Category Archives: Philosophy

Piety is not a goal but a means to attain through the purest peace of mind the highest culture. — Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)

Quebecpiety

Years ago I remembered while having a discussion of theology with a group of friends, one in the group referred to himself as a pious atheist. I was taken aback by his comment as piety and atheism were not terms I associated with one another. Piety is most commonly associated with religious belief and practice. Since then I gave this notion a great deal of thought: is secular piety a possibility? This question is worth considering in light of the reality that how one expresses their piety in an increasingly secular society such as Canada has become a contentious issue of late as is evidenced by the controversy surrounding the proposed Quebec Charter of Values (Charte de la laïcité or Charte des valeurs québécoises). The stated aim of the charter is to ensure there is a clear separation of religion and state and that public employees have religious neutrality. What this means is the wearing of ostentatious religious symbols or garb on the job will be prohibited. Continue reading

Miracles, in the sense of phenomena we cannot explain, surround us on every hand: life itself is the miracle of miracles. — George Bernard Shaw

index1miracle2

A miracle is a form of religious experience, essentially an event without a rational explanation attributed to the divine. What I first remember learning about miracles as a boy in grade school. Religious instruction, Christian, was part of the public school curriculum in Ontario in the mid-1960s when I started school. My first grade teacher, Miss Boss, read bible stories to the class every morning before we started the day’s lessons. If memory serves, I was most impressed by the story of the loaves and fishes. A year later, at junior school in England, one of the teachers, Mrs. Checketts, told us the story of Jesus raising a girl from the dead. As Mrs. Checketts related the story to us, “He called to her spirit “Talitha koum!” (which means “Little girl, I say to you, get up!”) and she was returned to life.” Again, I was duly impressed, but as I grew older I began to wonder about the veracity of these accounts and of miracles in general. I have come to wonder, also, just how common is it for people to continue to believe in miracles and how a miracle is identified in the present. Continue reading

Much of what is called Christianity has more to do with disguising the ego behind the screen of religion and culture than any real movement toward a God beyond the small self, and a new self in God. — Richard Rohr.

catholic_christian_wall_decalcatholic-or-christian

Some years ago while I ordered lunch at a restaurant in the food court at the University Centre, at the university where I work, I asked the young man serving me if he and his family celebrated the Day of the Dead. I had gotten to know him a little in snippets of conversation we had during times he served me, and I learned he was from Mexico. He replied that they did not as this was a Catholic custom, adding, in referring to himself and his family, “we’re Christian.” I was startled by the remark, though it was not the first time I was confronted with this point of view. The first time I remember being confronted by someone with this attitude toward Roman Catholicism was when I was in my first year at university. I was introduced to people from different Christian denominations on campus and at a meet and greet I was speaking to a man who asked to which church I was a member. When I told him I was a Roman Catholic, he retorted “I used to be Catholic, but now I am a Christian.” Later during my years at university, I was given a book by an acquaintance who was forever trying to get me to join his Church, the title escapes me, but it was the account of a Pentecostal Christian and the subtitle was a young Catholic encounters Christ. Continue reading

Turks were a great nation even before they adopted Islam. This religion did not help the Arabs, Iranians, Egyptians and others to unite with Turks to form a nation. Conversely, it weakened the Turks’ national relations; it numbed Turkish national feelings and enthusiasm. This was natural, because Mohammedanism was based on Arab nationalism above all nationalities. — Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881–1938)

Hagia-Sophia-Laengsschnitthagia-sophia-rafay-zafer

The Hagia Sophia has become the focal point in Turkish society’s current struggle between secularists and Islamists. The Republic of Turkey was founded in 1923 as a secular, parliamentary democracy with a president as head of state. In 1935, the Hagia Sophia was converted into a museum and opened to the public by the Turkish government led by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk (1881-1938). It became a major tourist attraction in Istanbul. It was turned into a museum, presumably, to reconcile the troubled history between Christianity and Islam with the realities of Turkey’s modern, secular state. The Hagia Sophia was the seat of Orthodox Christianity, the Patriarch of Constantinople, for several centuries (537–1204), a Roman Catholic cathedral from (1204–1261) and back to the Orthodox Church (1261–1453) until the conquest of the city by the Turks. It served as the first of several Imperial Mosques for the Ottoman Empire from 1453-1931. In the present, the drive to restore the Hagia Sophia as a mosque gained momentum. In 2013, Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc, expressing this desire, said: “We currently stand next to the Hagia Sophia Mosque… we are looking at a sad Hagia Sophia, but hopefully we will see it smiling again soon.” (as cited in Ansa med) On July 10, 2020, President Erdogan signed a decree, ordering the restoration of the Hagia Sophia as a mosque. Continue reading

Let justice be done, though the world perish. (Fiat justitia et pereat mundus.) — Ferdinand I (1503–1564), Hungarian King of Bohemia and Hungary, Holy Roman Emperor 1558-1564

black-death-4the-wrath-of-god

I took the time to comment on a Facebook thread, the premise of which was, that Western nations should discontinue immigration from the Islamic world. I do not think this course of action is warranted and doubt any government in the Western world would take up such a policy, but what got me thinking was a comment from an individual who believes the difficulties of integrating newcomers in Canadian society, with its official policy of multiculturalism, is divine punishment for what he sees as our having abandoned Christian principles as a society. This belief in divine punishment or retribution or justice is very old and not found solely in Christianity. Though I am no longer a practicing Christian, I admit such thoughts have crossed my mind when I experienced hard times and personal tragedy in my own life. When my four year old Brittany, Juno, succumbed to cancer in 2012, I remember talking to the breeder who sold her to me, asking if there had ever been any incidence of cancer in her dogs at such a young age. She told me no and she was just as shocked and horrified as me by the news. I then asked her “is it something I have done?” “What have I done to deserve this?” The questions were essentially rhetorical, but she answered, saying no, it was not anything I had done and assured me that “God does not hand us a burden He knows we cannot bear.” Continue reading

