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Death’s services aren’t for free?

Originally posted on Blog of Natalie Gorna:

I just watched a commercial that advertises the current fees and expenses surrounding funerals.  Supposedly, it costs over $10,000 to pay for an average funeral service, the funeral “reception,” etc.  Even cremation is pricey (when one’s body is dissipated into charred ashes)…it’s around $5,000.  WHAT?!

Okay, okay….so, let’s hypothesize.  An average person, whether man or woman, has to start working steadily in order to survive in this world and society we live in, almost from the instant he/she graduates (or drops out) from secondary school.  Then, considering high living costs, any person alive is forced into the endless routine of working until retirement, which isn’t until “ripe old age.”  That would be around one’s mid-sixties.  Then, the possibility of death is very prominent…well, the probability of death is very high.

Didn’t Benjamin Franklin say that death and taxes were the only certain thing in life?  Aside from the fact that…

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Love Thy Neighbour: A Look at the Relationship between Modern Christians and the LGBT Community

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equalpeple1.jpgHomophobia and transphobia are serious issues within Canada and yet majorly overlooked due to this country’s reputation of acceptance and multiculturalism. It is reported that both gay and lesbian Canadians are two times more likely to be victimized and bisexuals are four times more likely to be victimized than heterosexual Canadians (Statistics Canada). This statistic is the product of many factors, but in the following essay I will take a look at the involvement of contemporary Christianity in regards to support for and hatred against the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transsexual) community. While I hope to represent the whole of the LGBT community, I will be using examples mostly about male and female homosexuality due to the lack of reputable sources on bisexuality and transsexuality. I hope to demonstrate that while the sources of homophobic discrimination from Christian groups are plentiful, their lack of ability to change and progress ensures that the voice of the supportive Christian groups will inevitably become consensus opinion. First, I will identify the Christian roots of homophobia through exploring biblical passages, the fear aroused from the church’s subordination to the state, and the apocalyptic attitude that oversees it all. I will explore the community of openly homosexual Christians and the methods used to cope, and lastly, I will identify the roots of support through the fear of a larger threat, post-Enlightenment critical thinking, and also the Eastern influence on Western religion and culture.

The foundation of homophobic sentiment in the Christian faith lies within the bible. In order to remain focused, I will be only referring to the New Testament as it is the defining text of Christianity and also the most frequently read. It is a common misconception on the part of LGBT defenders that the New Testament, unlike the Old Testament, is free from homophobic passages. Unfortunately, this is not the case. While the authorship is debatable, Paul was said to have written a few passages in his epistles regarding the unholiness of same-sex intercourse. Regarding homosexuals, he states that “God gave them up to degrading passions. Their women exchanged natural intercourse for unnatural, and in the same way also men, giving up natural intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another…and received in their own persons the due penalty for their error” (Romans 1:26-27). The key issue with this passage, and to all biblical passages regarding homosexuality, is its allusion to the unnatural. This is where sayings like ‘pray the gay away’ come from. Instead of accepting that LGBTs are born with their own personal gender identity that strays from the socially constructed ‘norm,’ it is perceived as a choice that stems from corruption of the soul. The idea of God’s abandonment of these people to their seductive desires and their impending punishment creates an atmosphere of punishment that begins here on earth. Nowhere does the New Testament say that they should be punished by humanity because it is commonly known that divine judgement is only for God to dole out. That being said, the message marginalizes this group of people and leaves them open to scrutiny.

The New Testament does more than solidify the idea that any sexuality other than heterosexuality and asexuality are abominations. It manages to put same-sex relations in league with other sins in order to emphasize how completely monstrous it is. Paul states, “Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers – none of these will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor 5:9-10). This method of incorporating homosexual relations with truly immoral actions such as adultery and theft is used even today. A common argument against same-sex marriage is that if it were to be legal, then we would have to let people marry multiple partners, children, and even animals. The serious issue is that the act has been deemed to be a vile sin and the people involved in the act have been stripped of their agency as cognitive and moral beings. They are seen as puppets being controlled by their sinful desires and because of this, the hateful Christian parties can pretend that they are completely separate and subordinate entities.

Not all that long ago, the Church had a monopoly of power over the people of the Western world. It is unclear whether the reason behind this is that the authority of the church was unquestioned for that many centuries or if the public was merely afraid to rebel. It is clear, however, that eventually religious rule was seen as an inappropriate method of governance. In Canada specifically, “a sedate inquiry awakened in the minds of a progressive people in respect to the result of a Separation of Church from the State,” and the government officials agreed that it would be beneficial to remove Christianity as the governing body (Stimson 198). The subordination of the church to the state meant many thing for Christians including the idea that God was not an all-encompassing, political force. Ever since the inception of Christianity, it has always been common for various groups to validate their causes through the use of God. The early Christians fought Roman rule and became martyrs because they believed that God was on their side. Constantine made Christianity the state religion because he believed that God would support his army. The early ascetics made their way into the desert and lived minimalistic lives of suffering because they felt God wanted them to. What has changed between then and now is a growing sense of human autonomy and responsibility. Subscribing to Christianity is not the only way to live or succeed anymore. The separation of the church from the state is a definitive example of humanity taking fate and morality into their own hands. This is quite possibly where the fear of the hateful Christian groups began and it only grew as the government became more and more secular.

