Sunday, September 11, 2016

Mother Theresa: Sinner or Saint?

Mother Theresa was canonized by Pope Francis at a ceremony attended by tens of thousands of people on 4 September 2016 in St. Peter's Square in Vatican City. About 1,500 homeless people from all over Italy attended. The ceremony was also streamed online on the Vatican channel. She is now officially known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta.

In the Catholic Church,the title "Saint" denotes a person who has been formally canonized, that is, officially and authoritatively declared a saint, by the Church and is therefore believed to be in heaven, A "saint" is anyone in heaven, whether recognized on earth or not. The Catholic Church teaches that it does not "make" or "create" saints, but rather recognizes them upon proof of their "holiness" or likeness to God

Formal canonization is a lengthy process, often of many years or even centuries, The first stage in this process is an investigation of the candidate's life by an expert. After this, the official report on the candidate is submitted to the bishop of the pertinent diocese and more study is undertaken. The information is then sent to the Congregation for the Causes of Saints of the Holy See for evaluation at the level of the universal Church.

If the application is approved, the candidate may be granted the title "Venerable". Further investigation may lead to the candidate's beatification with the title "Blessed". Next, and at a minimum, proof of two important miracles obtained from God through the intercession of the candidate are required for formal canonization as a saint. These miracles must be posthumous.

Finally, after all of these procedures are complete, the Pope may canonize the candidate as a saint for veneration by the universal Church. For Mother Theresa all these steps, including the two miracles, were fulfilled, and thus she was canonized.

Canonization of Saint Theresa of Calcuta on 4 September 2016 in St. Peter's Square

Mother Teresa was born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia, on 26 August 1910. Her family was of Albanian descent. At the age of twelve, she felt strongly the call of God. She knew she had to be a missionary to spread the love of Christ. At the age of eighteen she left her parental home in Skopje and joined the Sisters of Loreto, an Irish community of nuns with missions in India. After a few months' training in Dublin she was sent to India, where on 24 May 1931 she took her initial vows as a nun.

The suffering and poverty she glimpsed in Calcutta made such a deep impression on her that in 1948 she received permission from her superiors to leave the convent school and devote herself to working among the poorest of the poor in the slums there.

On 7 October 1950, Mother Teresa received permission from the Holy See to start her own order, The Missionaries of Charity, whose primary task was to love and care for those persons nobody was prepared to look after. In 1965, the Society became an International Religious Family by a decree of Pope Paul VI.

The Society of Missionaries has spread all over the world, including the former Soviet Union and Eastern European countries. They provide effective help to the poorest of the poor in a number of countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and they undertake relief work in the wake of natural catastrophes such as floods, epidemics, and famine, and for refugees.

Mother Teresa's work has been recognized and acclaimed throughout the world. She has received numerous  awards and distinctions, including the Pope John XXIII Peace Prize and the Nehru Prize for her promotion of international peace and understanding. She also received the Balzan Prize and the Templeton and Magsaysay awards.

In 1979, Mother Teresa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, "for work undertaken in the struggle to overcome poverty and distress, which also constitutes a threat to peace." She refused the conventional ceremonial banquet given to laureates, and asked that the $192,000 funds be given instead to the poor in India, that earthly rewards were important only if they helped her help the world's needy. 

When Mother Teresa received the prize, she was asked, "What can we do to promote world peace?" She answered "Go home and love your family." Building on this theme in her Nobel Lecture, she said: "Around the world, not only in the poor countries, but I found the poverty of the West so much more difficult to remove."
Mother Teresa died on 5 September 1997.  The Holy See then began the process that would lead towards canonization. Her postulator, the person who guides a cause for beatification or canonization through the judicial processes, has said, "We didn’t have to prove that she was perfect or never made a mistake.," but he did have to prove that Teresa was of heroic virtue.

A saint is still a sinner,  as Martin Luther affirmed when he penned the famous Latin phrase: "Simul Iustus et Peccator." By this he meant that while a Christian is legally declared to be righteous in the sight of God on the basis of Christ’s perfect work, they will continue to commit sin in this life. Until they are glorified, Christians are both saints and sinners.

In traditional Christian iconography, saints are often depicted with halos, a symbol of holiness; note how Judas Iscariot at the forefront is the only apostle without a halo.

The same is true of Mother (now Saint) Teresa. According to some of her critics, her clinics have  received millions of dollars in donations, yet their conditions were criticized for a shortage of medical care, systematic diagnosis, and necessary nutrition. They charged that "Mother Teresa believed the sick must suffer like Christ on the cross."

One of Teresa's most outspoken critics was Christopher Hitchens, who wrote in a 2003 article, "This returns us to the medieval corruption of the church, which sold indulgences to the rich while preaching hellfire and continence to the poor. [Mother Teresa] was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction." He has also accused her of accepting contributions from dictators.

Mother Teresa experienced doubts and struggles over her religious beliefs which lasted nearly 50 years until the end of her life, during which "she felt no presence of God whatsoever, neither in her heart or in the Eucharist." 

Her postulator reported that Mother Teresa expressed grave doubts about God's existence and pain over her lack of faith: "Where is my faith? Even deep down ... there is nothing but emptiness and darkness ... If there be God—please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to Heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul."

He thought that some might misinterpret her meaning, but for him her faith that God was working through her remained undiminished, and that while she pined for the lost sentiment of closeness with God, she did not question his existence. He compared her comments to the 16th-century mystic St. John of the Cross, who coined the term the "Dark Night of the Soul." According to him, other saints have had similar experiences of spiritual dryness, .

