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

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Published on Sunday, June 2, 2019

How to handle offensive opinions

Here’s the problem. You have these friends, see, who keep sending you emails filled with racist slurs against Muslims, abortionists, “Indians” (they still use that term), Hindus, Asians, and immigrants in general. Oh, yes, and about climate-change hoaxes perpetrated by thousands of dishonest scientists who are being paid off by a small cabal of Jews trying to impose a tyrannical World Government on us…

            Should you cut them off? Block their emails? Terminate the friendship?

            Or do you try to reason with them? Prove their so-called facts incorrect? Point out the flaws in their logic?

            That might work if they reached their views as a reasoned conviction. But that’s unlikely. More likely, they’re regurgitating cultural memes they’ve accepted without any conscious analysis. Or simply spouting emotional reactions to imagined threats.

            This is not just about offensive emails, of course. It’s also about SNC-Lavalin mess in Ottawa. And about the mass murders in Christchurch and Pittsburgh. And about the Yellow Jackets in France, and Donald Trump and his countless Trumplets all over the U.S., and various right-and/or-left-wing advocacy groups who shout down speakers they don’t approve of…


Not a reasoned reaction

            As you might guess, I’m at one end of this spectrum. And the senders of what I consider offensive messages might well ask the same questions about me. Should they write me off? Bombard me with endless propaganda? Reason with me?

            No. None of the above.

            It’s a matter of practicality, not of being right. I don’t have all the facts, on any issue. But I do have enough research to be convinced that climate change is real, that vaccinations can prevent epidemics, that all humans regardless of skin colour or religion can donate blood to other humans. Neither name-calling nor biblical proof-texting will change my mind.

            And they would, I’m sure, say the same. (Although I’m not sure about the proof-texting.)

            Isolating persons with whom we disagree simply amplifies the echo chamber they live in. Cutting them off means one less person offering an alternative viewpoint.

            Therefore I think evicting Jodi Wilson-Raybould and Jane Philpott from the Liberal caucus in Ottawa was a mistake. It ensured only that the prime minister’s loyalists wouldn’t hear anything that might disturb their comfort zone.

            Almost without exception, too, the mass killers from Columbine to Las Vegas have been described as loners. They didn’t discuss their plans with anyone. They didn’t seek anyone’s advice. How then would isolating them even more encourage them reconsider their actions?


Network living

            We live in a vast interconnected network of relationships.

            When the first great British lexicographer, Samuel Johnson, published his dictionary 264 years ago, on April 15 1755, he planted his tongue firmly in cheek to define a network as athing “reticulated or decussated, at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections.”

            Those intersections make the network. Without those knots or nodes, a net is nothing but a collection of unconnected strings running in opposite directions.

            And, I hasten to add, the network we live in is not limited to humans. It includes the whole animate world. Geneticists can now demonstrate that every human alive today is descended, ultimately, from one woman –commonly called “Eve,” although that was certainly not her real name.

            We are all related to each other.

            Beyond that, all life -- plant and animal -- can be traced even further back to a single eukaryoticcell, which lived and died some 2.7 billion years ago.


A symbolic model

            We humans ourselves are a network of interactions. Only about 43 per cent of the cells within our bodies contain human DNA; the rest are colonies of microbes and bacteria, all working together for our common good.

            In that sense, our bodies are a symbolic model of the life networks in which we live and move and have our being -- to steal a line from St. Paul.

            So let’s get back to the subject of those friends who hold offensive views. Remaining silent is not an option -- that simply reinforces their conviction of being right. They need to know that I hold different views, that I do not consider their views acceptable.

            If they value our friendship at all, they’ll have to think for an instant before forwarding that email, before telling that joke, before launching into that tirade.

            They may still send it, or say it, regardless. But stopping to think is in itself is a step forward, a tiny chink of doubt in an otherwise impervious wall.


Copyright © 2019 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.

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As I expected, anything about abortion produces a multitude of responses and reactions. Brace yourself -- lots of reading  below. 


Donna Campbell: “You hit the nail on the head when you said women are seen as slaves in the U.S.

            “I was, however, disappointed to see you state you are ‘against abortion’. This seems like a naive statement; abortion will always be a necessary part of health care for women.  Your statement that you are against abortion suggests to me that you minimize the complex issues involved in such weighty decisions, decisions that only women must face. This surprises me.

            “Your support for contraception is great but if abortion is removed from the options available, by those who are ‘against abortion’, women do indeed become slaves and have no bodily autonomy.

            “Those of us who support abortion would never use the term ‘abortion on demand’. That is language designed to make women look like they are irresponsible to the point of ‘demanding’ an abortion of a healthy fetus at any stage of pregnancy, merely because of a mood swing!! Disheartening to see this in your otherwise thoughtful column.”


Marguerite Irvine cited a  quote from Barack Obama: "Religious freedom does not mean you can force others to live by your own beliefs."


In Canada, women were legally declared “persons” in 1929. Jack Driedger referred to that decision: “It seems to me that prior to 1929 a woman was a chattel or property. Did women not become persons in 1929?”
               JT: I’m not sure what their status would be in Alabama.


Gloria Jorgenson didn’t like my description of the abortion ban in Alabama, etc., as an attempt to reverse Roe vs Wade: “That seems like an extremely harsh indictment of those who worked to repeal that decision. I am of mixed feelings re the issue of abortion but I certainly wouldn't condemn so harshly those who see things differently.

