Category Archives: Fellow Feeing

The Mennonite Pharisee and the Polish Samaritan

 

Refugee crises are invariably wicked problems. Every country wants to control its own borders. No country just wants to open the gates completely wide. After all, what good would it do to let countries be completely swamped?  No one benefits when anarchy is spread everywhere.

On the other hand, most countries want to help, particularly their neighbours. But that is not always easy to do.

What we need is calm and compassionate consideration and temperate with rationality. That is not an easy task.

Turning our backs on the refugees is not the answer for most of us. Most of us don’t want to be Pharisees. We don’t want to turn our back on the poor soul mired in the mud or lying on the ground. But how can we help? Destroying our lives and those of our loved ones is also not the answer. What is the answer? The first thing that is sure, is the answer is not simple. Miriam Toews was right. Kindness is complicated.   As a result we will make mistakes.

 

Melissa Martin in her Winnipeg Free Press  article said she did not believe that the  way we deal with difficult refugee problems is inevitable. we must make choices. Yet Poland has shown to us what is possible if we work together. Big problems can be solved. Only with teamwork would it be possible for a small country to do what Poland has done in accepting 2.5 million refugees.

People on all sides tend to oversimplify problems and their solutions. As she said,

 

“News, often, has an unfortunate way of flattening places and events into a narrow focus without nuance, without texture. In one such narrative, Poland becomes all good; in another, its treatment of largely Muslim asylum-seekers caught on the border, it’s all bad.

 

The reality is, of course, is that it’s neither. Yes, it’s in Poland where a border dispute has forced people to suffer in limbo, but it’s also in Poland where activists and aid groups risk everything to get food and warm clothes to the people huddled at the Belarusian border. Some have been caught by police and taken before a judge; still, their brave and ferociously loving work continues.”

 

Poland has shown us clouds from both sides. They have shown us the best of people, but have also shown a dark side. I remember when my own Member of Parliament—presumably a good Mennonite—showed us what the Pharisees were like. When people from Central and South America were trying to enter Canada because they feared what Trump and his cronies would do to them, and fled here across a frozen Red River, he told us to fear these refugees and complained that our Prime Minister was opening the borders wide.  That was very different from the Poles that Martin described in her article. People living near the border sneaked into the woods to hang bundles of aid in the trees even though they were threatened by the police.  One of them told the New York Times, “no one will die in my forest.” There was the Good Samaritan—the good neighbour. My pious member of Parliament looked down on the hapless people freezing in the cold, and urged us to do the same.  on the other hand, Martin described how volunteers in Emerson in the winter of 2017 when there was an unprecedented wave of people walking across the border north into Canada from the US  tried to make sure no one froze to death. More good neighbours.

 

As Melissa Martin said,

“The bad in the world, and in people, speaks in cruelty and destruction. But if you want to see the good in people, you will find it in the same place, and from there you can see the foundations of bridges that are waiting to be built. The lesson of Poland’s refugee crisis — not two, but one — is that the good is ever-present, waiting for an invitation to happen.”

Each of us can choose to be a Pharisee or a Samaritan.  And we may have the chance to make that choice more than once. One time we can be a Samaritan and the next a Pharisee. It’s  all up to us.

 

The “Other” Refugee Crisis in Poland

 

The people of Poland have allowed 2,500,000 people from Ukraine to claim asylum or refugee status in the last couple of months. That is an astonishing moral achievement. But Poles are not perfect. Who among us is perfect?

We all know that in recent years waves of refugees have been crossing European borders from troubled lands. Poles were not always so generous with these refugee claimants. With them they were not so generous. Why was that?

First, the pressure is always greatest on the nearby countries.  For example, for Syrian refugees the greatest numbers have fled not to Germany, which  rightly who got a lot of credit for their heroic efforts. Lebanon and Turkey accepted the most refugees because they were close. This was not just out of humanitarian spirit, but that was not absent. The same goes for Poland. neighbours often have little choice. If they don’t help the neighbouring country, they will have a humanitarian crisis on its hands.

