The New City State

The past months have seen effort after effort to arrive at a new constitutional arrangement for Canada. What has emerged from it all is more and more evidence that, at the end of the twentieth century, old ways of organizing governments are breaking down. The ‘invincible’ U.S.S.R. has evaporated into a smorgasbord of new Republics. Yugoslavia has spun off Croatia. Scotland and Ireland are becoming restive at government from Westminster. Now that the world is no longer divided between two nuclear power zones, it seems as if the glue of fear, that kept many nations together under a single government, is not binding them together in the same way as it once did. Rather, national governments are becoming more and more powerless, as local units become integrated in a total world economy.

Something else is also happening. Within the same country of Canada, we see native communities, French-Canadian communities, and the English speaking citizens of Canada all preferring to follow their own ethnic agendas in preference to their loyalty to their nation of Canada. Perhaps shadows of what was to come were perceptible as long ago as the time of the Riel rebellion, and the Quebec conscription crisis of 1917. Just as crowded nations in Europe or India have developed a class or caste system, in which a number of different ‘nations’ can exist independently within the same territory, so in Canada, we are developing a multi-cultural country where the central government is, at best, a convenience, but the emotional attachment of the citizen is to his or her class or ethnic group.

Are we going back to the era of the city state? This has in fact a long and honourable history. The beginnings of democracy lay in ancient Greece, where individual cities dominated the surrounding farmland to create a single state. Rome was such a city, before developing its empire. Italy and Germany both attained high degrees of prosperity and culture, as leagues of city states, before their ‘unification’ in the late nineteenth century. It was in fact the development of the railway, with its associated ability to concentrate military and organizational power, that made the present day mega-nation a possibility. Canada was linked by the C.P.R.: Russia by the Trans-Siberian Railway. Cecil Rhodes had a dream of uniting Africa by a railroad from the Cape to Cairo.

Nowadays, we have electronic communication around the world in a fraction of a second. We have international trading blocks and multi-national companies that override national boundaries, and take the fullest advantage of international tax avoidance and economic advantages, which even the most protectionist governments cannot thwart. In a world where transportation can take one around the globe in a matter of hours, an anglophone white Albertan is more likely to identify emotionally with an opposite number in San Francisco, than with French speaking Canadians in his own province, or Quebecois, or Inuit living in the Arctic or aboriginals on a reserve. That song of ‘Canada – we love thee’, theme of the 1967 Expo, seems terribly dated today!

From a constitutional point of view, what does this all mean? Perhaps it means that a great deal of what goes on in Ottawa—income tax, the Canada Assistance Plan, Bilingualism, the C.R.T.C., perhaps even the armed forces—is really irrelevant to the ordinary business of life for the average Canadian. We could clear it all from our newspapers and our pocketbooks, and nobody would miss it very much at all. The hypertrophy of our federal government can and will soon lead to atrophy—signs of this are already apparent in the number of regional federal political parties planning to contest the next Federal election.

Provincial politics, too, are likely to become the politics of a single city, around which most of the activity of the provincial area will rotate. British Columbia will become an appendage of Vancouver, Manitoba of Winnipeg, Ontario of Toronto, Quebec of Montreal. Alberta will centre around the twin centres of Edmonton and Calgary—or will one or another of these cities take a definite lead? The degree to which Provincial governments can gerrymander rural support to the prejudice of the major cities is obviously reaching its limit.

Will City governments therefore become extremely important, even on the international plane, in the next few years? My guess is that they will. “Ich bin ein Berliner” will be echoed in a hundred other cities across the world. The debts and the out-of-touchness of Federal and Provincial governments, combined with the closeness of the total world economy, will cause civic governments perforce to take the lead in dealing with social and economic problems where the remoter and higher levels of government have failed. Possibly the ‘underground economies’ of individual cities, again under the pressure of economic failure on the larger scale, will become the basis of patriotic and self-promoting cities. It will be part of one of the most important changes taking place in politics at the present time. We have lost faith in ‘big government’ to provide answers to urgent social and economic problems. We are learning that we may not do such a bad job if we look after these areas ourselves.