That believers are both saints and sinners, as acknowledged by Luther, is widely affirmed in most Christian denominations. Protestants typically use the word "saint" to refer to anyone who is a Christian. This is similar to how the Apostle Paul in his letters addresses the recipients as "saints" or holy people.

All Christians need to be aware that they are at the same time both saints and sinners. That knowledge keeps them humble and consciously dependent upon God’s grace. If they refuse to identify themselves as sinners as well as saints, they risk the danger of deceiving themselves about their sins. That is part of the paradox of the Christian life.

Someone who fails to see this is likely to end up blind to their sins and embrace a form of self-righteousness, but they may also tragically break down in a state of spiritual depression when the presence of sin in their life becomes apparent despite their best efforts to live the Christian life.

For whatever reason, Mother Therese experienced depression much of her life. Yet she lived an amazing and productive life. "Simul Iustus et Peccator" is what she experienced in a very personal way. She is both saint and sinner, as are all Christians.

Should Christians vote for Trump? Part Two: Jesus, Trump and Poverty

This is the second of a series on why Christians (and other people of faith) should not vote for Donald Trump.

In the first part of this series I contrasted the humility of Jesus with that of Trump. Who would you vote for, I asked: Jesus or Trump? I stated there that these two men couldn’t be more different; they are polar opposites from each other, and thus I wondered how they can have so many worshipers in common; that is beyond belief.

One is the epitome of humility while the other is an arrogant and narcissistic fool. Unfortunately, many of Trumps supporters overlook his failings because they feel he is one of them. They identify with him. But how can they do that when the difference between them is like day and night?

But there many more areas where these two men differ. For that, I want to return to Luke 14, where the story is told of a dinner at the house of a Pharisee that Jesus attended. In the first part of the story, he had criticized the Jewish leaders for their arrogance in choosing the best seats at the dinner table.

But Jesus wasn't finished yet with his dinner-time lesson. He also criticized his host who had invited him and the other Jewish leaders for inviting only their friends, relatives, and other rich people to their dinners. He told them off for not inviting the poor and the disabled, who need a dinner. Besides, they can't return the favor.

What he told them is the gospel: it is good news for the poor. The poor are the ones who ought to be invited. They are the ones who deserve an invitation and not those rich, arrogant fools who think they are better than anyone else. “Blessed are the poor,” Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount.

Is this the Jesus we can expect when Trump is president?

Psalm 122: 9 contrasts two very different attitudes to the poor. On the one hand, there are those of whom the psalmist says, "They have distributed freely, they have given to the poor; their righteousness endures forever; their horn is exalted in honor." But of the wicked, the psalmist says, "The wicked see it and are angry; they gnash their teeth and melt away; the desire of the wicked comes to nothing."

The poor were excluded from this dinner. The disabled had also been excluded by the Jewish leaders. However, in Jesus' kingdom, as I have explained in a previous post, the poor and those who are disabled will receive special attention. The kingdom of Jesus is an up-side-down kingdom where different values are observed. There is no room in that kingdom for those who do not welcome the poor and the disabled. Jesus here is not only giving a lesson on humility but also on hospitality.

Right after these two lessons in Luke 14, Jesus taught a parable about a great banquet to which many people have been invited. However, some people gave excuses because they did not want to attend. Jesus himself is the one who has issued the invitation to this great eschatological banquet. Many have been invited, but a special invitation is reserved for the poor and disabled.

Only those who are arrogant and unconcerned about the poor and disabled are excluded -- or better, they have excluded themselves. They claim they are too busy to come. That sounds a lot like Donald Trump, doesn't it? What would his excuse be? I am too busy running for the presidency? Anyway, Trump is interested only in money! He  doesn't have time for God.

I am telling this biblical story because this post is intended especially for those in the US who claim to be followers of Jesus but are intent on voting for Trump. To them, I say this: You must choose one or the other of these two; you cannot serve both at the same time.

On the issue of the poor, Trump's record is poor. He has affirmed his support for the poor on many occasions: He has stated: "In fact, actually, the people I resonate best with are poor people and people that are really blue collar. That seems to be a base that I have. I have a tremendous base. Those are the people that like me. …I think the people that like me the least are the rich people."

Indeed, the poor do love Trump, but he doesn't reciprocate. Incredibly, he has told a newspaper that he thinks poor people, the people want to vote for him, are morons, His policies are intended to help the rich, not the middle class, much less the poor, in spite of what he says about loving the poor.

Trump has been called the wealthy poor boy. He is fabulously wealthy; He owns homes in Manhattan; Palm Beach; upstate New York; Charlottesville, Virginia; and Rancho Palos Verdes, California; as well as hotels, apartment buildings and resorts all over the planet. He even has his own fleet of planes, all bearing the Trump label. But he is not an advocate for the poor.

Yet he is poor: he doesn't realize his need for God. He attributes his wealth to the American work ethic. He regards himself as self-made man (with a little help from his daddy). Thus he is critical of welfare and extols the value of work:
That's what I find so morally offensive about welfare dependency: it robs people of the chance to improve. Work gives every day a sense of purpose. A job well done provides a sense of pride and accomplishment. I love to work. In fact, I like working so much that I seldom take vacations. Because I work so hard, I've been privileged to create jobs for tens of thousands of people. And on my hit show "The Apprentice", I get to work with people from all works of life. I'm known for my famous line, "You're fired!" But the truth is, I don't like firing people. Sometimes you have to do it, but it's never fun or easy. One of my favorite parts of business is seeing how work transforms people into better, more confident, more competent individuals. It's inspiring and beautiful to watch.