As Melissa Martin acknowledged in her insightful article for the Winnipeg Free Press:

“Still, there’s no question Ukrainian refugees have received a markedly warmer and less fraught embrace in Europe and North America than refugees from, for instance, Syria. Countries, including Canada, rushed to simplify entry requirements and open their doors to Ukrainians in ways many were reluctant, if not outright hostile, to do for others seeking safety.”

 

The refugee crisis from predominantly Muslim countries like Syria was treated very differently. The Muslims, unlike the Ukrainians were treated with suspicion. In fact, even worse, they were treated as “ammunition in political wars” as Martin called it. Starting in 2021 when Muslim refugees started surging across European borders to seek asylum in Europe, including from Belarus to Poland, Belarus used the people as hostages in their dispute with Europe.  As Martin reported:

“In May 2021, in response to proposed European Union sanctions on the country, Belarusian president Aleksandr Lukashenko warned the EU that his nation would cease stopping “drugs and migrants” and allow the EU to “eat them and catch them yourselves.” Within months, Belarus state tourism had begun advertising in countries including Iraq.

People came, and they headed to the border. But once there, the asylum-seekers and migrants found themselves caught in a nightmare. Poland pushed them back, but Belarus wouldn’t let them stay, either. Humanitarian aid was denied, and asylum-seekers reported being beaten by Belarusian police. Poland and other countries accused Belarus of “hybrid warfare.”

Whatever the truth of this, Poland’s government was quick to go along with treating people like weapons, and then hid them from view. It enforced a three-kilometre exclusion zone against the border, into which journalists, doctors and humanitarian aid workers were forbidden to enter. It’s now building a border wall with Belarus, as is Lithuania.”

 

Some of the refugees found themselves living in the forest of Poland or Belarus in winter. That is about as much fun as spending the winter in Manitoba, living outdoors.

Even Melissa Martin, that bleeding heart liberal, admitted that the different response to Ukrainian refugees compared to Muslim refugees had at least a partly darker basis, namely, racism. As she said,

“There is no way to look at the responses and ignore the Islamophobia and racism that has animated the difference; we must name that to have any meaningful discussion about these issues.”

 

Hatred, just like kindness, is complicated. No, the Poles were not unmixed saints. No one is.

Some commentators have referred to this as Poland’s “other” refugee crisis. Martin preferred to say it is was all part of the same crisis and that is a world crisis. Both have their dark sides too. As she said,

“Refugees from Ukraine flee a war launched by Russia, an unprovoked invasion that has caused unimaginable destruction. At the border with Belarus, people come from Iraq, which was destabilized by the unprovoked 2003 American invasion and the ensuing civil war; and from Afghanistan, brutalized and toyed with for decades by more powerful nations.

They come from Yemen, where Canadian weapons sold to Saudi Arabia are among those wielded in a war that has killed more than 200,000 civilians and triggered mass starvation. And they come from Syria, where… well, we don’t have space to untangle all the forces that have combined to prosecute the sheer human trauma inflicted in that conflict.

In all of these events, the story in the broadest strokes is fundamentally the same: powerful forces unleash hell on a civilian population to shore up their own geopolitical aims. In all of these events, the wealthy stand to gain, and they convince their people to either support it or, at the very least, ignore their complicity in it. Those who suffer most have no say.

This is why the wildly divergent experiences of refugees in Poland must be seen together, and one shouldn’t be told without the other, because they form a coherent story about how human beings must exist in a world battered by the use and misuse of power, and also offer a crystal-clear contrast study in how such crises of humanity can be handled.”

 

Russia is to blame, but so is the United States, Canada, UK, Turkey and pretty near every powerful country in the world. I don’t have enough time in my life to search for the innocent country. We must all take a share of the responsibility to solve this crisis.

Everyone knows it will be difficult for the refugees in Poland. It is always difficult for refugees wherever they go. The refugees have a rough road ahead of them, yet most of them are very grateful for what they have received from countries like Poland and to a lesser, but significant extent, Canada.

Most of the refugees are women with children or old people. Refugees are invariably the most vulnerable people and often people try to take advantage of them. Refugees invariably want to go home as soon as possible, but some have to admit that is not likely to happen soon or at all, so they permanent asylum somewhere.

