Photo of the Book

Welcome to Martin’s Fifth Column, a collection of writings by the Rev. J. Martin Hattersley Q.C., an Edmonton lawyer and Anglican minister.

To learn more about Martin, please visit the About page.

The postings on this site are arranged in parallel with the book, so the hyperlinked Table of Contents and article categories are the ideal ways to browse. There are one hundred articles, sermons, and lectures spanning a wide range of topics, so do take your time.


By Way of Introduction

“Gemini”, organ of Greater Edmonton Mensa, boasts an exclusive audience, but not a very large one—around one hundred copies a month, depending on who has remembered to renew his or her membership. Edmonton’s “Anglican Messenger”, while increasing the readership from one hundred to around ten thousand, still is of limited interest to the general public. Yet over the past few years, the columns of these papers have been privileged to host some provocative commentaries I have made on a wide diversity of social issues.

Having won an award for the Editorship of “Gemini”, and an honourable mention in church publishing circles for the columns in the “Anglican Messenger”, I have taken it upon myself to offer these to a wider audience.

Somewhere in the middle of all these essays, there is an explanation of why the title “Fifth Column” was chosen. It hints at the subtle belief I have that life itself is subversive. Life upsets things, kills them, yet makes them new. Really to live well is to choose a meaningful form of suicide. The price of life, the pain, the uncertainty, the obligations to life’s Author, are sometimes not very much to our liking, and most of us would far rather take refuge in dead and controllable ‘systems’.

My credentials for writing what I do are a little obscure. Brought up in the heretical monetary tradition of the Social Credit movement, I have spent many years marvelling at the chaos, injustice and inefficiency that masquerade today as an economic system. Educated in the field of Constitutional Law at the feet of Sir Ivor Jennings, I squirm at the impracticalities and misunderstandings that never seem to leave the question of Canada’s constitutional process. Having absorbed religion simultaneously from the evangelicals and from Bishop John Robinson, of “Honest to God” fame, I have an eclectic theological background that somehow has brought me into the unique and surprising occupation of “priest in secular employment,” and contributor to the new Anglican Book of Alternative Services. I have climbed to the heights of Vice Chairmanship of Edmonton’s Chamber of Commerce, and served as a somewhat unwilling President of the Alberta Human Rights and Civil Liberties Association. The totally unplanned, unwanted, and painful distinction of being the father of one of Edmonton’s more notorious victims of homicide in 1988, my daughter Catherine Rose Greeve, is an experience that has coloured my theological thinking from that day to this. God plays hardball—love and forgiveness hurt.

Don’t take these little pieces too seriously. They’re one man’s commentary on the passing scene. Surprisingly often, they are prophetic—but I am past the point where I will get on my political high horse, to save a world that would rather die than think. Let’s just sow some seeds of common sense. The time may yet come when they will blossom.

– Gemini, 1992

“The Fifth Column”

I began to feel my age when my children asked me “Why do you call your column ‘The Fifth Column’?”, and I realized that they were not alive at the time of the Spanish Civil War. Fortunately, I was able to turn to the encyclopedia:

FIFTH COLUMN, supporters and sympathizers of an enemy, engaged in espionage and sabotage behind the home lines of defence. The term originated during the Spanish Civil War to describe the rebel sympathizers of Franco who were behind the Loyalist lines in Madrid and working in cooperation with the four military columns that were advancing on the city …

Far be it from me to confess that I try in these columns to undermine the organized structures of society, but nevertheless, I do have an angle. In the later chapters of Revelation, we see a picture of Christ confronted by three oppressive powers—the Beast, Babylon, and the False Prophet. They are strikingly similar to the three temptations of Jesus in the desert. In these symbols we see the three controlling powers of the world we live in: Government, Commerce, and Belief. All of them, under God, have a due and proper place in the structure of the civilized world. Any or all of them, made into an idol, can be God’s greatest enemy—and that can include the actions of the organized church.

