Thursday, May 16, 2024 #51

 In 2024, whether we are prepared to acknowledge it or not, behind the bombs and missiles, the drones and the killings in both Ukraine and Gaza, there are words, strategies, tactics and philosophies, even religious roots, lurking both within the conflicts and among the observers outside the boundaries of the conflicts.

(In Sudan, from most reports, the conflict seems to be primarily between two military forces, the SAF (Sudanese Armed Forces) and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF). However, from the website,, in a piece entitled, Sudan Civil War: History & Implications (6 Root Causes), Updated January 22, 2024, we read, as one of the causes, ‘The Second Sudanese Civil War, which spanned from 1983 to 2005,,,,,was fueled by long-standing religious and ethnic divisions between the Arab Muslim-dominated government in Khartoum and the predominantly Christian and animist populations in the southern regions of Sudan….The imposition of Islamic Sharia law by the Sudanese government in 1983 heightened discontent in the predominantly non-Muslim southern regions, contributing to a sense of cultural and religious oppression.)

Reporting on military and civil strife remains ‘spotty’ and inconsistent, given a number of factors, among which are news resources, editorial slant, audience level of literacy and concentration, and bald economics and politics. Currently, both Gaza and Ukraine are dominating media reports in North America, while Sudan hovers like a storm cloud of millions of desperate refugees and migrants, many of whom face starvation and death, if the world, though the United Nations, does not intervene. Reporting on daily newspapers and live television networks, tends to focus on the immediacy of the casualties, the numbers of bombs, drones, missiles, and the response of the defence. Horse races, and their coverage, rarely dig into the back-story of the histories, traditions, religions and ideologies of the participants (combatants) except peripherally, superficially and perhaps ‘nominally’ in an editorial conviction that the audience either does not know enough to be capable of assimilating the finer details, or that the concentration of the reader/viewer is so brief that it is not worth including. Magazines like The Atlantic, or the Foreign Affairs journals think and act from a different set of both perceptions and convictions.

In the secular world, attempting in vain to maintain a ‘berlin wall’ between religion and politics, including the military and the diplomatic, religion is sidelined in both the news and in the public rhetoric, almost exclusively to sustain the separation of church and state (a propounded, propagated and deeply held public conviction of the United States nation and its various publics, challenged vehemently recently, by a Christian white religious nationalism in the U.S. Congress). Also, in the secular world of American politics, the pervasive and divisive issue of a woman’s right to an abortion, formerly considered  legal as well as socially and politically enshrined, at least in the culture if not in the precise wording of the constitution, is/has and will continue to tear apart the fabric of the American body politic. And this, too, is primarily a ‘religious-based’ conviction among those who vehemently oppose all abortions as ‘the killing of the fetus’. The secular and political/philosophical/legal/ethical stance of those who support a woman’s right to choose, in the privacy of her doctor’s office, is currently under threat in the U.S. and more recently in Canada and elsewhere. While the public protests, debates, even violence among and between activists, like the wars, are reported in granular detail about numbers of protesters, evidence of weapons, use of weapons, injuries, and possible deaths, the underlying religion versus the public domain, is left off the pages of the scripts and the paragraphs of audio and newspaper reporters. There is a cultural aversion to public judgements of any specific religious faith community, among both politicians and reporters/journalists/analysts/editorialists, for more than a single reason.

Condemning another’s faith position, or framing an issue in the public square as having a single or even a primary ‘root cause’ is a cultural and cognitive concept that has fallen by the wayside, in and through the processes and histories of both the legal and the medical professions. Lawyers for the tobacco companies, for example, have for decades argued that cancer can not be laid at the feet of smoking cigarettes, given that there are many other root causes. Similarly, the public argument over environmental pollution has evoked legal cases in which lawyers for the prime polluters maintain that the rise in carbon dioxide cannot be attributed exclusively to the smoke billowing from the smoke-stacks of manufacturing factories and coal mining and oil refineries. Oil, gas and coal, and in some cases uranium, as corporations and their collective ‘establishment,  have coalesced to attempt to block any restrictions on carbon emissions, arguing about the loss of both jobs and community income and survival rates in the immediate future.