Eventually, in 1985, the Human Rights Act came out and proclaimed in Section 2 that:

all individuals should have an opportunity equal with other individuals to make for themselves the lives that they are able and wish to have and to have their needs accommodated, consistent with their duties and obligations as members of society, without being hindered in or prevented from doing so by discriminatory practices based on race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, family status… (“Human Rights Act”)

This passage not only acknowledges sexual orientation as a basis of discrimination, but it also serves to humanize the parties in question by explaining that they have their own hopes and dreams, and they also have every right to live their own lives in accordance with their own ideals. Hearing such a proclamation forces a Christian to either accept and incorporate such a decree into their lives, or resent it. Those who resented this statement and the secularization of the government that lead to it, share the same emotion from which hatred stems: fear.

Fear in Christianity is noticeable in the form of apocalyptic thinking or apocalyptic literature. Like eschatological thinking, they tend to focus on God’s ultimate plan or conclusion for the world and humanity; however, apocalyptic thinking goes further to expect punishment for the wicked, rewards for the righteous, and often the destruction of the world as we know it. In any case, it is common for fearful people to live apocalyptically and this theory is seen in the works of René Girard. He came up with four stereotypes of persecution in his anthology of religion and violence known as The Scapegoat. According to him, it all begins when a select group perceives themselves to be in a time of crisis. The crisis is deemed to be a crime instead of a natural event. Due to this conclusion, it is only natural from there to need a criminal who caused the crisis and this ends up usually being a small group of people who are already “susceptible to persecution” (Girard 12-25). From here, violence is used to restore the natural order. In the case of modern day secularism, we have a group of Christians who are confused by the power being taken from the church and laws being put in place that counter sacred, biblical passages; this is conceived as a crisis. Then we have the LGBT community which is already susceptible to persecution and is, for all intents and purposes, much smaller in number. They have become the criminals who caused the crisis and only by eliminating them, shunning them, and shaming them, will the balance be restored. Violence is often used against them as was previously mentioned, but regarding Christians specifically, there are other measures that can be more detrimental than violence. The methods of social exclusion are endless: telling strangers and even loved ones that they will go to hell because of whom they love, creating camps to convert homosexuals back to heterosexuality, verbally abusing them in public sermons, Christian parents disowning their own children, etc. This reaction to crisis is primitive and detrimental to a growing society where it is becoming harder and harder to put people into separate, neat categories.

Apocalyptic attitude is not mutually exclusive to Christianity and therefore, it is noticeable even in groups who support homosexuality. In times of crisis, violence and scapegoating are not the only reactions. Sometimes Christians feel that the crisis is a call to being better Christians. Yes, this mentality can lead to the rejection of homosexuality, but it can also lead to the acceptance of it. According to Laurence Freeman, a renowned Catholic priest and monk, “We re-enact the Cross, as victims or as crucifiers, many times each day. When we gossip, spread rumours, slander or lie we are crucifiers. When we mock cruelly, strip others of their dignity, denigrate, humiliate or marginalize others” (Freeman 256). Here we can attribute the negativity in the world and within ourselves to the cruel actions that we put out into the world. This minimalizes the sense of Christian exceptionalism that is very much prominent in the more strict groups. What I mean by Christian exceptionalism is that these groups hold a sense of entitlement because they have chosen the ‘correct faith’ and from there, they can justify their decisions and actions based on that superiority. Seeing one’s self as the crucifier, however, allows every Christian to be accountable for their own actions. While it may do very little against homophobic thought, it does ensure that these Christians will refrain from outwardly putting down anyone based on their sexuality or otherwise.

There is also an apocalyptic outlook regarding the events of war and conflict happening all over the world. In times of war and violence, it does seem as though the world might end and that humanity will never reconcile their differences. In such a scenario, it makes divisions such as that of sexual preference seem silly. There are bigger battles to fight and unity is what is needed right now. This can be seen in a statement by the United Church of Canada:

The United Church of Canada is among many faith communities locally and globally that celebrate sexual and gender diversity. We as a society need to actively work for positive and safe spaces that celebrate diversity…Ours is a message of solidarity and support to the LGBT community in Saskatoon. (Kim-Cragg, 2013)

Unity and support are being offered to the formerly rejected groups and this is a very good sign. Once such acceptance is offered and considered, it is difficult to go backwards from there. Apocalyptic outlook is common in humanity as a whole, but it does manifest in different ways. This sense of unity and kindness in light of the very real terrors that exist in the world, whether physical or spiritual, is certainly the more constructive path to choose.