Both Trump and Hilary Clinton have this in common: both promise to help Americans find jobs, but neither has said much about helping people while they are not working. The US has the deepest poverty of any developed nation, but you would not know it by listening to them. It’s not at all unusual for people running for president not to talk about poverty, but that does not excuse Trump from not siding openly with the poor. Sadly, Clinton is no better.

In Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and a Culture in Crisis, J.D. Vance, a Yale Law School graduate who grew up in the poverty and chaos of an Appalachian clan, gives a voice and presence in the public square to the poor of America. He helps to explain why in the poorest parts of  West Virginia you can see nothing but TRUMP signs. Vance explains that these people -- his people -- are struggling, but laments the fact that not a single political candidate speaks to those struggles. Not even Trump.

Trump uses the poor just as he does other groups. They support him, but that support is not deserved if measured by what he has done for them: Zero! Nada! In fact, he has consistently made their situation worse and continues to do so.

Trump has filed for bankruptcy four times, which makes him the top filer in recent decades. All of them involved hotels and casinos and all were Chapter 11 restructurings, which lets a company stay in business while shedding debt it owes to banks, employees, and suppliers. He makes no apologies for having much of his debt wiped ou. "These lenders aren't babies," he says,"These are total killers,"  He should look at himself in the mirror, then he will see a morally-bankrupt person who does not deserve to become president.

His bankruptcy is also illustrated by his refusal to pay suppliers and workers on numerous occasions. That is how he treats the poor who work for him. According to Forbes, his trade policies threaten to make the poor even poorer. Indeed, in that event, all Americans will become poorer. Trump doesn't care, as long as he can continue to make money.

Who has demonstrated more concern for the poor: Jesus or Trump? What a question! When Jesus began his ministry, he told his listeners that he has been appointed to preach good news to the poor. He demonstrated his love for them by sacrificing himself on the cross.

In contrast, Trump is a narcissistic egoist who has never demonstrated any genuine concern for the poor, except as part of a staged political ploy. The man is a hypocrite! Some people have even compared him with the Anti-Christ. That might be a bit unfair, but he is an evil man who no person of faith should support.

Whom will you choose? You cannot serve both of them at the same time. You must either follow Jesus and reject Trump at the ballot box, or you may vote for Trump, but then you will be denying Jesus. That is how stark the choice is. You cannot serve both God and money. Unfortunately, a lot of Christians think they can, but they are wrong.

If you truly love God, you must also love the poor. That is what God commands all believers. Therefore, there is only one choice you can make on Election Day. To do anything else would be blasphemous. Don't join Trump in his blasphemy and evil deeds!

Instead, vote for the poor. If only the name of Jesus would be on the ballot, that would make voting so much easier. But this year you can still vote for the poor by not voting for Trump.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Should Christans vote for Trump? Part One: Jesus, Trump, and Humility

I want to begin a new series of posts asking the question: Should Christiansvote for Donald Trump? The idea came out of a sermon that I recently delivered. There I did not make the comparison directly, but it was implied. Here I want to make it explicitly. I am a Canadian and thus cannot vote in the US, but I am troubled that so many American fellow believers support Trump. My contention is that one cannot be a Christian and at the same time support a man whose behavior is so contrary to the Christian faith. 

Jesus or Trump? These two men couldn’t be more different. They are polar opposites from each other. How they can have so many worshipers in common is beyond belief. According to many  polls, three-fourths of Evangelicals (who belong to many Christian denominations) want Donald Trump to become the next president. They love him!

However, Trump is someone who has been divorced several times, mocks the disabled, denigrates women, engages in juvenile name-calling, disparages Mexicans and Muslims, encourages Russia to hack the emails of Americans, and -- most notably -- has devoted his life to the accumulation of money. How can so many Christians vote for him?

As the election date draws closer, I want to do what I can to persuade them otherwise. I also want to encourage those who despair when they witness his egregious behavior. Today I want to contrast Trump and Jesus. That is not a fair comparison, of course, since Jesus is incomparably greater than Trump, no matter what the latter thinks of himself.

I want to contrast them in terms of humility. In future posts, I want to raise other areas where they differ greatly and thus force Christians, especially Evangelicals, to re-examine their support for Trump.

One is the epitome of humility while the other is an arrogant and narcissistic fool. Unfortunately, many of Trumps supporters overlook his failings because they feel he is one of them. They identify with him. But how can they do that when the difference between them is like day and night?

The gospel writer Luke, in chapter 14,  tells the story of Jesus attending a dinner at the house of a Jewish leader. Jesus noticed how each of the guests had picked the best places at the dinner table. They thought they were the most important and therefore they deserved the place of honor. 

Jesus reprimanded them for this attitude. He may have been thinking of Proverbs 25:6-7: "Do not put yourself forward in the king's presence or stand in the place of the great; for it is better to be told, 'Come up here,' than to be put lower in the presence of a noble."

Jesus condemned the pride and arrogance of the Jewish leaders, as is clear from the next verses where he says those who had sought the most important place would be told to move to a lower place much further from the host. Imagine what the other guests must have thought of Jesus' remark. They must have been highly offended. 

Jesus chose this dinner as the place to teach a lesson to these stuffed shirts. I can think of many people today who would be equally offended. Trump, in particular, would probably have said to Jesus, “You are fired!” There are more like him, however, in every walk of life. However, they do not make the sort of leaders people should try to emulate.

