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!

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sex, gender, and binary thinking

Lately, I have started questioning the facile way many of us think about reality. I soon discovered that many concepts that I thought I understood were much more complex than I had previously assumed  I asked myself why, and was led to investigate binary thinking. While this is not the sole reason for my confusion, it certainly contributes to the problem. I want to share some preliminary thoughts with you. I admit that I do not have all the answers, but I do have many questions. Please join me in my quest.

How many sexes are there? Two, you reply, with great authority. After all, didn't God make people (as well as most animals) "male and female"? The great Abrahamic religions agree on this, but that doesn't mean that the issue is therefore settled. If it were only that simple!

What about people who don't fit neatly into the two categories of male or female? For them new terms are needed."Intersex" is a term that has been developed to cover a variety of conditions in which someone is born with a reproductive or sexual anatomy that doesn't fit these two categories.

For example, a person might be born appearing to be female on the outside, but having mostly male-typical anatomy on the inside. Or someone may be born with anomalous genitals. Someone else may be born with mosaic genetics, so that some of their cells have XX chromosomes and some of them have XY. Other chromosomal variations are also possible. These make sex a complex matter.

Which variations of sexual anatomy count as intersex? In practice, different people have different answers to that question. That’s not surprising, because intersex isn’t a natural category but a socially constructed one.that reflects real biological variations. These categories are simplified into male, female, and sometimes intersex, in order to simplify social interactions..

Humans, usually doctors, decide how a person with various chromosomal variations or hormonal anomalies should be categorized. I don't want to get too technical, since I don't understand all of it myself, but I do want to demonstrate the complexity involved. Male and female are the two simple categories that we have traditionally used to describe sex.

The situation gets even more complex, however, when the term "gender" is added. This was originally only a grammatical term, but it is now often used as a synonym for sex. In feminist theory, this term was adopted  in order to distinguish between biological sex and the social construct of gender. This distinction has been widely adopted in the social sciences. Sometimes a further distinction is made between psychological and social gender.

Someone has explained succinctly that sex as what a person has between their legs and gender is how they identify themselves. As you may have noticed, both sex and gender are social constructs. As such, they are culturally shaped. It is dangerous, therefore, to impose the views prevalent in any culture and make them normative for all.

One reason why Christians often do this is because we tend to engage in binary thinking in which our own views are given normative status. We must be careful not to elevate even those views of sexuality that prevailed in differing biblical periods.. Male and female is one example of this.

The Bible is not a scientific textbook. Even though male and female are what we traditionally define in terms of sex and gender, intersex, for example, id not dealt with with. Yet intersex must have occurred in biblical times as well. To dismiss it simply as sinful, does not deal with the chromosomal and hormonal aspects. These cannot be dismissed as either sinful or the results of sin.

To widen the net even further, the issues that LGBT people raise cannot be dismissed in that way either. To label all of them as sinful does not address the issues that they raise, issue such as the nature of love. Are LGBT people engaging in sinful acts simply because they love each other?

Is such love permitted as long as they remain celibate, as some Christians argue?  What makes the love of  homosexuals sinful? Is the act of sexual intercourse the problem? Yet sex between heterosexual people can also be sinful. Are we not guilty of binary thinking when we limit sexual intercourse to heterosexuals?

Binary thinking can be defined as a system of thought that predominantly considers things in an "either/or", "right or wrong", "black or white" way, ignoring any subtleties or consideration of  any other alternatives. In philosophy, this is known as a "bifurcation fallacy.".

Binary thinking can be distinguished from binary opposition which deals with concepts that cannot exist together at the same time. Some examples are a light switch is either on or off; in a sports match, a team either wins or loses;;water is either hot or cold;;something in relation to something else can be left or right, up or down or in or out; it is basic to the digital world which consists of ones and zeroes.

Binary opposition is fundamental to the ideas of later twentieth century by thinkers like Claude Levi-Strauss, Roland Barthes and Jacques Derrida. This theory is called structuralism. It maintains that all the elements of human culture can only be understood in relation to one another and how they function within a larger system.

I would prefer not to discuss binary opposition and structuralism at this point, binary; thinking is already too intimidating, even though the idea itself is not difficult to understand. We are so used to binary thinking that we are unable to grasp that alternatives exist. Why not consider an alternative?