Nevertheless, even with the vortex of  conflicts swirling over and around the planet, in and out of negotiating board rooms, terrorist tunnels, Ukrainian villages and Black Sea warships, what individuals, especially when grouped in religions, faith communities and faith traditions, believe, have learned, have grasped from their ancestors, and hold to be true about their place in the universe and in their relationship with a God, will take actions that, perhaps without such faith support and convictions they would be less likely to take.

In small towns and villages, especially the depth and breadth of religious traditions and faith communities has been, for decades, if not centuries, one of the primary ‘agents of cohesion’ as well as division within those communities. Men’s and women’s groups affiliated with and supported by religious communities have provided social and connective tissue for the portion of the body politic that has embraced each faith’s belief system, ritual celebration calendar, dogmatic dicta, and the expectations of that faith community. At least that is the public posture of each of these groups, and their faith peers. Detailed conversations about what each person actually holds as a firm faith conviction, even after echoing the verbiage of a creedal statement, are rare among laity, and only occasional between laity and clergy, excepting the need for and desire for a confession/penitential encounter. We hold personal convictions about what we consider, and have been instructed to believe, the expectations of God, the nature of the human being, as portrayed in what is called holy writ, and the relationship between life on this planet and any prospective afterlife, if our faith holds fast to such a conviction. In that light, and also in the manner in which ‘our’ family/personal/church beliefs and attitudes have been depicted in relation to other faith communities, we tend to see the world through a similar, if not identical, lens….favouring or even despising another faith community as ‘tolerable, reasonable, strong, weak, or even contemptible. Case in point: in North America, the tension between protestants and Roman Catholics has prevailed as a tension that has (and continues to) impact the ethos of many communities. Similarly in Northern Ireland, the “Troubles” comprised a period of conflict began during a campaign by the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association to end discrimination against the Roman Catholic nationalist minority by the Protestant Unionist government and local authorities. (From, (T)he overwhelmingly Protestant unionists (loyalists) …desired the province to remain part of the United Kingdom and the overwhelmingly Roman Catholic nationalists (republicans), who wanted Norther Ireland to become part of the republic of Ireland. Much diligent and highly effective social, political, cultural and educational work has ensued in Northern Ireland, in pursuit of reconciliation, toleration and even mutual respect for the two sides of the religious divide.

The rising tide of white Christian nationalism in the United Sates, while still a minority of the Republican party (if that party name still applies), has gathered allies to their ‘cause’ under the guise (ruse, rug, pretense) of campaigning for the former president, currently sitting in a New York court room as a criminal defendant. Politics and religion, in that example, have so fused, in the presumed assumption that ‘Christian evangelical voters’ will more likely vote for trump if they are given a voice in that political ‘initiative’. Simultaneously, Putin vehemently argues that his invasion of Ukraine is to defeat the fascists ‘who govern Ukraine’….another ruse to induce (seduce?) the Russian population to support the illegal, unjustified invasion, given the historic Russian contempt for the fascists of the Second World War. Staunchly and resolutely supported by the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy, Putin proudly dons the mantle of religiosity (a la trump with his upside-down Bible), as part of his propaganda campaign to appear to sacralize his war killings.

Terrorists, too, over the last few decades, have donned the vestments and the attending religious and political dogma of their faith, according to many reports, eventually to establish a Caliphate of and for the Muslim believers. In a piece entitled, The Religious Sources of Islamic Terrorism, by Shmuel Bar, on Policy Review, Jun/Jul 2004, 125: Research Library, p27, Bar writes:

