Cross purposes

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Few things get readers more riled than stories about an individual trampling over majority rights.

That’s a facetious way of putting it, perhaps. And yet, while one of the primary mandates of a democracy is to protect minorities from mob rule, it’s often the mob that plays the victim card.

On Saturday, The Telegram carried a story by Barb Sweet about a St. John’s man who is questioning the presence of Catholic iconography at St. Clare’s Hospital. Specifically, some of the walls still contain crucifixes, and a statue of the institution’s namesake stands in one corner of the lobby.

He says the symbols make some people uncomfortable and he wants them removed once an agreement between the government and the original owners of the hospital, the Sisters of Mercy, expires in 2015.

Cue the backlash.

The Telegram’s website filled with comments, the vast majority of which condemned the man for making a mountain out of a molehill. Many identified themselves as non-Catholics. A number of letters to the editor have also trickled in.

It’s instructive to look at the issue from the point of view of school reform. Schools, after all, have also come under fire. St. Matthews Elementary in St. John’s recently removed a large cross from the outside after a parent complained about the Christian symbolism.

Some may say these solo crusaders are simply intransigent.

But intransigence is a funny thing.

One lesson for churches that arose from the abolition of denominational education in 1998 is that if you’re not willing to give an inch, don’t expect to be offered one later.

In 1995, the Clyde Wells government offered churches an olive branch. He called a referendum on denominational schools. But under the proposed changes, churches would still have input in the administration, and be able to keep one-faith schools in locations where need and consensus was established.

But after the yes vote won, the Catholic and Pentecostal churches would not bend. Along with a handful of individual parents, they challenged the application of the new law in court, and won an injunction. In his decision, Judge Leo Barry ruled that denominational schools were being closed without proper consent. Education reform was hopelessly stalled.

Within weeks, Brian Tobin, who by then was premier, announced a new referendum. This time, there was no middle ground. There would be no church involvement in schools. The reform was endorsed by a majority of citizens.

Again the Catholic Church launched a legal challenge, to no avail. A church official was even forced to admit in court that an internal poll showed 79 per cent of Catholics supported reform.

So, is the shoe on the other foot now?

Not really. Because while churches no longer wield any power over public schools, few people want to throw out every vestige of their long devotion to education in this province.

But is there an element of bitterness in the way some people now show little respect for religious icons?

Quite likely.

Organizations: The Telegram, Catholic Church

Geographic location: Clare

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Recent comments

  • Colin Burke
    August 27, 2013 - 13:51

    Mr. Power, if there are many religions teaching that the others are false and if one of them is the true religion, it follows logically, with little or no need of research by professional experts in empirical science, that most of them are false. How do you establish logically or by resorting to scientific evidence that every last one of them must befalse? Is that a direct perception by human understanding, a conclusion drawn from direct perceptions of human understanding, a direct perception of empirical science, or a conclusion drawn by considering scientific evidence, or just something one feels like believing perhaps because like dogmatic materialism it excuses dimissing any moral obligations one finds inconvenient at the moment even though it offers nothing of really satisfying interest on which an ordinary human understanding would care to dwell for very long, unlike the condition of deserving ultimately to be wholly joyful?

