Jim Taylor's Columns - 'Soft Edges' and 'Sharp Edges'

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Published on Sunday, October 15, 2017

Only humans kill for pleasure

We humans are contradictory creatures.

            Although many animals will assist the vulnerable among their own members, and a few will even adopt orphans of other species, we humans seem to be the only ones who will band together to help total strangers -- people we have never met and may never meet, people of different religion, culture, and origins. So we organize to help refugees in Syria and Myanmar. We fund charities that work in distant lands. And when a hailstorm of bullets felled a crowd in Las Vegas, we throw ourselves on top of others to protect them; we ruin the upholstery in our cars by rushing bleeding victims to hospitals; we risk our own lives to help others escape.

            We have made compassion a primary virtue.

            At the same time, we are the only species that kills for pleasure.

            All other species kill only for food, or for survival. When they’re not hungry, or threatened, they do not kill. I have personally seen lions and cheetahs calmly cleaning their fur, just like a housecat, while gazelles and wildebeest strolled by on the Serengeti Plains in Tanzania. I have watched video of polar bears playing with dogs, at Churchill, in Northern Manitoba. Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall lived with great apes who could have torn them to pieces, if they chose to; they didn’t.

            Not even scorpions and cobras kill for the sake of killing.


Massacre in Las Vegas

            But Stephen Paddock fires thousands of rounds into an audience who had done nothing more offensive than listen to country music. In London, a small gang of terrorists urge each other to kill everyone, to show no mercy. Mass shootings occur in Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech, Orlando, Austin…

            Yes, they are exceptions.

            And no, they are not exceptions. They are simply extreme examples of the lust for killing that ‘lurks in the heart of man,’ to quote an old slogan. Even among men admired as leaders. Teddy Roosevelt. Vladimir Putin. Ernest Hemingway.

            Trophy hunting, for example, can only be killing for pleasure. The killer derives no benefit, beyond bragging rights.

            Last week, a six-year-old female grizzly known as Bear 148 was shot and killed by a trophy hunter when she strayed out of Kakwa Wildlife Park in northwestern Alberta.

            Bear 148 was well known around Banff and Canmore. A release noted, ‘The bear never hurt anyone but had gotten too close to people dozens of times...’ She had wandered onto a rugby field during a practice. She had charged a parent walking with a stroller. She had chased dogs walking with their owners.

            Alberta's Environment and Parks staff felt they had to move her to the wildlife park.

            For the safety of humans. But it turns out, not for the bear’s safety.

            Because Bear 148 crossed the invisible border into B.C., which had not yet imposed its planned ban on trophy hunting for grizzly bears.

            And Bear 148 died for doing so.


A head on his wall

            Cecil the lion made the same mistake. Until his death in 2015, Cecil was the most famous lion in Zimbabwe. Then he wandered just outside the boundary of Hwange National Park. Walter Palmer, a dentist from Minnesota, killed him.

            Two years later, Cecil’s son Xanda was similarly murdered by a trophy hunter.

            After Xanda’s death, a flurry of online petitions tried to make it more difficult for trophy hunters to ship their body parts home. The petitions primarily targeted UPS. UPS defended themselves. Their responsibility was to deliver packages, they said, not to determine what’s inside them.

            Presumably, UPS would have had no qualms about delivering Lin Jun’s dismembered body parts after Luka Magnotta murdered him in Montreal in 2012.

            Fedex claims to refuse trophy parts for shipping. So do at least four airlines: Delta, United, American, and Air Canada. Australia and France have totally banned the import of trophy heads.

            Meanwhile, the U.S. has been, and continues to be, the world’s biggest importer of animal trophies. Sixty per cent of all trophy killings worldwide are shipped to the U.S.

            Disincentives – like being unable to ship severed heads home to mount on a wall – might reduce the allure of killing for pleasure.

            Legislation too can defuse the instinct to kill. Australia banned automatic weapons in 1996; it hasn’t had a mass shooting since. Switzerland has high gun ownership, but stringent gun control laws; it has had only one mass shooting.

            Education and social pressure can discourage the urge to kill. More significantly, they can encourage the better side of the human paradox – the movement towards compassion, for all living things.


Copyright © 2017 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

            To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write jimt@quixotic.ca





I had some trouble getting last week’s column out, and even more trouble getting responses. Several of you tried, and were told that your email had been “blocked.” Fortnately, several of you persisted, and wrote directly to me.


Cliff Boldt wrote, “Thanks for the lesson on religions.  We can only hope and pray that the religious bigotry in the Excited States of America don’t cross the border wholesale.”


Tom Watson agreed: “An excellent article. You are right that there are two religions -- ours and theirs. It's not necessarily ours being Christian and theirs anything else. Even within Christianity there's ours and theirs. Seems there's always an ‘in’ crowd and an ‘out’ crowd...and how do folks know they're part of the ‘in’ crowd? By the mere fact that others aren't. It's one of the most painful and disturbing things about religion.”


David Gilchrist shared Tom’s view: “I, too, am appalled at the number of ardent Christians who are so narrow-minded that they see only their own brand or religion, politics, or anything else; and who are totally impatient with everyone else. But what strikes me as most strange is their capacity to ignore the diversity within the Christian communities (assuming that their group is the only valid one under that name). So they assume that those who worship under another banner such as Islam, are all the same; and judge them all by the very worst examples. The loudest voices about others being ‘extremist’ never seem to recognize the extremism in themselves.


Beth Orling noted the reference to religions splintering. “And we grieve the splintering,” she wrote. “However, we Lutherans are celebrating Oct. 31, 2017, the 500th anniversary of the posting of Luther's 95 Theses on Wittenberg's church door -- solely to start a conversation....but it got out of hand!  Interesting to read in your piece that Sikhism emerged about the same time.”


