Category Archives: religion

Chief Seattle: An Old Attitude to nature can provide a New Attitude to Nature


A few years ago, in New Zealand I purchased a poster containing the complete text of the response by Chief Seattle to the President of United States to his offer to purchase land from his tribe, which I posted about yesterday.  I had only read part of it before.  It was one of the most eloquent statements I have ever heard about a genuine approach to nature that was, to some extent, the position of  many North American indigenous people.  It was radically different from the approach of the arriving Europeans.

I recognize that there is controversy over the extent to which this version or any other version accurately records what Chief Seattle said to the President, but I believe the general tenor of the letter records a profound philosophy which I am content to ascribe to Chief Seattle as I don’t know who better deserves the credit for it. I certainly think the thoughts deserve our attention.

The renowned English philosopher A. N. Whitehead once said, “The safest general characterization of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato.” I think the same things can be said about Chief Seattle. At least as far as environmental philosophy goes. And to think I learned absolutely nothing of it in 4 years of university studying philosophy, proving how deficient my education was at that time, nearly 50 years ago.

Chief Seattle was a Suquamish and Duwamish chief in what we now call western North America. The city of Seattle, in the U.S. state of Washington, was named after him.

As Chief Seattle said,


“We are part of the earth and it is part of us.

The perfumed flowers are our sisters; the deer, the horse, the great eagle, these are our brothers.

The rocky crests, the juices in the meadows, the body heat of the pony, and man—all belong to the same family.”


Another way of saying is to say we are all kin. All people and all creatures of the natural world are kin. This basic premise has profound philosophical consequences. For if we recognize that we are all kin we ought to treat each other, and other creatures too, with respect.  I will get to Darwin later, for he gave the scientific basis for this view. I cherish the idea that indigenous philosophy and western science are deeply interwoven. Realizing that also has profound consequences.

To many of the First Nations of North America, they saw themselves as a part of their world.  Their philosophies vary from tribe to tribe, but a common thread, is the recognition that the Earth is our Mother and we are all together. We are all connected. We are all part of Mother Earth. Earth is not separate and apart from us. We are woven together.  This is profound fellow feeling. This philosophy recognizes that what we do to nature we do to ourselves. That is what I call affinity.


This idea also has profound significance in the history of religious thought.  The Indo-European word “religio , which is the root of the word religion, means “linkage” or “connection” and is in my view the basis of all major religions. In fact, it is the core of all religions. More on this later.

I never learned any indigenous philosophy while I pursued a 4 year Honours Arts program in philosophy and English literature. I never even heard of indigenous philosophy. I did not even think such a thing was possible.

This philosophy echoes or even sums up much of what I have learned over the years, starting with German philosopher Martin Heidegger’s concept of being-in-the-world.  Only Chief Seattle was much more clear and easier to understand, without being any less profound than Martin Heidegger.  The natives of North America often felt a deep connection to the land.  They felt that they were a part of it.  To the Europeans on the other hand, nature was a resource ready to be exploited.  And from these two disparate attitudes springs much that is wrong with western society.

This is an old attitude to nature, which I am proposing as a new attitude to nature. It owuld be a worthy replacement for the old western attitude,.

Chief Seattle’s statement is a stunning statement about humans and nature, and all the more amazing because a “savage” (as he was wrongly called made it in 1854. Who was the savage?


Ancestral Spirituality

Great House

Like many other Indigenous people of North America in a number of other places, the Great House of the Ancestral People of the Sonoran Desert was carefully aligned with the sun. In fact, 17 different astronomical observations could be made from the Great House.  First of all, the house was carefully aligned between North and South.


There was also a round hole “window” that once each year lined up perfectly with the sun on the day of the summer solstice. Another rectangular hole carefully marked the spring and fall equinoxes.


As well one square window lined up with the Lunar Standstill that occurred every 18.6 years. What is the Lunar Standstill? For the first half of each year, the moon rises during the day in phases from near-full to a mere thin crescent, rising earlier each month from early afternoon to early morning. In July, the moon rises between the rocks as a nearly invisible new moon around dawn. From August through November, the waxing moon rising between the rocks, ranges from crescent to nearly full. Moonrise continues to come earlier each month, from just before dawn to just before sunset. Finally, the full moon rises between the rocks at sunset near the Winter Solstice in December. The duration of the moon’s passing between the spires was different for each rising but generally lasted from five to fifteen minutes.