– Gemini, April 1992

History is Bunk

I am in the throes of bringing to birth a new theory of history.

It has developed out of the Marxist concept of surplus value.

I am still looking for academically acceptable name, but for the moment am contenting myself with naming it “The Bullshit Theory of History.” Let me explain.

At different times in the progress of civilization, certain elements have to be supplied, or the whole process will come to a halt.

In very primitive times, there is need first for some form of religion, to provide societal cohesion, and we have Priests. At a later stage, Judges are needed, to rule the standards of behaviour needed to keep society together, and identify and remedy breaches. Before long, we need Kings, in order to repel with military force the enemies that might otherwise take over our now more prosperous society. To encourage that prosperity, we need Financiers. To provide it, we need Entrepreneurs. To train our labour force, we need Educators. To prevent the scandal of poverty through the provision of Social Services, we develop a Bureaucracy.

Now none of these things are wrong. Indeed, all of them are essential. But there is a strange manner in which these elements operate. After we have established our basic morality, for instance, there should be less need for priests. But what actually happens is that they flourish more and more, taking more of society’s resources, justifying the need for their services with ever more elaborate hocus pocus and mumbo jumbo.

It’s the same with lawyers. When the basic rules of law have been defined, there should be need for less, not more, of them. But they tend to proliferate nonetheless, covering the simplest of everyday transactions with ever increasing layers of complexity.

Kings and the military are particularly bad. When the war is over, disbanding the army may be something more easily said than done. Unpaid soldiers may rove the countryside, or stir up wars and mayhem of their own, so as to keep a demand in being for their skills.

Financiers, speculators, investment advisers and the like follow the same route. The international money market extends now far beyond the needs of financing trade. Dollars by the billion flow from one currency into another, in the hope of destabilizing some poor nation’s economy, and so reaping a windfall of profit. The mystification with which it is all surrounded would put many religions to shame.

Then there are the ‘captains of industry’—whose five and six figure incomes, options and bonuses mystify the poor shareholders, asking for some explanation which never comes, at an annual meeting. And finally, the educational establishment and the bureaucracy, both of which have made the imparting of knowledge to the young, and the handing out of aid to the poor and the old, such an arcane mystery that no ordinary man in the street would ever dare to crack the union-protected monopoly of their employments.

– Anglican Messenger, May 1995*

Generational Politics

Ortega y Gasset, the journalist, politician and philosopher of the Spanish Civil War, discovered a provocative method of predicting coming events.

Man’s life can be divided into a number of 15-year segments. The first fifteen years of our lives we spend learning to understand the world in which we live. Between 15 and 30, we work out how to handle such a world. Between 30 and 45, we express our views, but do not yet have the power to be able to bring our ideas into effect. Between 45 and 60, we are of the age and position where we have a genuine ability to influence events. From 60 to 75, we are the elder statesmen, who can criticize, without the power to change.

At any given period of time, therefore, people who have the power to change things are generally trying to solve the problems of 45 years ago with solutions at least 30 years old.

My generation was born in the 1930-44 period—a time of insecurity, depression and war. Its views of what was to be done about the situation were absorbed in the 1945-59 period—a time of expanding population and economic power, when conventional wisdom said that Government’s wise economic and political policies would be able to achieve a stable, expanding economy, and abolish poverty from the world, and with poverty, one of the major causes of war.

Political policymakers during the 1975-89 period, therefore, who come from my generation, have in general been fighting World War II and the Great Depression (even when these are long gone!) with paternalistic policies dating from the days of post-War reconstruction. They seem surprised when they experience something like a taxpayer revolt instead of the gratitude they were expecting.

The reason for this is that political power is now beginning to be taken over by the generation born between 1945 and 1959, which sees the world in an entirely different way. Born in a world of post-war expansion, plenty was something that, if they did not have it today, would be attainable tomorrow. The problems of this generation’s early years were the restrictive Victorian fears and social attitudes of their parents. What was to be done about them was picked up from the conventional wisdom of the ‘me generation’ of 1960-75: individual choice of lifestyle, disregard for tradition, ambition for individual satisfaction and success.