Sandy Warren: “Unfortunately, I'm afraid you're exactly right about the majority recognizing only 'ours'/'theirs' in religions. There is an irony in this since the fundamentalist versions of all religions are in reality closer to each other than they are to the mainstream of their own religion.

            “Thank you for your excellent and interesting World Religions 101 summary. I don't think I've ever seen such a concise overview before.”


Bob Stoddard agreed with Sandy: “It was a good lesson on the way religions overlap, duplicate, and split.”


Doreen Beaton dded a personal touch: “Our doctor is a Sikh woman…  I have often thought she seems more Christian than many ‘Christians’ I know.  All I have learned so far read so far is that Sikhs believe in one god, & that all people are equal.  When will all Christians all accept that?”


John Shaffer has enough nerve to correct wrong impressions: There have been a few times in my life when someone has spouted a false idea (thinking of calling a Sikh a Muslim) and I have tried to correct them, with mixed results.  Occasionally people are silenced and hopefully they are reflective.

            “One time I corrected a man who was saying that his Christianity encouraged ‘an eye for an eye’.  It was on the telephone. I asked him to get his Bible and look up the appropriate verse and then we read it in some fashion.  He was silenced on that one, but went on immediately to some other statement that had no basis in fact.

            ‘A few months ago I had just read in the newspaper that Obama went out of his way ‘not to apologize’ for the bombs falling on Japan. When I went to breakfast, a table companion was speaking strongly that wasn't it awful that Obama apologized to the Japanese people. I asked him his source for this viewpoint and he shared that it was Rush Limbaugh.  I lost my temper, and that cut off any dialogue between the two of us forever. He has now died.

            “But there are success stories. Years ago a local businessman refused to allow the American Flag to be placed on his business on certain holidays.  Because he wore a turban, a member of my club had referred to him as a ‘rag head’. I confronted the person later in his own home and he repented and there were no more such outbursts. He was also a member of my church.  Nice to know that some interventions work.”


Jay Sprout sent my column on to a discussion group. Susan-Lynn Johns, Abbey Polandeer, and Patsy Madden responded to me. Patsey wrote about Jagmeet Singh, “I had an opportunity to hear and see Singh. He is by all appearances a lovely well-spoken and intelligent man. I think he will do well for those he represents. I was impressed by his presence.”


On that subject, Robert Caughell commented, “We have to wait and see if Canada is ready for a party leader like Jagmeet Singh. As for people like Jennifer Bush, they have made up their minds about him, and annoying/irritating things such as the truth/facts will not change how they see things.


Steve Roney disagreed more than usual: “It seems to me you are assuming the worst of your fellow man; you have a much darker view of the average Canadian than I do. When has skin colour ever mattered in Canada? For the most part, we also have an admirable record for not voting on religious lines.

            “You say most Canadians recognize only two religions: ‘ours’ and ‘theirs.’ That implies a pretty low opinion of the education or intelligence of Canadians generally. I really do not think the typical Canadian has great difficulty in distinguishing between, say, Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. Surely you do not suppose they think they all practice polygamy, or speak Hebrew at services, or attend Mass on Sunday? They may not know a lot about each of the various world religions, but they do not think they are all the same.

            “The dispute over M-103 is about whether it is proper to single out one religion for special mention and, implicitly, special protection; whether we have the right to criticize another’s religious views, as opposed to discriminating against followers of that religion. The use of the term ‘Islamophobia’ seems to imply that we do not. If we cannot criticize one another’s religious opinions, we have introduced a profound new restriction on free speech. Do we want it, for example, to be illegal ‘hate speech’ to disagree with the latest pronouncement from the pope? Or from Pat Robertson? By such a standard—if that is indeed what ‘Islamophobia’ means—some of your own comments in the present column could get you into trouble with the law.

            “You are explicitly rejecting one of the central tenets of Islam. Nothing in the Qur’an is borrowed from Judaism or Christianity, according to Islam. If some of the stories are the same, the reason is far simpler, speaking as a Muslim: it is because they are true. We know they are true, because God says so.”

            Steve concluded, “Speaking generally, religions do not evolve. They cannot, because truth does not evolve.”






If you want to comment on something, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca. Or just hit the ‘Reply’ button.

            To subscribe or unsubscribe, send me an e-mail message at the address above. Or subscribe electronically by sending a blank e-mail (no message) to sharpedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca. Similarly, you can un-subscribe at sharpedges-unsubscribe@lists.quixotic.ca.

            My webpage is up and running again -- thanks to Wayne Irwin and ChurchWeb Canada. You can now access current columns and five years of archives at http://quixotic.ca

            I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to softedges-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca





            Ralph Milton ’s latest project is called ‘Sing Hallelujah’ -- the world’s first video hymnal. It consists of 100 popular hymns, both new and old, on five DVDs that can be played using a standard DVD player and TV screen, for use in congregations who lack skilled musicians to play piano or organ. More details at www.singhallelujah.ca

            Ralph’s HymnSight webpage is still up, http://www.hymnsight.ca, with a vast gallery of photos you can use to enhance the appearance of the visual images you project for liturgical use (prayers, responses, hymn verses, etc.)

            Wayne Irwin's ‘Churchweb Canada,’ an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://www.churchwebcanada.ca>

            I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, www.traditionaliconoclast.com

            Alva Wood’s satiric stories about incompetent bureaucrats and prejudiced attitudes in a small town -- not particularly religious, but fun; alvawood@gmail.com to get onto her mailing list.

            Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called ‘The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony’ -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatso@gmail.com or twatson@sentex.net





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