  • Ed Power
    August 27, 2013 - 11:07

    Mr. Burke, the slow and inevitable progress of human evolution, advances in scientific knowledge and improvements in the general standards of education - such as removing it from the clutches of shaman and priests - have proven most religions to be false. I say "most religions" because, unfortunately, there are still people who choose to cling to ignorance and superstition - mostly out of fear. Religions are very big on the "fear factor"- it keeps the masses ignorant and the oligarchs and clergy fat and wealthy. (See Lucius Seneca) One day, hopefully soon, this will be no more. Your arguments in favour of Hebrew carpenter god - or rather, the Christian-Three-For-The-Price-Of-One God - are no different, and certainly no more valid, than any of the arguments that priests and men have made in favour of any of the other thousands of gods men have invented throughout recorded human history. We have - because of wars, disease and natural calamities - only partial knowledge of most of those gods and religions: and we have no idea how many gods there were before humans started keeping records, but I am sure those gods were as plentiful and powerful as all the others invented to date. To you, the decline and fall of those religions and the replacement of some of those gods by the Hebrew one ( or Christian Three-in-One) is proof of the "Truth" of that one. This ignores the political and military imperatives that drove the Roman Emperors and the clergy to eradicate all the other religions that existed at that time, raze their temples, confiscate their property, murder their priests and adherents, and appropriate their holidays, feast days and saints. This process continued for some seventeen centuries as more and more people found the "Truth", usually at the point of a sword or at the threat of being used as cordwood. Yes, that is certainly one way to spread the "Truth" of your religion/god/message - submit or die. In any case, none of this will make a whit of difference to you. The burden of proof as I have said on previous occasions is upon those who make extraordinary claims (of their Deity) without providing extraordinary proof. As always, you continue to provide the former but decline to provide the latter. Hypatia identified the hypocrisy in this 1600 years ago. Other philosophers and thinkers before her, and many since, have made the same observations. The information is available to you, Mr. Burke, all you have to do is source it. "Anything you don't understand, Mr. Rankin, you attribute to God. God for you is where you sweep away all the mysteries of the world, all the challenges to our intelligence. You simply turn your mind off and say God did it." - Carl Sagan (1985)

  • Colin Burke
    August 26, 2013 - 09:14

    Mr. Power, I am not concerned to deny any fact you state, nor do I believe that you can show I have done so. (I quite believe you are entirely honest regarding mere facts; it is your judgement that I don't trust so implicitly.) I am concerned only with trying to get you to show how the facts you cite support your conclusions, for I doubt very much that science unaided by human judgement has found that Christianity is a myth. Indeed it seems to me that men mostly dismissed "other myths" as false chiefly because they accepted Christianity as true and Christianity said these myths were false. Have you not learned from Aristotle how conclusions are drawn by stating major and minor premises in the right order? That is what I invite you to do. Scientific facts are not themselves conclusions, but only evidence from which one may draw conclusions whenone has the intelligence to think about them logically. I do not believe that science unaffected by human judgement discovered as a plain observable fact that there are no underlying realities (substances) in which accidents reside; I believe that to be a judgement by scientists who were interested in having science confirm their pre-existing dogmatic materialism. I think it likely that those who believe that dogma are the ones most interested in practicing empirical science and therefore likely to have gained most influence over the teaching of science so as to "confirm" their dogma in the minds of most aspiring scientists. (That paranoia, of which I can expect next to be accused, is often an accurate diagnosis does not quite establish firmly that no sane person is ever deceitful or deceived.)

  • Ed Power
    August 26, 2013 - 01:48

    How, Mr. Burke, are we who live in the reality based world not applying "scientific principles" to any comments that we post? Just because you are unable - or as is more likely, unwilling - to understand basic science doesn't negate the facts presented. That you choose to rely on the mythology of illiterate Bronze Age goatherds, as interpreted by men who have a vested interest in maintaining the financial, educational and spiritual domination - and exploitation - of the population to justify their own existence doesn't turn fantasy into reality. The ancient philosophers used the best knowledge that they had available to them at that time to attempt to explain the world around them. Some theories and observations were correct, some were fatally flawed. For most of the past two millennia scientists, philosophers and clerics believed the Earth to be the centre of the universe. The Greeks, most likely Rhodian scholars inspired by Archimedes, designed and built the worlds first computer - the Antikythera Device. It was an intricate machine that could accurately chart the movements of the known planets in accordance with the Ptolemaic (geocentric) model in use at the time, including the retrograde movements of planets back and forth across the sky. Once the date was set , a simple turn of the handle would turn the gear trains which drove the various displays to calculate moon phases, lunar and solar eclipses, planetary movements and other astronomical information. It was a highly sophisticated, intelligently designed and exactingly built computer, but it operated from a flawed premise - that the planets and stars revolved around the sun. The genius in the design allowed it to display the movements of the heavens as seen from earth, but no amount of mechanical design and sophistication could correct it's basic flaw. (I suggest you read the fascinating book "Decoding the Heavens: A 2000- Year Old Computer and the Century Long Search to Discover Its Secrets" (2008) by Jo Marchant for the full story of this incredible device.) So, as brilliant as men like Archimedes, Aristotle, and their contemporary counterparts were, they didn't have the tools available that they needed to fully understand the world and the universe around them. Thales, Anaximander, Hipparchus and Pythagoras all made accurate observations about the Earth and heavens. Aristarchus stated - 1750 years before Copernicus - that the sun was the centre of the solar system. Brilliant men, all of them. None of whom, I am quite sure, would use their intellect, "philosophical insights" and reasoning to support the idea that mythology and fables equate with facts and reality. You do those men a great disservice, sir. As the great Roman philosopher and humourist Lucius Seneca said, "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by rulers as useful."