Some examples of binary opposition

Plato utilized the principle of divisio. This principle is basic to the binary thinking that has prevailed since then. How can binary thinking be overcome? Quantum physics suggests at the very least that we consider possible alternatives to the prevailing binary thought.

Some of what quantum theory predicts and states is almost like something out of science fiction. Matter can essentially be in an infinite number of places at any given time; it is possible that there are many worlds or a multiverse; things disappear and reappear somewhere else; you cannot simultaneously know the exact position and momentum of an object, although some physicists are now questioning this claim, which if they are right would simplify quantum physics.

Even quantum entanglement, where it’s possible for two quantum particles to link together effectively making them part of the same entity or entangled. Even if these particles are separated, a change in one is ultimately and instantly reflected in it’s counterpart. 

Einstein found it difficult to accept what he referred to it as spooky action at a distance. In fact, he could not tolerate it and deemed tit the result of erroneous thinking.. Many of us find that equally difficult, but it should cause us to question the priority of binary thought.

Quantum theory is already leading to the development of quantum computers. In contrast with a classical computer which has a memory made of bits where each bit represents a one or a zero (binary code), a quantum computer will operate on what is called "qubits." A single qubit can represent a one, a zero, or, crucially, any quantum superposition of these; moreover, a pair of qubits can be in any quantum superposition of 4 states, and three qubits in any superposition of 8 and so on. 

This progression is exponential. As a result, a quantum computer will essentially be able to crack any algorithm, solve mathematical problems much more quickly and ultimately operate millions of times faster than conventional computers.

Quantum physics says that particles can behave like waves, and vice versa. Researchers have now shown that this 'wave-particle duality' is simply the quantum uncertainty principle in disguise.

Even if quantum physics turns out to be closer to the classic model of reality, the idea that reality is not as simple as it seems, the nature of quantum computers forces us to question binary thinking, so that male or female, black or white, one or zero are not the only possibilities. This can be liberating.

Then, perhaps, we need not get upset by transsexuals using the facilities that they prefer. Then we might not get hung up about nudity at a Pride parade or accepting LGBT people as full members of our churches and even allow clergy to officiate at weddings. 

For decades now I realize that everything in the world is black or white and that the concept of truth is not as simple as I thought it was at one time, More recently, I have been forced to struggle with the concepts of male and female and I discovered that even that it is not always easy to distinguish them.I suspect that others may  have had similar struggles. If not, maybe it is time to dismiss the simplicity off binary thought and open ourselves up to alternative ways of thinking.

I hope you are ready to go for a ride of discovery with me. I will appreciate your thoughtful contributions. The journey will not be easy, but at the end we may discover a way out of many of the problems that we are currently struggling with or at least make it possible for them to be understood better.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Lament for America

This is an open letter to American Christians in which I lament what is happening there in both the foreboding spirit and the poetic form of the Book of Lamentations. But there is also a note of hope. God has not deserted America, but he must be very disappointed at what is happening there. Americans, however, seem to have forgotten God, if their present behavior is any indication. Yet, as Lam. 3:22-23 reminds us, God's compassion never ends; it is renewed every day again.

Dear God, what is happening to America?
What motivated all this violence?
People everywhere are scratching their heads in wonder.
Why are Americans so intent on killing each other? 
Baton Rouge, St. Paul, Dallas are a few recent examples.
Police shoot blacks because of the color of their skin color
or poor men simply trying to eke out an existence.
Killings were broadcast live around the world on social media. 
A black man then shot police officers because they are white.
But why do police draw their weapons when approaching a car?
It's not done where I live nor in most parts of the world.
And why does a black man go hunting for police officers?
Not to trivialize black lives, but all lives matter!

Are these the first shots of a new civil war,
a war rooted in racism and being waged 
by black and white and black and blue?
Now the blue have been militarized the battle is even bloodier.
America is one of the violent countries in the world.
Why all the guns that make such shootings possible?
More than one for every man, woman, and child in the country.
Who runs the country when it comes to guns? The NRA?
Is the current interpretation of the Second Amendment correct
or has the US Supreme Court has misconstrued its intention?
Did the Court originally intend to permit every citizen to carry guns
wherever and whenever they want 
or only for a militia to protect the country?
If you feel unsafe, why do you resort to guns?
Is "In Guns We Trust" the new motto of your country?
Many of you call yourself Christians, 
but you don't behave like Christ believers.
How can you kill people who are also made in the image of God?
How can you say you love everyone, 
and then point a gun at your neighbor
who may be white, brown, black, Muslim, or whatever.
What difference should race, ethnicity and religion make?
Your love is short-circuited and limited to those who look like you.

