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

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Published on Tuesday, August 20, 2019

The slippery slope of mind-meddling

The city of Vancouver declared “conversion therapy” illegal. So did St. Albert in Alberta. The federal government is apparently considering amendments to the criminal code that would ban conversion therapy.

            The case against conversion therapy is based, mostly, on it being aimed at the LGBTQ2 community. Mainly by the most conservative Christian churches, who consider homosexuality a sin, prohibited by the Bible and against God’s divine intention.

            It’s directed mostly at gay men. The Bible has one verse denouncing sex between women, but I haven’t heard of conversion therapy being applied to them.

            Conversion therapy attempts to show these “sinners” the error of their ways, and restore them to the heterosexuals God meant them to be. 


The gay issue

            I’m of two minds on this issue.

            On the one hand, I do not believe that anyone chooses homosexuality. I cannot imagine why anyone would deliberately choose to expose themselves to the kind of ridicule, scorn, hatred, and physical risk that gays have been subjected to — even today, in a supposedly enlightened society.

            The few gays I  know tell me that they spent their lives doing everything they could to avoid admitting, even to themselves, that they were gay – often with disastrous effects on their emotional well-being.

            If suffering earns merit, as countless sermons have claimed, gays have surely earned the right to be whatever they want to be.


The cult issue

            But on the other hand, I remember when mainstream society openly endorsed conversion therapy. In the 1970s, it was called “de-programming.”

            It was advocated for returning prisoners of war, “brainwashed” in Vietnamese or Russian prisons.

            Also, with good reason, for  cult members mesmerized by charismatic leaders like Jim Jones, David Koresh, and Charles Manson. Manson convinced his Family to murder nine Hollywood celebrities and their hangers-on. Jones took his colony to Guyana, where 900 followers committed mass suicide. Koresh and 80 followers perished in the infamous Waco standoff.

            William Sargent identified the tactics used by cults in a book called Battle for the Mind. Essentially, cults manipulated the emotions of vulnerable youth by sleep deprivation, chanting, singing, games, and personal counselling, until those young people desperately wanted to belong to what they saw as a caring community.

            I have to say, as one involved in youth programs during that time, that mainline churches and other organizations used some of the same tactics in their youth own programs — although not as intensively or as intentionally.


The gun violence issue

            Now, as governments begin to classify domestic terrorism as “mental illness,” I expect conversion therapy will be advocated for white supremacists, people who shoot up mosques and Walmarts, and writers of hate messages on social media.

            Or, perhaps, for those who persist in opposing hatred, bigotry, and prejudice. People like me.

            It all depends on who’s in charge.

            In 1984, George Orwell’s prophetic novel, Winston Smith was an ordinary man who worked in a government agency updating history to match the latest propaganda issued by Big Brother. Winston knew that much of the official “truth” was not true at all.

            That was enough to make him uncomfortable. It turned him into a questioner of conventional wisdom and uncritical patriotism. The powers-that-be trapped him. They put him through their own conversion therapy.

            Winston came out brainwashed, a mindless supporter of Big Brother.

            Incidentally, most people seem to think that Winston’s fictional nation, Oceania, was Orwell’s parody of Joe Stalin’s Russia. But when I read about Oceania’s endless wars with other nations – any nation, it doesn’t matter – as a means of keeping its own citizens blindly patriotic, I wonder if modern U.S.A. fits better.


The rights issue

            Winston embodies the dilemma facing each of us.

            If I see you basing your life on something that is clearly wrong – like believing that two plus two equals five, or that gravity is an illusion – I have an obligation to try to correct your views.

            But what if you’re a mathematician who uses a logically impossible number, the square root of minus-one, in calculating complex formulae? What if you contend that more guns will make you safer? What if you believe in reincarnation, or soul travel to distant galaxies?

            Or just have a different understanding of God?

            Do I have the right to meddle with your mind? Do you have the right to meddle with mine?

            That’s why I support the city councils of St. Albert and Vancouver. Whether or not conversion therapy works, it teeters at the top of a long and slippery slope.

            Once you start re-programming people, no matter how valid the reason, where do you stop?