Jesus did not always observe the norms of society. He broke the rules, if necessary, so that he could usher in his kingdom. That kingdom is a new creation, one that is very different from the kingdom of the world that we see all around us. So much so that his kingdom has been called the up-side-down kingdom. 

In that kingdom there is no place for those who are proud and arrogant. The kingdom of Jesus is reserved for those who are truly humble. Humility is the chief entrance requirement. Without this as passport one cannot enter.

The Jewish leaders did not understand that. Nor does Trump. He wants to set up his own kingdom. His is a kingdom of this world. It has totally different values. Trump claims to be a Christian, but his arrogant behavior indicates he is from from the kingdom of Jesus.

The apocryphal book of Sirach describes pride and its consequences very well. Listen to these words from Sirach 10:12-18, which is there for our edification:
The beginning of human pride is to forsake the Lord; the heart has withdrawn from its Maker. For the beginning of pride is sin, and the one who clings to it pours out abominations. Therefore the Lord brings upon them unheard-of calamities, and destroys them completely. The Lord overthrows the thrones of rulers, and enthrones the lowly in their place. The Lord plucks up the roots of the nations, and plants the humble in their place. The Lord lays waste the lands of the nations, and destroys them to the foundations of the earth. He removes some of them and destroys them, and erases the memory of them from the earth. Pride was not created for human beings, or violent anger for those born of women.

What is humility? The dictionary is not helpful. There it is defined as the quality or state of not thinking you are better than other people.” The Greek word tapeinophros├Żn─ô is used several times in the New Testament  where it often interpreted as having a modest opinion of oneself.” But that is not correct either.

Humility is not a denial of our talents and gifts but is our recognition of them. It expresses our desire to live up to our worth and do something even greater. It is in the service to others that the greatest form of humility is demonstrated. In the Old Testament, Moses especially is cited for his humility. See Numbers 12: "And Moses was exceedingly humble, more than any man on the face of the earth."

True humility involves submitting oneself totally to God. It means recognizing the virtues and talents that others possess, particularly those that surpass one's own, and giving due honor and obedience to them.

It also means recognizing the limits of one's talents, ability, or authority; and, therefore, not reaching for what is beyond one's grasp. In the up-side-down kingdom that Jesus ushered in, humility does not mean self-effacement, but putting God first.

Humility is the opposite of pride. As C.S.Lewis famously put it, “Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.” 

Jesus is presented as the prime example of humility in Philippians 2:1-11:
If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

In Luke, Jesus prophesied what would happen when people humble themselves and when they don't:: “For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Jesus practiced true humility! He submitted himself totally, just as Jesus did.

Such submission, as Islam recognizes as well in its name, is the essence of humility. Those who are truly humble, submit themselves to God and they so so by serving others. I just can't see Trump doing that!

Mother Theresa, whom many people would acknowledge as a truly humble person and even a saint, has described several ways that people can practice humility:
To speak as little as possible of one's self. To mind one's own business. Not to want to manage other people's affairs. To avoid curiosity. To accept contradictions and correction cheerfully. To pass over the mistakes of others. To accept insults and injuries. To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked. To be kind and gentle even under provocation. Never to stand on one's dignity. To choose always the hardest.
On this scale, Trump would fail miserably. He would fail even more miserably when compared to Jesus. Trump's character, as displayed in his speeches and lifestyle, contradicts the humility that Jesus displayed. personally and that he demands of his followers.

My question is: how can anyone support a person whose arrogance has become proverbial? Trump's behavior is the antithesis of that of Jesus. How can people who consider themselves Christians follow Trump rather than Jesus? One cannot serve both of them!

There are many good people of faith in the US who will band together in November to defeat Trump and his divisive agenda. The list is long. It includes both Christians and non-Christians. There are also many humanists, atheists, and agnostics, not to forget the one-fourth of those who label themselves as Evangelicals.

Even some of the last named group, who together probably consider themselves among the most ardent followers of Jesus, may yet desert Trump at the last minute. Would that everyone would desert him! That is my hope and fervent prayer!

Please join me in spreading this message. Christians (and indeed all people of faith) should not vote for Trump. He does not deserve to become the next American president.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Bigots, Mosques, and Burkinis

The poster says everything we need to know about those who published it: they are bigots. Bigots are people who are utterly intolerant of any differing creed, belief, or opinion.  There are many such people all over the world. In this poster, they blame Muslims for every act of terrorism; they equate Islam and terrorism. This is Islamophobia.

Their intolerance is on display on a daily basis. Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have accused each other of being bigots, but that epithet belongs properly only to one of them, arch-bigot  Trump. Almost every word that spews out of his mouth smacks of bigotry, whether directed against women, Mexicans, Afro-Americans, veterans, or Muslims, Muslims are demonized the most.

Islamophobia is increasingly rampant in many countries to judge from recent news reports. Muslim groups seeking to build mosques to accommodate their growing numbers of followers are encountering vehement opposition in communities across the US and elsewhere in the world. Trump'has now moved Islamophobia into the mainstream.

By linking Trump’s and the "alt-right" movement, Clinton says that he is "taking hate groups mainstream." This fringe movement is rampant with conspiracies and hate. Trumps attention has now offered the alt-right a new level of credibility as well as a valuable opportunity for fund-raising and recruiting.