Ever since the Enlightenment, we have challenged ourselves to explore the inner workings of society and dissect what is commonly deemed to be the ‘norm.’ From Marx’s theory of religion as an opiate to Nietzsche’s theory that God is dead, religion has become a topic of discussion to which we can employ critical thinking. Critical thinking does not need to be used to degrade religion, but it can explore and help it grow by allowing the practitioners to see the flaws and the human contributions that have been imposed over time. According to Carter Heyward, “we no longer have to wage our campaigns for ‘rights’ on the basis of being homosexuals who can’t help it because it’s just the way we are…whether we are heterosexual or homosexual, we expect our society to offer basic conditions of human worth and self-respect to all people” (Heyward 41). Through critical thinking, we are able to transcend our biases to question our personal motivations. As Heyward says, the question of homosexuality being a choice is immaterial now because there is an understanding and expectation that as humans, we all deserve the same respect. The line gets blurry when discussing rights such as marriage and adoption, but the existence of homosexual humans has been accepted for the most part. Through critical thinking, we have been able to come this far even considering that homosexuality was still a very much taboo subject as little as twenty years ago and this very fact illustrates that we, as humans, will only explore ourselves more thoroughly from here on in.

The acceptance of homosexuality in Christian circles is effectively seen within the very people known as homosexual Christians or gay Christians. First, the fact that this term exists shows that there is an avenue of acceptance within the church; logically speaking, gay Christians have always existed, but only now do the practitioners actually feel comfortable announcing it. Understandably the realisation of one’s homosexuality is a stressful experience and it does not always happen that the person chooses to accept both their sexuality and their faith. There are generally four different strategies that one uses to come to terms with their identity. They can reject the religious identity, reject the homosexual identity, compartmentalize, or integrate their identity (Rodriguez 334).

First, rejecting the religious identity is certainly more of a modern solution. Now that Christianity has been lowered to a level where it is deemed to be contestable, it is believed that “as many as 62% of gays and lesbians feel that religion is not an important aspect of their lives” (Rodriguez 334). Some of this statistic can be seen from the standpoint that many people in general, gay or otherwise, are choosing to not adhere to a religion simply because they do not believe in it. It can also be seen as the product of rejection. The rejection of Christianity is partly a disbelief in a God who could possibly hate someone for being exactly who they are; it is a disbelief that God could create a large population people just to say that they are damned.

Second, the rejection of the homosexual identity can range from ignoring one’s own urges and choosing to marry someone of the opposite sex to undergoing therapy in order to change one’s own sexual orientation. This is quite possibly the most unfortunate choice as it forces a healthy human being into believing that they are corrupted and that they will not be pure in God’s eyes until the Christian community around them agrees that they are.

Third, compartmentalization is a “compromise between conflicting identities” (Rodriguez 334). This is perhaps not the most constructive way of meeting homosexuality with religion, but it is a start. Here, they are not violently opposed to one another. Rather, they are seen as two different parts of an identity that should never mix; be gay at home and be religious as church. The issue with this mentality is that there is still room for internal conflict and self-loathing due to the fact that neither identity is necessarily positive. Compartmentalization provides rather a sense of cold tolerance.

Fourth and last, the integration of one’s identity is the most constructive way for a person to amalgamate their religion and their sexuality. According to Rodriguez, “Such individuals hold a positive gay identity, a positive religious identity, and do not feel conflict between the two” (335). It is quite possible to hold this view without any outside influence, but it is more likely to happen when a person is surrounded by a loving community of family and friends. This is the very mentality that is seen when Christian groups speak out for the LGBT community and when individuals of the LGBT community fervently claim that God made them the way that they are and therefore they know God loves them. This is the most beneficial belief that reflects a positive church sentiment and an inner acceptance on the part of the LGBT community. The most wonderful thing, is that this mentality is clearly growing as seen through an increased number of Christian gay rights protests and public apologies from specific church communities. What I will be exploring next, however, is the reason behind this growing positivity.

The twentieth century is unique for its incorporation of Eastern culture and religion. It is not only that people in the Western world are discovering religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Daoism, but also that they are incorporating them into their own faiths. If you look at Buddhism specifically, its essence has become so engrained into culture that it is hardly noticeable. This can be seen through exploring the first four steps of the Noble Eightfold Path, a text that is one of the first pieces of dharma (teachings) that was said to have been brought to the world through Buddha when he reached Enlightenment. The first four steps are the following: right understanding, right mindedness, right speech, and right action. We do not need to have memorized this list to accept that the meaning underneath it has been assumed into our culture. We have right understanding by realizing that everyone suffers as we do; we have right mindedness when we refrain from thinking cruelly; we have right speech when we refrain from using harsh language and succumbing to self-involved thought; we have right action when we abstain from violence (“The Noble Eightfold Path”). We have entered a paradigm where it is not merely good enough to be polite externally, but we are expected to hone principles of kindness and patience into our very personalities. Such an outlook when combined with Christianity reaps very positive results. It does not change the principles that Christianity is focused on in any way; it merely allows Christians to focus more on the positive teachings and the kindness shown by Christ.