This suggests that, as 1990 dawns, we are entering into a most interesting time of political turmoil. Those who are not prepared to foot the bill for cradle to grave social services are going to have the political clout to refuse to do so. Politics may well become an even more cynical buying and selling of power than it is at present. The rich will be happy to get richer, and leave the poor and the environment to struggle as best they can. Governments and political parties will find it harder than ever before to maintain the loyalty of their citizens. Concepts of religion, duty and public service will take a back seat—except that religion may well transform itself from blindly following the wisdom of tradition, to an experimental “if it works, I’ll try it” approach, with many new movements, not all of them valid or ethical, on the fringes of orthodoxy.

Politically, as seems to be happening in Iron Curtain countries, things may well get quite out of hand. The generation born 1960-74, affected by the breakdown of family values during their early years, and hopefully schooled between 1975 and 1990 in greater concern for poverty, the environment and global issues, will be voicing their protests, but only by 2005 will they have the political power to do something about it. We could then expect a new Victorianism of quite remarkable power.

World War II is finally over. Now let’s solve the problems of the ‘fifties! It’s going to be an interesting time!

– Gemini, December 1989

Saints in Politics

One book that influenced me greatly during my time at University was called Saints in Politics. It was an account of the Clapham Sect—a band of evangelical Christians around the turn of the Nineteenth century, whose most famous member was William Wilberforce, a man who spent a lifetime campaigning against vested interests for the abolition of the slave trade. The book was written by E. M. Howse, later to be Moderator of the United Church of Canada.

From the political point of view, one interesting feature of Wilberforce’s position was that he entered Parliament in the days before the Reform Bill of 1832, as representative of a ‘rotten borough’, and had bought his seat in Parliament from the local landlord. He therefore had less difficulty in securing a Parliamentary seat than a religious maverick would have in our present system of ‘one man one vote’, of organized parties and party platforms.

The influence of his approach led to many social reforms in England in the Victorian era: Factories Acts, labour laws, public health laws, and in due course, old age and other pensions. It spilled over into Canadian politics in the religious element of the C.C.F.—Holdsworth, Knowles and Tommy Douglas, for instance—not to mention the strong religious basis of the Social Credit movement in Alberta.

What strikes me today, however, is the possibility that he started a trend in politics that has become highly dangerous, and very difficult to reverse. This is the trend to make religious positions into law. We have seen it in the Divorce law as it stood before 1968, when, by a policy more strict than that of Moses, nothing but adultery was allowable as grounds for divorce, and some very unpleasant home situations existed as a result.

We have seen it as a gradual trend, by which legislation to set out, say, fair conditions of work (which costs the government very little to do) has been supplemented and supplanted by much more ambitious schemes to totally redistribute incomes from the productive to the poor, so giving a ‘right’ to both the unfortunate and the lazy to receive an income from the taxpayer through the welfare schemes of the Welfare State. A trend has therefore set in by which elections have started to resemble more and more an auction of the spoils of office, in the manner of the declining days of the Roman Empire. All in the name of Christianity and loving our neighbour, of course!

By doing this, we have turned the Government into God. When a tornado strikes, people feel they have the ‘right’ to indemnification from the authorities. The government is the rock beneath our feet, the shepherd who makes us lie down in green pastures and leads us forth beside the waters of comfort. The government is being asked by those opposed to abortion to bring punishment to the immoral and the wicked who generate unwanted babies, and to harass prostitutes with a cloak of silence. It may sound wonderful, but it’s not democracy, and it’s not even good politics.

The laughable result of all this is that the churches, who started it all, have been responsible for replacing God with Bureaucracy—and have received no thanks for so doing. Instead of encouraging their faithful to minister to the world in the tradition of the Good Samaritan with personal sacrifice for social and medical care, they have demanded that Society levy taxes to pay for it all, while they spend the money of the faithful on the requirements of buildings and ministries devoted to the good of the soul. (I exaggerate, but the overall trend is unmistakable!)