Notwithstanding that, Martin described what happened this way:

“But for now, at least, the breadth and depth and spirit of the Polish response will stand as one of the most remarkable our generation has witnessed. It was at times chaotic, sprouting in countless small efforts that grew into a messy sort of safety net; but it worked, and it saved lives, and it’s one of the most immediately beautiful things I have ever witnessed.”

It’s one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard of. Humans at their best. But not simple. It’s a complicated kindness.

 

Poles help with their Whole Hearts

 

As I mentioned yesterday , remarkable things are happening in Poland and Ukraine besides the devastation of war and few people seem to realize it. Ukrainians have been fleeing across the border to Poland who has been opening up their homes and hearts to their stricken brothers.

Frankly, it is one of the most incredible things ever! 2.5 million refugees have been allowed into the country.

 

This is how Winnipeg Free Press columnist, Melissa Martin, described what was happening in Poland as Polish refugees streamed across the border as if it did not exist:

 

“In Poland, Ukrainians have found an unparalleled welcome, one that sprung from the grassroots of the country with far less government intervention than one would expect. Every Ukrainian we meet speaks about this; each one tells a story about a Pole they met who offered them a place to stay, or bought their meal or, at least in one case, even paid for their contact lenses.”

 

 

Ukrainians have been showing the world what it means to be a Good Samaritan when it might be much easier and much safer to be a Pharisee. As Martin said, “Hostels, hotels, shopping malls, new apartments, old apartments, even ordinary citizens’ spare bedrooms became homes for Ukrainians to stay.”

 

One of the Ukrainian immigrants who was one his way to Pinawa Manitoba, of all places, told Martin this: “Polish people “help with their whole heart.”

 

Martin said she interviewed someone and asked if all this help had been managed or engineered by the Polish government. This is what she found:

 I wondered if any of this was self-conscious. Was there a sense that, with the war, Poland’s response was in the spotlight?

“I don’t think anyone thought about the world watching,” he said. “In a way, Poles were feeling proud of themselves, and proud of their country. It wasn’t a political issue. It didn’t matter who you supported. Everyone just understood ‘now we help.’ “In a weird way, there was almost a unification: ‘We agree on something. We help now.’ 

 

My favourite expression for that is fellow feeling. Or empathy.

Yet everyone must admit there is another refugee crisis that is far from over.  It involved different people and a different reaction, by other Europeans and by Poles as well. We must get the whole story. The rest of the story is not as attractive.  That is not to be expected, people are rarely saints. I will fill out the picture in my next post. Nobody is perfect; not even Poles.

We can choose to be Pharisees or Samaritans

 

I have just learned about a remarkable thing that has been happening in Poland. It is one of the most incredible stories I have ever of and it is happening at what I would have thought was a very unlikely place—Poland. After all, Poland is the place that recently did not earn must credit for its seesaw battle over getting rid of migrants in its fight with Belarus.  It has proven the truth of what Charles Dickens said  more than 200 years ago in the opening sentence of his marvelous book A Tale of Two Cities:

 

“It was the best of time, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way—in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”

 

In other words, as Dickens and Miriam Toews both understood so well, kindness is complicated.

 

I have been obsessing about Putin and Ukraine. I admit it. I think it is one of the most important things that have happened in the 20th and 21st centuries.  I really believe we need to pay attention. One of the reasons is the rise of authoritarianism and fascism. In the last couple of years some criticized me because I obsessed about Trump.   The reason I focused so much attention on Trump and then Putin is because I believe the same contaminated sea has thrown up those two monsters.  We must pay attention or we may pay an awful price.

Yet, something remarkable has happened in Ukraine that few people are paying attention to and it is something wonderful.  That is not just the incredible courage of the Ukrainian people and their inspiring comedian of a leader. That other thing has happened in Poland.

Poland frankly has been flooded with Ukrainians. And I mean a deluge of Ukrainians.  More than a week ago Melissa Martin wrote an amazing article after the Winnipeg Free Press sent her to Ukraine and Poland.  This is what she wrote:

“Poland’s incredible embrace of its Ukrainian neighbours has shown the world a beautiful, generous heart; the mostly hidden, inhumane treatment of refugees at the border with Belarus reveals something very different.”