In many places now we are seeing the collapse of the authority of governments, in physical defiance or incipient tax revolt, as an era when governments played God comes to an end. Before long, however, the Church will need to protest the intolerable social conditions brought on by uncontrolled ‘free market’ economics. As a matter of fact, I believe the church still underestimates its own resurgent political strength. The churches have had a vast influence over recent years in the reduction of racism: they have greatly influenced the recent liberal tend in the policies of the government of South Africa, and I believe have received less than their due credit for the remarkable and peaceable liberation of Eastern Europe. Not simply Christianity, either. The impact of Islam on world politics is already significant, and likely not yet at its peak.

So, at the beginning of our ‘decade of evangelism’, Christianity has already succeeded in striking a blow for humanity against totalitarian governments everywhere. Before long it will be asked to speak out much more stridently, for the sake of humanity, against the evils created by an economic system dominated by irresponsible moneychangers. That is its prophetic role, and if it does not fulfil it, then it becomes indeed a ‘false prophet’.

In the days before desegregation in the southern U.S., the story is told of an African American who tried to attend a ‘whites only’ church, and was unceremoniously asked to leave. As he stood dejected by the side of the road outside the church, a stranger came up to him. It was Jesus. “Don’t worry, my friend,” said Jesus. “It’s fifty years since that church was built, and I haven’t been able to get into it yet!”

– Anglican Messenger, April 1990

Organism / Organization

Why is it that we have, in the words of John McKnight of Northwestern University, “crime making corrections systems, sickness making health systems, and stupid making schools”?

In an article republished recently in the journal of the Edmonton Social Planning Council, McKnight puts it down to the endless conflict between ‘Community’ and ‘Institution’—between ‘Organism’ and ‘Organization’.

Institutions are structures designed to control people. Associations are the result of people acting through consent. In their structures, and in their operations, there are therefore remarkable differences.

In an institution, structures are created where the persons considered to be most able, dominate. The unqualified have no place, and become dependent ‘hangers-on’. In a community, however, the structure expands until every willing body, even if untrained and unqualified, finds something useful to do. Communities therefore breed leadership from their very nature. Institutions, in contrast, being based on control, make leadership by all except the anointed few almost impossible to develop. And the anointed few themselves quite obviously may not have the expertise and qualifications to deal with all emergencies at all times in the most effective possible way.

Communities respond to need with incredible rapidity. Institutions are ineffective because they bog down in their own bureaucracy—committees, budget approvals, ‘channels’ of all kinds. Contrast the rapid and effective community support that sprang into action after Edmonton’s 1987 tornado with the cumbersome, grandstanding and still incomplete work of the official political agencies.

Communities come up with creative and innovative solutions. Many minds working on a single problem give a multitude of imaginative answers to a problem, from which a course of action can be developed and tried. Institutions kill creativity, by requiring procedures and channels to be followed, so that innovation rarely has a chance.

Institutions provide services. Communities provide care. If it is personalized care that people need, an institution simply cannot provide it—and the ‘institutionalized’ victims are destroyed as human beings while they try. No social worker—except in his or her off hours—could ever express through institutional procedures the simple humanity of the Good Samaritan.

Communities are forums for the development of citizenship. Institutions by their very structure of authoritarian control make the development of citizenship impossible.

We should be thinking of these things as we look into the nature of our church and its structures. Particularly is this so in the light of the emphasis of building of community that came out of our recent Diocesan Synod. Our church dies the moment it becomes an institution. It lives so long as it is a creative community, animated by the Holy Spirit. No one planned that Peter would become the first spokesman of the infant church. The situation developed, and Peter was led and empowered by the Spirit to respond, while the remaining disciples recognized his gift and his leadership. It worked! By contrast, the institutional religion of the time of Jesus and the Apostles found these persons’ behaviour and their irreverence in the face of organizational structures completely intolerable—hence the crucifixion and many other persecutions throughout history.

There’s a lesson here somewhere on the way we should be running our church, from the Parish level right up to 600 Jarvis St. and beyond. Let’s be willing to learn it!

– Anglican Messenger, May 1989

Redemptive Violence

It’s a strange concept.