The moon’s orbit of Earth oscillates or wobbles, gradually causing the moon to rise at different points on the horizon over the years.  Actually, I never learned that the orbit of the moon around the earth is not as perfect as I thought. The entire cycle of the wobbling moon takes 18.6 years, and apparently the Ancestral people of the Sonoran Desert understood these imperfections, because they had observed. Even though I have never observed them. Have you?


At the termination of each of the swings of the moon, the moon seems to pause for about 3 years! There was such an apparent pause in 2021 and one in 2004.


At each end of its swing, the moon appears to pause for about three years, rising at the same point on the horizon before beginning to move. The cycle is complicated. That apparent pause is called the Lunar Standstill. There are places in North and South America where the indigenous people noticed these movements and sometimes built structures to take these movements into account. They paid a lot of attention to how these movements aligned with local landmarks such as rocks rising above the horizon.


No one is sure exactly why these alignments were produced, but they do show the sophisticated knowledge of astronomy that the Ancestral People had. I have my own theory.  Religion at its foundation is about connecting people to each other, other creatures, and the world. These alignments help establish these connections.



When we get the glorious opportunity to visit a place like Casa Grande or one of the other sacred sites of North America we can’t help but wonder who were these amazing people who built these astounding canals and structures and then watched the sky so intently. What were they looking for in the sky? Those first Spanish missionaries asked the locals here why that was the case, but the indigenous people had a difficult time explaining it to the newcomers. Perhaps they thought the new arrivals were too ignorant to understand.


To indigenous people of the American Southwest, as in so many other places around the world, the fundamental notion of spirituality and religion came from the notion of connection. That was always, at least until recently, the basis of religion around the world. In India the original meaning of the word “religion” comes from the Indo-European word “religio, which means connection or linkage. Religion is what connects us. It connects us to other people, and it connects us to the world.


In many North American languages, the name for the tribe means “the people”.  In other words, we are the people. Many North and South American people saw the connection between them and the world in how the stars or other celestial bodies aligned with the lives of people. It connected them to each other. It was the same with the ancestral people of the Sonoran Desert.


Unfortunately, adherents to some of the monotheistic religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam forget the importance of connection and instead concentrate on what divides us from other people or the world. They see religion as something that makes them superior to others. In my opinion when this happens religion has gone off the rails, and in fact, in some cases is not actually religion at all, but its opposite.  Religion can become sacrilegious!


These odd alignments are all part of the mystery about the purpose behind the Great House.  It took an astonishing amount of human labor to create the house, but it was abandoned within about 75 years, even though the Ancestral People inhabited the area for more than 1,000 years. According to Rose Houk,


Modern archeologists have observed such an alignment of the sun through a “window” in an upper room of Casa Grande, marking the summer solstice. They have suggested that the “great house” may have been used as an astronomical observatory, one of several ideas about this enigmatic, imposing structure that stands out in the desert of central Arizona. Others have seen the four-story building as a fort, a granary, or a silo.  Whatever the truth, the Casa Grande’s significance was recognized early on when it became the nation’s first archaeological preserve in 1892.

The indigenous people here who consider themselves the descendants of the Ancient Ancestral Sonoran Desert people call this sacred place Siwan Wa’a Ki. To them it is a place to come and sing songs to the Huhugam Spirts. The non-O’odham call this sacred place Casa Grande Ruin. It was well known to their people and was mentioned in the O’odham legends.

What is clear is that this is a place Great Spirit.

The Land of true believers


When we were in Texas, Chris remarked that there the churches are built to look like shopping malls. Is that done to attract and maintain the interest of people? Or is because to the believers of Texas, commerce was sacred and shopping is prayer?


Chris let out a bit of rant in a small town in New Mexico where we dined for lunch. A small family at the next table conspicuously prayed before dining. There is nothing wrong with that of course, but she immediately felt they were fanatics! This was not a fair evaluation, but we believe it was her reaction to zealotry.  Zealotry is all around us these days, nowhere more so than America. Often it is in the form of fanaticism. It is often not attractive.