What do we need? Perhaps a church that thunders from the pulpit against the appalling extortions of the tax-collectors and usurers of the world. A church that tells the faithful to stay away from sin and immorality, but does not impose its own standards by law on other people. A church that tells its people to be socially conscious and support the weak and needy—but out of their own efforts and their own pockets, not those of everyone else.

It would be a welcome change.

– Gemini, February 1989

Social Work in Two Cultures

As I get older, I find that one of the tragedies of life is to see how the shortcomings of one generation bear their fruits in the next. Child abuse in one generation leads to abusers in the next: do away with colonialism and slavery, and the oppressed themselves become oppressors when colonialism ends and slavery is abolished. Hence the current welter of dictator states throughout Africa, now that the colonial era is past. Hence the abuse of funding and denial of employment and welfare benefits to those not on the ‘inside’ on First Nations reservations, which happens so often when financial control is transferred from Indian Affairs to elected Band Chiefs and Band Councils.

What set me thinking in this direction was a book produced by our own Grant McEwan Community College in Edmonton, From Strength to Strength, outlining the challenges that the college has faced in putting together a university level course in Social Work, to be taught by visiting teachers mostly to aboriginals in a number of remote locations in Alberta—High Level was one. It was at that point that the immense cultural differences between ‘Western’ and ‘Aboriginal’ ways of living came sharply into focus. The whole course had to be taught twice and in twice the time, and from the viewpoint of two quite separate cultures!

Churches have indeed apologized to the native community for their part in the operation of the residential school system, but even so, it is hard for anyone brought up in the Western culture to understand the devastation caused to the native community when all its values, its language, its customs, its prayers, its ceremonies and spirituality, have been treated as so much trash, and often enough, prohibited by law. Depression, violence, drunkenness, drugs and suicide come naturally from the frustration and meaninglessness of life when this aboriginal culture has been devalued and destroyed. Dealing with this devastation, and giving credit to the value of aboriginal ways, had to be the first order of business in organizing the total course. Fortunately, in spite of all the obstacles, the course itself has proved its worth, and has had some excellent graduates.

One of the worst effects of colonialism is to turn its victims themselves into exploiters. From that angle, when we look back into European history, we can see how the colonization of Europe launched in the time of the Roman Empire and the Norman Conquest spawned self-righteous European colonizations that have spread all over the world since the time of Columbus—often enough destroying aboriginal cultures, and monopolizing aboriginal lands, in the name of Christianity and “spreading the Gospel.”

The message of Jesus and the Gospel, surely, is precisely one of liberation from all forms of slavery. Yet the message of churches and governments towards the first nations has far too often been the precise reverse.

It reminds me of the Indian elder who told me: “When the missionaries came, and told us all about Jesus, we said to ourselves: ‘He seems to be a real neat guy.’ Then the Church came, and the Government came, and we said ‘Oh, oh—not so fast!’”

Enough said!

– Gemini, 2001*


“Increase in us true religion.” So we pray in the Collect.

What a need there is for this in the world today! The religious need for a Sikh to avenge the desecration of his sacred temple leads to the sabotage of an Air India airliner, and more than three hundred innocent people’s lives are destroyed. Salman Rushdie mocks the Prophet Mohammed, and is forced to live as a refugee with a price on his head. Muslim suicide bombers, promised Paradise as a reward for their actions, systematically attack all forces of civilization, law and order. Religious Jews claim all of Palestine as having been given them by God, provoking fighting and unrest that have continued in the area for centuries. Jesus himself can claim to be another victim put to death by ‘religion’. Didn’t the Jews in St. John’s gospel say: “We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he claimed to be the Son of God.”?

Yet within Christendom, it’s not a whole lot better. Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland still have bitter animosity one to another, until recently punctuated by murder and bombs. Church history is filled with an unholy toll of Inquisitions, burning of witches and heretics, wars of religion, and strife between various factions. The conquest of Mexico and Peru in the New World was carried out in the name of religion. An evangelist of the ‘religious right’ in the United States recently called for the assassination of the President of Venezuela, as being too friendly with foes of his country. Our own Anglican Church of Canada is at long last beginning to realize its own role in the attack on aboriginal culture and spirituality in the system of residential schools. It is easy to agree with the sentiment of the Roman poet Lucretius, reflecting on the killing of his daughter Iphigenia by his father, the Greek king Agamemnon, as a sacrifice to ensure a favourable wind for the invasion of Troy, that “Religion can persuade men to perform an enormous amount of evil.”

