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

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Published on Sunday, September 8, 2019

Evolution and science are not the enemy

There have been more mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year than days in the year. CBS News predicts the U.S. will end 2019 having averaged at least one mass shooting every single day.

            It makes reporting fairly easy. Reporters can simply fill in the blanks: “Today in (name of city) a gunman opened fire in (name of church, store, mosque, or synagogue) with a (make or model of gun) killing (number dead), and injuring (number hospitalized) before being shot and killed by police.”

            In the wake of the latest mass shooting -- Which one? Does it matter? -- the TV program  Fox and Friends called in a pastor to explain what was going wrong with the nation.

            Former police officer Tony Perkins, a Southern Baptist minister who heads an organization called the Family Research Council, blamed the rash of mass murders on the teaching of science --  particularly evolution -- in American schools.

            He said, “We've taught our kids that they come about by chance through primordial slime and then we're surprised that they treat their fellow Americans like dirt."

            Hear his words yourself: https://apple.news/Akm_xqzbUS8W4RZ-CckAz2g


Motivated by science?

            Perkins’ argument was simple -- “We have to instill in these children [the knowledge] that they’re created in the image of God, therefore they have inherent value.”

            Perkins claimed it’s impossible to have morality without religion. Mass killings are a natural consequence of “driving religion and God out of the public square.”

            The Huffington Post editorialized, “He did not offer any theories as to how nations with lower levels of religious adherencemanage to avoid mass shootings.”

            I wouldn’t be that kind. I consider his thesis total crap.

            I see not one shred of evidence that any of the recent killers was motivated by science. Or evolution. Not even by secular humanism.

            They were angry men who felt that life -- government, employers, or women -- had treated them badly. And they were gonna make someone suffer for it. It didn’t matter who.

            Further, I would argue that Perkins’ brand of pseudo-Christianity was more likely to have encouraged them than to have offered a moral alternative.


The fundamentals of fundamentalism

            Now, I have not seen a clear statement of his beliefs. But I’m guessing that he belongs to the branch of Christianity that adheres to five “fundamentals”:

1.    the absolute authority of the Bible

2.    the Virgin birth of Jesus

3.    the Substitutionary Atonement of Jesus -- by dying on the cross Jesus paid the penalty for all our sins, for all time

4.    the bodily Resurrection of Jesus

5.    the Miracles of Jesus.

            The last four are, in fact, subordinate to the first. Without the Bible, the other four fundamentals would not exist.

            But I can’t see how any of these fundamentals would deter a potential mass killer. They are abstract statements of doctrine. How would belief in the Virgin Birth, for example, alter a killer’s intentions?


Core convictions

            At the same time, though, fundamentalism of any kind -- Christian, Muslim, or Hindu -- contains some core convictions that are rarely acknowledged:

·     Religion is about being right. If we’re right -- and of course we are -- then everyone else must be wrong. It’s exclusive.

·     Religion is about influencing God. God can and does intervene in earthly events; praise and prayer are levers for persuading God that ourwill be done.

·     Religion is about getting on the right side of God. God has favourites -- us. The “others” who are not God’s favourites don’t deserve compassion.

·     Religion is about judging. It uses rewards and punishments -- ultimately, heaven for the good, hell for the bad -- to maintain control. Because God judges, so must His servants. Sinners and non-believers deserve any punishment they get.

·     Religion is about authority. There must always be an unimpeachable authority to resolve controversies.  Anything that conflicts with a religion’s holy texts -- in Christianity, the Bible -- must be fought tooth and nail.

            Am I being too harsh? I don’t think so. Listen to televangelists on the tube. Listen to the political pronouncements of religious leaders. Underneath the words about love, mercy, forgiveness, and commitment, those five convictions will appear again and again.

            And I’m pretty sure Jesus would reject every one of them.

            I know, I know -- I’m doing the same thing as Perkins, attacking an enemy who may exist only in my imagination.

            But it’s not my imagination that religious fundamentalism is far more likely to encourage an angry gunman to start shooting than anything taught about evolution in any schools.