Seeing these adherents felt like it we were back in the company of the Convoy protesters back home continually bearing Canadian flags on both side of the hoods of their vehicles. That experience has poisoned the Canadian flag for us. This is an insignificant fact, but it reveals something important. The cost of fanaticism is high. And these feelings came from a woman who not that long ago counted herself as a good Catholic. Zealots can ruin some pretty good stuff.

Religion in America is always interesting, but not always attractive.


Group Thinks v. Long Thinks


In the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck encounters a number of deep moral dilemmas. The biggest of course is whether or not he should help Jim a slave escape from his “rightful owner” a woman who had never done him any harm. Huck “knows” what he should do. His conscience tells him that. He should not help a slave to escape. That would be wrong. But Huck stops and makes “a long think.” He must think critically.


Huck is also challenged by religion. He was taught that ever since he was born. Religion, together with the notion of white supremacy, is the ideology of his life. He “knows” it is right yet is challenged about it. Both of these are ideologies. They are both born from group think. We believe what we are taught by our team.

When Huck was having difficulties falling into the group think, Miss Watson would take him into the closet and pray with him.

“But nothing come of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn’t so. I tried it. Once I got a fish-line, but no hooks. It warn’t any good to me without hooks. I tried for hooks there or four times., but somehow I couldn’t make it work. By and by, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool. She never told me why. And couldn’t make it out no way. ”


As a result, Huck did what he should do.  He “set down one time back in the woods, and had a long think.” He thought about it critically with all his faculties. His reasoning would not be considered very sophisticated. As he said,

“I said to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for why don’t Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork?  Why can’t the widow her snuff-box that was stole? Why can’t Miss Watson fat up? No, I says to myself, there ain’t nothing in it. I went and told the widow about it and she said, the thing a body could get by praying for it was “spiritual gifts.” This was too many for me, but she told me what she meant—I must help other people, and do everything I could for others, and look out for them all the time and never think about myself…I went out in the woods and turned it over in my mind a long time, but I couldn’t see no advantage about it—except for the other people, so I reckoned I wouldn’t worry about it anymore, but just let it go.”


Ironically this is exactly what Huck later did. He followed her advice when it came to helping Jim. He neglected in the extreme what was good for himself—namely avoiding hell, but helped Jim anyway. And this is really what religion is all about. It is not about praying for fishhooks. It is about felling empathy for others, like Huck did to Jim. In Huck’s case it was his critically thinking, not his religious ideology that led him to do the right thing. His religious ideology taught him to do the wrong thing, namely worry about eternal heaven at the cost of his friend’s freedom. His ideology misfired. He said he would listen to this ideology but could not do it. He rejected the group think and did the right thing, thanks to a long think.

A long think combined with fellow feeling is a most powerful force!

I think that is what the religious quest in the modern age is all about.

Shouldn’t we all make more long thinks?




The first trick of the racist and the slave holder is to convince himself that the blacks are not fully human. Once we dehumanize someone, we can do anything to him or her. Dehumanization is the first step on the long journey to genocide, or slavery. And when one realizes the slave is actually human, as Huck  did, the long road to justice has begun.

Huck was astonished to learn from Jim that he missed his wife and children and longed for them. How was that possible? This was an epiphany for Huck. Miss Watson never learned that. She was prepared to sell Jim and his wife and children to different owners. As Huck said of Jim,

“he was low and homesick; because he hadn’t ever been away from home before in his life; and I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n. It don’t seem natural, but I reckon it’s so.”

It was like when Huck was asked by his aunt, another good Christian woman, if anyone had been killed in the steamship accident, and Huck said no. Only a nigger was killed, and his aunt responded gratefully, “Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.” Niggers are not people. They don’t count.

When Huck arrived at the plantation that was owned by Phelps, he learned the white children were just like the children of the adult slaves: “acting the same way the little niggers was going.”

Later Huck admits to Tom Sawyer that he helped nigger Jim to escape and he was ashamed of that saying, “it’s a lowdown business, but what if it is? I’m low down.”

Of course, it is not just conmen who are infused with unreality. So too is the “Sunday-like” small plantation owned by whites and filled with a family of black slaves.” Reality is forbidden to intrude there too. You can tell from Huck’s description of the plantation that he understands the reality of it. It deadens all who live there. Not just the slaves, but the slave owners too.