At the back of much of this behaviour is a belief in a sacred duty of revenge. God’s name has been blasphemed, his temple desecrated, his holy teachings perverted. Surely, it is our sacred duty to take our swords in hand, punish the Infidel, convert the heathen, recapture the Holy Land, and make the world safe for Democracy. And if gold, oil or new territory and new resources fall into our laps when so doing, so much the better.

No, it is not. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay” says the Lord. Jesus has given very specific instructions as to how we are to deal with our enemies and those who abuse us. It involves turning the other cheek, going the second mile, and praying for those who despitefully use us. We do it because, as sinners who have been forgiven and raised to new life in Christ, and live now in a spirit of love not law. We share the grace of God who has given us forgiveness, with others who “are indebted to us”.

Saint James in his epistle says that: “What God the Father considers to be pure and genuine religion is this: to take care of orphans and widows in their suffering, and to keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.”

The very opposite, it would seem, of the ‘religious’ course of conduct that creates those widows and orphans in the first place!

– Anglican Messenger, 2005*

Defining Pi

September 11, 2001: The Start of World War III?

It’s a funny thing about religion. It seems either to bring out the very best in people or else the very worst. One the one hand, charities, schools, universities, hospitals, almshouses, the abolition of slavery, temples, architecture, music and cultural contributions beyond counting. On the other hand, religious wards, persecutions, inquisitions, crusades, torture, human sacrifice, and conflicts in Northern Ireland, Palestine, the Sudan, Tibet, Indonesia, and now Afghanistan and the World Trade Centre.

Both science and religion seem to agree that there are unchanging governing principles which explain what goes on in the universe, and that, based on these, we can plan our actions, whether in engineering a building or creating a ‘just society’. The devil, though, is in the details. Science tends to work from the viewpoint of scepticism; religion, from that of belief.

We can turn our thoughts to mathematics to illustrate what is going on. We’re all familiar with the idea of Pi – a symbol representing the ratio between the circumference and the diameter of a circle. Finding out more about Pi has kept men busy over the centuries.

In defining Pi, we’re dealing with an irrational number, and the decimals can go on for ever without ever coming to a final figure.

Yet, when all that is said and done, we can use one of several approximations quite effectively when it comes to practical living. We just have to realize that we are using an approximation, and that we don’t have quite the whole picture. Isn’t there a parallel here with the religious scene? Isn’t it reasonable to say that the whole design of the universe, and the reason for it unrolling the way it does, is something like Pi—a concept that human minds can conceive, but can never fully define?

Faced with this, we have scientists on one hand who call themselves atheists, because they don’t believe in a God that I couldn’t believe in either. What they forget is that the approximations we do have lie in the direction of truth and can function quite well in day to day living even if they are not exact.

But then we have the fundamentalists and religious fanatics, who insist that the approximations they have regarding the nature of God are the one, full complete and sober truth, and that those who disagree, or those who have other answers, are dangerous imposters and rivals, who should be condemned to outer darkness.

Most religions of the world actually agree on quite a number of points, such as on a single invisible creative force behind our material universe. On the right of the Creator to expect obedience from the created order. On the need for human beings to “do as they would be done by.” On the need to go beyond material gain and satisfaction in order to achieve personal fulfillment. Christianity adds a bit more about suffering, loving and forgiving enemies that is not found in some other faiths—and not always expressed by those calling themselves ‘Christian’ either.

In such a context, many religious wars and much evangelism and denominational rivalry appear to be the same as if the believers in Pi as the square root of 10 were squaring off against the believers in Pi as 3.142—“each was partly in the right, and all were in the wrong.”

So where does all of this take us in connection with the events at the World Trade Centre?