 

When she arrived in Poland, she intended to photograph everything she could see that reflected Poland’s solidarity with their Ukrainian neighbours.  She soon gave up. There was too much to photograph!

When Martin arrived she saw blue and white everywhere together with the following statement: jestesmy z wami” — we are with you.

And Poland really means it. Canada talks a lot and we do some good things.  We would do more if more politicians were like the Good Samaritan and less were like our own Ted Falk. Ted Falk, when he sees Canada is asked to help, quickly points to the dangers that he sees. I remember how he spread fear about those dangerous illegal immigrants on our southern border, some of whom froze trying to get  here.  Many of those dangers are absurd, but that is what Pharisees do. They look for reasons to do nothing to help and such reasons are always at hand.

Martin also described how on a road near Warsaw she saw a giant billboard that read in censored Ukrainian: “Putin, Go F—k Yourself.” That was what the brave Ukrainians on that little island said to the Russian Warship that demanded they surrender. These aren’t official efforts; some motivated citizen spent the money to erect them. The signs in Poland to that effect are unofficial. Not paid by any government. People just did it. That’s what Poles do—they just to it.

But all of this is a brief introduction to what Poles are just doing. Here is how Martin described it:

“So this is the visual backdrop to what is, on the ground, a staggering achievement in humanitarian assistance. By early April, more than four million Ukrainians had fled; most of them came through Poland, and 2.5 million stayed. In one of his speeches, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it was as if there was no border between them.”

 

I am not a complete Pollyanna here. I know that is a lot of people for one country especially a country that is not among Europe’s richest. There will be problems with that many refugees. We know that. But imagine how Poland just did it. When Germany courageously under the leadership of Angela Merkel said Germany would take in 1,000,000 people many people rose up in fury. They were like the Pharisee not the Samaritan.  It is much easier to be a Pharisee than a Samaritan.

 But no matter how you look at it 2.5 million refugees is a lot of people. Poland is magnificent. Poland is a neighbour.

My Kind of Christian: Mother West and the Kingdom of Heaven

 

Cornel West  has been a professor at Princeton, Harvard and  Union Theological Seminary recently talked about his mother in an interview broadcast on PBS. It was clear that she was the most important woman in his life, and always had been, even though he was married 3 times.

 

On PBS West said his mom was,

“kind of a walking truth and beauty and grounded in the holy, because she believed fundamentally as a Christian woman, as a black woman coming out of Jim Crow Louisiana…She wanted to open herself, to empty herself, to donate herself, to give herself to make the world a better place. She understood if the kingdom of God is within you that everywhere you go you are going to leave a little heaven behind. And any time anybody sees me, they see her because I have to try to do that in my life–leaving a little bit of heaven behind. It could be Socratic heaven, it could be prophetic heaven, it could be a little Richard Pryor comic heaven, but somehow we have to help empower somebody to make the world better and to come along.  Make sure you leave the world just a little more sweet and joyful then when you found it. That’s mom. That’s Irene B. West. Nobody like her. One of a kind.”

 

I only have one small addition to that, because I never knew his mother. I don’t know him. I have heard him on radio and television a few times and I have heard him speak in person at Arizona State University. But one thing I do know, he sure loved his Mom.

Sometimes you don’t have to go very far on a religious quest.  Look close to home. In fact, West made me think of my mother and my mother-in-law. They are the two most amazing women I have ever met. Neither of them ever made grandiose statements about what great Christians they were.  And they were great Christians. In simple everyday ways, both of them were transfused with the best of religion and by that I mean simple but unequalled compassion for others. Thats what I think it means to walk truth and beauty and be grounded in the holy.

 

Jazzman in the world of ideas & a Bluesman in the life of the mind (Part I)

Music is very important to Cornel West. Every time I have heard him speak he brings music into the conversation. Music and religion is where his religious quest leads him.