Another influence of Eastern tradition can be seen in Christian meditation. An example of the fusion of Christianity and Buddhism can be seen in the following excerpt by Laurence Freeman, “We should say the mantra without impatience, without force or any intention of violence. The purpose of the mantra is not to block out thoughts. It is not a jamming device. If thoughts attack us while we are meditating we turn the other cheek. In saying the mantra gently we learn from Him who is gentle and humble of heart” (Freeman 256). The Buddhist concepts of patience and non-violence complement the Christian belief of turning the other cheek or not letting your anger consume you to the point that you hold ill will against another. The meditator uses mantra in a similar way to their Buddhist counterparts; however, instead of learning from within oneself and contemplating the emptiness of the universe, the meditator opens themselves up to the grace and teachings of Christ. This shift in the communication between God and humanity needs to be celebrated because it is embracing God’s changing ‘nature.’ God is changing; it can be seen even from comparing his loving and forgiving self in the New Testament to his wrathful and angry self in the Old Testament. Meditation allows the meditator to feel at peace and strengthen their faith through human emotion instead of through archaic laws. Essentially, having a stagnant idea of God and a stagnant relationship with Him is simply not convenient for anyone and the introduction of Eastern elements into Christian practice has certainly contributed to the expanse of kindness seen in many modern day Christian groups.

With the way that society has been described thus far, it may be wondered how it is that these anti-homosexual groups continue to survive. There is one aspect within Christianity that allows these groups to continue on with a sense of entitlement: the belief that God is constant. While God did clearly change between the Old and New Testament, it is written in the New Testament that “the gifts and the calling of God is irrevocable” (Romans 11:29). It also refers to “the unchangeable character of his purpose” (Hebrews 6:17). Unfortunately, there is some legitimacy to the archaic and hateful messages within the bible and due to this inclusion, there will most likely always be a group of people who cannot let go of the homophobic passages. Fortunately, it is also this very inclusion that ensures that Christian support will undoubtedly become consensus opinion. It is as simple as knowing that this world is changing very quickly and we naturally adapt to survive in it. We must adapt or get left behind. This homophobic mentality that has been engrained into select Christian groups by an old text and approved of by the unwavering nature of God cannot keep up with the ever-changing expectations of the nature of humanity.

Supportive Christian groups are grounded in progress and change. It is not only a sense of kindness and acceptance that makes it so, but also that we have realized the inefficiency of discrimination. The youth of today, if cultivated, will go on to be successful and prosperous. If we degrade them, then our country and culture will go nowhere. An optimistic view is given by Calvin B. Ball when he states:

We can see our younger generation offering warming approval of inclusion for those in the LGBT community… those of us who believe that education, particularly higher education, is the gateway to opportunity, the great leveler that can unlock doors of the imagination and the future, should be able to see the urgent, vital importance of ensuring inclusive campuses now. (Ball)

Acceptance of diversity can be seen in many changes such as gender-neutral washrooms, gender-neutral vocabulary, etc. While some see these changes as Band-Aid solutions, it is better to see them as manifestations of the positivity that is slowly working its way through the world. When this positivity meets religion, together wonderful things will be possible.

Homophobia has many roots and causes, and among them is the root of religious thought. Thus, violence toward the LGBT community cannot be said to be mutually exclusive with the relationship between Christian groups and homosexual people. That being said, Christian support is a good sign of communal acceptance and perhaps the foreshadowing of decreased violence in the future.

Works Cited

Ball, Calvin B. “Institutions must Ensure Inclusion of LGBT Community.” Diverse Issues in Higher Education 29.26 (2013): 23. ProQuest. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.

Canadian Human Rights Act. (R.S.C., 1985, c. H-6). Section 2. Web. 1 Mar. 2014.

Freeman, Laurence. “Dearest Friends,” WCCM International Newsletter, January 1997. Web. 1 Mar. 2014.

Freeman, Laurence. “Steps in Relationship,” Jesus: The Teacher Within. New York: Continuum, 2000. 256. Print.

Girard, René. The Scapegoat. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins, 1986. 12-25. Print.

Heyward, Carter. Touching Our Strength: The Erotic as Power and the Love of God. New York, NY: Harper and Row, 1989. 41. Print.

Kim-Cragg, David. “Supporting LGBT.” Star – Phoenix. Sep 21 2013. ProQuest. Web. 27 Jan. 2014.

Meeks, Wayne A., and Jouette M. Bassler. The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1993. Print.

Prebish, Charles, and Damien Keown. “The Noble Eight Fold Path.” Buddhism – the ebook: An Online Introduction. 4th ed. Pennsylvania: Journal of Buddhist Ethics Online Books, 2010. 52-53. Pdf.

Rodriguez, Eric M., and Suzanne C. Ouellette. “Gay and Lesbian Christians: Homosexual and Religious Identity Integration in the Members and Participants of a Gay-Positive Church.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion 39.3 (2000): 333-345. Print.