Here is the reality of the plantation: Niggers, it goes without saying, are not people. They don’t count. They’re suffering is not real. That is the reality of the plantation. And we learn it without a sermon, because a sermon is not necessary. We understand the reality of the plantation, even if nice people like the Phelps family did not. We learn that reality because we hear it from a magnificent story teller.

Here is the reality of the plantation:

His aunt asked Huck when he arrived and told about an accident on the river steamer:

“Goodness gracious! Anybody hurt?” Huck replies: “No’m. Killed a nigger.” Her quick response: “Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.”

Niggers, it goes without saying, are not people. They don’t count. They’re suffering is not real. That is the reality of the plantation. And we learn it without a sermon, because a sermon is not necessary. We understand the reality of the plantation, even if nice people like the Phelps family did not.

We learn that reality because we hear it from a magnificent story teller—Mark Twain. He does it all without preaching about it.




Friendship or Hell?


I have come to the conclusion that Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is my favorite novel. It is the classic of classics. Why is that?  What makes it so great? I think it so great because explores, as no one else has done as well, the issue of freedom. Above all it explores the freedom to think for oneself. So many people extoll the virtues of freedom particularly in the US and Canada. But I find they mostly have a very shallow notion of what freedom is all about. Not so with Twain. He knew what ultimate freedom is all about.

The novel Huckleberry Finn challenges all authority. None are sacred. Particularly the sacred is not sacred. Freedom from authority is the real freedom.

Huck Finn’s journey with Jim down the Mississippi River was a journey towards knowledge. It was an education. Huck has to learn, and even more important, he has to unlearn. As Nafisi said, he was on a trip in which Huck is “countering the lessons of Sunday school.”

The novel challenges the morality of slavery, but it actually goes much farther than that. The trip to the dangerous south asks a more fundamental question: What can you do when your moral code lets you down?  That is what Huck wrestles with throughout the novel.

The central question Huck must deal with is how can he help his friend Jim by finding freedom when he “knows” that is wrong. In fact, Huck “knows” that is a sin to help a slave to freedom. That is what he learned in Sunday School and from Aunt Sally, Miss Watson, and the Widow Douglas.  But he must unlearn that. As Huck says, “I couldn’t get that out of my conscience, no how nor no way.” When Huck is fighting with his conscience he comes across slave hunters and resolves to deliver Jim to them, because it is the right thing to do, but as hard as he tries to do the right thing he cannot give up his friend. He thinks he is not man enough to do what he “should” do.

When Huck has difficult decisions to make he always has “a long think.” That is a good practice. He thinks slowly and critically. But he thinks. As he says to himself, and of course, us, “The more I studied about this the more my conscience was grinding me, and the more wicked and lowdown and ornery I got to feeling.”  If he had gone to Sunday School as he should have, he would have learned that “people that acts as I’d been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire.” He even tries to pray but his “heart  wasn’t right.” Again he decides to do the “right thing” and give up Jim by writing to Miss Watson. As soon as he rights the letter he feels much better. His conscience is finally clear. He feels “good  and all washed clean of sin for the first time I even felt in my life and I knowed I could pray now.” But even then he continues to think and that is his undoing. He think too much and decides he will go against everything he has ever been taught. It is extremely difficult to do.

And then Huck considers the reality of Jim. He continues to think through the day after he wrote the letter to Miss Watson. In a remarkable statement that shows the power of genuine connection compared to the disrupted connection of a corrupt ideology, Huck says this:

“I see Jim before me, all the time, in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moon time, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow sometimes I couldn’t seem to strike no place to harden me against him, but only the other kind.  I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was; when I come back out of the fog; and when come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I truck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in then the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look  and see that paper [the letter he wrote to Miss Watson but had not yet sent, that would return Jim to slavery].

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling because I’d got to decide forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

“All right, then I’ll go to hell—and tore it up.”


I think Twain is saying if you look at the real person, rather than the person you expect to see through the lens of your religion, or politics, or ideology then you can see the real person. Notice too how Huck and Jim have become “we.”  They are connected by a deep sense of fellow feeling. That is what real morality, and real art, and real religion are all about. They are not about ideology or dogma.

