Dining with my friend Plamen at a restaurant in Sofia.
“We can always call them Bulgarians,” is a quotation attributed by Wilella Waldorf to “Samuel Goldwyn or somebody” in the New York Post, September 17, 1937. (as cited in The origin of “Bulgarian” as a euphemism for sexual minorities.) The euphemism was used in American cinema and theatre when referring to gay and lesbian characters on screen and on stage starting in the first half of the 20th century. What made me think of this is my recent trip to Bulgaria. I left Ottawa, bound for Bulgaria, on July 14th and returned on July 25th. I met up with my friend Plamen in Sofia, the capital city of Bulgaria, and embarked on a whirlwind tour with him as my guide and interpreter. We had a great time. Bulgaria has a rich history and culture going back to antiquity and today Bulgaria is a peaceful and prosperous society. During the tour, we did not visit any gay bars or clubs in Bulgaria. This was not on the itinerary, still, in the back of my mind I wondered what life is like for gay people in Bulgaria. Do gay people live openly in Bulgarian society or do they remain closeted and if so, why? Continue reading →
Using the toilet is a basic human need. Everyone needs to relieve themselves and defecate; these are natural bodily functions. As small children, going to the bathroom is typically a shameless affair. It is not unusual to do your business under the care and supervision of a parent or caregiver at home and in public washrooms. I remember accompanying my mother into public women’s washrooms as a small boy when I had to go. As we grow older, using the bathroom becomes a more private affair. People generally prefer to respond to the call of nature without an audience. This preference was brought home to me the time while serving in the Canadian Army I found myself and my regiment taking part in an exercise at a National Guard camp in Grayling, Michigan. In 1979 at least, the U.S. Army did not concern itself with privacy in the washroom facilities for the lower ranks. The urinal was an open trough and the “shitters” were in a row in plain view. Pooping in plain view of your comrades took a little getting used to. Fortunately, with existing etiquette concerning public washrooms one is generally assured a modicum of privacy. In addition, public washrooms are designated for men and women separately. This has long been the norm and quite reasonable, so how did public washroom etiquette become such a hot button issue in recent history? Continue reading →
Years ago I remember 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 →
Criticism of religion is a tender subject. Criticism of Islam, in particular, is especially so as is evidenced by the court battle that threatened to take shape between the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Jason MacDonald (spokesman for Prime Minister Harper). The NCCM filed a notice of libel in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice over remarks made by Jason MacDonald in dismissing their objection to the inclusion of Rabbi Daniel Korobkin of the Beth Avraham Yosef Synagogue in Toronto as part of the delegation that accompanied Prime Minister Harper on a visit to Israel in January 2014. MacDonald dismissed their objection stating “we will not take seriously criticism from an organization with documented ties to terrorist organization such as Hamas.” (as cited in CTV News) The NCCM objected to the inclusion of Rabbi Korobkin in the delegation accompanying Prime Minister Harper because he hosted speaking engagements featuring Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, two noted critics of Islam, in September 2013. Continue reading →
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 →
A good friend and hunting buddy of mine, Omer, is an observant Muslim whose family immigrated to Canada from Pakistan. Omer is an educated man as is the rest of his family. He is someone I have known several years and with whom I have enjoyed many in-depth discussions, learning about his faith and the culture in which he grew up before coming to Canada. He tells me that family honour and shame are taken very seriously by some elements of Pakistani society. The phenomenon of honour killing is a reality for these elements of Pakistani society, particularly in the rural and tribal regions. Family honour is taken so seriously in this culture that if a family member (typically a girl or young woman) brings shame on the family the whole family suffers. They become untouchables; they are deemed unfit to associate with and most certainly are not welcome to marry into other families. The only way family honour can be restored in such a case is in killing the family member who brought the shame onto the family. This understanding of family honour is bound up in religion (Islam) and a culture in which men dominate. He certainly does not approve of this behaviour. He recognizes it as a problem that Pakistani society must address. Continue reading →
Mika and I are supporters of the Conservative Party of Canada. While we support the government led by Prime Minister Harper, we do not have membership in the Conservative Party of Canada, nor do we donate money to the Party. Neither do we agree with every position taken by the Conservative government and where instances of wrongdoing are exposed, we think those responsible should suffer the consequences. You may find odd that a gay couple identifies as conservative, but in our outlook and values, we see ourselves moderate centre-right politically. We value personal liberty, religious liberty (freedom of conscience), intellectual freedom, equality of opportunity and the pursuit of happiness. In our opinion, the Conservative Party of Canada under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper currently best represents these values. Continue reading →