Statistics Canada. Sexual Orientation and Victimization, 2008. Web. 1 Mar. 2014.

Stimson, E. R. “Conclusion.” History of the Separation of Church and State in Canada. 3rd ed. Toronto: n.p., 1887. 198. Print.

 About the Author

My name is Jessica Wayner and I am the primary editor of Elemental Editing (www.elementalediting.com), and my area of study was Religious…


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Why natural is not necessarily good but you are sacred

Dioscorides’ Materia Medica, c. 1334 copy in A...

Dioscorides’ Materia Medica, c. 1334 copy in Arabic, describes medicinal features of cumin and dill. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By: Andy Pakula

Before I became a Unitarian minister, I was a scientist – a Ph.D. biologist. Ministry and science is an interesting combination – two fields that sometimes conflict and sometimes make for the most wonderful of synergies. I know a great deal about how living things work – about the chemistry and mechanics that life uses to sustain itself. I know a lot about how living things interact with one another.

The fact that this is in my background may make you feel that you can trust what I say about the world a bit more or it may make you feel more distrustful. The confidence we once had in scientists and science has vanished. Hostility and fear have largely taken its place.

There was a time when society was enraptured with the potential of modern technology. As we saw diseases cured that had for millenia brought human misery, there was a sense that we – through the intelligence of humanity – could be our own saviours – we imagined that our science and technology would allow us to create a world of universal peace and prosperity. The horrors of the 20th century shattered this vision as we saw our technology turned to more and more effective means of killing and oppression.

The pendulum seems to be swinging to the opposite extreme now. Science and technology are often seen as evils today. As West argues, many of us have adopted a sense that what is natural is necessarily good. Anything else is bad. The word “unnatural” has come to mean wrong, dangerous, and perverted. West would clearly like to refute this extreme notion that identifies natural as good and anything that does not occur without human intervention as bad.

So would I.

To quote author and fellow Unitarian Kurt Vonnegut “If people think that nature is their friend, then they sure don’t need an enemy.”

Vonnegut’s take is a bit extreme. Nature is not our enemy. It is filled with beauty and wonder and our tradition has long understood the natural world to contain the image of the sacred, perhaps more than anywhere else. And yet, there can be no doubt that nature is not entirely benign.

As a scientist, I learned about thousands of dangerous natural substances. One of the most potent cancer-causing agents in the world is a chemical called aflatoxin. It is not produced in some shiny chemical plant. It is not a by-product of industry. It is produced by a naturally-occurring kind of fungus that likes to grow on grain. Eating food contaminated the natural fungus that makes natural aflatoxin causes cancer.

Aflatoxin is a particularly extreme example, but it is not at all unique. Many plants, mushrooms, and animals are, of course, toxic. Even some foods we eat regularly, such as parsnips and potatoes produce their own toxins – probably as a way of protecting themselves from insects or microorganisms.

And finally, I must mention comfrey. You may know comfrey as a tall perennial plant with lovely little flowers. It is commonly used as a vegetable and made into a tea. For more than 2,000 years, comfrey has been used as an herbal medicine. It has been used to treat broken bones, ulcers, congestion, inflammation, and wounds. It is just the sort of thing that is popular today, where natural remedies tend to be trusted over something the doctor would provide. 2,000 years of experience – that has to count for something.

Well, whatever else comfrey may or may not do, it also damages your liver and contributes to the development of cancer. Comfrey is natural and it has a very long history of use. It is not, however, safe.

Synthetic drugs are tested using an incredibly exhaustive and expensive serious of chemical, animal, and human studies. Synthetic drugs are pure and guaranteed to be almost exactly the same every time you take them – no matter who makes them or which chemist you buy them from. Natural drugs are complex mixtures that can be very different in every batch. They undergo almost no testing.

I am very concerned about the natural food and medicine phenomenon. Sometimes, it is harmless to take a herbal medicine. Sometimes, though, we do irreparable damage to ourselves either because of side-effects of these natural potions or because we forgo a synthetic drug that could really help us because we have been led to be afraid of anything “unnatural.”

It is appealing to believe that natural is necessarily good. I understand myself to be a part of the natural world and I have a strong sense that all life is connected in some deep way. I sometimes find myself thinking that, because of this great communion, nature would not be in any way threatening. Indeed, it should be nurturing and restorative. It should provide a remedy for all of my ills. It is a comforting and deeply spiritual notion.

If we believe a traditional religious story of the origin of the world, God would certainly have made plants to suit our needs. In a more scientific world view, we might imagine that we would have a special relationship with plants that were around as we evolved. They might have adjusted to suit us and we to suit them. Mutually beneficial relationships do occur in the natural world. Some insects and flowers have developed such intricate and interdependent relationships that neither can live without the other! The plant could not be pollinated without its special insect and the insect would starve without its special plant.

