café au lait.It had steak fries and the New York Times. It had a bakery, a bistro, a B & B, a general store. It had peace and stillness and laughter. It had great joy and great sadness and the ability to accept both and be content. It had companionship and kindness.”

         There was one outstanding incident in Dead Cold that I want to mention. It involved Clara, a recurring character in the series. Clara is an artist. So far she has toiled without success. She does not know if she is any good or not. Naturally she was insecure. She asked CC, who Clara wrongly thought was a friend, to introduce her art to a Montreal art critic.  Then one day she encountered CC on an escalator in a Montreal department store, and CC, her erstwhile “friend” pretended to be talking to the critic as she was travelling down the escalator and Clara was travelling up.  She led Clara to believe that the critic had dismissed her art as “amateur and banal.”  It was cruel gesture and entirely deflated Clara. Clara was “murdered by words.” She “knew” her art was crap.

A few minutes after this painful incident,  Clara encountered a homeless bum on the streets of Montreal. The bum was lying on the ground covered in vomit and excrement. The bum was an old woman. Clara intended to give her a bag of food. She almost stopped; the smell was so bad. Yet she continued and placed the bag beside the old woman. Amazingly, the old woman turned up to Clara and said, “I always loved your art, Clara.” How could that be?

For some reason, Clara was convinced this bum was God. The shit-covered bag lady was God!  She thought she had met God. In my opinion Clara was wrong. She had not met God; she had become God. By offering food to the bum she became God. The Buddhists say that we must learn to become the Buddha. This is what Clara had done, and in the process she was redeemed. This is what we should do; we should become God. I believed that this is what genuine religion is all about. Religion leads us to the God within.

All of this in a mystery novel. Funny how that happens.

David Suzuki and the Indigenous Attitude to Nature

At the University of Winnipeg talk after showing the film Beyond Climate, Suzuki also discussed a new attitude to nature. He  began by talking about the American economy.

After World War II and the end of the Great Depression, America President Franklin Roosevelt realized that the war economy had saved capitalism from self-destruction. But a war economy carries with it enormous unpalatable costs far beyond mere economic costs. He realized that what it needs is consumption. Constant relentless consumption. That was his solution.

Of course what the United States has actually done is to maintain both a consumer economy and war economy. The U.S. spends as much on the military as the 9 countries that are next in line, spend combined.

Suzuki thought we needed a better way. Climate change was just one of the things such an attitude had ushered in. He said  he had learned a lot from indigenous people. In fact he said, “Indigenous people have taught me all I know.” This was important because much of the film dealt with the opposition of First Nations to the plans of Alberta and the Canadian government to build pipelines from the Oil Sands of Alberta to transport liquefied natural gas (LNG) or oil or bitumen to the coast of British Columbia. Alberta was upset that the federal government could not ram through the pipeline approval process. Of course that is just not feasible. Those days are done. The Supreme Court won’t put up with it.

In the late 1970s Suzuki realized that we needed a new attitude to nature. And he found it. He found it in the 1980s when he went to interview indigenous people at Haida Gwaii. He wanted to talk to them about the protests by indigenous people over logging on their land. He talked to forest company executives, environmentalists, politicians, and, most importantly Haida. That was how he met Guujaaw a young artist who was leading the Haida opposition to the logging.

Suzuki wondered why the Haida were so vehemently opposed to logging since many of their own people got jobs with  logging companies. And many of them badly needed jobs. Suzuki asked him, “What would happen if the trees were cut down?”  His reply was profound, but Suzuki did not realize at first how profound. Guujaaw said, “Then we’ll be like everyone else, I guess.”

A few days later Suzuki thought about that answer and it “opened a window on a radically different way of seeing the world.” As we keep getting reports from the World Wildlife Fund and others about the incredible impact humans are having on the world, I think a new attitude to nature is exactly what we badly need. Suzuki explained it this way,

“Guujaaw and the Haida do not see themselves as ending at their skin or fingertips. Of course they would still be around physically if the trees were all gone, but a part of what it is to be Haida would be lost.  The trees, fish, birds, air, water, and rocks are all part of who the Haida are. The land and everything on it embody their history, their culture, the very reasons why Haida are on this earth. Sever that connection and they become ‘like everybody else.”

Indigenous people around the world have similar attitudes. They  are based on a deep attachment to the land they occupy. They are connected to that environment. It is part of who they are. Suzuki like other people from the west had a different attitude to nature and that has made all the difference. To the Haida, and other indigenous people, and as Suzuki concluded,

 

“…there is no environment ‘out there,’ separate and apart from us; I came to realize that we are the environment. Leading science corroborates this ancient understanding that whatever we do to the environment or to anything else, we do directly to ourselves.The ‘environmental’ crisis is a ‘human’ crisis; we are at the centre of it as both the cause the victims.”

 Suzuki realized he had found the new perspective he needed. It allowed him to see the world through different eyes.  He realized, as the Haida had before him, that what we needed to survive and thrive was not more money in order to live rich and healthy lives. This new attitude to nature was reflected in all the Haida did and found its fruits in how they wanted to interact with the land. As Suzuki said, “Rather than being separate and apart from the rest of nature, we are deeply embedded in and utterly dependent on the generosity of the biosphere.” I use the word “affinity” to describe this new attitude to nature. I will comment on again in these blogs.

It is this attitude that Albertans don’t understand. It is not just a matter of paying the Indigenous people money. They want jobs, they want money, but not at any cost. They don’t want it at the cost of their identity. That is why some of the indigenous people, but not all of them, do not want pipelines on their land and will sacrifice the jobs if necessary. I know that seems bizarre to Albertans and most Canadians for that matter. Alberta and Canada have to learn to respect that. Only then will they be able to successfully deal with Canada’s first nations.  And perhaps Canada will learn something valuable in the process. Perhaps there is something of value in that new attitude to nature.