It’s the idea that the greatest number of people on the North American Continent—including many who call themselves ‘Christians’—in fact support a religion that is not Christian at all, but actually originates from ancient Babylon. It’s the religion of ‘Redemptive Violence’: the belief that Order comes from Domination.

Ancient Babylonian legends trace the origins of the world from a god Marduk, who kills his mother Tiamat, and from her body creates the Cosmos. Order is created through violence. From this doctrine has come a succession of military world rulers, concepts of ‘manifest destiny’ to support empires, whether Babylonian, Persian, Greek, Roman, German, British or American, and a pyramidal order of society in which the rich and powerful are at the top, and the weak, the alien, the poor, the old, women and children are fair targets for oppression at the bottom of the pile.

The Bible, in contrast, describes creation as the perfect self-expression of a loving God, spoiled only by the self-will of humankind, unwilling to obey God’s commands laid down for its own good. The difference? Do we believe that there is a Power at work in the universe that makes “all things work together for good,” so that salvation comes from God, not man (which is the New Testament teaching, supported, incidentally, by modern developments in chaos theory and theories on the origins of life)? Or is the world going to hell in a handbasket, only to be kept under control by violent enforcement by the “powers of this world”? Jesus says the first. Oliver North says the second.

The strange thing is, the twentieth century has seen some wonderful examples of an evil power structure being overcome by an effective campaign of non-violence. Think of the successes of Nelson Mandela, of Mahatma Gandhi, or Martin Luther King. Equally, most attempts we have seen to extinguish evil by force, particularly in the anti-Communist crusades of the United States in the years since World War II, have been tragically ineffective. McCarthyism, Vietnam, Cuba, the Iran-Contra affair and the CIA support of subversion of governments throughout Latin America: the American prison system, the stalemate with Saddam Hussein in Iraq—it is a chronicle of disaster and unnecessary human suffering, all caused by a ‘cops and robbers’ mentality that seeks to eliminate evil by force. The myth is supported by a thousand movies, TV programs and comic strips—mostly originating in what Iranians call ‘the great Satan’, i.e. the U.S.A.—that teach our children this same unreality day by day.

Jesus said “that ye resist not evil.” A better translation is “Do not use force to combat evil.” That does not mean that we cease “manfully to fight under Christ’s banner against sin, the world and the devil.” It means that “the weapons of our warfare are spiritual.” Most of these are defensive—truth, righteousness, faith, the Gospel, Salvation, prayer. The one offensive weapon is “the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God.” Christ’s cross may well be “an emblem of suffering and shame,” but it was also the supreme moral defeat of all the structures of this world that rely on violence for their effectiveness.

One could only wish that the Christian church could learn this lesson from its founder. Crusades, Anathemas, Inquisitions, Persecutions, religious wars, even insensitive missionary work. None of them pay attention to Christ’s command to “love your enemies,” or Paul’s, to “overcome evil with good.” None of them recognize that “Vengeance is mine. I will repay, says the Lord.”

No wonder that, with a history like this, many people recognize the goodness of Christ, but will have no truck with the organized church.

We have homework to do.

– Anglican Messenger, March 1999

Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is a wonderful thing. By it, we are allowed to adopt any view we choose as to the nature of the world and the way humankind should behave so as to keep in tune with its Creator and/or the created order. It leads to a wonderful diversity of practices, all of which no doubt provide solace to the souls of believers, and meaning in the spiritual world.

Freedom of religion has its limits, however. The state gives religions bodies some breaks on their income taxes, but the suggestion made by the Hutterites, for instance, that their communities are religious organizations which should pay no taxes at all never got much of a reception. Conscientious objectors have often enough found themselves pretty unpopular in time of war. The Druidic Church still hasn’t got to first base in its efforts to have sacramental drinking of beer made grounds for charitable registration as a religious organization.