But the reality is that we don’t benefit the plants and they did not evolve to benefit us. All of the drugs found in nature, such as penicillin, aspirin, some anticancer and cardiac drugs – are made by plants that evolved to produce them for some other purpose – usually to repel or kill some kind of invader – and we are just lucky that they have beneficial effects for us.

Just as natural materials are not necessarily good, unnatural ones are not necessarily bad. Synthetic medicines, as West points out, have extended our lives dramatically. They have literally transformed the nature of human life. Unless we are walking naked through an untouched primordial forest –we are making use of something or many things that are unnatural.

Patrick West says that we worship nature. He claims that we do so because we can no longer worship the traditional God and because we no longer trust scientists and doctors implicitly.

There is some truth to this claim. Human beings crave a simple organising principle. The world is immensely complex and becoming more so every day. Scientists and engineers dream up new things faster than we can keep track of them, much less know how to evaluate their safety. In response to such a complex and dynamic reality, some turn to fundamentalist religion and use scripture or religious dogma to help sort the things into categories that are easier to manage. Others turn to different simplifications, including the notion that nature is pure and good.

The duality of natural and unnatural is applied not only beyond us, but within us. Is the human character innately good or evil? This is a question that has been argued for centuries.

Today, a common notion has emerged that our character is intrinsically good – that it is by nature pure and true. Evil comes in only by that which is artificial and imposed upon us. As long as an aspect of our character is natural, this thinking would say, it is good.

I am reminded of when my son Jacob was very young. My wife and I were absolutely determined to keep him free from the contaminating influences of our culture’s violence and shallow values. There would be no telly in our home. The toys would all be wood – no artificial plastic stuff for this child. And most of all, there would be no weapons of any kind.

It was not long at all before our darling, pure, innocent Jacob was making anything and everything into a weapon. “We don’t have weapons in this family” we said, as we confiscated the toast he had bitten into the shape of a gun. “We don’t have weapons in this family” we said as he shaped his fingers into a gun and blasted away at us. “What are you going to do” he countered, “take away my finger?” At that point, we realised we were fighting a losing battle – not just against him, but against something that is hard-wired into us.

Human nature, I am convinced, is not purely good. Nature does not bestow upon us infinite goodness. Just as in the world beyond us, nature provides a complex mix of harmful and helpful, good and bad, constructive and destructive attributes and impulses.

It is human nature to be compassionate. It also appears to be human nature to fight one another. I believe that a sacredness, a goodness exists within each of us – call it dignity, call it soul, call it Atman, call it God – whatever you call it, it is there to be found in every heart. But the goodness is not all there is. We are innately capable of good and evil.

There will be no simple measuring stick for us to show us good from bad or right from wrong. Categories such as natural or scriptural that create simple black and white dualities will not be adequate signposts to show us the way.

Mary Oliver, in her poem, “At the Lake,” speaks rapturously of a natural event – a fish leaping through the air. She speaks of holiness and identifies it with the natural world.

The point is not the simple one that everything natural is holy and everything unnatural is not. It is more subtle. She writes:

“This is, I think, what holiness is:
the natural world,
where every moment is full of the passion to keep moving.”

The holiness of the natural world lies not in its naturalness alone, but in its motion. It is in the process of life – its exuberance and energy, its determination – that holiness is found. Goodness is to be identified in everything that shows us our unity, brings us together, creates understanding, and grows the living force of love in the world.

Dualities are for the solitary and untrusting. It is when we are alone that we must measure and determine for ourselves – when we turn to simplistic categories to guide us. It is when we can not trust others to carry out their roles responsibly that we must suspect everything and turn to simplifying dualities.

In community, we turn to one another. It is here, inspired by vision and bound together by love, that we learn what creates understanding, what creates trust, and what reveals our unity.

It is here that we begin to create the world we long to see.

About the Author:

Andrew Pakula is the Minister of the Newington Green and Islington Unitarians, a rapidly-growing, radically-inclusive, spiritual community in north London. He directs UKSpirituality.org, a not-for-profit association of quality providers of spiritual events, programmes, and workshops.

With a Jewish background and influences from many other religious traditions, his is a particularly open and eclectic approach to spirituality. Andrew believes that authentic spirituality provides a way of living deeply, meaningfully, and with connection, and that it offers an essential antidote to the busy, individualistic, materialistic culture in which we live.
http://www.ukspirituality.org
apakula@gmail.com

Article Source: Why natural is not necessarily good but you are sacred


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A Church without God?


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Reagan’s 1987 UN speech on ‘alien threat’ resonates now

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan

Official Portrait of President Ronald Reagan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By Steve Hammons

(This article was featured 7/26/15 in “Knapp’s News” on the Coast to Coast AM radio show website. “Coast” has the largest late-night radio audience in the U.S. Award-winning investigative journalist George Knapp of KLAS-TV News in Las Vegas is a popular “C2C” host.)

On Sept. 21, 1987, then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan gave an address to the United Nations General Assembly. In an often-quoted section of his speech, Reagan asked rhetorical questions and commented about the nations and cultures of the world uniting in common efforts to live in peace and avoid wars and bloodshed.