This behavior is capitalized on by unprincipled politicians, 
people like Donald Trump. How can you support him? 
Do you realize the hatred and division he fosters?
Is Trump a Christian? He knows nothing about the Bible.
He is a narcissistic, philandering, misogynistic loudmouth
who has aspirations to the presidency and may yet achieve his goal.
For the sake of your country, please don't vote for him!
The man is not worthy of the highest office in the land.
But he understands one thing well: America is an unequal society.
Many of his supporters are white males who feel powerless.
Trump promises to change that and make America great again.
Unfortunately, Trump is hardly a poor, powerless male.
Instead, he peddles a vision of an exclusionary country --
a country where Mexicans and Muslims are not welcome.
He has sowed fear and earned the endorsement of the NRA.
Is this the person you want to run your country?

If you want a country that is truly great again, 
there are at least three things you ought to do: 
1. Pray that Trump does not win the election;  
and, whatever you do, don't vote for him.
2. Pray for an end to the systemic racism that pits 
black against white and black against blue.
3. Practice unconditional love of your neighbors,   
irrespective of race, ethnicity, or religion. 
Then and only then will some of it's major problems be solved 
and Americans be able to live in peace again.

There is hope for America because God has not deserted her.
But God requires one very important thing from Americans:
To trust in him, and to live accordingly.
That is a tall order, but it is not impossible.
What it asks of every Christian, and all who believes in God:
To live as God demands, starting with these three things.
Is this too much to ask of all believers in America?
Remember, God's compassion never ends; 
it is renewed every day again.
God bless America!

Thursday, July 7, 2016

My Family Tree

We all have ancestors, but we don't always know who they were, where they lived, and what they did. During much of  the 70 plus years that I have been alive, I knew only a handful of people from my grandparent's generation and a few from my parent's, especially those who had immigrated to Canada.And I did know some of my many first cousins, but there are many more whom I have never met, although their names are recorded on my family tree. I often asked myself: where did my family originate, and who were all these ancestors?

My paternal grandparents were very prolific, so that is where I began my search. A few years ago I had received a Helleman family tree from someone bearing that name, but who was not a member of the many branches of this family that he had discovered. He had also learned that not all these different branches were related either, as far as he was able to determine.

Recently, I decided to start my own investigation. Although I have not yet discovered any connection between these major branches bearing the Helleman name, I was quickly  surprised to learn of how many relatives I have on both my father's and mother's sides. For reasons of privacy, I will refrain as much as possible from mentioning names. As someone once wrote, "Some family trees have beautiful leaves, and some have just a bunch of nuts. Remember, it is the nuts that make the tree worth shaking."

One problem with family trees is that they grow larger and larger. In the first month alone, my tree acquired more than 600 members. Not all are direct ancestors, but there are more ancestors than I had anticipated. My tree also has a descendants portion which is growing as well.


Nearly all my mother's descendants, with spouses, after her funeral (2014)

On my father's side, I have traced this clan as far back as Gerrit Helleman, who was born in Germany in 1728. On my mother's side, the earliest ancestor I discovered died in 1609. His son, who was born in 1600,  was the first to bear her maiden name, Wildschut. Other surnames, of course, also appeared and more are being revealed every day.

The problem with going back that far on my mother's side is that by the 12th generation from me, which is the earliest I have found thus far, there are more than 4000 other people in that generation from whom I am also descended, even if I assume that some of them may have entered my tree at several points. If I could trace all their descendants, this is no longer a tree, it is a forest where many of us can discover that we are related.

Even my ancestor who came from Germany is one of only 128 ancestors in hids generation, again assuming that none of them appear more than once in my tree. His descendants now number in the hundreds. My paternal grandfather, who is my namesake, alone left about 100 direct descendants when he died. If I think too much about these ancestors, I am much like the man that Henry S.S. Cooper talked about: "A man who thinks too much about his ancestors is like a potato -- the best part of him is underground."

