Friday, 27 November 2009

Enamel all over my shirt

I've been grinding my teeth in frustration these last couple of days. I recently received the Nov. 30, 2009 issue of Maclean's Magazine, with cover story entitled, "The New Canadian Morality," the findings taken from a survey by Angus Reid. As a former professional marketing researcher and long-time market research consultant, I turned directly to the section of the article that gives one the ability to properly assess the findings--the methodology and the survey instrument itself.

I'm still turning.



Well what do you know--there is no such section. So for someone with an interest in some of the issues surveyed, I can't really assess the results. Nor can I find this missing information on the internet, either via the Maclean's or Angus Reid websites.

So consider the reference to the use of stem cells taken from human embryos. I don't know if there were any questions about the use of stem cells from umbilical cord blood, bone marrow, or the many other sources of stem cells that are proving to have much more potential for actually healing someone than are the ones from the aborted babies**.

What is the use of knowing Canadians' opinion on the older, less successful approach while ignoring the highly promising, cutting edge work being done with stem cells from far less controversial sources?

Or abortion. Maclean's reports that abortion is considered morally wrong by 22% of Canadians. What does that mean?
1. Morally wrong in any and every circumstance?
2. Morally wrong except in cases of rape and incest?
3. Morally wrong except if the mother's life is endangered?
4. Morally wrong after the first trimester?
5. Morally wrong after the second trimester (Morgentaler's personal opinion)?

I have seen opinion polls that put the number of Canadians who consider abortion morally wrong beyond positions 1, 2 and 3 at about 33%. And these represents only 5% of all abortions.

And for the five options taken together, I've seen survey results that indicate ~67% of Canadians have moral issues when these restrictions are exceeded. I have never seen a survey result that put the acceptable morality of our present situation in Canada (no prohibitions against abortion at any stage) higher than one-third of respondents.

So with the greatest respect to Maclean's, the article as it stands is virtually useless in that it lacks all of the information necessary to have an informed view.

Of course, that is my opinion of our pro choice society in general--all of information necessary to make an informed choice is denied to us.

**For more on the use of stem cells as a healing agent, see the article entitled "Stem cells hold hope for preemies lung strain" in the National Post, November 27, 2009, p. A10. The stem cells in question are taken from bone marrow.

Monday, 23 November 2009

The Christian Wrong

We don't have anything in Canada that corresponds to the Christian Right in the U.S. Canadian Christians are all over the map politically, even when they are largely in agreement on Christian principles and values. I think it is because Christians are less likely to look to government to solve highly charged moral issues.

But I sense that in the U.S. that conservative Christians such as Protestant fundamentalists and evangelicals, and some Catholics, are not only quite politicized but also tend to identify with the Republican party, or at least its most conservative segment. This is a mystery to me.

Firstly, this so-called Christian Right (C.R.) seems to espouse not just capitalism (I consider myself to be a capitalist too, except where it violates biblical principles), but libertarianism. In its broadest sense, libertarianism is an ideological belief in freedom of thought and speech.

Its political expression typically takes this form: all persons are the absolute owners of their own lives, and should be free to do whatever they wish with their persons or property, provided they allow others the same liberty. With respect to the role of government, libertarians hold to a political ideology that embraces individual liberty over state (governmental) authority, both in the realm of economic activity and personal or social activity. Their hero is famous U. of Chicago economist Milton Friedman. Ron Paul, a 2008 Republican presidential candidate, once ran for President as a Libertarian.

Consequently, the C.R. prefers minimum government intrusion in the lives of individuals, is strongly opposed to gun control and tax increases, and is suspicious of anything smacking of socialism (e.g., public health insurance), which many libertarians would not greatly differentiate from Communism. Many justify all of this with what they consider to be biblical or Christian arguments for individual freedom. Sarah Palin fits into this political segment like a hand into a glove.

Now, why did I call the association of the C.R. with the ultra-conservative wing of the Republican party a mystery? Well, it's because of the following.

Firstly, consider the C.R.'s tendency to want, in fact demand and vote for, government intrusion into individual rights where the rights in view are those to which the C.R. is opposed, particularly abortion rights and same-sex marriages. The C.R. was desperate to get their favoured candidates on the U.S. Supreme Court in order to overturn Roe v. Wade. The C.R. mobilizes routinely behind politicians who pursue their moral and economic preferences while calling for the downfall of those who don't. See, for instance, Dr. James Dobson's rejection of John McCain as the Republican candidate because he was perceived as too soft on certain moral issues.