Just to the thought that Allah the Compassionate and Merciful is likely not in favour of the treacherous murder of large numbers of innocent people, even if the majority of them are Infidels, and the cause is a Holy War.

And also to the thought that the response to such an attack had better avoid the same use of force against the innocent, and even against those we disagree with, if we are to stand by the principles the ‘Christian’ nations of the West purport to stand for.

– Anglican Messenger, April 2002

Paying Our Taxes

I have a confession to make. Just occasionally in my life, not very often, some little incident provokes me into a sudden passion of blind fury. On one occasion, I remember my unreasonable anger with the doctor who suggested that something might be wrong with my heart—something which eventually needed me to go into hospital for surgery. Last week, though, it was when, after attending a meeting of the Small Business Banking and Finance Committee of the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce, at which some very uncomplimentary things were said about the G.S.T., the government and tax collectors in general, and then I found that St. Paul had taken an entirely opposite tack in the Epistle set for this Sunday. It’s at least the second time this year that I’ve found myself compelled by the Bible to take a line in my message that is very much different from what my natural inclinations would dictate!

I guess my fury comes from the fact that neither I, nor, I suspect, many of us here, are quite happy to live with the fact that we, too, have to accept the inevitable fate of all humanity—death and taxes. They happen to someone else, of course—but we would like to think we will be different from all the rest of mankind: somehow, by some special dispensation, the Lord will make us able to escape these two scourges. St. Paul brings us back to reality.

In this passage, which comes towards the end of his letter to the Romans, Paul sums up the consequences of the Gospel of Christ in practical life, and its revelation to Gentiles as well as Jews, as he has outlined it in earlier chapters. He discusses it in terms of behavior to God, to other believers, and at this point, to Government. He stresses a number of points.

We are to be obedient to the Government. We are to recognize that it has the purpose of controlling evil, through the mechanisms of the justice system, for the ultimate benefit of those who follow the path of good. We are to keep the law not just to prevent ourselves being punished. We are to align ourselves with the purposes of the Law, which is to maintain civil order, as a matter of conscience. We are to pay our taxes—willingly and in full. We are to show respect and honour to those who have the task of government. We are not to get behind with our debts or other obligations: the only obligation we should have to anyone is the Christian one to love our neighbours.

This is a tall order even in a democratic society. We need to realize that Paul is asking Christians of his day to show respect, pay taxes, and conscientiously obey laws imposed by a government that was arbitrary, unelected, and far more oppressive than any we have ever known in this country. From the time of Julius Caesar, about a century before Paul’s time, Roman government had become a succession of dictatorships, chosen essentially by the army, and particularly by the Praetorian Guard in Rome, who once auctioned off the right to govern the Empire to the highest cash bidder. General elections and votes for all simply did not exist. Taxation was not a matter of justice. The right to collect taxes was something that was privatized: tax collections in an area would be auctioned off by the central government to an investor, who, after paying for the privilege, got his money back by collecting everything he could from his allotted territory. It is as if your local Senator could pay Ottawa or the right to collect a sales tax in St. Albert, and get his investment back by making the rates as high as, with the use of the army, he could persuade the public to pay. The Goods and Services Tax looks mild by comparison—yet these are the taxes, and this is the kind of government, that Paul is asking Christians to support.

This is not a popular message for Canada today. Even from Church sources, we find criticisms of the rule of law: people defy the law of trespass on the abortion issue, for instance, and then seem surprised when the law insists that they be punished for their ‘moral’ conduct. If there is a T.V. camera in sight, the opportunity to make a statement by defying the law takes precedence over our obligation to respect it. On the street, the police are kept busy by a steady stream of thefts, assaults, drunkenness, traffic offences, frauds, sexual offences and homicides. The idea of keeping the law for the sake of conscience-driving at the speed limit, for instance, out of respect for our neighbour’s safety, rather than because we know that the police have a radar trap out—seems to have gone out of style. The same people who would scream their heads off if their U.I.C., welfare or pension cheques were a day late, are late or avoid sending in their own payment—without ever seeing the connection with what they are doing and the dangerous mountain of debt now faced by Federal and Provincial governments. Respect for politicians and civil servants is at an all-time low. Staying out of debt, and keeping up with payment obligations, are not first priorities in our consumer society. We don’t score at all highly by the standards that St. Paul is setting us, even within the church.