He always comes back to music as being the root of his philosophy. While he says he likes classical music, Jazz and the Blues  are both deeply embedded in the black tradition in America and that is where his heart and soul lies.  West identified with Ella Fitzgerald, Mohammed Ali, and John Coltrane among others.  West called himself, “A Jazzman in the world of ideas and a bluesman in the life of the mind.”

The black musical tradition had to deal with the catastrophe of slavery and the catastrophe of Jim Crowe. That was the cradle of that musical tradition giving birth to both jazz and the blues.   That is what West identifies with. Out of that was also born his prophetic rebellion. The response to being hated and haunted, he said,  was the love supreme of John Coltrane, clearly one of West’s heroes. I like him too.

When West spoke a the University of Winnipeg he was asked by a student at the U of W why he was not more actively engaged in practical politics of rebellion.  West, said his calling was to be a “Jazzman in the world of ideas, which means that I have to sing my song.”  He had to raise his voice there he said.  If he does that  he said he believed he can “put pressure on the status quo that could generate concessions and reforms.” He wants to have impact on the ground but thinks he can do that both from the inside and the outside. Running for office is not what his calling is. “Asking him to run for office is like asking a jazzman to join the military band,” he suggested Though he likes classical music, he would rather play body and soul. “You have to be true to who you are,” says West.

How to we respond to catastrophe, that is the fundamental question,” says West. Do you respond with critical reflection? Compassion or courageous action?  Those are all important and valuable. Or do you respond with callous indifference, dogmatic thinking, and a very tribalistic orientation? Those are not productive. Your reaction to the catastrophe is what counts.

 

He also identified with the love ethic of a James Baldwin or Marvin Gaye or Nina Samone or MaryLou Williams.  According to West, “that is precisely what is needed because the whole planet has the blues.” He wants to be a small part of that grand tradition that leads to critical reflection, love, compassion and courage.  But that is not a black thing. Anyone can join that tradition! We can join it too.  He mentioned a long list of names of people that inspired him. Many also inspired me. West said, You get that from Rabbi Joshua Heschel, George Gershwin, Steven Sondheim, and Margaret Atwater.  I could many to that list: Gandhi, Bertrand Russell, Christopher Hedges, Slavoj Zizek,  Arthur Schafer, Woody Guthrie, and Cornel West himself. Among many others. There are many who sing in that choir.

All of them deal with catastrophic consciousness and how do you deal with such catastrophes. You generate some kind of love, some kind of connection with others, mediated with kindness, sweetness and gentleness. Fellow feeling I call that. You have got make such a response a matter of heart and souls says West. That is what the blues are all about.

It’s a human thing. The black musical tradition brings it together in such a powerful way. “It is not just cerebral it is visceral,” says West.

 

Blessed Hesed

 

On Amanour & Co. Cornel West talked some more about the Hebrew concept of hesed.

He started by talking about the great American novelist Henry James who wrote a letter on January 12, 1901 to Robert Louis Stevenson in which he said, he wanted no theory that is too kind  us or that cheats us out of seeing. Every theory has a certain limitedness and narrowness, but the goal is to broaden what we see. We do not want to be short-sighted or myopic. West says the same applies to feeling more deeply.  Then we hopefully can avoid indifference.

West quoted the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel who said, “Indifference to evil is more evil than evil itself.”  The Rabbi said it was more dangerous more universal, and more contagious than evil. Then, according to West, the next step is to act more courageously.  It certainly seems like those who are indifferent to suffering are in fact almost numberless. They have no interest in confronting issues of inequity, injustice, poverty, oppression, or the like. They just want to get to their TV shows, or their Facebook feed, or their mindless chatter. I don’t know if it is the most evil thing, but it is surely evil when people are indifferent to suffering.  According to West, If they don’t care about the suffering of others they are simply not fully human.

Even when black leaders are the best of who they are, there are limitations, he admitted. That’s why “democracy itself is the proximate solution to insoluble problems.” It’s the best we can do for now. As he added,

“You are never going to get away with the hatred and insecurity and the anxiety that go hand in hand with who we are as human beings, but you can have mechanisms of accountability vis-à-vis the most vulnerable. That’s democracy. That’s why voices from below can merge to try to shape the destiny of a nation.”