Worse than that though, is when religion goes on the offensive. Then it can be very offensive indeed. We have gentlemen on street corners offending our ears with endless quotations from the Bible. Regardless of whether our homes may be our castles, we cower or feign absence as grim faced Witnesses or Mormons bring their literature to our door. The safety of our medical clinics and the peace of our neighbourhoods is shattered as self-appointed guardians of public morality besiege abortion clinics. Beyond this, see Iranian fundamentalists decree worldwide death sentences on publishers and writers who offend their sensibilities. Watch also the true believers in the class struggle cause all kinds of mayhem, harassing their fellow workers and the innocent public as they protest the inadequate amounts that they allege the government pays them.

Doesn’t freedom of religion include the freedom not to believe? The freedom not to be debarred from lawful pursuits by zealots anxious to interfere with our lives because our activities offend their moral code? Once it was Prohibition—now it is the banning of dancing in bars. The Bible-believing religion that on one hand states that humans are made “in the image of God” and “very good”, now seeks to prevent the display of God’s handiwork, whether it be by banning nude dancing, or by putting pants on Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel. The unbelieving public is at least observant enough to note that it is precisely this holier-than-thou antagonism to sex, characteristic of a particular religious attitude, that has been associated with the secret sins of preachers such as Swaggart or Bakker, let alone the regrettable sexual abuses of children by certain religious Brothers and Fathers.

As Oliver Cromwell one said to some of his more rabid supporters: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, have the humility to consider that you may be mistaken.”

Whether it be drugs, alcohol or sex, impulses that might otherwise be met only with a yawn, gain double attractiveness, and become twice the social problem the moment they are “banned in Boston.”

– Gemini, January 1992

Decisions, Decisions

“Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision …”

Saint Paul, on trial for his beliefs and actions, indirectly shows the difference between the lifestyles of the believer and ‘the world.’ To those without a vision (or often enough, with the vision provided by modern science) the Universe has been set up by some unexplained ‘blind watchmaker’, and is in the process of slowly running down, purposeless and battered by the forces of chance and chaos.

In contrast, the Christian is a person propelled by a vision—a vision of the coming Kingdom of Heaven on earth for which Jesus taught us to pray, coming into being through his path of obedience, prayer, humility, self-sacrifice, compassion, wisdom, healing and service to those in need. So Christian lives are shaped by a vision of the future, not by the consequences of the past—they are filled with hope and purpose rather than despair, meaninglessness and drift.

In the book of Daniel, we learn how Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, dreamed of an enormous statue, with a head of gold, chest of silver, loins of brass, legs of iron, and feet one of iron and one of iron mixed with clay, that was destroyed by a stone that came out of a mountain, which grew to fill the whole earth. Daniel’s interpretation was that four successive kingdoms based on violence—Babylon, Persia, Greece and later Rome—would be destroyed by a new and different power sent by God.

The empires of Babylon, Persia and Greece have long since perished. Rome ruled the world for many centuries; later its empire was divided by barbarian invasions. After the fall of Rome in the fifth century A.D., Constantinople anchored the Eastern political empire for a further thousand years. Rome, however, became the center of a new religious empire, the Roman Catholic Church, of which the Anglican Church is an offshoot.

In all of this, I find that the image of the “feet of iron mixed with clay,” in relation to the Roman Empire, gives food for thought. The church has embodied the gospel of Christ in a religious structure still based on the power politics of ancient Rome. In our Synods, as in Parliament, we still overrule the wishes of minorities through the power of a majority vote.

Within the Quaker community, decisions have to be arrived at by consensus. A person in the assembly who disagrees with a proposal has the right either to ‘stand aside’ (in which case, the proposal will be allowed to proceed, though without his approval) or else to ‘stand in the way’—having a veto on the action until he or she changes his or her opinion. A consequence of this is that the reasons of those opposed to a proposed action, instead of being ignored or overruled, have to be considered carefully and out-argued, before action is taken on any new proposal.

It struck me that if we used consensus rather than the power of a majority vote in coming to our decisions, whether in Parliament in deciding on the Kyoto accord, or in our Synods in deciding on matters of clergy remuneration or the blessing of same sex unions, we might be much more able to preserve “the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.” A more respectful atmosphere, and one where people paid more attention to the arguments of those who disagreed with them, would be a welcome result.