  • Colin Burke
    August 24, 2013 - 19:49

    Frank Tock, I believe the tone I used is quite appropriate for describing my own dismal and deplorable lack of scientific knowledge. I ought never to apply it to the actual abundance of scientific knowledge which you and Mr. Power obviously possess despite your apparently being unable to apply its principles -- I have lived nearly 70 years in regrettable ignorance of its details -- to a valid rebuttal of philosophical insights and reasoning.

  • Frank Tock
    August 24, 2013 - 11:37

    Mr. Burke, it is evident that the disdainful and sarcastic tone you use to describe your lack of scientific knowledge is probably why you're holed up in some forgotten part of the world engaged in a rather quaint defence of superstition and magic using vacuous philosophical notions... meanwhile the pioneers dedicated to expanding the knowledge of mankind are busy plumbing the depths of the universe at forefronts of scientific research such a CERN, LLNL, and the MPI. On a related note... ironically enough... the means you're using to belittle science in your defense of superstition and magic, i.e. your computer, is a micro-electronic system whose semi-conductors are a direct result of the application of quantum theory, or the study of those "mostly theoretical little thingies".

  • Colin Burke
    August 24, 2013 - 10:39

    An after-thought, Mr. Power: Maybe I'm too dense for words, but is it not a point of your argument that there is no need for "trans"substantiation since blood and wine are basically the same after all?

  • Colin Burke
    August 24, 2013 - 10:08

    Mr. Powr, your simply restating the scientific theory I attempted to rebut does not even address my attempt at rebuttal. I'm not even sure it is a recent theory -- ever hear of Lucretius, an ancient philosopher. In any case, any theory which attempts to rebut the evidence of the senses on which Aristotle relied must rely on the same kind of evidence or on evidence discovered with instruments devised with the aid of those sense. That kind of "proof" is as useless as those with which some people try to establish the validity of human understanding: it appeals to the very authority which it seeks to support -- or, in the case of you and Lucretius, to discredit. Can all those arrangements of the same basic chemical elements be different arrangements or not? Which might be a bit like sking whether chess and checkers can't be different because played on the same board?

