Thursday, March 24, 2011

The substance of things hoped for . . .

Still life #6
“I had therefore to remove knowledge, in order to make room for belief.”
Let me begin by toying for a minute with the quote above from Immanuel Kant:
In the boarding house of my soul, I harboured two tenants; Knowledge and Belief. Belief was resident on the premises first and occupied the big room, but after Knowledge moved in, his need for space kept expanding and he demanded that he be given the big room. Thus ensued a continuous tension in the household and I felt compelled to make a choice. Since Belief was my cousin and was in close harmony with the remaining tenants, I sadly evicted Knowledge and resigned myself to living without him although I had found his dynamism invigorating.   
Obviously I’ve ripped the quotation out of its context, unless you consider the brainyquote website to be a context. Also, it could be interpreted in other ways than through the “boarding house” imagery. It could—by itself—be a lament for having misunderstood that knowledge and belief can dwell together, indeed must dwell together in harmony. And then there’s the whole issue of the meaning of the two slippery words at its core: What is our common understanding of knowledge? What do we mean by belief? Is knowledge a synonym for wisdom? Is belief another word for faith? Definitions of abstract nouns are approximations at best.
I’m pretty sure we all know what the quotation is about, nevertheless. When discovery contradicts belief, a crossroads presents itself. Many choose the road of denial in the assumption that holding on to a belief against all evidence is a virtue. Others turn their backs on their previously-held beliefs, sometimes with great disappointment and dismay. Some seem to have accepted the great conundrums of life with equanimity and confidence.
I don’t believe that earthquakes are shakings of the earth by an angry God. They are the inevitable results of the earth’s brittle crust reacting to the contraction of a gradually-cooling interior of our planet.  Fill a bottle with water, screw down the cap and set it out in a Saskatchewan January night. The bottle will break; earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, floods and tornadoes will happen. Knowledge tells us why.
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).” Maybe we’re just too hung up on the sanctity of “believing.” Faith may be where it’s really at; faith in the sense of “the substance of things hoped for.” I suspect that between expanding knowledge and the kind of faith that hopes, that loves, that is optimistic about a future as yet unseen, there is no conflict.
 No reason why they can’t live amicably in the same house.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Gormley vs Shasko

Still Life 05
Few people will know this, but Larissa Shasko is the leader of the Green Party of Saskatchewan. I know this because she and two party stalwarts stopped in at the Station Arts Centre a few months ago and we had a chat about this and that, after which I wished them luck and gave them my card. I now get their email communications: policy developments, nominations, news, etc.

So I was drawn to a podcast of a guest appearance by Larissa on John Gormley live. Gormley is Saskatchewan’s resident "right-wing" talk show host on Rawlco Radio’s News Talk 650 in Saskatoon, a role that seems to have become a staple fixture in every North American city these days. The subject was nuclear energy. John Gormley is avidly for it; Larissa Shasko is adamantly against it. I’m guessing that no minds were changed by the exchange. Neither was it a very “compelling” subject; Gormley had to work hard to get three people to phone in.

The basic positions are clear: Saskatchewan mines raw uranium and will need energy in the future; it makes obvious economic sense for the province to exploit this resource for energy and medical purposes. On the Green Party side: the problems of safety have not been resolved and we don’t appear to be getting closer to finding, for instance, a safe storage place for spent, radioactive material; at the same time, it diverts us from the real challenge, namely to make advances in solar and wind technology and the reduction of our need for more and more energy.

Two observations: the earthquake and tsunami in Japan raised memories of Chernobyl and although Saskatchewan contains no earthquake-prone fault lines, we all share a fear of the silent, invisible killer that nuclear power plants can’t keep caged with complete certainty. And secondly, economic arguments, compelling as they may be, shouldn’t be as determinant as they seem to have become. Nuclear energy—or any other consequential enterprise, for that matter—has cultural, social, religious, ecological, anthropological, psychological, health, environmental and practical implications as well. Why not argue the nuclear debate from a health point of view, for instance? Surely health is as important to us as economics.

It seems to be the first order of business for our culture—and particularly that portion of it we call the “right wing,”—to strip each decision of every consideration except the economic. If it makes us richer, it must be good.

I have to give the Green Party this: they’re not afraid to stand up and shout out that these are not simple, single-minded debates; that there are mighty things at stake here, things that no amount of money can remedy if they go wrong.

Seems to me the Green Party is the only one that isn’t yet embedded in the political culture of the Conservative, Liberal, NDP and the Bloc, where winning the next election is more immediate than making wise choices. Maybe that would become the Green’s future should they win substantial seats in any election, I don’t know. But when I look at the platforms of the parties, it’s the Green Party that expresses most closely my own view of how this culture ought to shape its future.

Gormley praised Shasko for being the only “left-wing” representative willing to appear on his show. It’s a sign of the political climate in Saskatchewan that every action, every comment has to be placed in a left-wing or right-wing box, which means in turn that every argument is categorized and accepted or rejected not on its merits, but on whether its source is the right or left. How sad is it when a wind generator can be categorized as a part of socialist plot?

Go, Larissa Shasko, go.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Image, Substance

Still life 04

Republican presidential-hopeful Mike Huckabee seems to have discovered what our Prime Minister could have told him a long time ago: in a large whack of the North American population at this time, substance is of little consequence; it’s image that sticks. Although knowing that none of these things are true, he has stated and/or implied that President Obama was born and raised in Kenya by his father and grandfather (he was born in the USA and spent most of his growing-up years in Indonesia), that he is Muslim (he has been a member of Christian churches all his life), that he is anti-West and anti-American (as proven by the fact that he had a bust of Churchill moved in the White House and replaced with one of Abe Lincoln – go figure!). (Check out an interview with Huckabee on You Tube, or see )
 And image is everything in Conservative Party advertising these days: besmirch Michael Ignatieff’s character and fill people’s minds with images of Stephen Harper interacting with his family, silhouetted against the flag, playing the piano. The Conservative Party of Canada apparently believes that if they can throw enough mud at the opposition while portraying their leader in the best, most patriotic light, enough Canadians may buy into the propaganda to win them another election.
They may be right. Surveys show that Canadian young people (15-25) are not politically knowledgeable, and when many people don’t have the information or understanding needed to be active citizens in a democracy, image building (and besmirching) may be the road to victory after all:
“Young Canadians’ political knowledge is low – only slightly higher than the level of their American counterparts and, therefore, low compared with Europe. This suggests that European nations are better at disseminating the information and skills needed to turn its young people into participating citizens, and raises the question of whether Canadians should look there, rather than to the United States, in seeking to address the issue. (See”  
Do Canadians understand the significance to democracy of Bev Oda’s lying to parliament and Harper’s shrugging it off? Of the proroguing of parliament to avoid a critical test? Of the function of election spending rules and the far-reaching significance when leadership “bends the rules” they themselves have set? Of the repeated stonewalling on the dissemination of information vital to Canadians on something as serious as our war against the Taliban in Afghanistan?
People who don’t “get this stuff” can probably be swayed by image advertising; can probably even be found in enough numbers to win another minority. Seems Huckabee has figured that out. Our political parties seem to have come to a similar conclusion.
For far too many Canadians—and probably even a greater percentage of Americans—substance is of little consequence; it’s image that sticks. Someone needs to tell Harper the obvious; if he wants a majority, he may need to walk around in hockey garb throughout the campaign! Hockey is, after all “our game.” It’s something we get.