Only the narrow-minded, bigoted claim religion is evil

Since I began writing about religion almost four years ago I’ve noticed that anything written by myself or anyone else that suggests some good coming out of faith is generally mocked as covering up a great evil.

The usual argument is that anything good that comes out of religion is more of an accident than any essential by-product of the faith itself.

Christopher Hitchens summed up this idea perfectly when he was in Toronto a few months ago to debate Tony Blair on the value of religion. Mr. Blair pointed out that religious groups do all sorts of great charitable work, especially in the developing world. Mr. Hitchens said any good works done in the name of God should be viewed as penance for the preponderance of evil committed by religious groups today and throughout history. Mr. Blair might as well have been banging his head against a cement wall.

    Make God an integral part of your new year

    For years I travelled extensively to deliver seminars on how to develop the skills and habits to be successful at life and work. One of those skills was goal setting.

    Visualizing, setting and implementing goals can be an amazing experience. It became a passion and I loved teaching others how to set and achieve their goals. For years, I set personal goals, sometimes weekly, daily or even hourly, and always yearly.

      I still don’t care what atheists think of my faith

      Earlier this month, I wrote a story for my paper’s religion blog, Holy Post, about the non-stop debates between atheists and the religious. I called it: “Dear Atheists: most of us don’t care what you think.” I have been a journalist for close to three decades but nothing I have ever written came close to the kind of negative reaction that piece garnered.

        We must defend our faith in the public square

        Recently I was speaking as part of a panel at a conference about how the media covers religion, and specifically the Catholic Church. It was sponsored by the archdiocese of Toronto so the audience was made up of mainly Roman Catholic university students.

        During the question-and-answer period, three students mentioned how poorly equipped they felt to defend their faith in the public square, though they did not express it quite that way.

          Religion vs. agnostic know-nothings

          Not long ago I was invited, along with half a dozen other men, to debate the proposition: “Resolved: That agnosticism is the only honest religious position.”

          It was an old-fashioned evening — shades of the 1860 debate between Bishop Wilberforce and Thomas Huxley when Huxley said he would rather be descended from an ape than from a bishop (alas, an often sympathetic position) — but it was enjoyable all the same. Afterwards, one participant remarked: “I didn’t know people met to discuss serious questions.”

          Each participant got five minutes to state his position without interruption. When all had finished, everyone could intervene freely to probe or comment upon what others had said. Then followed a free-for-all discussion. The format worked well. After precisely two hours, we shut off debate, had a cup of tea, and departed into the night.

          I contended that the proposition that agnosticism is the only honest religious position, while useful to provoke discussion, suffered three basic flaws: it is an oxymoron; it is contrary to human experience and therefore likely to be false; and  it is a placebo for the spiritually timid.

          The Oxford English Dictionary defines agnosticism as the belief that nothing beyond material phenomena can possibly be known.

          Given that definition, the proposition is an oxymoron. It refutes itself. If nothing about religion can reliably be known, then it cannot be known whether anything about religion can reliably be known. If it is impossible to decide the truth or falsity of religious claims, then it is impossible to decide whether agnosticism is a preferable religious claim to even the narrowest or most fanatical religious prejudice.

            Thank God for Catholic education

            I was raised in a devout Polish Catholic family but did not attend Catholic schools. As an immigrant family, we went to the school that was closest to home for some very practical reasons.  So I am a product of the public school system.

            As a young child, I desperately wanted to attend Catholic school. I had a deep conviction in my heart that I belonged there. I clearly remember  pleading to get my way but I couldn’t convince my immigrant parents. They had more fundamental matters to deal with.

              Online world can be a very unfriendly place

              For five years I fought my daughter tooth and nail over Facebook.

              She is an incredibly persistent, articulate, well-grounded teenager who used every negotiation tool in the book. I countered with all of my middle-age wisdom, determination and business savvy. Not only was I critical of Facebook, I was determined to keep technology to a minimum in my household.

                A lesson in spiritual poverty

                Over the years, I have come to appreciate two great examples of Jesuit missionaries in action.

                The first was the one given by St. Francis Xavier in India, Japan and finally attempting to enter China. Francis’ great love for God and God’s people, and his desire to do everything for the greater glory of God, consumed him until the end.

                The second was that of the Jesuits in the Paraguay Reductions, which were portrayed in the film The Mission. Francis and the Reductions exemplify for me the zeal, determination and dedication which every missionary must possess.

                  The religious voice is one that needs to be heard

                  At a recent conference on religion and the media, a colleague from the Toronto Star announced his paper was getting rid of its full-time religion beat. That should have been a grand moment for me and the National Post, the paper I write for.

                  When he told the assembled group of about 50 esteemed representatives from various churches of the Star’s decision, it was a perfect opening for me to discuss how the Post was putting an even greater emphasis on religion. It was hard not to crow.

                    If we can’t save the dolphins, what hope do we have ?

                    “Man’s inhumanity to man makes countless thousands mourn.” So wrote Scotland’s bard, Robert Burns, nearly three centuries ago. Today, thanks to a DVD called The Cove, man’s inhumanity to dolphins is making countless thousands protest. Online petitions against the senseless slaughter of dolphins that occur annually in a cove at the Japanese village of Taaji have embarrassed the Japanese government — particularly after The Cove won the 2010 Oscar for best documentary.

                    Each September dolphins are driven towards a cove on the Japanese coastline by fishing boats that lay down a “wall of sound” that serves to terrify the dolphins, which have acute hearing. Fleeing from the noise, the dolphins can effectively be herded into one small, secure cove at Taaji, where they are penned in by nets. Marine museums and commercial aquariums come to Taaji to select specimens for a lifetime of captivity. The dolphins that are not selected are slaughtered and their meat marketed through Asia, often misleadingly labelled as whale meat. The dolphins contain worrisome — indeed sometimes toxic — levels of mercury.  Nevertheless, until recently dolphin meat was a staple in the compulsory lunches that Japanese schools provide to students.

                      Ethics and purpose must be returned to world finance

                      Is it okay to endanger the economy of a country by aggressively backing financial instruments then bet against them?

                      It appears that American banking giant Goldman Sachs thinks so and Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernacke isn’t sure. Yes, the Security and Exchange Commission has charged Goldman Sachs with fraud, but this is not the first time an investment institution has been raked over the coals, usually with very little result. Business as usual is not to be stopped.