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

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Published on Saturday, October 16, 2021

Isolating those who are different

Sunday October 17, 2021


We who live in the enlightened western nations tend to heap scorn on the Hindu caste system. We don’t recognize that we have our own caste systems. 

            Indigenous communities scattered across the boreal north are our Dalits, the outcastes, the untouchables. “At any given time,” writes the Council of Canadians, “there are drinking water advisories in dozens of First Nations communities across Canada.”

            Although the federal government has improved many water systems, 33 communities still have water advisories. 

            Most recently, Iqaluit residents were assured their water was safe, even though it smelled of diesel. Then this week that assurance was reversed – it was now unsafe even when boiled. 

            Can you imagine an entire city, like, say, Regina, being told its tap water was unsafe for drinking, for cooking, for washing, even for washing your hands in? There’d be hell to pay.

            But this is Iqaluit, not Regina.


Different kinds of castes

            I don’t like to admit it, but we have race-based castes. Educational castes. Economic castes. And now, health castes.

            The new “upper caste” is fully vaccinated against COVID-19 infection. The “lower caste” has chosen – rightly or wrongly – not to get vaccinated. 

            COVID-19 has fostered a new social division. 

            There’s a caste that can now attend sporting events, indoor dining, and fitness programs, and can travel on planes and trains. And there’s a second caste, that can’t. 

            Canadian castes are not defined by birth or bloodline. They’re defined by choice – sometimes based on religious doctrine, sometimes on misinformation. 

            My church currently rules that in-person gatherings will be open only to fully vaccinated participants. Do we then turn away old friends and valued colleagues who have decided against vaccination?


Disease prevention

            Everyone knows, by now, that COVID-19 is transmitted by airborne droplets. Do you have any idea how many other diseases are spread the same way?

            A partial list would include measles, diphtheria, mumps, whooping cough (pertussis), polio, chickenpox, tuberculosis (TB), influenza, and the common cold. 

            All but two of those – TB and the common cold – have been largely eliminated among western nations by vaccinations. It makes me wonder why anyone would object to vaccinations.

            TB can be treated. And the preventive tactics used against COVID-19 – masks and physical distancing –reduced annual flu epidemics by around 90%. 

            But it wasn’t always that easy. 

            In the past, people with communicable diseases were ruthlessly shunned. Some were locked into their homes, to survive or die alone. Others had to ring a bell wherever they walked, crying out their warning: “Unclean, unclean!”


Extreme isolation

            This week, I happened to read about another disease transmitted by aerosol droplets -- what used to be called leprosy, renamed Hansen’s Disease after the Norwegian doctor who first identified the bacterium that attacks human nerves. 

            It is not communicated by physical contact, as was once assumed; the bacterium cannot penetrate unbroken skin. 

            Because it is horribly disfiguring, “lepers” were the ultimate outcasts.  Because the disease attacks nerves, its victims could no longer feel pain if rats gnawed on rheir toes or noses during the night.

            During his missionary service in India, my father organized some of his students to visit the city slums to bathe the raw sores of local “lepers.” It was a lesson in charity, a way of putting into practice the Christian commandment to love your neighbour. 

            It broke down some social prejudices against “lepers” and other outcastes. And for many of those “lepers,” it was the first time any outsider had ever risked touching them. 

            Over a century starting in 1866, the United States banished some 8,000 people to the world’s most famous “leper colony” – Kaluapapa, on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. 

            Being sent to Molokai was literally a life sentence. No one came out alive.

            Not even Father Damien De Veuster, a Belgian priest sent to Molokai in 1873. During 16 years of service, he turned the chaos and anarchy of a quasi-penal colony into a model village with well-kept houses, streets, schools, and churches.

            Fr. Damien eventually contracted Hansen’s Disease himself. It was almost unavoidable, given his close contact with other patients. He died in 1889.

            Though Hansen’s Disease can now be treated by drug therapies, there is no vaccination for it. All the more reason to be grateful for the vaccines we do have.

            Kaluapapa closed in 1969, but some residents chose to remain. Today, it’s a National Historical Park, with staff to interpret its history to visitors. 

            Molokai reminds us of the extremes to which segregation can be taken, when we start dividing people into classes or castes.


Copyright © 2021 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



Your turn


Last week I wrote about how the media – such as Facebook, Twitter, Tik Tok, etc., set up programs to feed you back what you seem to want to hear. Apparently I’m not the only person questioning there practices. 


James Russell referred to an interview in the Globe and Mail Alastair Mactaggart).  A key passage:

            “Think what Facebook can do [to shape political opinions] by influencing your feeds and changing the news that you see. Not fake news – just different news…. If they do that overtly – have a group of engineers doing it – so long as they don’t co-ordinate with the campaign, there’s no disclosure required.

            “The power to influence an election is extraordinary…

            “If I pick up The Globe and Mail in British Columbia, theoretically it’s the same Globe and Mail as in PEI. If I’m Asian or Black or white, it’s the same Globe and Mail. The real issue here is that your experience of Facebook is totally different than mine, and they can actually change it for everybody. That’s what’s so pernicious here.”


On a personal level, Bob Palmer had the same experience I had, with the same barber. He’s not going back there either. 


Tom Watson: “I don't blame you for not wanting to argue with someone who had a razor close to your neck. But arguing against nonsense doesn't seem to work anyway. The scientific data is in: vaccines are our way out of the pandemic, but if people refuse to accept the data, no argument you or I could muster is going to change any minds. The anomaly, of course, is that they will believe conspiracy theories instead.”


Robert Caughell put the case even more strongly: “These anti-vaxxers, Covid deniers, are delusional. Even on their death beds they say that it is a hoax. Really?, does a hoax kill over 700,000 Americans, and millions more world wide?

            “Then again, some still think that the world is flat, only 6000 years old, and the centre of the Universe. They pick and choose what to believe or not dependant on their religious/political viewpoints.”


Steve Roney argued that the real threat is from the left, not the right. I acknowledge his viewpoint, but I don’t agree. 


I’m still getting occasional mail about Woodstock School, and boarding schools in general. The majority of letters describe the boarding school experience in glowing terms, especially about lifelong friends made there. I wonder even more what made the staff at Indian Residential Schools, especially the nuns, so abusive. I wish I knew more. 






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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




            And for those of you who like poetry, I tried to send out a new poem, but the server I use rejected it. No reason given. As far as I know, there’s nothing in the poem itself that’s would offend a spam filter, but something did. So if you’d like to read that poem, please check my webpage .https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry And i you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at jimt@quixotic.ca, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to poetry-subscribe@lists.quixotic.ca (If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)







To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)

            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. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/

            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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Author: Jim Taylor

Categories: Sharp Edges

Tags: COVID-19, Iqaluit, castes, Molokai, Damien

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