Yet it is remarkable how much I have been able to discover about these long deceased ancestors, including information about date and place of birth, date and place of marriage, spouse, children, date and place of death, and even burial site. In some cases the information is complete; in others, it is sparse and even non-existent, and is often labelled "Unknown." What is also noteworthy is how many children died in infancy and are listed as dead or their names live on in siblings who were born later.

Model family tree

There is nothing morbid about building family trees. Last year I discovered the truth of what someone has written, "Genealogy is collecting dead relatives and sometimes a live cousin!"  when I found a cousin in the Netherlands, one of many; her grandfather and mine were brothers. Since then, we have been in contact with each other on Facebook. No doubt there will be more such discoveries.

By building this tree, I have been able to establish contact with many other families when we discover connections, in some cases, going back many generations. This is wonderful, as some unknown person once said, "Families are like fudge… mostly sweet with a few nuts."  These nuts, by the way, are not crazy people, but rather the exceptional ones who make the entire investigation worthwhile.

So far, I have enjoyed my search, although I have not yet found the gems, as I would prefer to call them, that pop up in other family trees. I have yet to find aristocrats in mine, much less royalty. My ancestors were humble farmers or tradespeople. Not a single one had such pretensions, as far as I have been able to ascertain, unlike in the TV ad which shows a woman holding a portrait of her cousin, George Washington.

My ancestors were born, lived, and died, often in the same communities, in Friesland or in other parts of the Netherlands. By now their descendants have multiplied and can be found in many parts of the world. Because of this multiplication, the odds are that the further back all of us would go, we would discover that we are all related and share common ancestors.

The Family Tree of Jesus Christ

In the Bible, ancestry is important as well. There are many genealogies in the Bible. Some of them relate to Jesus Christ, whose ancestry is traced back as far as Adam, who in turn is described as the son of God. These family trees are often stylized and serve a theological rather than a historical purpose.

I consider myself a hobbyist genealogist, in the sense that I am only concerned with my own genealogy and that of my wife, Her family has its own family tree which can be traced back to the 14th century. Although it follows the paternal Elgersma line, her mother also appears in it, since her parents were distant cousins. Such marriages were not uncommon in many communities in the Netherlands. What is unusual in her family was the use of the surname from a very early period in history.

In Friesland, where all of Wendy's ancestors and half of mine lived, the use of patronymics was very common. This involves using the father's first name as the middle name of the children. This is useful in helping to  determine who the father was, but since many names were common in families, confusion is still possible. On my father' side, there was the practice of repeating the same first names in every generation. Dirk and Gerrit alternate many times, which can also be confusing.

Family names are simultaneously one of the most important pieces of genealogical information, and a source of significant confusion for researchers such as myself. Mistakes are inevitable, especially in earlier generations when records were poorly kept. Memories are often faulty and the possibility of transcriptional errors also contributes to the errors. I know that I have made such errors myself, not all of which can be blamed on my sources.

A family tree with a specific purpose

Purposely, I am not including details of my family tree. The current practice is to avoid information concerning living persons as much as possible in order to protect their privacy. In this blog, my interest is to present my family tree as an example. Genealogy has become a popular hobby for many people today. There are countless ads by companies that will assist people in this research. 

The Mormons are in the forefront of such research because of their practice of baptism for the dead. For this reason, they have assembled the Family History Library in Salt Lake City, Utah, which houses over 2 million microfiche and microfilms of genealogically relevant material, These are also available for on-site research at over 4500 Family History Centers worldwide.

My project has just begun. In the last month, I have been able to compile more than 800 names in almost 200 families. This tree is growing by the day. Much work remains to be done. Any suggestions will be much appreciated.  I currently have more than 50 members who can access my family tree. 

If you would also like to do so, please send me your name and explain the reason why I should let you join. You should list any contributions you can make to my search. If you suspect that you are somehow related to me, you are especially invited to apply and enlarge this family tree.

For those who might be interested, here is some data from another source of the descendants of Gerrit Helleman who was born in Germany in 1728. I do not have similar data from other families to whom I am related. There are other branches of the Helleman family that are not (yet) connected with this one.