Although Trump has publicly kept his distance from the alt-right, his critics have accused him of offering subtle cues to invite its support. The alt-right claims to endorse the preservation of white culture in the US. Its views are widely seen as white supremacist and anti-Semitic..In plain words, they are bigots. 

However, their bigotry is no longer hidden but is now openly displayed. Trumps rejection of political correctness and his tacit endorsement of alt-right has made bigotry respectable. Islamophobia can now be openly displayed and those who claim that 9/11 has taught them everything they need to know about Islam can haul out their signs again.

In the wake of perceived terrorist attacks in Europe and the US, anti-Muslim sentiment has spiked. Attacks on mosques have become more frequent, and existing and proposed mosque sites have been targeted for vandalism and other criminal acts. There have also been efforts to block or deny necessary zoning permits for the construction and expansion of other facilities.

Mosque opponents frequently claim their objections are based on practical considerations such as traffic, parking, and noise levels, but those concerns are often pretexts and mask anti-Muslim sentiments. Bigotry is the real reason.

Government officials in some areas of the US have yielded to this religious bigotry by treating mosques and Islamic centers differently than other proposed houses of worship and denying zoning permits. Even where local governments strongly support religious freedom, private citizens nevertheless often seek to intimidate Muslims into forgoing the exercise of this freedom.

Islam is the fastest growing religion in the US. The Pew Forum estimates that there are 3.3 million Muslims living in the US in 2016. But the most common figure that the US government uses is about six million. While specific figures may be debated, what cannot be disputed is the phenomenal growth of Islam. Since about 1990 the number of registered Islamic centers and mosques has tripled to more than 2,500.

Islamic Center of America, largest mosque in US in Dearborn MI

In France, there are currently 2,200 mosques, but that number needs to double within the nest few years, according to Muslim leaders. However, they believe local authorities in France are blocking applications to open or build mosques and prayer-rooms.

The demand for more mosques is unlikely to find favor with the French government, still struggling to work out common strategies with Muslim leaders to combat radicalization in France after a spate of shootings, starting with the one at Charlie Hebdo. The government is also concerned about a rise in support for the far-Right Front National.

In France as well, burkinis have been banned on beaches in several municipalities. Burkinis are designed in accord with Islamic traditions of modest dress. The suit covers the whole body except the face, the hands and the feet, while still being light enough to enable swimming. It resembles a full-length wet suit with a built-in hood.

Those who support tthe burkini bans cite as reasons the observance of secularism, risks to public order and, sometimes directly, security, underscoring how sensibilities have quickened with France in a state of emergency living under what has been termed an "extremely high" terror threat.

Beneath the clash over how to dress, or undress, on the beaches of France simmers an issue that for decades has divided the nation, and grown more complex in this time of terrorism. At least a dozen towns have banned burkini swimwear. This is the latest skirmish in a long-running duel between some members of France's large Muslim population and the secular establishment.

The highest French administrative court has just ruled against the burkini bans, but that will not stop this war. The burkini has refueled the debate over the French principle of "laicite," or secularism. This debate is unlikely to go away.  And Muslims, who feel they lost ground over this controversial issue, aren't likely to forget.

Today, enshrined in the French constitution, secularism is still being defined, debated and clarified by politicians and experts. Some Muslims and non-Muslims alike maintain that the purpose of secularism is being thwarted and the principle transformed into an instrument to regulate the behavior of Muslims.

Modest swimwear and caps are used not only by some Muslims, but also by some orthodox Jews and conservative Christians. The original burkini was designed in 2004 by an Australian-Lebanese woman who wanted clothes for modest females to play sports. She says she created the garment to give women freedom, not to take it away.

While some women cover up because of religious teachings or men tell them to, others do so because of their own idea of modesty. Burkinis aren’t threats to the freedom of women;, but the laws that ban them are. At least the French court has sided with the women, even if many French people still support the ban.


Monday, August 15, 2016

Why is there so much hatred in the US?

Why is there so much hatred in the US? I don't mean hatred of the US, which is a well-known and often described issue, bur in it. During this US election period, which still has some months to go, I have rarely witnessed so much hatred directed against certain politicians, in particular, Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton, as well as certain ethnic and religious groups. This comes especially from supporters of Donald Trump.

This is public hatred, not just private. We all have things we hate and despise, but most of the time we don't publicize them. Public expressions of hatred against people are frowned upon. But what is currently happening in the US is excessive and indeed borders on hate speech, which is illegal. In the US, however, the First Amendment trumps (pun intended) any hate laws.

These people do not merely dislike certain people, they hate them. I happen to dislike both Clinton and Trump, but I do not hate them. These people, however, become apoplectic with hate. Their hatred of both Clinton and Obama can be described as irrational. They may be rational people most of the time, but not when it comes to these two Democrats whom they blame for everything that is wrong with America today.

One reason why there is such irrational hatred targeted toward anyone is because it makes people feel better. If your life sucks, it's easier to be a victim and say the President is making your life hard than to admit you just suck at life or made bad decisions.

Two days after Obama was re-elected, a fourth-grade boy asked Obama, "Why do people hate you? They’re supposed to love you. And God is love." "First of all," he told the boy, "I did get elected president, so not everybody hates me. What is true is if you were watching TV lately, it seems like everybody’s just getting mad all the time. And. you know, I think that you’ve got to take it with a grain of salt."

"And then," continued the President, "I think they’re worried about their own lives. A lot of people are losing their jobs right now. A lot of people are losing their health care or they’ve lost their homes to foreclosure, and they’re feeling frustrated. And when you’re president of the United States, you know, you’ve got to deal with all of that."