– Anglican Messenger, March 2003

Horse Sense

An interview early one morning on CBC, heard while I was imprisoned in hospital waiting for the two ends of my spine to reunite, caught my fancy.

The interviewee was Chris Irwin, renowned trainer of horses, and author of a slim book: Horses Don’t Lie.

His theme was the psychology of the horse, compared with the mental makeup of man.

Along with dogs, cats, lions, tigers, wolves and coyotes, man is a predator. He needs to kill his prey to obtain food to survive. His two eyes point forward and work together, to focus on his prey. Dominance within the pack is determined by physical contest—whether among a group of puppies, or young schoolboys establishing their position through horseplay in the company of their peers.

By contrast, horses are prey, not predator. Like deer and other ruminants, their food grows all around them on the ground—no problem there of supply. The challenge of being a prey animal is rather one of avoiding becoming food for the predator. So this type of animal has eyes pointing outward on each side of its head, giving it 360 degree vision, and its brain is continually attuned to awareness of its environment and possible dangers in it, rather than concentrating its attention on any particular objective.

Consider, then, the reaction of the horse, a prey animal, when approached by the predator, man. It is an instinctive urge to run for the hills in self-preservation—as indeed, is also the reaction of cattle at a rodeo.

So ‘breaking’ a horse has traditionally been a difficult operation, sometimes achieved only by cruelly destroying the animal’s spirit. Irwin, however, has a different technique. He has learned to think like a horse, and get willing cooperation by communicating with his charges in horse language.

Horses move in herds, and have their own system of deciding on who shall be leader. Instead of fighting for pre-eminence, horses engage in a form of discussion, carried out through symbolic movements of their bodies, which end up with a leader being selected, who has the approval and support of the rest of the herd.

Irwin’s art is to use that same language, to persuade his horses that he is the ideal leader to follow; more capable and more interesting than any other member of the herd. Once that is accomplished, horse and rider are friends for life, with a rich bond of devotion and loyalty between them—so long as the leader lives up to his promises.

It seems to me that mankind has much to learn from this.

Firstly, that though the average churchgoer may find that ‘original sin’ is a difficult concept to relate to, the idea that ‘man is by nature a predator’ is not, even though it is saying much the same thing. “Men behave like wolves to their fellow men” as the Roman writer observes.

Secondly, that it’s not a bad idea to have 360 degree vision in a world of predators: “Be wise as serpents, and innocent as doves,” and beware of “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” even within the church.

Thirdly, the horse’s method of selecting a leader, based on the recognition and willing acceptance of merit, seems vastly preferable to the predator leader securing his position by sheer force of arms.

But, finally, is there not a lesson for us all in the journey Irwin had to take in order to carry out his objective of relating to horses—to abandon the ways of the predator, and learn to speak the language of the prey? So, in the Bible, “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” becomes also “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world”: Jesus is the one who is “led like a lamb to the slaughter.” In Isaiah’s vision, “the wolf shall lie down with the lamb,” “the lion eats straw like the ox,” and “they shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain.”

Predators cannot live without prey, or they will starve. Prey, though, need predators to control their numbers, or they will over-graze their territory, and in turn, begin to starve. Yet in a world so dominated by man, it seems necessary that at least a good part of mankind has to learn the way of prey, not predator, or the world will end in war and starvation. That’s what civilization is all about.

Perhaps the path of good horse training is also the path to the Kingdom of Heaven!

– Anglican Messenger, April 2003

Pyramids and Circles

On a side road at the south end of the town of Hobbema, about eighty kilometers south of Edmonton, stands a most unusual cluster of buildings.

Looking through the entrance gate, one sees about ten small houses grouped around a circle, painted bright yellow with blue trimmings, with a tall, slender cylindrical meeting room at the far end. Other buildings at the entrance include an enormous circular hall, and in the administrative area, a completely circular meeting room, mostly occupied by a large round table, that would do credit to King Arthur himself.