Has there ever been a greater friendship in all of literature than this? Has there ever been a greater friendship in the whole world than this?  Huck was prepared to do what he believed was wrong because that is what he was taught, and that is what everybody did, in order to save his friend, even though it meant going to hell?

That is what ultimate freedom is all about!


The Deep Slumber of Decided Beliefs


John Stuart Mill argued in his book On Liberty that Christian faith had been impoverished as a result of not being sufficiently challenged in his country (England in the 19th century) Those beliefs were once firmly and genuinely held in the early days of Christianity. Then Christians had to constantly defend those beliefs from attack. Christians had to know the reasons and justifications for those beliefs. Over centuries of acceptance by rote, the beliefs have died in their minds. They are what Mill called dead beliefs.  Or dull and torpid beliefs. At one time the beliefs were vibrant, now they are mere forms.

Mill claims that because these beliefs are no longer truly held, the Christians have such difficulty in propagating their faith in foreign countries.  It is hard to convince others of a belief that is not obviously believed. If you don’t believe it, why should I? It is like a Chevrolet sales representative trying to sell a Chevrolet when the customer knows the sales representative owns a Toyota. Actions speak louder than words.

Mill describes these faux beliefs this way,

“The sayings of Christ coexist passively in their minds, producing hardly any effect beyond what is caused by mere listening to words so amiable and bland. There are many reasons, doubtless why doctrines which are the badge of a sect retain more of their vitality than those common to all recognized sects, and why more pains are taken by teachers to keep their meaning alive; but one reason certainly is, that the peculiar doctrines are more questioned, and have to be oftener defended  against open gainsayers.  Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post, as soon as there is no enemy in the field.


And that is why free speech is so important to learning truth. It’s the contest for truth that is vitally important. This reasoning of course applies to all beliefs, not just religious beliefs.  All languages and belief systems are chock full of observations and directives about how adherents are to conduct themselves. People hear them and believe that they do in fact believe them. They are genuine about their claims. Yet most people only learn the meaning of them when they painfully have to implement them. That makes them real. The pain reminds the “believer” of what he or she should have known and believed.  As Mill said, “there are many truths of which the full meaning cannot be realised until personal experience has brought it home.”

For beliefs, the best way to bring the belief home is to hear it argued pro and con by people who understand it. As Mill pointed out so wisely, “The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful, is the cause of half their errors.  Mill said that a contemporary author has well spoken of “the deep slumber of a decided opinion.”

In the search for truth, slumber is an impressive and pernicious barrier.

Are Christian beliefs ineffective?


John Stuart Mill continued his robust defense of free speech in his book On Liberty by saying that even true beliefs benefited from challenges that free speech can bring. For example, since Christians seem to strongly believe the tenets of their religion, but they could benefit from vigorous challenge. How is that?

According to Mill, Christian beliefs, even fundamental beliefs are actually held without passion that John Stuart Mill he gave in his book On Liberty, surprised me. These were Christian beliefs which I always thought, in the middle of the 19th century, when Mill wrote, were very strongly held. Mills suggests otherwise:

“To what extent doctrines intrinsically fitted to make the deepest impression upon the mind may remain in it as dead beliefs, without being ever realised in the imagination, the feelings, or the understanding, is exemplified by the manner in which the majority of believers hold the doctrines of Christianity. By Christianity I here mean what is accounted such by all churches and sects—the maxims and precepts contained in the New Testament. These are considered sacred, and accepted as laws, by all professing Christians. Yet it is scarcely too much to say that not one Christian in a thousand guides or tests his individual conduct by reference to those laws. The standard to which he does refer it, is the custom of the nation, his class, or his religious profession.”


In other words, according to Mill, people really believe the customs they have adopted, but their professed religious beliefs not so much. Customs actually govern our actions, not our professed religious beliefs. This is really just another way of saying actions speak louder than words, and when it comes to all of these profound and important religious beliefs they are not really effective in guiding our actions, according to Mill.  They have become stale by being the products of indoctrination and not robust debate.

Mill suggests that our actions are based on local customs that we unconsciously accept and allow to override the genuine religious views that we have:

“He has thus, on the one hand, a collection of ethical maxims, which he believes to have been vouchsafed to him by infallible wisdom, as rules for his government; and on the other a set of every-day judgments and practices, which go a certain length with some of those maxims, not so great a length with others, stand in direct opposition to some, and are, on the whole, a compromise between the Christian creed and the interests and suggestions of worldly life. To the first of these standards he gives his homage; to the other his real allegiance.”


