An Experience of Natural Spirituality
London Free Press, September 27, 2014
On a beautiful September day my wife and I sat on a bench overlooking a large peaceful pond at Pond Mills Park. From a high promontory of land surrounded by tall trees we gazed out on the peaceful water below. It was so quiet and tranquil that we did not speak for a long time because neither of us wanted to break the spell of this quiet harmony that nature presented before us. But, from time to time nature herself punctuated the quiet calm with clear interruptions from the creatures of nature.
The longer we remained quiet the more we came to realize that there were, in fact, many small noises and actions that broke the apparent stillness of nature. Occasionally a fish would break the surface of the water and quickly return to swim off leaving small concentric ripples that spread across the lake below.
Then there was the quick repetitive rah‐ta‐ta‐tat hammering of the woodpecker working on a tree trunk in search on his lunch. Although the woodpecker was out of sight, we judged it to be in a tree across the lake approximately two kilometres away. Yet the smoothness of the water seemed to carry the sound waves much clearer and closer than that.
Some tall trees swayed gently back and forth in the calm breeze. Other trees belonging to a poplar species had symmetrically pointed leaves that continuously rippled and rustled in gentle breezes which caused them to appear to move in wave‐like motions.
Then there were the songs of birds. Some announcing their territorial boundaries, some calling to their mates, and others seemed to be singing just for the sheer joy of being alive in such a beautiful spot. Occasionally, one could hear the single call of a Canada goose protecting her nest and her tiny goslings.
Across the lake two young canoeists launched their red canoe into the water and glided off towards the centre of the lake. We heard the gentle swish of the sound
of their paddles, and we were pleased that no motor boats interrupted the muted sounds on the lake.
I tell this story because places like Pond Mills with its inviting natural scenery and its many human‐made trails can enrich our lives. Some would even say that such scenes bring one to moments of secular spirituality rather than to supernatural religious spirituality, although, no doubt, this location may do that as well. It depends partly on what we as individuals bring to the scenery.
In terms of human endeavor, I am grateful to the men and women who find, and respect, and develop such locations as these. They create human‐made boardwalks, viewing platforms, and regulations designed to protect nature and its beauty. Many of us seniors would never get to enjoy such places without their human sacrifice or their careful planning and their labour.
Then there are city politicians, and city planners, and conservation associations who offer their care, concern, and expertise in protecting natural beauty and making it possible for their fellow humans, both old and young to respect and admire nature. Without their foresight and planning, Pond Mills would likely by now be surrounded by cottages, houses, noisy motor boats and crowded beaches.
When we returned to our car and drove away from this haven of peace, within two kilometers we abruptly experienced a contrasting view as we merged into the hustle and bustle of cars, busses and other vehicular traffic along Commissioners Road and Wellington Street. At one point, we observed a fire engine and then some ambulances approaching and departing from Victoria Hospital. These noises and activity were also made by, and for, the convenience of our fellow humans. But the activity was unexpectedly abrupt and in contrast with the spiritual peace of Pond Mill’s tranquility.
Must we abandon our concepts of God ?
London Free Press, September 6, 2014
In pre‐scientific times, it was easy to believe that our earth was positioned in the middle of the universe. In early Chinese concepts, not only was our planet the centre of all that existed, but more than that, China itself was known as “the middle land” by the people who lived there. It seemed at that time, reasonable to assume that God was a great creator who looked upon his creation with kindness and care, and knew every individual by name as they offered their prayers to their creator.
Today, our knowledge of science has expanded our concept of the universe tounimaginable proportions. We now know that our planet, comparatively speaking, is as a small speck of dust among millions of huge stars as the cosmos continues to expand beyond billions of light years and multi‐billions of stars and countless planets. It is now believed in modern astronomy that there are vast numbers of planets, some with a good possibility of sustaining forms of life yet unknown to us. Modern scientists do not regard our planet, earth, as the centre of the universe.
In simple terms, either the early concepts of God were true, and such a caring and loving God exists, or such a creator does not exist. At least, God does not exist in accordance with earlier simplified concepts that place humans as the apex of creation.