Obama touched on two important reasons for the hatred of some people, but his response doesn't address the irrational nature of their attitude to Obama and the woman who wants to replace him as president. There are other, perhaps more fundamental reasons for their seemingly irrational behavior. 

The problem lies in the polarized political system that prevails in the US. There are only two main parties and, under the first past the post system (FPP), each must curry favor with their core base, whether right or left (whatever those terms mean at any particular time).

 A system of proportional representation (PR) , in contrast, would allow for politicians to address the concerns of a wide spectrum of voters instead of forcing them to move to the extremes as under FPP.  PR is now being actively considered in Canada, although it is not clear that the federal government will adopt it since FPP produces more majorities. while FP often results in coalition governments.

But the main reason is that Republicans and Democrats live in different worlds. They watch different TV networks, listen to different radio programs and access different media. Never the twain shall meet. Both of these worlds are known for the lies they propagate. Truth is a slippery commodity, as Trump illustrates on an almost daily basis. Each side accuses the other of  lies and distortions, although one side seems to specialize in this dubious art. Just look at the survey above.

The two sides transcend the boundaries of the two main parties. Republicans and Democrats can be found on both sides, with the former predominating on one side -- the side that is infamous today for stretching the truth. Trump is the exemplar of this art, but that is another story for another time.

The worlds that these two sides represent differ as much as day does from night. The media on both sides paint diametrically opposite views of what is happening. Thus it is no wonder that the two sides are unable to communicate. with each other. They don;t speak the same language.  For example, one side describes the Obamas as one of the most wonderful and gracious couples ever to inhabit the White House, while the other side portrays them as the exact opposite.  Which is true?

Racism is the elephant in the room.  Many Americans are still not able to accept the reality of a black couple residing in the house that their slave-ancestors helped to build. These people cannot get their heads around a black person occupying the highest office in the land. They hate the Obamas and everything connected with them.

Race is the primary division for them. That is why American cities today have a black center and white suburbs. It is the opposite of an Oreo cookie. Until such racism is eliminated or at least controlled, black/white violence will remain an integral part of American life for many years to come. 

Hatred of groups such as blacks is perhaps even more widespread that that of individuals since it is often covert and sometimes unacknowledged. Islamophobia belongs in this category. So does homophobia and other similar phobias. Many people are unaware of their hatred of certain groups until Trump and others stoke their fears by presenting these groups as threats. The result is hate.

Many of the same people hate Hilary. She represents the elite in America who have deprived them of their jobs, their homes, their future as well as that of their children. They are hopeless, and thus they look for a scapegoat to bear the blame. 

Hilary fits the bill perfectly. She comes from a privileged background and is married to a former president who signed NAFTA, the trade agreement between Canada, the US, and Mexico, that many of them hold responsible for their miserable condition. They are angry and filled with hate for her and all Democrats.

The media trumpets their spiteful hatred. Having fed them lies and more lies, the media are now the vehicle for their self-proclaimed savior: Trump. He has fostered their anger and contributed to their hatred by encouraging them to use violence if necessary to derail Hilary's run for the White House and accession to the presidency.

Such hatred is not an entirely new phenomenon in the US. In the 1860s, Lincoln was so hated that half of the country announced they wanted out of the Union and fought a deadly civil war that ended with the nation intact, but Lincoln martyred. 

Nixon, Clinton, and George W. Bush have all received their share of derision. But the hatred that some Americans currently spew out is unnerving. How is such hatred possible? We can understand the intense hatred 150 or so years ago, when slavery was the issue. But today there is no similar issue. 
Not even abortion qualifies, since those who are opposed to abortion cannot justify such hatred in the name of protecting the unborn and still remain consistent in advocating the sacredness of life. But hatred can blind people who can hate nearly everything all in the name of love (as Newt does). Many Americans do that.

Hatred, however generated, is not justifiable. No major religion preaches hatred. Instead, their message is always love. Love alone can atone for all the hatred that is being spewed out on a daily basis. The fourth-grade boy who asked Obama, "Why do people hate you?" said correctly, " They’re supposed to love you. And God is love." 

I am reminded of the late Jack Layton, the noted Canadian politician, who penned these fine lines: "My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we'll change the world."  Martin Luther King Jr. expressed similar sentiments about the primacy of love.

Love does drive out hate. That is the appropriate response to the hatred we continue to witness every day. We must set an example of love, not hatred. Love is the message the world needs to hear, not the hate-provoking rantings of Donald Trump. Love will change the world, not hate. Contrary to Trump, love will make America great again, not hate.

Why is there so much hatred in the US? There are many answers, but there is only one way to respond to hatred: love! Love of those in authority, love of groups, love of the other, and even love for those who spew hatred.  Love does change the world!


Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Should sex become an official Olympic sport?

The real games at the 2015 Rio Olympics will not be televised. And there may not be any gold, silver, and bronze medals awarded, but this unofficial sport is the one that many athletes most eagerly look forward to participating in  It does not take place in any of the main sports venues but mainly in the Olympic Village where most of the athletes are housed and which has as its unofficial motto: "What happens in the Village stays in the Village."

Thus it is not surprising that we know little about what happens in the Village except for stories that have leaked out over the years. Such activity can be measured, however, by the use of condoms. That provides a degree of objectivity, although it may seem shocking to some people.