Name of this ever so circular location? The Pe Sakastew Healing Lodge—a minimum security prison run by Correctional Services of Canada, designed particularly to accommodate First Nations offenders. The reason for all this circularity? It is a principle of organization engrained in the aboriginal culture, just as it was also with that of King Arthur.

What a contrast to the structure of public spaces in our Western culture! There, the basic shape is that of the pyramid, symbol of domination rather than equality. Parliament, with a throne at one end, for the monarch or his or her representative to deliver a ‘Throne Speech’. Space on each side below this for representatives of government and opposition. At the bottom, a ‘bar’, to keep the less privileged away from what is going on.

In our law courts, the judge sits on high, with court clerks below, counsel for prosecution and defence below that, and the accused in the middle. The jury off to one side, and there is another ‘bar’ across the court room to keep witnesses, victims and ordinary folk in their proper places. In the economic sphere, Presidents and CEOs are at the top of the industrial pyramid, then management, then foremen, down to the humble and underpaid workers. Armies have their pyramids also, from Field Marshal, through Generals and various grades of officers, down to NCOs and privates. Even the church has its Pope, Cardinals, Bishops, Clergy and Laity—and church doors sometimes look like that same ‘bar’ that keeps outsiders away from the Sacred Mysteries.

“You know how the rulers of this world lord it over them,” says Jesus to his ambitious disciples, “but it shall not be so with you.” The pyramid, symbol of Egypt’s Pharaoh and Israel’s slavery, contrasts with the circle—where all are on a level, and can sit in an arrangement of equality and work problems out together. In one case, the picture is of master and slave. In the other, of members of a family, settling their differences rationally around the kitchen table.

A big move is afoot in the area of justice—away from the pyramid model, and towards a model of reconciliation between victim and offender, supervised by the State. In this move, the ‘sentencing circle’ plays an important part.

Do we really need the First Nations to point out to us anew, the effectiveness of the structures of organization that Jesus gave to his disciples so many years ago? Could our own church structures, and church architecture, profit from making more use of the Round Table?

– Anglican Messenger, May 2001

Community Pays Off

It happened at a meeting of the Church and Society committee.

The discussion first turned on how difficult it was for farmers to make ends meet in today’s economy. The point was made that if farmers would only work together, and not each want their own full line of equipment, their overhead costs would be cut, and they could manage more easily. Hutterite communities in fact seemed able to make farming a success. Community made the difference.

The discussion moved on to a very successful project in the inner city. Parents would meet together in a kitchen, perhaps in a church hall, and work together to make meals that they could freeze and take back to their families. Skills were being taught in managing foods and budgets that made the difference between a family being reasonably well fed until the next welfare cheque arrived, and going hungry. Community made the difference.

My own story was of a program taking place in a number of Canadian prisons, called Alternatives to Violence. Groups of twenty or so people, from inmates and the outside world, learned the practical application of self-respect, care for others, faith, hope, love and the power of God, to solve problems of personal relationships. The first step was to set a number of rules of behaviour by which each person could be open with the group, and yet feel confident that he or she would not be ‘put down’. As the weekend progressed, trust developed and attitudes began to change. Community made the difference.

I believe these stories have a lesson for us. In the individualistic world we live in, it is as if we expect the failures of our society to have in some way to put themselves right, before the community as a whole can accept them. People run off in droves to therapists and counsellors, who spend hours of expensive time on a one to one basis, finding ways in which they can ‘get their act together’. After that, the theory is that we can go back to society, and pretend that nothing has ever been amiss. Our ‘image’ and our self-respect will be unimpaired.

The world doesn’t work that way. The concept that problems of poverty, health or criminality in society can be cured by simply throwing money at them and expecting people to change and cope, has been found wanting. The money has run out and the problems remain unsolved.

Community, and the Gospel, have a different message. The church is, after all, a community of redeemed sinners. It is within this community that we confess that we have “erred and strayed” and that “there is no health in us.” It is out of this community that forgiveness and acceptance come to us, just as we are. And it is out of that forgiveness and acceptance that we are enabled to grow and change.

– Anglican Messenger, February 1994