Let’s assume for now, that such a caring creator God exists. If so, all those who offer prayers for guidance will be provided with similar responses to their prayers. Ethical matters will not depend upon relativistic answers. All who worship God will know what ethical approaches to take, and life will be harmonious, consistent, and morally correct. It will not be important whether believers are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, or any other of the multitude of religions. God will be the same universal God who looks after all people and all ethical directions. God will not offer relativistic guidance, but God’s answers will be
consistent, true, and unchanging. Religious believers will be guided by God in all matters regarding ethics, and life among religious followers will be harmonious. Believers will not disagree over questions such as divorce, sexual orientation, marriage ceremonies, religious sacraments, methods of fasting, or women as clergy. Nor will God change his advice from time to time. Modern religious believers must look at this concept of a powerful and consistent God and decide whether or not belief in God actually brings believers together in such a harmonious way on ethical questions. Or do religions sometimes divide us on important ethical matters?
Another possibility is that while there may be a great creator God, we as humans do not understand God’s commands. Believers bring to their thoughts and prayers, their own perception of what they think is fair and just and ethical. Believers genuinely come to believe that what they consider ethical, is what their God is telling them. In this scenario, from time to time, even among religions, there will be various answers given on ethics by religious experts from many religious persuasions. There will even be times when such religious differences lead to disagreements and to wars among religions.
A third possibility exists. That is, believers create God concepts rather than the other way around. Believers bring to their religious thinking their own cultural concepts and societal mores that seem to work fairly well within their own communities. But these ethical concepts really have little to do with a creator God of earlier times. Answers instead will be relevant to each particular culture and its customs.
A fourth concept exists. Maybe there is no God at all. It is easy for most of us today to dismiss the multitude of earlier historic gods such as Zeus, Odin, Poseidon, and Thor. Arguments over their advice were often conflicting and led to battles among believers. It may be, just as earlier believers have had to re‐think their ideas of earlier multitudes of gods, we will have to mentally refashion our present concepts of God and even abandon some of them. This will be an important and momentous ongoing task for future religious thinkers and for human kind.
Country inches closer to euthanasia answer
By Goldwin Emerson,
London Free Press, August 30, 2014
On June 5th, 2014 the National Assembly in Quebec passed Bill 52, an Act respecting end‐of‐life legislation. Over the past years, Quebec legislators and citizens were aware of ethical debates regarding euthanasia, assisted suicide, and other similar, but not identical terms, and were cognizant of the Canadian government’s previous objections to both euthanasia and to assisted suicide. They were also aware of the Canadian Supreme Court’s position against new legislation that might be expanded regarding euthanasia and become too easily abused. The Minister of Justice, Peter Mackay as recently as September, 2013 raised objections to making euthanasia more easily attainable stating his view that relaxing the present Canadian laws forbidding physician assisted dying could become a “slippery slope”. He expressed his concern that new legislation could lead to abuses and disregard for the value and sanctity of human life. From an ethical point of view, those who were disabled, psychologically unstable, or otherwise disadvantaged, might easily be vulnerable to changes in Canadian laws.
Some of the terms in previous discussions and debates on dying and euthanasia have been used rather loosely and imprecisely. Here are examples of terms which have similar, but not synonymous meanings: assisted suicide, dying with dignity, and the right to choose to die. In the case of Bill 52, legislators have attempted to emphasize that for patients with terminal illness, dying is a process that has already begun and patients will die whether or not medical intervention occurs in the process. The legislation is limited to adult patients who have intolerable suffering, and declining medical health, and to those who have no present hope of helpful medical intervention that can reverse the dying process.
Supporters of Bill 52 believe there are built‐in safe guards to protect possible patient abuse. The Bill requires patients having the support and approval of at least two physicians. It requires approval of a plan to provide physician assistance
during the dying process of terminally ill patients and provides for the cancellation of the plan at any time at the request of the patient.
Health care facilities offering such care must also have available facilities for palliative care. Bill 52 is limited to Quebec citizens only. It requires that patients, and not the doctors, are the active participants who administer the final medication with the doctor being present. Some European countries and some American states in USA provide similar, but not identical, physician‐assisted dying care plans. Bill 52 follows closer to the European model in that there are no required periods of time at which the terminally ill patient would be deemed to die a natural death. In similar USA plans, the period of time at which the patient would likely die, with or without medical care are usually judged to be within six months of the original assessment of the patient’s condition.
Canadian public poling results over the past twenty years indicate that from 70 to 80 per cent of Canadian citizens favour some physician assisted care in dying. But those who favour such plans express the need for carefully controlled conditions. Quebec public poles have tended to be more strongly in support of physician‐assistance in dying than other Canadian provinces.