 

When West speaks of love, he means it in the biblical sense of the prophets. As Jeff Sharlet explained,   “Hesed,” he tells me one evening in Princeton, the Hebrew word for “lovingkindness.” “Steadfast commitment to the wellbeing of others, especially the least of these,” West says. That demands a lot of love, but West doesn’t stop there. “Justice is what love looks like in public.” For him, justice is not vengeance but fairness; the respect he believes should be accorded every soul. “And democracy,” he continues, “is what justice looks like in practice.”

I find it interesting how West takes an Old Testament concept and infuses it with modern politics.  He uses the idea to advocate for a  a society where there is justice—a vast, public, and steadfast lovingkindness—for all. That is where West’s religious quest brought him. It brought him to a good place.

 

Facts over Fear

 

Fear is a powerful emotion and it can be a force for good as well as force for bad. . We all need some fears. Young children learn to fear hot stoves thanks often to their mothers who instil that fear in them. That is a healthy fear. We could be seriously hurt if we did not have that fear. There are many positive fears like that which help us to avoid danger or harm. That is all for the good.

Other fears can be completely disarming. An example I often use is the United States. It is a country dominated by fear. They spend more money on arms and weapons than the next 8 or so countries behind them combined. That is what fear drives them to do. Everyone knows they would be much better spending the money on other things, many of which could actually make some of those fears go away. For example, Americans have a great fear of crime. As a result they spend vast sums on policing or weapons and that does little to drive away the fear. Fear can make us do stupid things.

There is plenty of fear going around these days. Recently, I attended an anti-vaccination rally in Steinbach and the leader of the rally as far as I could determine was a woman called Sheena Friesen. She spoke a lot about fear. She claimed fear of Covid-19 was making us do stupid things.

One person held a sign that read, “Facts over Fear.” I agree entirely with that sentiment, yet I think he and I have a very different conception of what we should fear. It seems he thought we were mistaken in fearing the virus that causes Covid-19. I think our fear of that virus is healthy, but we should not let it get out of control.

The difference is this. I believe that fears are valid and a force for good so long as they are kept under control and are rationally based on evidence of harm which the disease can cause. In other words, some fears are reasonable others are unreasonable. By definition, an unreasonable fear is called paranoia. Such fears are always a force for evil since they are not based on evidence.

American philosopher, Martha C. Nussbaum had important things to say about fear in her fine little book, The Monarchy of Fear. The title itself says a lot, suggesting we should not be controlled by fear. We should never let fear be our boss or king. Here is what she said,

“There’s a lot of fear around in the U.S. today, and this fear is often mingled with anger, blame, and envy. Fear all too often blocks rational deliberation, poisons hope, and impedes constructive cooperation for a better future.”

 

This is precisely right. The real problem with fear is that it can and often does interfere with rational decisions making. For example, I admit that I have an unreasonable fear of heights. It is not a rational fear. If I get to the edge of a tall building or structure I start getting scared even when there is nothing to fear. After all, I am not going to pitch myself off the building. I am not going to fall over the edge. There is nothing to fear, but I can’t stop being scared. I even get scared when I see total strangers getting what I think is uncomfortably close to the edge, when they have no such fears. My fear is unreasonable. Therefore, it is an irrational fear and I should learn to control it and not allow it to control me. That is easier said than done however. Nussbaum says fear can disrupt rational deliberation, leading to unwise choices. I think we can all think of many examples of exactly this.

Beyond making us suffer, irrational fears can lead us to make bad decision for our community and our country. From a public policy perspective we should not allow fears to lead us to faulty decision making. It can be dangerous. For example, Nussbaum said,

“What is today’s fear about? Many Americans themselves powerless, out of control of their own lives. They fear for their own future and that of loved ones. They fear that the American Dream–that hope that your children will flourish and do even better than you have done–has died, and everything has slipped away from them. These feelings have their basis in real problems: among others, income stagnation in the lower middle class, alarming declines in the health and longevity of members of this group, especially men, and the escalating costs of higher education at the very time that a college degree is increasingly required for employment. But real problems are difficult to solve, and their solution takes long, hard study and cooperative work toward an uncertain future. It can consequently seem all too attractive to convert that sense of panic and impotence into blame and the “othering” of outsider groups such as immigrants, racial minorities, and women. “They” have taken our jobs. Or: wealthy elites have stolen our country.”