  • Ed Power
    August 23, 2013 - 21:41

    Mr. Burke, it is not my duty to explain high school science to you. There are resources available to you at your local library, on-line and at your local bookstore. I really shouldn't have to do your reading and research for you, but in this case I will make an exception. If you want a simple example of how Aristotle was wrong, take a look in the mirror. You appear to be vastly different from a horse, a table or a tree and outwardly you are; but you are in fact, made up of the same atoms as the horse, table or tree - your atoms are just arranged in a different pattern. In Aristotle's two-part theory of matter, your "accident" (the outward appearance as perceived by the senses) is confirmed by your "substance" (the inward essence that the mind grasps and which constitutes essential reality). You think that you are different and therefore you are. Roman Catholics use this theory in an desperate attempt to explain transubstantiation, where the wafer and wine change but remain the same. This process cannot be proven by any scientific method, and so it becomes a "Divine" mystery. You, in fact, are not different from the horse, tree or table, you are the same. You are not made up of a two-part "accident" and "substance"; you - and the horse, tree and table - are made up of the same basic chemical elements that were forged in the furnaces of exploding stars and spewed out across the universe billions of years ago. It doesn't get much simpler than that. As I said earlier, were Aristotle to somehow arrive in the world today, he would recognize that his basic theory was wrong. He would quickly realize however, that he did have an inkling of the true nature of matter - that all matter in the universe is made of the same basic chemical building blocks - and would be off to the nearest library to rework his theory on the nature of matter. Who knows, given his earlier perceptive observation - that things aren't actually as they appear - he might be able to provide some innovative insight on Dark Matter, Dark Energy and Quantum Theory. Rather than relying on the theological superstitions of ancient Hebrew goatherds, I recommend that you read 'A Universe From Nothing' and 'Fear of Physics: A Guide for the Perplexed' by Lawrence Krauss, 'Physics of the Future' by Michio Kaku and 'A Brief History of Time' by Stephen Hawking. CBC Radio's 'Quirks and Quarks' also has archived episodes dealing with these matters that you can download and enjoy at your leisure. I hope this information will be of some help in your future scientific enquiries.

  • Colin Burke
    August 22, 2013 - 17:47

    Mr. Power, I'm still waiting for you to explain your understanding of how modern science has shown Aristotle's notions of substance and accidents to be false. I admit to knowing little science: the only "scientific" theory I've heard is that matter does not exist as the things we think we see but only as molecules or protons or electrons or whatnot: I've even read that someone believes matter exists only as arrangements of these mostly theoretical little thingies, in which that person seems to contradict himself since these "arrangements" apparently would constitute the things we do see; if things do exist then their seeming to science not to be what they seem to our senses to be, would simply be among their accidents. There, I don't know much science but I am able to make a short sketch of a theory contradicting Aristotle. I invite you to offer me something similar that I cannot similarly argue against; I am just not prepared to take your word for it that science does contradict Aristotle -- not that I think you are dishonest -- I read elsewhere an apology from you; thanks -- but failure to explain sometimes is due to failure to understand.

  • Ed Power
    August 21, 2013 - 21:51

    Were Aristotle able to travel to our own time, Mr. Burke, I am certain that he would recognize that his theory on the nature of matter was wrong and - being an intelligent and well-educated man - locate the nearest university library and start catching up on 24-centuries of scientific knowledge and advancement. As he himself said, "All men by nature desire knowledge". I think another great thinker, some 8 centuries later, explained it better. "Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths and miracles as poetic fantasies. To teach superstitions as truths is a most terrible thing. The child mind accepts and believe them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them. In fact, men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a living truth - often more so, since a superstition is so intangible that you cannot get at it to refute it, but the truth is a point of view and so is changeable." Hypatia of Alexandria (350 - 415 CE) Needless to say, life of this great mathematician, astronomer and philosopher was cut short when she was declared a witch and enchantress - guilty of being "devoted at all times to magic, astrolabes and instruments of music and she beguiled many people through her Satanic wiles" - and dragged naked through the streets of the city by a religious (Christian) mob. And so it has always been when religious ignorance and superstition encounters reality....

  • Colin Burke
    August 20, 2013 - 15:16

    Actually, Wondering, I'm patient enough to wait until someone who only asks whether transubstantiation contradicts reason is willing to try to demonstrate by rational argument that the human faculty of understanding must reject the doctrine as a contradiction in terms. Similarly, I'd like someone to demonstrate thus that the actual differences between men and women cannot matter at all except so far as they can be used to justify contraception,fornication or adultery, since they do not warrant excusing women from the duty to be priests. Until then, my answer to the questions you asked about these matters is just a simple "No." In other words, "Think for yourself for a change."

  • Wondering
    August 20, 2013 - 10:07

    Colin, does not the Catholic teaching that women should not be priests, contradict reason? Does not the teaching of transubstantiation defy reason? That wine actually turns into the blood of Christ. That it is a sort of canabilistic ritual instead of a symbolic ritual. But if the teaching is factual and one was to sprinkle some arsenic poison into the wine, it should not hurt you, right? it should not hurt the one of deep faith or little faith. Would you, Colin, demonstrate this test of reason to prove the teaching is true and factual?