I wonder if in Canada we have come to a point when we should take a critical look as how we are behaving towards the whole process of government. It is very easy to say that our rights are being trampled on, and point out injustices, ancient and modern, perfectly correctly. But the other side of the coin is that so much defiance of a government that does not suit our private preferences one hundred percent, in the end makes the whole process of government impossible. Perhaps you know the story of the politician who once desperately said to his friends: “I don’t just want people who will follow me when I’m right. I want people who will stay with me even when I’m wrong!”

If we force the total breakdown of law and order, the injustices that the innocent will suffer will be ten times anything that they have to put up with at the present time. In 1917, remember, the Russian revolution overthrew the Tsar and established a democracy in Russia. By the end of the year, the Bolsheviks had seized the government by military power, and the Russian people endured seventy years of vicious, anti-religious dictatorship before freedom broke through again. People who take the sword can perish by the sword.

What Christians should realize, but do not, is that they do have within their power the key to political change, but perhaps it is too uncomfortable for them to use! It lies in suffering the penalty of the law, even when their conduct does not deserve this. The guilt imposed on the human race—priests, governments, traders in slaves alike—by the death of innocent Jesus, has made him the most powerful political force the world has ever seen. It has been the blood of the martyrs that has formed the seed of the church. This is the technique that made Gandhi able to free India from British rule. This is how Nelson Mandela is bringing about the end of Apartheid in South Africa. It may well be the way in which midwives will gain legal recognition in Alberta!

Paul concludes this particular passage, just after the piece we read today, by saying that “It is high time to wake out of sleep.” True, we have something less than perfection in government—after all, politicians are our representatives: they are meant to be people like ourselves. If they are a little too much like ourselves in promising one thing and delivering another, in irresponsibility in their use of power, is it perhaps because they are representing their electors only too well? People do get the government they deserve! Government, Paul reminds us, is an institution doing the work of God. It may do it well, or it may do it badly. In Paul’s time, that was something to be accepted, which could not be changed. In our own day, we have the dearly won right of democracy to change it if change is needed. Let’s wake out of our sleep, pay taxes to whom taxes are due, and give our governments the respect they deserve as institutions carrying out a purpose of God—no matter that their performance sometimes leaves more than a little to be desired.

– Text of a sermon delivered in September 1990


The past months have given Canada more than its fair share of scandals. In the R.C.M.P., in the Post Office, with the Correctional Investigator and the Gomery enquiry, let alone in business ventures such as Enron, or the empire of Conrad Black, we have seen instance after instance of persons in high places enjoying the privileges, power and prestige of their positions, while lining their pockets or otherwise abusing their position at the expense of the public. To say nothing about scandals in the World Bank and the Attorney-General’s office of the United States!

It’s not something that has never happened before. Jesus tells a number of stories in the Gospels about people in positions of trust who failed in their duties. There were stewards who kept false accounts or stole from their employers, workers who complained about their agreed wage scale, or managers of a vineyard who beat up their owner’s servants, and killed his son, with the idea of later stealing his property. Jesus denounced the priests and religious leaders of his time, who “for a pretence made long prayers” while exploiting all the material and social advantages of their positions, undermining the spirit of the Law of Moses with specious interpretations.

This perhaps explains the intensity with which the chief priests and Pharisees of Jesus’s time sought his death. The great enemy of the hypocrite in high position is the ‘whistleblower’—the person who, in the public interest, makes known to authorities or to the public the misdeeds that are going on. The whole of the hypocrite’s world will collapse if the truth of his life comes to light. Prosecution, humiliation and punishment are never very far away. So the underling who ‘rats’ on those with power, or the journalist or politician who exposes corruption, will be dismissed, sidelined, denigrated, belittled, often threatened, and in many countries eliminated by imprisonment, shooting or unexplained accident.