There are more than 10,000 athletes at the Summer Games and almost 3,000 at the Winter ones of whom an estimated 70-75% engage in sexual activity. Much of this activity involves one night stands with people who they may never meet again, although in the rarefied atmosphere of the Olympics where only the best can compete this is hard to fathom.

Condoms have been used during the Olympics for a long time, but it was not until Barcelona in 1992 when condoms were offered free to Olympians to encourage safe sex during the games. In Sydney 2000, officials thought that 70,000 (rainbow) condoms would be enough, but after a week they had to send out for 20,000 more. In 2004 in Athens, 130,000 were brought in.

In Beijing 2008, authorities distributed 400,000 condoms to more than 400 hotels during the Olympics, although some claim that only 100,000 were provided for athletes. In Vancouver 2010, 100,000 were distributed, but only about 40,000 were for those staying in the athlete villages in Vancouver and Whistler. How many of them were actually used is impossible to know, but we can assume that they were.

In London 2012, the number of condoms had increased to 150,000, while in Sochi 2014 100,000 were distributed in the medical facilities, although not at McDonalds as myth has it. Now, in Rio, 450,000 condoms are available. That is enough to provide the more than 10,000 athletes with about 40 each to cover the 16 days of the games.

Don't forget, these are the best athletes in the world. They are a group of mostly single, insanely buff young men and women. They come every corner of the globe, and some are very far from home.They are lodged in a private enclave known as the Olympic Village with no nosy reporters and parents around.

Some of them are very young, For example, the Canadian team consists of more than three hundred men (40%) and women (60%) ranging in age from 16 to 56. Most are single. Many of them are participating in their first Olympics, while some have been there several times already.

All of hem are incredibly healthy. They have been training hard for many months, with little or no time left over for any other activities. And they have lots of pent up energy, which is no wonder when they consume 9,000 calories per day while in training. At the end of the day, and especially when their events are over, they need to do something with all that energy.

Their bodies are beautiful and as fit as they will ever be. They meet others who are equally beautiful and fit, They get pumped up with nervous excitement and competitive spirit over several days of Olympic events. Sponsors throw myriad parties, and supply all the alcohol they want. Thus the question is: will 450,000 condoms be enough?

Hooking up has become easier through social media. During the two weeks of the Rio Olympics, the athletes do not even need to talk in person to get acquainted, they just need to use their Tinder app in order to arrange a rendezvous. It is reported that the use of Tinder has already increased 129%, and this is only for the Olympic Village. It is widely assumed that most of these meetings are not just for coffee.

Many athletes have reported high levels of sexual activity at the Olympics. One theorized, "Athletes are extremists. When they’re training, it’s laser focus. When they drink, it’s 20 drinks." They are young and known to do everything to excess. They compete to their maximum and they play equally hard.

The idea of refraining from sex before competitions dates back to ancient Greece and is also found in traditional Chinese medicine. Both suggest that abstinence could increase frustration and aggression, and boost energy. On the contrary, recent studies have shown that sex had no significant effect on athletic performance.

Thus the myth that athletes should abstain from pre-competition sex can finally be put to rest. Current thinking in elite sports is that athletes should act in ways they consider "normal" and not do anything that goes against their beliefs, which might induce guilt, Then engaging in sex any way may have a negative effect on athletic performance.

The organizers of the Olympic games would be remiss if they did not encourage safe sex. The rest of the world may not be aware of all this sexual activity, but they should not condemn it too loudly. These are the best athletes that their countries produce and they want to participate in every aspect of the games, even the unofficial ones. Many religions might reject many of these activities, but what can they do to prevent it?

Muslims might nix the alcohol and the mingling of the sexes, but they should not prevent their young people from attending the games. Christians might be a bit more lenient about alcohol, but they are equally adamant in their condemnation of extramarital sex. What can they do?

The Rio Olympics are even more dangerous than most. Brazil is infamous for its permissiveness on sexual matters, but this year the Zika virus adds an extra element of danger.  No doubt, the athletes are well aware of this, but it probably won't deter them. After all, most are young and fool hardy, and very few are pregnant.

I will not repeat many of the stories of sexual escapades that make the rounds every Olympics. They would not serve any purpose except perhaps a prurient one. The objective evidence is enough to indicate what is happening: a lot of sex.

Faster. Higher. Stronger. That is the official motto of the Olympic Games. But now a new word might have to be added: Sexier. Sex is a normal part of life. Young athletes need to let off steam after the intensity of months of training and the stress of their events. So, what is more natural? Parents may not approve, but what can they do?

So, let's be glad that sex is not (yet) an official Olympic event, but it is an unofficial one and perhaps the most enjoyable one of all for the athletes involved. Those who deny that such activities take place at the Olympics are burying their heads in the sand. Denial does stop such activities. On the contrary, such an attitude may encourage young athletes to engage in more sex.

I hope we don't see a sex Olympics any time soon, but sex at the Olympics is unstoppable.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Should Christians vote for Trump?

Should Christians vote for Trump?

Spoiler alert! Emphatically, No!

No one should vote for him, but many people will for reasons they know best. Why anyone would vote for a narcissistic, misogynistic, bigoted, loudmouth like Donald Trump is beyond me, but they will do so "lest they miss the boat," as one ardent evangelical Christian has put it. Many perceive Trump as the savior who will make America great again.

To vote for Trump or not is hardly a trivial issue. The fate of the US and the world may hang in the balance. It is an issue that philosophers and theologians are also earnestly debating. For example, Wayne Grudem in Townhall argues that voting for Trump is a morally good choice, while Michael Stark in The Huffington Post responds by insisting that Christians should not vote for Trump under any circumstances. I side with Stark.