            “Here in Canada it has been suggested that some are using abortion as birth control. Abortions are surgery and are costly to the system. Let's allow these women to use other means of preventing unwanted pregnancies.”


Isabel Gibson: “In my view, the laws you identify go too far. The ‘Abortion should be safe, legal, and rare’ mantra works for me.

            “I do know that I don't care for the rhetoric on either side, including the oft stated ‘A woman should be able to do what she wants with her own body,’ as if aborting a fetus were like trimming your finger nails, or removing a wonky gall bladder. Nothing else in a woman's body has the potential capacity for independent life. Nothing else is based on a 50% genetic contribution from another person. To pretend otherwise is, in my view, dishonest.

            “That said, our whole society could do a lot more to support life. Getting them born isn't the end, it's the start.”


Bob Rollwagen argued, “The issue should be raised one more level. Why do people insist on pushing their personal opinions done on others, when those people are in no way impacting their privileged position? Given the oppressed are the majority, why do they not stand together to control their future?

            “I believe the issues of fear, abuse, false news and misdirected education are created by the leadership so that they can use the oppressed to maintain their position of wealth and power. Wars have been and continue to be fought, directed by the leaders, using the masses to maintain the status quo which tolerates the oppression of weaker parts of the human race. The hate that started the last world war is rising again. The Conservative populist movement is lying its way back to power and using social media tools to win back control of a divided majority.

            “Lower taxes, poorer health care, less quality in education, reduced environmental controls, greater ability to maintain wealth accumulation, and growing spread between them and the poor, a return to past glory – [this is all part of ] the crusade of the white male conservative under the guise of economic stability.”


John Shaffer: “I join you in not being ‘in favor’ of abortion. The term pro-abortion is offensive. But I am in favor of many things, that include the legal option for safe abortions when women make that choice.

            “Years ago (before Roe vs Wade) I helped the Alaska legislature make it possible for women to have safe and legal abortions. Those women who testified in favor of the legislation often had already had many children and they found that they needed this option for their own mental and physical health and for the health and well-being of their other children. Alaska was the third state to adopt landmark legislation.

            “It was one of the more heady experiences of my ministerial career! Because I had provided the best information available to the legislators, I was drawn into the middle of the discussion on the floor of the Alaska Senate. It was surreal to hear my name mentioned during the debate.

            “It is sad now to see legislatures undoing the situation and legislators gloating over their victories. Serve them right if all unwanted babies were placed in their legislative chambers or on their doorsteps -- but that would be ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ for the babies.”


Dave Buckna informed me that “In Exodus 20:13, the Hebrew verb  r-ṣ-ḥ is correctly translated ‘murder’, not ‘kill’.” Presumably that validates Joshua’s genocide of the Amalekites, because it was killing, not murder.


Ruth Buzzard: “My observation is that people and governments who vehemently oppose abortion also support the death penalty. How then can they say they are ‘pro life’?

            “I have a male friend who thinks that men shouldn’t even have a say in whether a woman gets an abortion. His opinion is challenged by most men, who claim that they should be able to jointly decide with their wife if they are the father.”


Gail Price: “Thank you for saying what I've believed for years -- pro-life does not stop at birth but should include the care and nurture of the child. Sadly, not all babies are wanted or welcomed and they do not live happy lives.”

            Gail recalled a time when unrelated men had to make a decision about her life: “In 1969 a tubal ligation was recommended by two doctors when another pregnancy would have put my life in jeopardy. Before surgery could be done, though, approval had to be granted by the Hospital Board. Thankfully it was given.

            “We still wanted another child and so we looked into adoption. We're very grateful to the young woman who chose to carry her baby to term. Making the decision to place her baby for adoption must have been difficult but it allowed us to complete our family and our daughter could not be loved more. I think of her birth mother every birthday and say ‘thank you’ and wish her well.”


 “Your reference to Dr. Bruce Hatfield brought back a memory of his address to Toronto Conference UCW annual meeting  in the early ‘70s,” wrote Muriel Lush.  “He told us of his own birth with his twin brother. If his mother and father had given in to the advice to abort their babies, we would have missed out on the great gifts those two shared with many of us! What a loss that would have been.”


This last letter arrived just minutes before posting this column to the mailing list. I don’t know the author; his letter seems to say that as a social worker, he could actively lobby against abortions: “My first impression of your writing on abortion was that it was highly emotional. Usually, you write from a more rational point of view. I agree that the taking of life is an emotional subject, whether in the womb or out, but I do not see women as slaves.

            “When I was employed as a social worker in a hospital I was asked to be a representative on the board that determined if a woman's application for an abortion would be accepted or denied. I was pleased that at the end of my year there I had made friends and was respected by the physicians, in spite of how I'd disagreed with their decisions to approve abortion. How we approach sensitive matters does matter. 

            “I was pleased to hear after I'd left that hospital that the approved abortions had to be performed in another hospital because no physicians would do it.”






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To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think too many links constitute spam.)

                       Ralph Milton’s latest project is a kind of Festival of Faith, a retelling of key biblical stories by skilled storytellers like Linnea Good and Donald Schmidt, designed to get people talking about their own faith experience. It’s a series of videos available on Youtube. I suggest you start with his introductory section: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7u6qRclYAa8

                       Ralph’s “Sing Hallelujah” -- the world’s first video hymnal -- is still available. 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. The website for this project has closed but you can continue to order the DVDs by writing info@woodlake,com

                       Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. <http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca>

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom

                       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 tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom or twatsonATsentexDOTnet



                       The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.

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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: Offensive mail, social media



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