Gerrit Helleman
Catharina Margrita Vreese
9 generations, 160 members
1755 - 2008
Given Names
Aafina, Aafje, Aart, Adriaan, Adriana, Adrianus, Amber, Anna, Anneke, Annie, Antje, Arnold, Atze, Barbara, Berent, Bouke, Brenda, Caroline, Catharina, Christina, Cornelia, Cornelis, Daniel, Derk, Diewertje, Dirk, Donald, Eduard, Eleonora, Elisabeth, Emma, Engelbertus, Engelina, Erwin, Esther, Eveline, Evert, Evertje, Folkert, Francina, Francine, Frank, Fred, Frederieke, Frederik, Frits, Geert, Geertje, Geertrui, Geertruid, Gerardus, Gerrit, Gert, Gertrud, Gijsbertus, Hans-Dirk, Harmanna, Harmien, Harry, Hendrica, Hendrik, Hendrika, Hendrikje, Hendrikus, Hendrina, Henk, Henri, Henrick, Henrietta, Henriette, Hermannus, Hilda, Hugh, Iet, Ineke, Jacob, Jacoba, Jacobus, Jan, Jannetje, Jansje, Jeanette, Joanna, Joany, Johan, Johanna, Johannes, John, Joseph, Josephine, Jozina, Kim, Kornelis, Lambert, Lambertus, Lana, Leendert, Leon, Leonora, Lianne, Liesje, Lucas, Lucienne, Luuk, Machteld, Marc, Margaretha, Margrieta, Margrita, Mari, Maria, Marianne, Marinus, Maritje, Marjan, Marjolein, Mary, Meintina, Monique, Nathalie, Niesje, Patricia, Paul, Peter, Renata, Renate, Renee, Richard, Rick, Rob, Robert, Robin, Roelf, Ronald, Rudolf, Sanne, Siem, Simeon, Simon, Sofie, Theresia, Tjitske, Tom, Trijntje, Wendy, Wilhelmina, Willem, Willemtje, Wouter
In-law Names
Akerboom, Albert, Asselen, Beek, Berghuis, Boendermaker, Bos, Burger, Buytelaar, Chevalier, De Boer, De Fouw, Dell, De Putter, De Vrieze, Dirksen, Elfering, Gravesteyn, Hagg, Heijstek, Huetink, Hulleman, Hulsebos, IJzerman, Korenhof, Kranenburg, Langelaar, Lemmen, Lunenberg, Maring, Messchaert, Moek, Nouwen, Pas, Rense, Ronnenberg, Schaffers, Senechal, Slot, Sluerink, Stam, Teerink, Van der Kleij, Van der Kooy, Van der Pols, Van Dijk, Van Donkelaar, Van Egmond, Van Ekeren, Van Enk, Van Geest, Van Loon, Van Veen, Van Wezel, Veenman, Verdel, Verleur, Vervoorn, Vreese, Wiegerink, Wildschut, Zijlstra
Alblasserdam, Almere, Alphen a/d Rijn, Amersfoort, Amsterdam, Arnhem, Assen, Axel, Bad Kreuznach, Balikpapan, Bergen op Zoom, Brandwijk, Bussum, Calcutta, Canada, Delft, Den Haag, Den Helder, Davonport, Deventer, Dordrecht, Drachten, Dronten, Edam, Ede, Geldermalsen, Groede, Groningen, Haarlem, Heemstede, Hellevoetsluis, Hilversum, Hoorn, IJsselmuiden, Kampen, Lemelerveld, Lisse, Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Makassar, Mannheim, Naaldwijk, Naarden, Nieuwegein, Nieuw-Lekkerland, Nunspeet, Pernis, Pladju, Rotterdam, Sliedrecht, Sneek, Soest, Surabaja, Tasmania, Ter Aar, Utrecht, Vlaardingen, Voorburg, Wageningen, Wormerveer, Zaandam, Zutphen, Zwolle

Friday, July 1, 2016

The Golden Age Fallacy

Blogging is difficult. It is easy to find topics to write about but not so easy to do the necessary reflection that turns the topic into something more meaningful than a news item. I am not a journalist, but a blogger, a word that rhymes with plodder. Blogging takes much time and effort., at least for me. It does not spring out of my mind overnight, although some of my best thoughts originate then or grow there. This is just my way of indicating the process is more arduous than it may seem. So, if I do not write as regularly as you and I might like, be patient with me. It takes a while. The best is yet to come!