In the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (December 1948) in most solemn form, the dignity of a person is acknowledged to all human beings; and as a consequence there is proclaimed, as a fundamental right, the right of free movement in search for truth and in the attainment of moral good and of justice, and also the right to a dignified life. — Pope John XXIII, 1881-1963 Pacem in Terris, 1963

eleanor-rooseveltcairo-1990-declaration

In essays published earlier on this blog the topic of religion in society, particularly the direction the Western world took in gradually establishing a clear separation of religion and state, relegating religion to the sphere of private conscience is discussed. The last remnants of Papal authority in temporal affairs ended with the signing of the Lateran Treaty between the Vatican and the Italian government in 1929. In the present, in the Western world, religious liberty is guaranteed in law and members of religious institutions are free to comment on moral and political issues just as anyone else. In the Islamic world, this distinction between religion and state never emerged, save for the Republic of Turkey which was founded as a secular state in 1923. The Ottoman Caliphate was abolished in 1924. The constitutional, civil and common law legal systems in effect across the Western world are rooted in the theory of natural rights, primarily as espoused by the men of the Enlightenment, such as John Locke and Thomas Paine. By contrast, across the Islamic world, the system of law, sharia, a religiously based moral and legal code applies. The differences in the legal systems and the place of religion in society between the Western world and the Islamic world are quite noticeable in comparing responses to the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948. Continue reading

“Accumulating orthodoxy makes it harder year-by-year to be a Christian than it was in Jesus’ day.” ― Brian D. McLaren

pope on homosexualitythe20samaritan_jpg

When I started school, grade one to be precise, in Frontenac County in 1967 religious instruction was still part of the public school curriculum. While my family was Roman Catholic at the time, my mother and father were public school supporters. I recall every morning my teacher, Miss Boss, would read us a Bible story as part of our morning opening exercises. One of the first stories I remember she read to us was that of the parable of the Good Samaritan. At the time the nuances of the story were lost on me; it served as a basic moral lesson for me and my classmates that the Samaritan had done the right thing in helping the injured man, unlike the Priest and the Levite. Likewise so should we if confronted with a similar circumstance. It was not until many years later when I was a student at Queen’s University that I came to understand the story and the moral more fully. Continue reading

“Every man has a right to utter what he thinks truth, and every other man has a right to knock him down for it. Martyrdom is the test.”–Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

Polish_Righteous_Józef_and_Wiktoria_Ulmaglorification-of-martyrs

Martyrdom is a concept with which I have been familiar since I was very young. From my Roman Catholic background growing up I remember reading accounts of the lives of saints, many of whom were martyred in the most grisly fashions imaginable. In the summer of 1969 my family, myself, my three siblings, our mother and father and my mother’s parents toured Europe, traveling in a Volkswagen van. Among the sights we saw were a number of art galleries where I viewed a great many works of art depicting the martyrdom of various saints. The martyrdom of Saint Sebastian is one of the more memorable depictions I recall, but it was the depiction of one event in particular from the Bible that really made an impression on me: that of the Massacre of the Innocents. From the first time I heard that story read to me I was troubled by it. I struggled to understand why God would allow such an atrocity. In one version of the story, written for children, I remember reading that we should find solace  in that the mothers of the slain baby boys would have found comfort had they known their murdered sons were the first Christian martyrs. This raised a question for me I have pondered over the years: can children be martyrs? Continue reading

If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity. — C.S. Lewis (1898-1963)

2_cs_lewis_quotes_on_faith.SAslan

Christianity continues to appeal to me despite the fact I no longer practice the faith. My family was nominally Roman Catholic when I was growing up. I remember attending Sunday mass regularly as a small boy and being enrolled in classes to prepare me for my First Communion when I was in first grade. I never completed these classes as they were interrupted when my father was sent to work in England for two years and my mother, myself and my siblings went along also. I remember learning about Jesus in those early years of my life, that He is the Son of God, that as a child He never talked back to his parents or fought with other children, that He accepted crucifixion for our sins and our redemption. At the time I really had no reason not to believe. I trusted that what my parents and teachers were telling me was true. The two years we resided in England my siblings and I attended a private Christian school, Berkhampstead, in Cheltenham. On the whole I remember this as a positive experience. We had regular religious instruction given in a way that was pleasant and seemed quite reasonable. The best part of school for me at that age was when the teacher read to  us and Bible stories were as engaging as any other collection of tales. Continue reading

“After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die.” ― E.B. White, Charlotte’s Web

66506_483152090378_1731430_nJuno1

In memory of my beloved Juno (May 21, 2008 – August 15, 2012)

“Each of us owes God a death.” So I heard Gwynne Dyer proclaim in an episode of his television series War. Death is a reality; it comes for us all. When I was a small boy I did not understand the reality of death. I remember, I must have been three years old and seeing my grandmother with some old baby clothes and toys she said were my aunt Lonny’s. My impression in seeing this was to imagine that people must grow up, then grow back down to being babies again. I asked my mother if this was so and she corrected me, telling me no, people grow, then they grow old and die. She added that nobody wants to die, but everyone has to. I did not really understand what it meant to die and did not give it much thought until I was a little older, maybe five years old when I asked my mother and father “what happens when you die?” They told me “your spirit goes up,” presumably to heaven. I still did not understand and was a little frightened by the prospect, but decided that must be a long way off so I would not worry about it. Continue reading