  • Colin Burke
    August 19, 2013 - 21:21

    Mr. Power, I've been reflecting further on your remarks about Aristotle's teaching. It appears to me that Aristotle taught not that matter itself has two "parts," called "accidents" and "substance" but rather that material things (an important distinction) exist as (or maybe in) their substance and their accidents. Their substance is what they are and their accidents "occur" in them because of what they are. Material things have parts, but it seems to me that matter itself has none; matter is what "other" things are made of and can exist only as what other things are made of. These other things have two essential components, called "prime matter" and "substantial form": what the things are made of and what makes that matter whatever it actually is. I believe this to be the accurate statement of Aristotle's hylomorphic theory, at least as taught by the scholastic philosophers. Whether the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation might be true seems to depend on whether what seems to be one kind of thing can actually be of a different kind: whether appearances can be supported by something which is not the kind of being whose substance would ordinarily (or only usually seems to) support them and in which they no longer actually inhere but rather are "independent" of it, so that, perhaps (this is my own notion), the Body and Blood of Christ do not so much look and taste like bread and wine as they only appear to do so. Do you remember Maxwell Smart asking why the old guy who provided spying devices had made his camera look like a tape recorder and the tape recorder look like a camera? The answer?: "Because that's the way my mind works." "Who hath seen the mind of God....?" Can he hide himself behind what is essentially a mirage?

  • Ed Power
    August 19, 2013 - 17:44

    I am quite sure, Mr. Burke, that were Aristotle able to travel through the millennia to our own time he - being an intelligent and well-educated man - would recognize that his theory of matter was highly flawed, and that trying to prove such a fantasy to be reality would be folly. As Aristotle himself said, "All men by nature desire knowledge", so I am sure that he would be found in the nearest library catching up on 2300 years of scientific advancement. I believe that Hypatia of Alexandria (350 - 415 CE) - philosopher, mathematician and astronomer - said it best: "Fables should be taught as fables, myths as myths and miracles as poetic fancies. To teach superstition as truths is a most terrible thing. The child mind accepts and believes them, and only through great pain and perhaps tragedy can he be in after years relieved of them. In fact men will fight for a superstition quite as quickly as for a living truth - often more so, since a superstition is so intangible you cannot get at it to refute it, but truth is a point of view and so is changeable." Needless to say, she died at the hands of a religious (Christian) mob, dragged naked through the streets of Alexandria, accused of "enchantment", as "she beguiled many people through her Satanic wiles".

  • Colin Burke
    August 19, 2013 - 15:03

    All that is all very well, Mr. Power, but can you show me how empirical science refutes, or even attempts to rebut, Aristotle's unscientific philosophical theory which I believe he would have admitted that mere empirical sciednce could not confirm? That is the sort of question I keep hoping you might condescend to consider.

  • Ed Power
    August 16, 2013 - 18:55

    You know as well as I, Mr. Burke, that there is no empirical scientific proof of "transubstantiation" as it is a theological belief and not an actual process or event. The belief in this "miracle" is based on the unscientific theories of the Greek philosopher Aristotle who taught that all matter consists of two parts: 'accidents' (outward appearances as perceived by the senses) and 'substance' (inward essence which the mind grasps and which constitutes essential reality). Based upon this ancient misunderstanding of the nature of matter, the Roman church states that at a certain point in the Mass - when the proper incantations have been made - the substance of the bread and wine change while the appearance remains the same. This scientifically flawed ancient theory is believed by devout Catholics to be a Divine "mystery", despite the lack of any evidence. From my own experience as an Altar Boy - unmolested, thankfully - I can state quite categorically that the wine that I poured into the Chalice before Communion was the same wine that I washed out of it when Mass was over. Nor were there ever any bloodstains to clean up afterward. Ditto with the unused Communion hosts, they went back in to the package to be used at the next Mass. Nothing divine or miraculous about this - just theological tall tales and bad science.