I am not arguing the merits of abortion rights or same-sex marriages here. I am simply pointing out that the C.R. is eager for government intrusion when it suits them. I don't object to this; I simply point out that it is not the libertarian thing to do. Either you want government intrusion or you don't. You can't be a little bit pregnant.

Second, the C.R. claims to base their beliefs on biblical teaching. I'm tempted to ask, whose Bible? There is nothing in the teaching of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures that warrants the Christian Right's commitment to hyper-individualism, laissez-faire economics, or militarism. Regrettably this is not an argument that can be made within the limitations of a blog, but believe me as a conservative Christian business professor and dean with no axe to grind with capitalism that the C.R. arguments are simply not there.

To the extent that there are political and economic principles played out consistently over the whole of Scripture, the Bible teaches other-centeredness, not self-centered individualism, places restrictions on individual use or abuse of property as the owner sees fit, and maintains a strong commitment to peace. These biblical principles, if anything, would fit better with moderate Republicans and Democrats than with the right wing of the Republican party.

Third, the C.R. claims to be opposed to abortion. Yet at the same time it rejects any increase in taxes, including those that might make it easier for individuals to choose life over abortion. This is the biggest mystery of all. To misapply Winston Churchill, "It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma."

Women decide to abort for all kinds of reasons, both social and economic. Very often it is because they are poor and do not have a social and economic safety net that would see them through a crisis pregnancy. Canada is relatively generous in its government and organizational maternity benefits. But consider this quote from a lovely little website called "babycenter" (

Maternity leave, now often called parental or family leave, is the time a mother (or father) takes off from work for the birth or adoption of a child. Actual paid "maternity leave" — while the norm in every other developed country — is unusual in the United States, although some enlightened companies do offer new parents paid time off, up to six weeks in some cases. Most likely, you'll use a combination of short-term disability (STD), sick leave, vacation, personal days, and unpaid family leave during your time away from work.

Or this from another site called "FitPregnancy"(

If you're getting paid while on maternity leave, consider yourself lucky: Out of 173 countries worldwide, the United States is one of only five that don't guarantee paid leave to give birth and care for a newborn, according to a recent study by researchers at Harvard and McGill universities.

"It's dramatically striking that the U.S. is so far behind the rest of the world," says lead researcher Jody Heymann, M.D., Ph.D., director of the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill in Montreal, Quebec. "Every industrialized country offers paid leave. So can the United States."

While a small minority of enlightened U.S. companies offer paid maternal leave, most don't, even though research shows the practice increases employee retention, reducing hiring and retraining expenses. "It's often too hard for companies to offer it if competitors don't," Heymann says. And while several states are considering paid family leave, California is the only one that currently offers it. "The only way to ensure that all Americans are protected is to pass federal legislation," she adds.

If, as we are seeing now, the conservative Republicans are so dead set against improving health care in the U.S. (something considered a human right in Canada), is it likely they would be supportive of improved maternity benefits? Why do I doubt it? And yet it could be an important resource for lowering the abortion rate.

I know that I have taken on a subject that needs a better medium than a blog to address properly. I have had to be brief in my remarks, when I could have gone on at considerable length in, say, an academic paper. But at least you have a taste of my thinking. I urge you in the Christian Right to consider that on some topics your positions might just be wrong based on biblical religion, not American civil religion.

Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity (Romans 12:2, Phillip's translation).

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

More on ideology

. . . not to be confused with moron ideology. But more on this below.

An ideology can be defined as "a comprehensive vision, as a way of looking at things." This is more or less identical to the concept of a worldview.

Another definition: "the body of doctrines, philosophical bases, symbols, etc., associated with a particular social or political movement, large group, or individual."

And finally, "an ideology is the creation of some identifiable group (political, cultural, economic) for the purpose of spreading or maintaining its perspective on reality among themselves and others."

There is nothing in the above set of definitions (culled from various websites) that is inherently bad or scary. In fact, everyone has, at least, a worldview, which is very similar to an ideology. Perhaps the difference between the two notions is that ideology is often linked to a political or cultural movement that has not only views but ends and means.

I can think of some political and cultural movements that one could label as ideologies of which I wholeheartedly approve, despite regrettable excesses in some cases: Wilberforce's anti-slavery campaign; the Alberta Five and their push for full personhood for women; the corresponding campaign for aboriginal rights; the peace movement; Ralph Nader's leadership of the consumerism movement; much of the modern feminist movement; even the societal push for a greater concern for environmental causes.

All of these required the conviction that only a strong commitment to principles and values can create; great courage; effective leadership; strong communication skills; and, more often than not, the use of political processes. I still shiver and tear up whenever I listen to Martin Luther King's incredible speech, Free At Last--ideology at its best!