Mill goes on to list many examples of beliefs that are genuinely believed but do not actually determine how we action:

” All Christians believe that the blessed are the poor and humble, and those who are ill-advised by the world; that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven; that they should judge not lest they be judged; that they should swear not at all; that they should love their neighbour as themselves; that they should take no thought for the morrow; that if they would be perfect they should sell all that they have and give it to the poor.  They are not insincere when they believe these things.  They do believe them as , as people believe what they have always heard lauded and never discussed.  But in the sense of that living belief which regulates conduct they believe these doctrines just up to the point  to which it is usual to act upon them. The doctrines in their integrity are serviceable to pelt adversaries with; and it is understood that they are to be put forward (when possible) as their reasons for whatever people do that they think laudable. But anyone who reminded them that the maxims require an infinity of things which they never even think of doing, would gain nothing but to be classed among those very unpopular characters who affect to be better than other people. The doctrines have no hold on ordinary believers—are not a power in their minds. They have an habitual respect for the sound of them,  but no feeling which spreads from words to the things signified, and forces the mind to take them in, and make them conform to the formula.  Whenever conduct is concerned, they look around for Mr. A and B to direct them how far to go in obeying Christ.”


Mill argues that Christians have these sincere beliefs but actually they do not change how they act. When it comes to acting, people look around to see what their peers are doing and then act accordingly.  That has a marked impact on what they do.  Professed beliefs are weak in comparison.

Yet according to Mill the early Christians were deeply affected in their conduct by religious beliefs that now people claim to believe, and actually do believe though weakly without life and those beliefs do not affect how we actually live.

As Mill said,

“Now we may be well assured that the case was not thus, but far otherwise, with the early Christians. Had it been thus, Christianity never would have expanded from an obscure sect of the despised Hebrews into the religion of the Roman empire. When their enemies said, “See how those Christians love one another” (a remark not likely to be made by anybody now) they assuredly had a much livelier feeling of the meaning of their creed than they have had since.



These doctrines that Mill selects are not mere ancillary aspects of Christianity. They included core beliefs. For example, that Christians should love others like themselves. What is more fundamental than that? Yet Mill concludes Christians claim to believe these fundamental doctrines but these claims have no substance. The beliefs are weakly held. Often, or should we say usually, they do not lead to action.  People like to hear themselves mouth these words. But they don’t really mean it when Christians say they mean them. There are of course, many more beliefs that Mill could have selected for similar treatment. And importantly, Mill says that the reason these beliefs are endorsed formally but not existentially is that Christians have not had to defend them against others. Christians don’t remember why these beliefs are important? Christians don’t remember the reason for the maxims.  Their beliefs are no longer real. Their beliefs have become empty husks no matter how often professed.

 I would invite my Christian friends to say why Mill is wrong. Or is he right?

Sacred Truths

Some people believe their “truths’ because they have faith in them. Others rely on hunches. Some rely on the authority of parents, teachers, or experts. None of these according to John Stuart Mill are solid grounds for action. This is what Mill says:

“There is the greatest difference between presuming an opinion to be true, because, with every opportunity for contesting it, it has not been refuted, and assuming its truth for the purpose of not permitting its refutation. Complete liberty of contradicting  and disproving our opinion is the very condition which justifies us in assuming its truth for the purpose of action; and on no other terms can a being with human faculties have any rational assurance of being right.”

It is for that reason that we don’t believe Putin is right when he says he was justified in invading Ukraine. Or we don’t believe the Ayatollah that Salman Rushdie should be killed? Or that gays are bound for hell because the Bible or the local preacher the says so.

Mill makes it clear that no opinions should be exempt from this process. He points out that there are some who urge that some principles are so certain that we should not be permitted to question them. But Mill disagrees. All opinions and all principles, even fundamental principles should be subject to challenge in this way. Only then can we really be certain. Or at least as close to certain as we can get. This is the result of living in an age that Mill says some call “destitute of faith, but terrified of scepticism in which people feel sure, not so much that their opinions are true, as that they should not know what to do without them—the claims of an opinion to be protected from public attack are rested not so much on its truth, as on its importance to society.” Of course, as Mill points out, this just shifts the problem, for it is just as important to have an infallible judge to determine which opinions are noxious or useful as to determine those that are true or false. In either case, the opinion must be allowed to be free to defend itself.