We hear the words of the prophets of the Old Testament in church, and it is so easy to imagine them as popular figures, respected for their close contact with the Divine and their stand for morality and justice. Not so. Moses faced repeated rebellions in the wilderness. David, an innocent fugitive, was pursued by the deranged King Saul. Elijah faced four hundred prophets of Baal as well as the wrath of Queen Jezebel on behalf of the true God. Micah told King Ahab that the prophets who foresaw victory for him were led by a lying spirit, and was arrested for doing so. Jeremiah was imprisoned for suggesting defeat and counselling surrender. Amos denounced the evils of the rich of his day, and was told to leave town for his own safety. John the Baptist, and Jesus Christ himself, add to a long list of those who have stood for truth—and paid a penalty. That is what whistleblowing is all about.

A newspaper survey recently made the observation that societies that believe in eternal judgment have a better record for honesty in the public sphere than those who do not. This is not necessarily because those who have power or position fear the fires of hell, though indeed they may. Rather it is because such a society is blessed by people of conscience who have had the courage to stand for honesty and justice in the face of oppression, and have been willing pay a price for speaking out.

Edmund Burke said that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” So give a cheer for those who put their careers, and sometimes their lives, on the line in the interests of good government. Society owes them more thanks than they are ever likely to receive!

– Anglican Messenger, 2007*


This article discusses the memorable former premier of Alberta, Ralph Klein.

Let’s call it R.A.L.P.H. The Rally for the Abolition of the Legislature Post Haste.

Legislatures are so annoying. Question periods put a government on the defensive, ask awkward questions, destroy the image of Conservative infallibility, give publicity to Opposition views, and are a general nuisance.

So let’s do without them. Two sessions of the legislature per year are not really essential. If policy is a question, forget about those who have been elected to discuss and decide on it. Handpick a number of people who belong, in one way or another, to the Establishment. Call it a Growth Summit, devise an elaborate way of facilitating its procedures and collecting its views. Then disregard any conclusions, because they haven’t been democratically arrived at, and such a summit has no legislative authority at all.

Are VLTs a problem? Simple. Mix an assorted panel of experts (unspecified) with 75 ignorant volunteers chosen at random from the population of the Province. Ask them to discuss everything but what is on the public’s mind, which is whether Video Lottery Terminals should be prohibited in the Province because of their social consequences in gambling addiction and crime. Use this as an excuse to prevent public debate on the whole situation. This way, it becomes easier for the Provincial Government to keep raising a half billion “voluntary tax” every year, on the backs of suckers who thought that, because VLTs were run under Government auspices, they were getting an even break. Game, set, and match to the Government.

It’s so simple, really. Delegate the problems that require hard answers to appointed bodies, like Health Authorities, who have no power to raise funds for the budgets they need. Emasculate the School Boards, by changing their areas in the name of ‘efficiency’, and removing their power to tax, or even plan what buildings and renovations they can undertake. Cut back Welfare, but forbid workers familiar with the field to make public what they know about the hardship that this causes. After all, what are food banks for? Before long, the Opposition in the Legislature will have been so bypassed that no one will have an interest in what it has to say any more. Indeed, the broad hint having been dropped that unless one is on the Government side, no governmental goodies will come your way, let it be known that it is folly not to support those in power, for reasons of sheer economic survival.

The history of great nations—the Athens and Rome of antiquity—is of a vibrant democracy coming after the expulsion of tyrants. Of that democracy being eroded as public apathy set in. Of tyranny being re-established, and as often as not, the state collapsing to foreign invasion, the citizens themselves having become uninterested in preserving their country. The new tyrant indeed, may well have been selected by the people at large, as Hitler was, or Mussolini, who “made the trains run on time”—or, perhaps, as in Alberta’s case, cut the Welfare rolls by half and paid down the Provincial debt (which never existed anyway, before the current party came into power).

Which gives me another useful acronym for our new social welfare policy – K.L.E.I.N.

“Kindly Liquidate Everyone In Need”.

– Gemini, May 1998