The London Free Press (August 20, 2014) described a plan that the Canadian Medical Association (CMA) has endorsed. It is basically an approach of letting individual doctors follow their own conscience should other provinces adopt similar plans to that of Quebec province. With slightly more than 90% support, the CMA supported the resolution which states, ”within the bounds of existing legislation, to follow their conscience when deciding whether to provide medical aid in dying.”
Whether doctors are permitted by law to intervene and assist terminally ill patients or not permitted to do so, ethical questions arise whenever patients who have intolerable suffering wish to terminate their lives sooner, rather than later. It is now medically possible to keep terminally ill patients alive for long periods of time. Now that Quebec province and also the Canadian Medical Association have inched the rest of Canada a little closer to doctor assistance in dying, it remains to
be seen whether or not the federal government and/or the Supreme Court of Canada will intervene in this serious ethical issue of life and death.
Science and Religion Can Co‐exist
By Goldwin Emerson
London Free Press. August 23, 2014
Scientists and religious believers sometimes view each other with a measure of caution. For the most part, scientists regard themselves as people who are meticulous in their calculations. Scientists want to have their opinions supported by hard evidence. They look for a body of knowledge and research to build upon, hoping to advance the present scientific knowledge beyond what is presently known, to that which is yet to be discovered. Scientists are comfortable with changes whenever changes are backed up with new evidence. In fact, they expect that new research, if done well, should lead to new information about reality. Scientists generally believe that we live in a cause and effect universe. Events happen as they do, not as chance, but for reasonable causes.
On the other hand, religious believers may look upon scientists in a different way than scientists see themselves. The religious often see scientists as doggedly determined not to change unless they are presented with hard evidence. Religious people may look upon scientists as too regimented, too analytical, and as people who may often overlook the serendipitous moments of joy and excitement that life has to offer. The religious think that scientists may tend to ignore important parts of really that are not easily measured by scientific criteria. These components of reality may include love, hope, gratitude, friendship, and support and compassion for each other, to name only a few.
The scientists, in turn, sometime worry about where religious believers may go with beliefs that are not supported by hard evidence. There is usually sufficient religious freedom within religious thought so that each individual communicates with his/her God in a personal way. Because of this freedom and individuality, religious thought can take people in a variety of directions. While freedom to think as you choose may be valuable, it can occasionally lead to religious extremism. Nearly all religious supporters may say God wants them to love their neighbor, while a few extremists may say God wants them to harm their neighbor
who has different views than they do. While religion may be multi‐directional, the methods of science are usually guided by publically accepted procedures agreed upon within the scientific community. Scientists who do not follow traditional scientific procedures will likely be rejected by their colleagues.
Most thoughtful religious believers and most thoughtful scientists have their own answers to the critics of their opposing positions. For example, the religious believe that while science may provide new information, they think there is need for guidance and ethical direction so that good things result for society in general. For example, nuclear technology can be used for beneficial medical advances, or for terrible destructive purposes in killing our fellow humans. Scientific knowledge about germs can be used to benefit the sick, or it can be used for germ warfare.
Scientists, including social scientists, argue that the overall goals of science take humanity in the direction of good ethical practices. For example, within medicine, nurses, doctors, therapists, dentists, and health care workers are informed through their scientific knowledge. Science is used to offer care to the sick, cures for diseases, hope to deal with anxiety and mental diseases, and medicines to reduce pain and suffering. Scientists argue that there is an over‐arching ethical purpose among health care workers to improve the lives of those in need. Scientists would also argue that the good ethical qualities mentioned by religions in paragraph two above can also be accomplished by science. That is, love, hope, gratitude and friendship, support, and compassion for humanity, can be promoted through science. On balance, there are few people who would really want to turn back the clock to pre‐scientific times in hopes of making a more ethical world.
Most of us know of scientists who go about their work without much thought concerning religion. But we likely also know of some excellent scientists who may be guided by religion as well as by science. This is an indication that it is not impossible for these two disparate groups, religion and science. to co‐exist harmoniously and even supportively. Earlier scientiusts such as Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, Johannes Kepler, Blaine Pascal, Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle,
Michael Faraday, and Gregor Mendel, were all religious believers who were active scientists when science was emerging into more modern times.