The real problem, Mill says, is not feeling sure of a doctrine, which he calls the assumption of infallibility, but rather the undertaking to decide this question for others, without allowing them to hear what can be said on the contrary side. This must be denounced no less when it is done to “protect” solemn convictions. All opinions must be free to defend themselves, even the sacred ones that are most important to us.

All truths should be subject to debate and argument. None are exempt. Not even sacred ones. That is what free speech means. All “truths” can be freely challenged.

Genocide Repudiated


The Indian Residential Schools established by the Canadian government under the provisions of the Indian Act were instruments it used, often through its church partners,  to ensure dominance over indigenous people. Even if the Popes had disavowed the Doctrine of Discovery, the basis of these notions were also the foundation of that doctrine, which I have called vile.

Here is what the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (‘TRC’)  said in its report to the Canada in 2015,

“For over a century, the central goals of Canada’s Aboriginal policy were to eliminate Aboriginal governments; ignore Aboriginal rights; terminate the Treaties; and, through a process of assimilation, cause Aboriginal peoples to cease to exist as distinct legal, social, cultural, religious, and racial entities in Canada. The establishment and operation of residential schools were a central element of this policy, which can best be described as “cultural genocide.””


Since that report was delivered many critics have said the TRC was too gentle with Canada. They suggested the word “cultural” should be dropped from that destruction. They say, Canada was guilty of genocide. Pope Francis on his recent visit to Canada said he thought it “genocide.” The subsequent report of the 2019 Inquiry into Missing and Murdered  Women and Girls, said the actions reported on in that report amount to “genocide.” There was no qualification. It may be that the reticence of the TRC was a consequence of it not being authorized to accuse people of crimes, and genocide is a crime.

The TRC said this about genocide:

“Physical genocide is the mass killing of the members of a targeted group, and biological genocide is the destruction of the group’s reproductive capacity. Cultural genocide is the destruction of those structures and practices that allow the group to continue as a group. States that engage in cultural genocide set out to destroy the political and social institutions of the targeted group. Land is seized, and populations are forcibly transferred and their movement is restricted. Languages are banned. Spiritual leaders are persecuted, spiritual practices are forbidden, and objects of spiritual value are confiscated and destroyed. And, most significantly to the issue at hand, families are disrupted to prevent the transmission of cultural values and identity from one generation to the next.”



And then the TRC added, “In its dealing with Aboriginal people, Canada did all these things.” If Canada did all 3 things necessary to be classified as genocide, then the TRC is saying, Canada committed genocide in its dealings with its Indian Residential Schools. According to the TRS, and was amply justified by the evidence revealed in its report,


As if that was not enough the TRC also said this,

“Canada denied the right to participate fully in Canadian political, economic, and social life to those Aboriginal people who refused to abandon their Aboriginal identity. Canada outlawed Aboriginal spiritual practices, jailed Aboriginal spiritual leaders, and confiscated sacred objects. And, Canada separated children from their parents, sending them to residential schools. This was done not to educate them, but primarily to break their link to their culture and identity.   In justifying the government’s residential school policy, Canada’s First prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, told the House of Commons in 1883:

When the school is on the reserve the child lives with its parents, who are savages; he is surrounded by savages, and though he may learn to read and write his habits, and training and mode of thought are Indian. He is simply a savage who can read and write. It has been strongly pressed on myself, as the head of the Department, that Indian children should be withdrawn as much as possible from the parental influence, and the only way to do that would be to put them in central training industrial schools where they will acquire the habits and modes of thought of white men.”


But as if that was not enough the TRC added,

“These measures were part of a coherent policy to eliminate Aboriginal people as distinct peoples and to assimilate them into the Canadian mainstream against their will.”


Who can possibly deny that taking children away from their parents for such a vile policy is not genocide? I think the conclusion is clear and unassailable.

In my opinion these genocidal policies are incompatible with the statements made by Pope Francis in Canada. He spoke plainly and clearly. This was a most welcome message from a Pope.