Copyright © 2019 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





Well! It seems you don’t like Trump any more than I do.


Two people defended him.

            John Hatchard asked, “Would you be content if Hillary Clinton were now President? If so, how would the world be better off given her actions at Benghazi and the sale of US uranium to Russia? I think we have been delivered from the abyss of all conceivable corruption and folly - and WW3 possibly.  This does not mean I like Trump but the man is not stupid and won in 2016 because he is not a politician raised in moral decay of The Swamp.”

            Steve Roney challenged my interpretation (and most of the media’s) of Trump’ words. He concluded, “Trump is in the vanguard of fighting this growing tide of censorship and intolerance. Whatever his faults, many support him on this basis.”


Everyone else shared my disdain for Trump. Wayne Irwin, Rob Brown, Ray Shaver, David Scott, Anne McRae, Cliff Boldt, Jack Driedger, Sharon Adams, Priscilla Gifford, Bruce Gajerski, Brian Sutch, and three more for whom I don’t have full identification, all said (basically) “Amen!”


Tom Watson called Trump “a virus -- he infects everything -- so it's almost impossible to avoid him. He will only really get turned off when the rest of the Republican enablers stop supporting him and start doing the right thing.”


Eileen Wttewaal turned off her TV completely “a year ago, having ‘had it’ with ‘news as entertainment’ and the narcissism of Trump. I read the National Observeron-line and the Guardian Weeklymagazine, for national and international news with their investigative in-depth reporting.”


Holly McNeil agreed with Eileen: “I turned him off about a year ago. My consumption of general TV news is also less, but that, too, has its own benefits! It would be great if the rest of the world agreed.”


George Brigham had a different response: “I understand that Donald Trump’s mother came from Scotland, though he was born in USA. With equal validity to his attack on three of the four congresswomen, Americans could chant ‘Send him back’. Mind you, living in UK, I hope they don’t. We have enough with his imitator -- Prime Minister Boris Johnson.”


Ruth Buzzard asked “the sticky question about commenting on another country’s duly elected head of state. Should we mind our own business, or should we condemn policies we feel are fundamentally wrong? We commented en masse about Apartheid in South Africa and their government changed. Should we try to bring international condemnation against the President of the USA, or should we leave it up to Americans to do it themselves?”


Bob Rollwagen has already acted: “I turn the TWIT off. Headlines usually reflect what I had expected without having to watch. He is more of a Chump or a Buffoon. World leaders appear to ignore his outbursts. How do you trust anything said by the creator of ‘Fake News’.”


Sandy Warren: I couldn't agree more with your "turn-him-off" strategy. Ever since he-who-should-not-be-named began running for president, I have been trying to ignore him as the best hope to make him go away. Online, I try never to click on any article with his name in the title because I think (though I cannot know for sure) that newspapers and social media track the clicks to gauge what articles get attention.”


Heather Sandilands found a practical use for my advice: “I watched the blood pressure of my 87-yr-old mother rise during a newscast; I told her ‘Turn Him Off!’ Thanks for this, Jim.

            “And I offer that as Canadians we can't do anything about him except to turn him off: we can't vote him out, we can't trade him out, or ‘take him out’ (he's not worth the prison time). BUT he is not the Enemy. He is *only* a (big & noisy) symptom of the Disease. We need to realize how this disease is spreading insidiously here. We who are led by faith and goodwill must take lessons from Reinhold Niebuhr and Martin Niemoeller: we must do what we can where we can and when we can. To speak and not be silent. To recognize areas of our own influence and there lovingly challenge and confront (outside of ourself and within ourself) all that encourages us to be like him, or govern like him, or be self-serving like him.

            “In my province we have two elections coming; I am compelled to speak up so that we don't elect (any more) people cut from the same fabric as him.”


John Shaffer connected last week’s column about Trump with the previous week’s column about shrinking glaciers in Glacier Park and other places: “But ‘turn him off’ is a real threat in our national parks and our environment. I understand that it is ‘full speed ahead’ in authorizing mineral extraction in the watershed feeding Bristol Bay in Alaska.”






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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 some 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,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.

                       I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures.

                       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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