Gimme Some Truth; Beyond Climate

 

 

 

I attended the showing of a new film on climate change at the University of Winnipeg in November  2018 as part of the Cinematheque Gimme Some Truth documentary film festival. The film was called Beyond Climate Change and was directed by Ian Mauro of the University of Winnipeg and narrated by David Suzuki. Cinematography was by Len Peterson. The showing was followed by a discussion between Mauro and Suzuki during which  Suzuki delivered a stirring address that all the ingredients of a lively religious Revival. I called it a secular revival.

The film was preceded by an important message by First Nation elder Dave Courchene of Manitoba. He emphasized some important matters. I will paraphrase his remarks since it was impossible to make an accurate word-for-word transcription. He said that climate change was a direct consequence of our moral failure to follow our moral obligation to moderate our consumption and protect the earth. Our consumptive society, he said, is based on fear, greed, anxiety, stress, discontent, and ultimately genocide. Those were unsettling words. He said, “We are a species out of control.”  This attitude comes from looking at the earth as a non-living entity.  “We need a change of heart to survive as a species,” he quietly but powerful said. We must remember, as aboriginals have always preached, “What we do to the earth, we do to ourselves.” This of course follows from the fundamental premise of many indigenous people that we are fundamentally connected to the earth; we are not separate and apart from it. We have to renew the spirit—i.e. we need to awaken our deep feeling of kinship and affinity with each other and the earth itself. I have already blogged about how this is in my opinion a deeply religions notion.

Courchene added, “We need to disengage with a life that is not in alignment with the earth and aboriginals have an important role to play in this process. They can help the rest of us do this.”

Early in the film Suzuki quoted from American poet and environmentalist Gary Snyder. He was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Petr Kopecký called him “the Poet laureate of Deep Ecology”. Snyder, according to Suzuki said that the two most important words were “Stay Put.” I think he meant that we should resist being removed from the place we call home. We should stay connected to it. That is our base for all we do. We should not sell that home to anyone for money. That is what the first nations of British Columbia are doing when they refuse to sell rights to oil and gas companies to build a pipeline over their land to the Pacific Ocean.

Suzuki pointed out that “climate change is the critical—the existential issue of our times. The science has been in for 30 years. We know that the problems our children and grand children face will be immense.”

If you think this is alarmist or bat shit crazy here is what the World Health Organization had to say. Climate change is “the greatest threat to global health in the 21stcentury.” “Climate change is a global emergency.” But it is not all bad news.  The policies that we must adopt have demonstrable health benefits beside the climate benefits! However our Canadian government that held such promise when the newly elected Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said that Canada was committed to the Paris agreement on climate change, has been disappointing. Committing billions to supporting the purchase of a pipeline for bitumen without adequately assessing its effects on health or the environment is a big step in the wrong direction. As Tim K. Takaro and Jennifer Miller said, “Our government must invest in solutions to, not the causes of, climate change.”

The film emphasized what we already know, particularly after this horrific year that brought us record wild fires, spectacular storms, and brutal heat waves, and that is that extreme weather events will relentlessly plague us and we had better get ready for that. This is not how things are supposed to be, but this how they are. As Suzuki said, “the entire planet is at risk because humans have become so powerful that we are actually impacting the water, the air, the soil in a way that no other species has ever done.”

Albertans are very upset that BC and some indigenous nations are objecting to their project to bring liquefied natural gas and oil to the Pacific coast through the province of British Columbia and over indigenous land. But what do they think gives them the absolute right to bring a project to the land of others without their consent? Just because such projects produce a lot of money? As one indigenous leader said in the film, “Fundamentally there are just some projects that Canadians, and indigenous peoples, and British Columbians have the right to say no to.” As another leader said, “It is not just about corporate quarterly profits.” Another indigenous leader said, “I don’t feel comfortable pushing this off to my children.” These leaders summed up the issue precisely. Albertans by and large don’t understand this. Each of us has to take responsibility for this issue. We all have to do our part.

I liked many things about the film. For example, I liked the sign held high by one of the protesters: All you need is less. That is what we always forget and this is the problem. We always want more. I loved another sign, “Live gently upon the earth.”

I liked the scene in the film where a young aboriginal boy made a sensational jump when he drove his bike into the wall of a sandbox filled with a big mattress. The photographer caught him in midflight as he lifted off after hitting the board “flying” through the air completely horizontal, with a massive grin on his face and a bright gleam in his eye. The boy was obviously confident that he would hit the mattress. He knew he was resilient. He had hope.

I loved the comments about British Columbia and Vancouver in the film designed to explain to us why many of them  opposed pipelines into their bay up the coast. I did not know it, but Vancouver is the major city with the lowest per capita greenhouse gas emission in North America. This has been achieved at the same time that Vancouver has undergone significant growth: 27 per cent increase in population and 18 per cent increase in jobs. They are justifiably proud of that.  Why would they want to lose that? I wonder how much of this achievement is the consequence of their carbon tax?

Suzuki was interviewed for his views a number of times in the film. He was clearly sad that although fishing had always been a very important part of his life from the time he was 4 years old, he could not fish in the streams outside of Vancouver anymore. He could not bring his grand children to those streams. That is a pity. Not only that, it is important. It is not all about money. As one indigenous leader said, “you can’t eat money.”

I won’t say that I learned a lot new from the film, but it did inspire. The talk that followed did more than that. Suzuki in particular was in fine form. His speech was powerful. It was a secular revival. My kind of revival.