 

Fear drives us to make unreasonable decisions. For example, if people have an unreasonable fear of government or authority they can refuse to listen to them when they give us good advice such, advising us to take vaccines that mountains of research and by now millions of actual experiences such irresistibly that our vaccine are safe and beneficial.

I think fear of others led Americans to make a disastrous decision in electing Donald Trump as president in 2016. It was a disastrous choice and led to near catastrophic results. Americans irrationally feared others such as Muslims, Mexicans, and elites. The last of those might have been a rational fear. Certainly more rational than the first two.

As Nussbaum said,

“The problems that globalization and automation create for working-class Americans are real, deep, and seemingly intractable. Rather than face those difficulties and uncertainties, people who sense their living standard declining can instead grasp after villains, and fantasy takes shape: if “we” can keep “them” out (build a wall) or keep them in “their place” (in subservient positions), “we” can regain our pride and for men, their masculinity Fear leads, then, to aggressive “othering” strategies rather than to useful analysis.”

 

The most effective means of dealing with such “othering” is to rely on our sense of fellow feeling. Empathy can chill many a pervasive fear. In fact, fellow feeling is the opposite of “us” vs. “them.”

According to Anti-vaxxers like Steinbach’s Sheena Friesen we are overly scared of Covid-19 and as a result we impose irrational restrictions on others like forcing people to wear masks or take vaccines that are dangerous.

In my opinion, fear of Covid-19 so long as it is held in check is an entirely reasonable fear. Millions of people have already died from it. Millions more have got sick, often with permanent damage. Millions more again, have had important medical treatments such as life-saving surgeries dangerously delayed. These are not unreasonable fears. These are completely reasonable fears which lead us to take reasonable precautions such as wearing a mask or getting vaccinated. Hundreds of millions of people have already taken the vaccines with remarkably few serious side effects. Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s Chief Medical Officer of health recently said he and his team have so far found no deaths in Manitoba that could properly be attributed to taking the vaccine and very few cases of serious illness resulting from the vaccines. At the same time, they have saved thousands of lives in Manitoba.

I think the antivaxxers, not the rest of us, have been dominated by unreasonable fears of the vaccine. They are ruled by unreasonable fears, not those who are taking reasonable precautions at very little cost.

 

The Many religions of Pi

 

The book I chose as the first one to look at on my spiritual quest  was a wonderful book, Life with Pi. Pi is what I would call a syncretist. That is a person who tries to combine different beliefs from different sources often by blending them, or merging them, into one. This word is often used in religion. Some people don’t see religions as opposing each other, but rather as different views of the same truth. Fundamentalists usually have great difficulty with this. They see their own religion as superior, and the rest as inferior others. Many cannot see anything worth noting in the religion of others. This was a very common assumption by representatives of western religions when they encountered indigenous religions around the world. They were blind to what was before them. Syncretism, on the other hand is inclusive, or what I have called expansive.

In the book, Pi said, “I am a practicing Hindu, Christian and Muslim.” He had no reason to believe that only 1 religion could show the way. Why would he?  Why couldn’t he believe and practice all three? Pi was only 16 years old and he thought he had a lot to learn from all of them. Pi even said “Atheists are my brothers and sisters of a different faith.

On the other hand, Pi’s father saw himself as “part of the New India–rich, modern, and as secular as ice cream.”  He did not have a religious bone in his body. He was strictly business. “Spiritual worry was alien to him; it was financial worry that rocked his being.”

Pi’s mother on the other hand was neutral on the subject of religion. She had a Hindu upbringing and a Baptist education, and according to Pi this cancelled both out leaving her “serenely impious.” That is the impiety I prefer! Or perhaps that is the piety I prefer.

Pi is puzzled by those who think they have to defend God. “As if Ultimate Reality, as if the sustaining frame of existence, were something weak and helpless.” These are often the fanatics of fundamentalism. These people forget the Golden Rule. Their empathy has been shredded by false religion.