What do the "Leave" voters in the recent Brexit vote, the supporters of Donald Trump in the US, the troops of Daesh (aka. ISIS or ISIL), the Russians who adore Putin, and not to forget those in many churches all over the world who oppose same-sex relationships, all have in common? Among other things, they are victims of the Golden Age Fallacy.

This is the belief that things were better in the past,.in a Golden Age. It is a fallacy because we make an invalid inference, in this case from what ought to was. Another form of this fallacy is called the Primitivist Fallacy in which an invalid inference is made from was to ought. This sometimes involve a return to nature, as in the thought of Jacques Rousseau. The result is the same: the focus is exclusively on the past.

This fallacy is committed by conservatives of all kinds who conclude that, since the past was better than the present and since we live in an age of decadence and decline, we should try to turn the clock back to a golden age. or at least retain as much of that age as possible. Such an age never existed, in spite of the many eras that go by that name.

Remember when you were a child and the world wasn’t so complicated and messed up as it is today? Many of us have had this fantasy, We have a deep-felt nostalgia for a long-lost, idyllic past when life was simpler and we did not have to deal all the problems we face today. Discontent with the present causes many to look back for concrete examples of better times. But the argument for this involves a fallacy since we confuse what was with what ought to be.

This is wrong on at least two levels. First, that simpler or better past never existed. Each age has its own problems and difficulties, Second, even if such a simpler past had existed, we can never go back to it. One cannot enter the same river twice, as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus put it.

The idea of a Golden Age first appears in the Greek poet Hesiod, who identified five ages, the Golden Age, the Silver Age, the Bronze Age, the Heroic Age, and the Iron Age. The Roman poet Ovid simplified these age to four, each age being worse than the one that went before, The Golden Age was the best. Because of this constant decline, by definition, one is never in a Golden Age. The Bible uses this image of decline in Daniel 2.

Every country has had its own Golden Age. Sometimes, this has been called the "Good old days,"a term that is tinged with more than a bit of nostalgia, so much so that it becomes a fallacy. It is important to distinguish between a fallacy and legitimate comparisons with the past. Not every positive appraisal of the past is wrong, because the world really has changed and not always for the better. It's just that the past too has always been complex and uneven, and no period or people have ever had a monopoly on virtue.

We all have  selective memories. We tend to remember only what we want to remember. That is why the memories of our childhood are so often distorted. Our memories are also limited in scope; our time frame is so short that we are unable to get the right perspective. We need the divine perspective if we are to see everything correctly. Only God does so, since for him the past, present, and future are the same.

Terry Pratchett, the British fantasy/science fiction writer and humorist/satirist, wrote this delightful piece in 199 in which he spoofs the limited perspective that all mortals have. His Discworld, of which this is a part, may have influenced the author of the Harry Potter series. Discworld is a fantasy that is no more real than any Golden Age one, nevertheless, there are lessons that  we can learn here. Also, it adds a note of whimsy to this otherwise serious topic,

The sun was near the horizon. The shortest-lived creatures on the Disc were mayflies, which barely make it through twenty-four hours. Two of the oldest zigzagged aimlessly over the waters of a trout stream, discussing history with some younger members of the evening hatching.
"You don't get the kind of sun now that you used to get," one of them said.
"You're right there. We had proper sun in the good old hours. It were all yellow. None of this red stuff.
"It were higher too."
"It was. You're right."
"And nymphs and larvae showed you a bit of respect."
"They did. They did," said the other mayfly vehemently.
"I reckon, if mayflies these hours behaved a bit better, we’d still be having proper sun."
The younger mayflies listened politely.
"I remember," said one of the oldest mayflies, "when all this was fields, as far as you could see."
The younger mayflies looked around.
"It’s still fields," one of them ventured, after a polite interval.
"I remember when it was better fields," said the old mayfly sharply.
"Yeah," said his colleague. "And there was a cow."
"That’s right! You’re right! I remember that cow! Stood right over there for, oh, forty, fifty minutes. It was brown, as I recall."
"You don’t get cows like that these hours." …
"What were we doing before we were talking about the sun?"
"Zigzagging aimlessly over the water," said one of the young flies. This was a fair bet in any case.
"No, before that."
"Er … you were telling us about the Great Trout."
"Ah. Yes. Right. The Trout. Well, you see, if you’ve been a good mayfly, zigzagging up and down properly—"
"—taking heed of your elders and betters—"
"—then eventually the Great Trout—"
"Yes?" said one of the younger mayflies.
There was no reply.
"The Great Trout what?" said another mayfly, nervously.
They looked down at a series of expanding concentric rings on the water.
"The holy sign!" said a mayfly. "I remember being told about that! A Great Circle in the water! Thus shall be the sign of the Great Trout!"