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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I didn’t get even one letter telling me I was wrong, misled, or just plain stupid about last week’s column on the fate of our world. 

            The closest to a negative came from John Finlay, who wrote, “In your essay you refer to ‘the planet’s dying day’ and, ‘survival of this planet.’

            “I understand your meaning and sentiment. [But]there is no question whatsoever in my mind that the planet will not die and indeed will survive. In the billions of years of its existence the planet has endured plenty of cataclysmic events and, indeed, it carries along fine.

            “The human race, however, is quite another story. We’re not killing the planet; we’re killing ourselves.

            “AND when we succeed in accomplishing the task the planet will continue to exist and won’t miss us in the least. It will burp and fart a bit and then will experience a sense of relief that the relatively minor discomfort of being infested by a parasite for a minuscule portion of its lifetime has passed.”


Paul Irwin also saw some hope: “Pessimism, and the litany of human self-annihilating behavior you provide in this column certainly is conducive to it, is a fatal condition. It leads to depression and inertia, and the complete loss of life-giving hope. Hell on earth as you suggest. Perhaps these thoughts may give us the courage to stay the course with hope of resurrection.

            “But to really recover positive energy for life in this time of heightened awareness, remember that evolution occurs only in chaos, and that humanity, like bacteria, are a universal species, extremely resilient and resourceful. Keep the faith. Signs of conscious evolution abound.”


Tom Watson: I sincerely hope you are wrong, but every evidence points to the fact that you're right. In the meantime, we might do what Martin Luther suggested when asked what he would do if he knew the world would end: ‘Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.’ So, for each of us, our task is to determine what our ‘apple tree’ is and go plant it.”


James Russell matches me “on the gloom side.  However, I think that there has actually been a change in corporate culture – for the worse – since we were kids.  I believe that top management used to think that their first job was to keep the company in business.  In the ‘80s or thereabouts, the mantra became ‘Maximize shareholder value!’.  Once making money for shareholders (and top management!) became the idol, things got worse.  Until then, the biggest crooks still thought they ought to at least wear a fig-leaf of care for others (to keep their social standing).  Afterwards, it was heresy (and I say so deliberately) NOT to squeeze as hard as possible.  We need to get back to a more complex way of understanding how livings are made and get away from narrow ‘fundamentalism’ – not just in religion, but in business, too.”


Sandy Warren wrote,  “I'm sorry to admit that I share your pessimism and I am deeply sad that so many beautiful things are disappearing.”


Dave Edwards also agreed: “I am sad -- and frightened -- that I have to agree with your column. If I can muster hope for our earth, it is because people like you dowrite and care about the planet in peril that we are handing on to the young people; and because of the young people themselves, who are saying ‘The adults have failed us’. “


“Thank you for putting this misery into words,” said Hanny Kooyman. “I still can’t understand how the kind of leadership, that pops up everywhere it seems, is voted in office.”


Richard Best: “I have an underlying hope that somehow we may come at least part way to our senses.  It will not happen if we do not continue to sound the alarums loud and clear.”


Robert Caughell thought, “Sadly many of the present leaders will be dead when climate change, and other issues’ crap hits the fan. It will be left for our descendants to deal with, hopefully change things for the better.”


I’m not sure whether this letter came from Richard or Linda McKelvie: “As an old time peace activist I have experienced the phenomenon of mass denial. I tried to hit them with everything you have -- and I found myself talking to myself. Later on I calmed down and built trust  and let people make and change their own minds. I think people did move slightly. 

            “Climate change is similar except we don’t have the time anymore.”

            The letter went on to say that doing something is helpful, and so the McKelvies are changing the way they farm: “At this time I am looking for people to help work the project through.  If you know people or organizations interested in this  I would like the contacts.”

            If you’re interested, their email is maxsphere@gmail.com


Steve Roney: “I certainly agree with you, this time, that groups are less moral than individuals because everyone can pass the moral buck. For the same reason, groups are also more likely to be out of touch with reality than individuals thinking on their own. Nietzsche: ‘Insanity, while rare in individuals, is common in groups.’”






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                       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

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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 (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)



                       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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