According to Pi,

 

“These people walk by a widow deformed by leprosy begging for a few paise, walk by children dressed in rags living in the street, and they think, ‘Business as usual.’  But if they perceive a slight against God, it is a different story. Their faces go red, their chests heave mightily, they sputter angry words. The degree of their indignation is astonishing. Their resolve is frightening.

These people fail to realize that it is on the inside that God must be defended, not on the outside. They should direct their anger at themselves. For evil in the open is but evil from within that has been let out.  The main battlefield for good is not the open ground of the public arena but the small clearing of each heart. “Meanwhile, the lot of widows and homeless children is very hard, and it is to their defence, not God’s, that the self-righteous should rush.”

 

Does this not sound a lot like the Old Testament prophets?   I posted a blog about them.

Pi also saw the same source for his ideas: “an alignment of the universe along moral lines, not intellectual ones; a realization that the founding principle of existence is what we call love, which works itself out sometimes not clearly, not cleanly, not immediately, nonetheless ineluctably.”

I actually think the word “love” is a bit strong here. I prefer something easier–fellow feeling or empathy. Loving others can be very hard. Seeing oneself in the other should be easier.  It is harder to love the other, but it is enough to see oneself in the other. And that makes all the difference.

That is what religion is all about.

 

 

Savagery Exposed: Empathy Shredded

 

I already commented how America has abandoned reason. By that I mean to include much of the west, but not always as excessively as America, who seems particularly susceptible to dumbed down politics.

Of course, we have abandoned more than reason. We have also abandoned compassion. Nowhere is that more evident than in America, the self-proclaimed leader of the free world. In that country compassion has been shredded. That has become sickeningly obvious in 2020 with the Covid-19 crisis.

As New York Times commentator, Charles Blow, put it: “This crisis is exposing the savagery of American democracy.” So far, during this crisis the power elite have showed no compunction about putting the poor at the leading edge of danger.

Thomas Friedman of the New York Times quoted a 75-year old retiree from his home state of Minnesota who decried this evolution. This is what she said to the Washington Post:

“We were the leading country in everything when I was young…And what are we now? We’re mean. We’re selfish. We’re stubborn and sometimes even incompetent. … It seems like some of these other countries almost feel sorry for us. … We can’t get out of our own way. … There’s no leadership and no solidarity, so everybody’s doing whatever they want … which means everyone who’s vulnerable is losing big.”

 

Friedman blamed the Republican Party and its erratic leader:

This erosion of our collective societal immunity has been fed by many sources over the years, but none more than a Republican Party that has simply jumped the tracks. Donald Trump’s election was a byproduct of our lost immunity, but his leadership has now become a giant accelerant of it.

At a time when we desperately need to be guided by the best science, Trump’s daily fire hose of lies, and his denunciations of anything he doesn’t like as “fake news,” has contributed mightily to the loss of our “cognitive immunity” — our ability to sort out truth from lies and science from science fiction.

At a time when we need a globally coordinated response to a pandemic, Trump has wrecked every alliance we have.

At a time when we need high social trust in order to have a coordinated response at home, Trump’s political strategy of dividing us and playing everything both ways — even telling people both to rise up against their governors and to lock down according to his guidelines — is the opposite of the “all in this together” approach we need to win this battle.

Sometimes the current administration in the U.S. is doing everything it can do to make things even worse during a pandemic. As this plays out Trump is quietly working to leave many of the front line workers, health care workers high and dry when it comes to health care. At least he is trying to do that. It seems incomprehensible but he is trying to take health care away from millions of Americans who started receiving health care insurance as a result of President Obama’s Affordable Care by challenging it in court. Trump’s administration has brought a case asking the court to through out Obama care entirely and That case is about to go to the Supreme Court this year.

As Friedman said,

At a time when access to affordable health care is extra-important — when frontline workers need to know that if they go to work and fall ill, they will have some safety net to protect them — Trump has been trying to destroy the Affordable Care Act enacted by President Barack Obama without even thinking through an alternative.

It seems crazy but all of this is playing out right now during a pandemic.