How important is ideology? Obviously it is very important when it defines a movement, or even a society. A clear current example is that of health care in the U.S. versus Canada and most European countries. We Canadians see universal health care as a human right. It is the largest budget item of every provincial government. And who did we pick as the greatest Canadian in the CBC contest of a few years back?--Tommy Douglas, the father of Medicare.

In the U.S., health care is seen very differently. Many Americans are content to live in a country without genuine universal access. And we see the results before our eyes in the U.S. at this moment as President Obama (who would not be voted as the greatest American) tries to achieve a pale approximation of Canadian health care in his country.

What happens when ideology goes bad? Racism, sexism, ageism, in fact most "isms", are based on some notion that there are inherently superior and inferior people or groups, and that the superior ones have the right to suppress the lesser ones (e.g., the U.S. Supreme Court defining an African-American slave as two-thirds of a person for purposes of the Constitution, or the Canadian government withholding the right to vote from aboriginal and Chinese Canadians).

Groupthink occurs when a closed group defines any contrary views as heretical, with those holding those views written off as unworthy of membership in the group (the most famous being JFK's advisers' decision-making process leading up to the Bay of Pigs fiasco).

A corrupted ideology is one whose adherents willfully ignore any evidence that their views held do not bear up to scientific or historical scrutiny (e.g., Holocaust deniers). Or that would use immoral means to achieve its goals (e.g., the KKK).

The worst-case scenario is one where an ideology has all of the above characteristics, and yet still meets with broad public approval. I see this to some extent with those who genuflect before the Kyoto altar. People who find any alleged fault with any aspect of the ideology of addressing climate change are deemed as inferior (intellectually, morally, or both), are bullied into accepting the received wisdom or being pushed aside without a hearing (and labeled climate change deniers--an obvious parallel to Holocaust deniers), and are invidiously contrasted with heroes like Al Gore, despite the many mistakes in his Oscar-winning movie. Consequently, a legitimate scientific evaluation of an important world phenomenon is crippled by a dubious ideology.

Well, my blog is devoted to certain life issues, among them such topics as abortion, euthanasia, and alternatives to same. I have said in a previous post that I could accept a pro-choice ideology for Canada if we truly had one. But the pro-choice ideology shows much of the superiority, close-mindedness, and corruption that I have discussed above. The result is that the ability to make an informed choice is severely compromised.

Back to the U.S. and Obama's attempts to have a health care bill (greatly watered down already from his original rhetoric) passed into law. The House of Representatives (corresponding to the House of Commons in Canada and the U.K.), has passed a law that has now gone to the Senate. And here is where an intolerant ideology could rear its ugly head. Remember that the Democratic Party controls both houses.

The House of Representatives comprises 435 members, of which 234 are Democrats, leaving 201 Republicans. Unlike the Canadian Parliamentary system where departing from party lines is unusual (and often fatal to the political prospects of the maverick voter), American lawmakers are more open to breaking ranks. Consequently some conservative Democrats have shown reluctance to supporting their leader's vision in whole, while a few moderate Republicans have been supportive.

Consequently, the health care bill passed by a vote of 220-215. Aside from the enormous cost ($1 trillion), some Democrats probably voted against the bill because of a last-minute amendment that prohibits coverage of abortion services under the new government-run public portion of the plan with the exception of incest, rape, or the death of the mother (about 5% of all abortions currently). But some Democrats supported the amendment as well, or it would not have passed.

Now this bill is before the Senate, and some conservative Democratic senators are insisting that this amendment be included in the Senate version of the bill. The bill is huge both in cost and scope. The health of a multitude of uninsured and under-insured Americans rests on its passage. Aside from costs, what other sticking point could there be? Well, it's abortion. It would appear that some American politicians would vote against an all-encompassing and desperately needed health care bill on the amendment alone. And pro-lifers get called one-issue people!

How much would this amendment limit access to abortion in the U.S.? No more than now exists. 85% of private American health insurance plans cover abortion services. That won't change. Some Americans would feel that this isn't enough, and that the government should be expanding access. That is their right. And there are means at their disposal to work to that end. But to hold up a bill that provides the kind of care that Canadians not only take for granted but consider to be a fundamental human right, because this particular bill does not advance a certain ideological agenda, is just wrong. It's corrupt. It's intolerant.

Who are the uninsured and under-insured in the U.S.? Racial minorities. One-parent families. The working poor. Immigrants (legal or otherwise). They would be denied decent health care (or any care at all!) because of one amendment that, while it may not improve access to abortion, does not further limit it? Are these people to become sacrifices on the altar of the pro-abortion agenda?

Moron ideology.