                                          The  Golden Age (fresco by Pietro da Cortona)

The Golden Age Fallacy has also been called the Nostalgic Fallacy  By whatever name it is known, it is wrong. In Russia, even today, there is a nostalgia for strong leaders, people like Stalin. This explains Putin's popularity at home, especially among elderly Russians but also among te young. This nostalgia lies deep in the Russian psyche.

Donald Trump has capitalized on a similar nostalgia with his campaign slogan to "Make America Great Again." Unfortunately, he does not specify when precisely America was great; he simply assumes it was. This is part and parcel of American exceptionalism. The US is the greatest and most powerful nation in the world. And, if it is not at the moment, it should be.

Trump uses the fear of some specified threats to the US and its people to bolster his fallacious argument. He has been successful thus far in his campaign. Whether it will bring him all the way to the White House or not remains to be seen. I hope not! His success will come at the expense of countless Muslims, Mexicans, and whoever else he can tar and feather before November. because they supposedly pose a threat.

The leaders of the Brexit vote were equally evasive in their campaign to have the United Kingdom leave Europe. What country did they have in mind with their demand to take our country back. Fifty years ago or five hundred? Are they nostalgic about post-WWII Britain, the Victorian era, or the Elizabethan? Or are they afraid, as the US is, about uncontrolled immigration?

What about Daesh? They too are looking to the past, to the re-establishment of the Caliphate that marked an era when Islamic nations were powerful and Muslims the intellectual leaders of their age. Their retrospective ideology has managed to captivate thousands of young men and women, many of whom know little about Islam but are, nevertheless, willing to sacrifice their lives for this cause.

What about Christians who are opposed to same-sex relationships because they regard such relationships as evil and sinful? In churches everywhere they too look back at a time when such relationships were largely unknown and, if mentioned, were quickly dismissed. LGBT was unheard of.

The beliefs of many Christians were not questioned in those not-so-long-ago eras that were marked by theological and moral certainties. This was true until recently in many churches all over the world. Some churches in Africa and Asia are still unwilling to tolerate what they regard as unbiblical behavior.

These are all rational people who know that older is not necessarily better, but many are taken in by this fallacy and seem no longer able to reason with any degree of reliability. Whatever else may be motivating them, this fallacy in all its variations and under diverse names plays a role.

The supposed simplicity of the past with its many certainties is attractive to people all over the globe, coming from every nation, every religion. and every philosophy. They tend to be conservative in the sense that they prefer the traditional over the new. They are fearful of change, regarding change as a threat to the established order that they have inherited from previous generations.

Change is not necessarily bad. While change for the sake of change can be wrong, the inability or even reluctance to change is not healthy, especially if change is necessary. We must not idolize the past, since not everything in the past was necessarily good. Nor should we idolize the future by wanting to change everything. That too is a fallacy, one that we must studiously avoid.

Yet change is inevitable, Let us not resort to fallacies in order to hide these changes nor to supposed certainties, hallowed by age, to interdict those who advocate change. Churches are notorious for this. In a previous century they defended slavery as biblical. The apartheid regime in South Africa did the same to perpetuate their hideous ideology.

Only recently did my own denomination allow divorced people to be members of the church in good standing. But this privilege is not yet accorded to same-sex couple who are married. In all these instances, the Bible was touted as the reason why change should not be permitted. Only reluctantly, did change come about. In some cases, it still has not happened, I belong to an older generation, but I recognize the need for change, I am not afraid of the future and thus I am willing to let go of the past.