“Cannot swords be turned to plowshares? Can we and all nations not live in peace? In our obsession with antagonisms of the moment, we often forget how much unites all the members of humanity,” Reagan said.

“Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond,” Reagan proposed.

“I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world. And yet, I ask you, is not an alien force already among us? What could be more alien to the universal aspirations of our peoples than war and the threat of war?”

In these statements, Reagan seems to be noting that in addition to the diverse cultures and societies around the world, we should also keep in mind the larger human culture. And despite conflicts and wars throughout human history to the present day, this larger human culture has many unifying elements.

UNIFIED HUMANITY

Among these are the major accomplishments of humanity, including the survival of our human species on this planet over hundreds of thousands of years. The development of agriculture, language, education, art, music and technology are common to most human cultures.

Reagan urged us to see the big picture – “how much unites all the members of humanity.” He warned us to take the long view instead of “our obsession with antagonisms of the moment.”

Of course, the nations of the world already engage in significant cooperation on many levels. These include efforts to improve trade and economic prosperity, share cultural resources and viewpoints, protect global public heath, and respond to disasters and humanitarian challenges.

Yet, there is room for significant improvement in how nations and cultures interact, and how individual humans treat one another.

These conflicts, of course, are not just between countries and cultures. Within the many nations and cultures on Earth, we often see internal conflict and strife when people within a society are divided and angry about real or perceived injustice, oppression, ethnic and religious differences or some other cause.

In his address, Reagan theorized that these many sources of discord and conflict around the world “would [quickly] vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.” And, he put forth the idea that, “Perhaps we need some outside, universal threat to make us recognize this common bond.”

Was Reagan correct? Would certain adverse developments help bring the human race together? Would the human race unify in the face of a devastating impending meteor strike, severe global disease pandemic, worldwide natural disaster or other threat?

THREAT OR BREAKTHROUGH

Reagan appeared to hold an optimistic view of humanity. He seemed to indicate that he felt the human race would pull together in greater unity in the face of a larger danger. As a result, a greater awareness about what we have in common as humans would help us overcome the perpetual wars, death and destruction that have been a large part of the experience of the human race on Earth.

Implicit in his speech, the former president told us that we have the potential to transcend these destructive behaviors and seize opportunities to focus on unifying instincts, developments and events.

Would it really require “an alien threat from outside this world” for the people of Earth to make significant progress toward peace and prosperity instead of perpetual conflict?

Or, might we stumble on this truth without an impending disaster? Can we reach a tipping point when it becomes evident and obvious that our “universal aspirations” are more important and fundamental than war and destructive competition?

Instead of “an alien threat,” what if a positive kind of development emerged? Such a development could include scientific discovery of a remarkable nature or a change in global human psychology and consciousness.

Instead of Reagan’s concept of an “outside, universal threat,” what might happen if there was an inside, universal breakthrough that takes the human race on to the next levels of our development?

About the Author

Steve Hammons is the author of two novels about a U.S. Government and military joint-service research team investigating unusual phenomena. MISSION INTO LIGHT and the sequel LIGHT’S HAND introduce readers to the ten women and men of the “Joint Reconnaissance Study Group” and their exciting adventures exploring the unknown.


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Hindus disheartened at U-turn of Conwy Council in Wales on feeding seagulls

English: River Conwy estuary, North Wales

River Conwy estuary, North Wales (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Special to Earthpages.org

Hindus are disheartened at the reported U-turn of Conwy County Borough Council in North Wales (United Kingdom) on the issue of fining people for feeding seagulls.

Earlier, the Conwy Council reportedly shelved the plan to fine people for feeding seagulls, and now the Council is reportedly considering instituting a law by year end banning feeding of the birds.

Rajan Zed, who earlier commended the Council for reported shelving of plan to fine people for feeding seagulls respecting the religious sentiments of some communities, in a statement in Nevada (USA) today, said that introducing ban on feeding birds would be blatantly disregarding the sentiments of some communities.

Zed, who is President of Universal Society of Hinduism, asked: Was the universal principle of religious freedom not applicable in the Conwy County?

Rajan Zed urged the Conwy Council to show some maturity and respect to some communities who thought feeding birds was an act of kindness and a religious duty, and not draft the proposed law punishing those who fed the birds.

Zed pointed out that feeding birds was intrinsic to Hinduism and many started their day by feeding them.

Rajan Zed further said that birds played an important role in Hinduism and several Hindu deities had birds as their vahana (mount, vehicle): peacock is the vahana of Karttikeya, owl of Lakshmi, swan of Brahma, Garuda of Vishnu, etc. Jatayu was an ally of Rama who attempted to foil the abduction of Sita. Ancient Shvetashvatara Upanishad identified Self with bird: He is the blue bird, he is the green bird.

Zed also requested other counties, cities and towns in Wales to refrain from legislating penalties for feeding birds; besides urging Swansea Council and other seaside resorts to reconsider their fines for feeding the birds.