Even Grudem admits that Trump is, in Gudem's words, "egotistical, bombastic, and brash." He also describes him as "vindictive" and adds that Trump "has been married three times and claims to have been unfaithful in his marriages." Grudem allows that "these are certainly flaws," but he doesn't think that "they are disqualifying flaws in this election." Unfortunately, many Americans would agree with Grudem. After all, they would retort, what politician doesn't have flaws?

Indeed, all politicians have flaws. Some of the most recent crop of presidents are prime examples if any were needed. For Christians, flaws are not the issue. Everyone human being has flaws or, to use more biblical language, they are sinners. In that respect, Trump is no different from the rest of us.

What does make Trump different is that he is potentially the next President of the United States of America? He is not just seriously flawed but he is also totally unfit to occupy the White House. There has never been a less suitable candidate for the Oval Office, in my opinion. That opinion is widely shared by many people, even by some Republicans. That number is growing by the day.

How did Republicans allow him to hijack the "Grand Old Party" of Lincoln and other great presidents? Trump is a disgrace! Is he the best candidate that the Republican Party can come up with out of a pool of about 325 million Americans? That is scraping the bottom of the barrel.

How can Christians vote for such a pathetic individual? He is not only a pathological liar also but totally untrustworthy! He is an imminent danger to the USA and to the entire world since no one is able to accept his word on anything. He changes his policies as easily as he changes wives.

How can Christians vote for a man who sows fear and hatred everywhere he does, and insults every group from women to Mexicans, to Muslims, to LGBT people, to you name it; someone who has no political experience, but prides himself on being a businessman without admitting publicly to multiple bankruptcies or fleecing of his employees? The man is a fraud from the get-go.

How can Christians vote for him and still call themselves Christians? Trump is a morally evil man who should not call himself a Christian since he hasn't the foggiest idea what that means. Even though he was baptized in a Presbyterian church in Brooklyn, he knows next to nothing about the Bible, and -- more crucially! -- he has no idea how to live the Christian life. Even if he had some idea, he would find it difficult if not impossible to live accordingly.

Psychiatrists have refused to make public their diagnosis of Trump, but a spiritual assessment of him can be made public because his public persona contradicts the basics of the Christian life. Of course, no Christian is able to live that life perfectly, but in Trump's case, even the beginnings of that life seem to be absent to judge by his past and current behavior. His self-aggrandizement alone is contrary to the Christian life which should be marked with humility.

Trump as Nebuchadnezzar

The Christian life is rooted in love and expresses itself the same way, in love of God and neighbor. With Trump, that love has been short-circuited. Seemingly, he loves only himself. No doubt his love for his children is genuine, but he cannot avoid his penchant for using people. That includes his own children.

If you think that I am too critical and judgmental of Trump, turn off Fox and  turn to other, less-biased news sources. Read your Bible and you will discover not only Trump's moral failings but also how far he falls short of the standard that God sets for Christian living. The Bible teaches," by their fruits shall you know them." On that basis, we can judge Trump.

Let me put this more pointedly: a vote for Trump is an anti-Christian vote. His policies, such as they are, are not Christian, His constantly contradicts himself on many issues. In this election, he is using the Christian vote for his own political gain. He is not interested in Christians; he is interested only in himself.

Trump's ego is so big that he wants to become president.because, for him, that represents the pinnacle of success. He is not interested in the duties of the presidency since he will probably leave the nitty-gritty of ruling the country to others, as long as he can bask on the global stage as the most powerful man in the world. Power is his game! Always has been, always will be!

Conservative Christians in the US who cannot stomach the thought of voting for Hillary Clinton can, I suggest, vote for a third-party candidate or refrain from voting on the presidential portion of the ballot. But they should not vote for Trump.

Some Americans may be opposed to voting for any liberal, but they should realize how relative this term is.  Let me give an example. A conservative in Canada will likely be labeled a liberal in the US. That is how much Canadians differ from Americans. It has been said before that Canadians would be among the most reliable Democrats if they were allowed to vote in the US, and that Hillary would win by a landslide come November. According to polls, 73-80 percent of Canadians would vote for her. Paint Canada blue!

Christians must be careful not to let political labels determine how they will vote. A Christian's first allegiance is to God, not to a nation. When the nation trumps faith, something is seriously wrong. There is no reconciling the worldviews of Trump and Jesus. Jesus’ ethic of love stands in sharp contrast to that of Trump.

A vote for Trump is a vote for bigotry. It’is a vote that leads to bullying and more violence. If that is what you want, then go ahead and cast your vote accordingly. If I were an American, however, I would find it difficult to cast a vote for president at all because both the Republican and Democratic candidates are seriously flawed. But as a Christian, I would not be able to vote for Trump. No Christian should!

God calls all Christians to embody love, humility, charity, and kindheartedness. They must embody love not only in their personal lives but also in the public square where politics is played out. They must exercise their civic responsibility by voting in elections or even running for political office themselves, but they must do so wisely and responsibly.

When someone as unworthy as Trump appears on the scene, Christians must use that wisdom and reject candidates who do not embody love, humility, charity, and kindheartedness.  Trump is a false prophet whose message is one of doom and gloom and laced with fear. Where is his love? Instead, Christians must vote for those who advocate faith, hope, and love.  But the greatest of these, as we all know, is love. 

Should Christians vote for Trump? You see now why my answer is an emphatic No!