While Terrorism—even in the form of suicide attacks-is not an Islamic phenomenon by definition, it cannot be ignored that the lion’s share of terrorist acts and   the most devastating of them in recent years have been perpetrated in the name of Islam. This fact has sparked a fundamental debate both in the West and within the Muslim world regarding the link between these acts and the teachings of Islam…..Modern International Islamist terrorism is a natural offshoot of twentieth-century Islamic fundamentalism. The ‘Islamic Movement’ emerged in the Arab world and British India as a response to the dismal state of Muslim society in those countries: social injustice, rejection of traditional mores, acceptance of foreign domination and culture. It perceives the malaise of modern Muslim societies as having strayed from the ‘straight path’ and the solution to all ills is a return to the original mores of Islam. The problems addressed may be social or political inequality, corruption, and oppression. But in traditional Islam-and certainly in the worldview of the Islamic fundamentalist—there is no separation between the political and the religious.  Islam is, in essence, both religion and regime and no area of human activity is outside its remit. Be the nature of the problem as it may, ‘Islam is the solution’.

Irrespective of the detailed teachings of Islam, this conjoining of religion and regime is in direct, and confrontational, contrast and comparison to the long-held ‘separation’ of church and state in the United States. A similar conjoining of religion and regime is at the heart of the state of Israel also. Historically, the monarch of Great Britain is also the titular Head of the Church of England, in at least a ceremonial conjoining. In Canada, we historically have spoken and written of ‘two establishment churches’, the Roman Catholic and the Anglican. Many national and political, as well as corporate leaders have been raised and have emerged from both of those Christian denominations. Also in Canada, we have a deeply embedded ‘social convention’ in order to avoid personal, political and ideational conflict, ‘to avoid the topic of religion and politics’ in public company. It is almost a ‘social grace’ to adhere to such a rubric, and a social disgrace to disavow it. Religion, in Canada, has been presumed to be, and has operated as if, it is an exclusively private, personal, secret and hidden preserve, the exception being among those who ‘know’ the faith of their colleagues, friends and pew-mates. And in that light, there is a rather strong bond among strong advocates and believers of a given faith community, as part of the cohesion of that faith community.

In Canada, too, the mainline religious institutions, along with the government, have actively engaged in a program of religious, educational and moral/ethical colonization of the indigenous youth, commonly referred to these days as the ‘Residential Schools Crisis’. From the Canadian, in a piece entitled, Residential Schools in Canada, by J.R. Miller, (updated by Tabitha DeBruin, David Gallant, Michelle Filice, published October 10, 2012, and last edited, January 11, 2024, we read:

Residential schools were government-sponsored religious schools that were established to assimilate Indigenous children into Euro-Canadian culture….Residential schools were created by Christian churches and the Canadian government as an attempt to both educate and convert them into Canadian society. However, the schools disrupted lives and communities, causing long-term problems among Indigenous peoples. The last residential school closed in 1996. Since then, former students have demanded recognition and restitution resulting in the Indian Residential Schools Settlement Agreement in 2007 and a formal public apology by Prime Minister Stephen Harper in 2008. In total an estimated 150,000 First Nation, Inuit, and Metis children attended residential schools

The shame, guilt and residue of bitterness, like an indelible stain on the national psyche, lingers not only in public debate about resources, health care, land rights and the real legitimacy of the indigenous peoples after all these decades. Advocates, artists, teachers, elders and leaders of the indigenous communities grow in both numbers and in influence across the country, while the pace of reconciliation and accommodation of the legitimate needs and demands of these indigenous peoples drags on almost glacially, at least from their perspective.

Religion and regime, the tension that has reverberated in the West for centuries, has reared its head in violent acts and especially violent rhetoric, as fundamentalists in all faith communities, like minorities on every scale, in fortissimo and vengeance, and the results will only be assessed long after this generation and century close.

Religious dialogue, whether among and between public advocates, or among and between friends and family, has a history both of ‘secrecy, silence and privacy’ as well as a cultural perception of division and separation, alienation and meagre, yet significant initiatives at reconciliation and openness.


This pattern, so deeply buried in the cultural ethos, the anima mundi, of Canada, illustrates how the affairs of state, while ostensibly separate from the religion(s) of those writing and voting on legislation, were, are and continue to be deeply impacted by the ‘religion’ and belief systems of those in power. Recently, while being interviewed on MSNBC, Ali Velshi, host of Velshi on Saturday mornings, recounted a small vignette from his family’s history that brought this viewer to the edge of my seat.