Hinduism is the oldest and third largest religions of the world with about one billion adherents and moksh (liberation) is its ultimate goal.

Liz Roberts is Conwy County Borough Council’s Chair while Iwan Davies is County’s Chief Executive.


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Jewish Souls In Bodies That Do Not Look Jewish

By Rabbi Allen S. Maller

(RNS) Sandra Lawson, a former military police officer turned personal trainer, wasn’t religious about anything (except maybe fitness), she also wasn’t looking to convert to Judaism, and she certainly never aspired to be one of the first black, openly lesbian rabbis, according to Religious News Service.

But in May Lawson finished her fourth year at the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College outside Philadelphia. She plans to marry her girlfriend and spend the fall semester in Israel. If all goes according to plan, she will celebrate her ordination as a Rabbi in 2018.

“Sandra,” explained Rabbi Josh Lesser, the rabbi who prepared Lawson for her conversion, ”is an ‘all-in’ kind of person.” When Lawson, now 45, told him that she wanted to become a Jew 11 years ago, he said he felt that “some kind of leadership would emerge from this.”

No one has been purposefully mean to Lawson, but not long ago, a stranger saw her in a store, noticed her yarmulke and asked her if she was Jewish. She said she was and asked him the same question. “He looked shocked,” Lawson said of the man who turned out to be Jewish. “Like I was not allowed to ask him what he had just asked me.”

There was a picture of M. L. King in her parents’ home while she was growing up; there was no picture of Jesus’. Her family was not particularly connected to her father’s Baptist roots, and her mother didn’t talk about religion. But as a child, she was drawn to a story her mother told about an Ethiopian Jewish ancestor. “I don’t want people to think I grew up searching for this Jewish identity,” Lawson said. “It was just a story.”

But through a Jewish girlfriend in Atlanta, she was exposed to a full year of Jewish observances and holidays. At Shabbat dinners, Lawson loved how parents blessed their children. At the family’s Passover seder, she felt what Jewish tradition wants participants to feel — that in telling the story of the liberation of the Israelites, they are telling their own liberation story.

The relationship eventually ended. Then in 2001, she met Lesser, who hired her to be his personal trainer at the Urban Body gym in Atlanta. At first, Lawson knew her client as Josh Lesser. Later she found out he was Rabbi Josh Lesser. He invited her to Bet Haverim, a Reconstructionist synagogue in Atlanta founded by gay Jews.

The congregation was laid-back but serious about issues she cared about — gay rights and inequality. “I was looking for a community and I thought: ‘I want to be Jewish. And I want to be Jewish here,’” Lawson said. After her conversion, and when she felt herself more drawn toward leadership in the Jewish community, she found out that “there is a school that trains people like Josh.”

Although Sandra Lawson would probably be surprised , there is a good chance she has always had a Jewish soul. There are hundreds of thousands of people from Africa with Jewish souls. Their Jewish ancestors came to Africa during Roman times. Most of them lived in the area around Ethiopia and never lost their connection with the Jewish people. Almost all of these Ethiopian Jews now live in Israel.

Many other Jews who lived in smaller communities in east and west Africa eventually lost contact with the Ethiopian Jewish center and assimilated into African pagan culture. In later centuries these assimilated Jews were drawn to Islam and Christianity because it reconnected them to their Jewish origins. In the last century some of their descendants inherited a Jewish soul from one of their original Jewish ancestors.

This led them to return to the Jewish people by forming separate Black Hebrew sects (both in Africa and in America) or by individual conversion (like Sammy Davis Jr, the grandfather of opera singer Marian Anderson and Julius Lester, author of Lovesong: Becoming a Jew). How can one know if he or she has a Jewish soul?

Signs of a Jewish soul.

1- You like to ask questions? But when you asked them as a child, you were told faith is a gift from God and you shouldn’t question it. This never satisfied you, although others didn’t seem to have a problem with this view.

2- The trinity never made any sense to you even as a young child.

You couldn’t believe that people who didn’t believe in Jesus couldn’t go to Heaven.

Even though you were told to pray to Jesus, you preferred to pray to God the father, rather than Jesus, the Son of God.

3- You always related to the stories in the Hebrew bible more than to the stories in the New Testament.

4- You found you related well to Jewish people you met at work or at school even though they were very different culturally and religiously from your own family.

5- When you first learned about the Holocaust you reacted more emotionally than did other members of your own family or your friends.

6- When you started to learn about Judaism; you felt Jewish ideas and values were very reasonable, and Jewish traditions and heritage were very attractive. You felt you were coming home.

If most of these statements apply to you, you probably have a Jewish soul. If you can find a possible Jewish ancestor you definitely have a Jewish soul.

To learn more about Kabbalistic beliefs in reincarnation, and the reincarnation of Jewish souls in the non-Jewish descendants of Jews who were cut off from the Jewish People, read God, Sex and Kabbalah by Rabbi Allen S. Maller or visit Rabbi Maller’s website: rabbimaller.com

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