Velshi’s father was a student of Gandhi. In the course of that enrollment, Velshi’s grandfather rhetorically commented to Gandhi, “I am a Muslim; how can I send my son to your school, given that you are a Hindu.” As recounted by Velshi, and reported here, Gandhi is reputed to have responded: I will read the Muslim teachings and I will teach your son the Muslim faith.” And the Velshi added, ‘Gandhi also read the Christian scriptures and the Jewish scriptures attempting to respect and to honour all of the major religions.” (these quotes are imprecise in their detail, yet summative of the conversation on MSNBC).

In addition to his fame, historic elevation and secure place in the history of the human species, Gandhi might also be revered for his embrace of a depth of both understanding and compassion, integrity and the embrace of humanity, as he ‘saw’ it, from the perspective of the reverence of the main religions of the world.

This space is and has been dedicated both to the proposition that biography is significant as a specific study in history, psychology and also in the affairs of state, politics, economics and social policy. And at the centre of biography, although not always the focus of the historians’ lens, is a religious component, perhaps even an essence, of the ‘worldview,’ ‘attitude,’ ‘perspective,’ and, to borrow an over-used and minimally-understood word, ‘values,’. It is the segregation of religion, faith, psychology, from the ‘human’ integration, in many of our educational curricula, to which these pieces are addressed.

Menus, templates, procedures, regulations, and even treatment plans of various highly educated, professional, honourable and ethical practitioners, while useful and even somewhat aspirational, too often omit, or ignore, or dismiss, or worse, denigrate the interaction and the judgement of the persons who are attempting to implement those ‘procedures’. Also, in many instances, deviation from those ‘templates,’ for whatever might seem to be a justifiable perspective and opinion, too often results in sanctions of the offender, when, it just might be (actually is!) the offender who is illustrating the ‘hole(s) in the template. Decades ago, there was a bandied-about phrase, situational ethics. From, we read:

Situation ethics, in ethics and theology, the position that moral decision making is contextual or dependent on a set of circumstances. Situation ethics holds that moral judgements must be made with the context of the entirety of a situation and that all normative features of a situation must be viewed as a whole. The guiding framework for moral decision -making is stated variously as that of actin g in the most loving way, to maximize harmony and reduce discord, or to enrich human existence. Situation ethics was developed by American Anglican theologian, Joseph F. Fletcher whose book, Situation Ethics: The New Morality, 1966) arose from his objections to both moral absolutism (the view that there are fixed universal moral principles that have binding authority in all circumstances) and moral relativism (the view that there are no fixed moral principles at all). Fletcher based situation ethics on the general Christian norm of brotherly love, which is expressed in different ways in different situations. He applied this to issues of doctrine. For example, if one holds to the absolute wrongness of abortion, then one will never allow for abortion no matter what the circumstances within which the pregnancy occurs. Fletcher held that such an absolute position pays no attention to the complexity and uniqueness of each situation and can result in a callous and inhumane way of dealing with the problem. On the other hand, if there are no principles at all, then the decision is reduced to nothing more than what one decides to do  in the moment, with no real moral implications involved. Rather, Fletcher held, within the context of the complexities of the situation, one should come to the most loving or right decision as to what to do.

Having devolved into a literal, baseline, zero-sum approach to many of the most important questions, in a climate and ethos of acidic rhetoric, in which even respect for the other has dissipated, perhaps a re-reading of Fletcher’s thought might be in order, for many of our current crises. Balancing the situation with some relevant and cogent principles, in each situation, however, requires a detailed, detached, documentation of the situation and an even more wholistic, nuanced and discerning judgement, requiring considerable time, reflection, conversation and, in a ‘instant’ society, also more money. In the interest too often of the deciding authority, in order to preserve and protect his/her power and authority, and not to burden the budget, the application of templates replaces the complexities of implementing Flether’s thinking. And the results are often tragic.  


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