  • Colin Burke
    August 16, 2013 - 10:52

    Mr. Power, absolute obedience to God's will is not necessarily "blind" obedience. Indeed, Catholicism encourages perceptive, highly educated obedience, and your ridiculing the notion that it does so will not make it otherwise. I invite you now to explode the doctrine of transubstantiation by rebutting thoroughly the explanation St. Thomas Aquinas offered of it, for if that miracle is possible any other virtually must be. The real question for me is not whether any miracle can be proven to have happened but whether a rational understanding of ultimate reality can establish that they are impossible.

  • Cavell
    August 16, 2013 - 07:58

    As a part of the agreement with the Government and the Sisters of Mercy, the hospital was not to perform abortion or sterilization for the purpose of birth control. I think that if these procedures are legal, hospitals should not be able to choose the moral path of their patients.

  • Ed Power
    August 15, 2013 - 16:50

    You do have an unfortunate habit of putting words - usually incorrect - in my mouth, Mr. Burke. I have never reduced the sciences to the state of religious mythology, that would be ludicrous. Science, unlike religion, deals in evidence and facts. Many scientific "facts" have been proven wrong over the centuries, this is how science works. Science improves as knowledge increases, technology improves and new discoveries are made. Religion, on the other hand, demands blind obedience to a deity of some sort, is violently resistant to change and trumpets belief in a particular dogma over knowledge and understanding, which is why most religions start indoctrinating when children they are very young. Perhaps you might be able to provide the "proof" of miracles that Catherine hasn't (as yet) been able to....?

  • gman
    August 15, 2013 - 11:14

    As I remember it there were religious symbols and crosses at Mount Cashell. Can you tell me how those symbols helped the Kids abused there and where was god in their time of need. Where was their Miracle.

  • Colin Burke
    August 14, 2013 - 21:15

    Claiming there has never been a miracle that can't be explained by natural means seems to me like claiming there has never been a "scientific" conclusion that has not been overturned by a subsequent one equally scientific. "Religion is bull" means all religions are false, including the Catholic religion. I challenge anyone who makes that claim to prove that the Catholic religion, or any of its teachings, actually contradicts reason rather than what the claimant thinks is "science." I also ask him to declare whether what he thinks is science must be subject to the authority of reason or whether arguments following logically from a valid insight of the human faculty of understanding can be overturned by a finding of science; I seem to recall Mr. Power's evincing some time ago such a touching faith in the power of science. To such a person, Catholicism and rationality (as opposed to "rationalism") alike have little or nothing to say, except perhaps: "I have much more to say to you but you cannot hear it now."

  • Ed Power
    August 14, 2013 - 14:28

    I would be very interested, Catherine, in reviewing any proof you can provide to support your assertion that "miracles really do happen", as there has never been a "miracle" that can't be explained by natural means. Much like ghosts disappearing when people got electric lights, so did miracles disappear when people became educated in the sciences. Sadly, even today there are still people who believe in demons, deities and other fairy tales. Just this week, in California, we learned that people are flocking to the site of a "miracle" - a tree outside a cathedral in Fresno that believers claim is weeping "God's tears". The fact that "God's tears" are actually the excreta of an infestation of aphids, and that a non-miracle tree across the street is also weeping tears, but not godly ones apparently, is entirely irrelevant to the hundreds of people who have been coming to witness the "miracle". As one believer, Maria Ybarra, said " I can tell you that looking at it from a scientific standpoint and a spiritual standpoint it is the work of God manifesting here on earth". Yes, the Lord does truly move in mysterious ways, this time through the use of aphids.....

  • Gman
    August 14, 2013 - 11:00

    Fact is, religion is bull. Its one of the biggest bull ideas the world has ever known. In fact, religion has managed to convince millions and millions of people around the world to believe that there is an 'Almighty One' who lives high above us. He has the power to exterminate all mankind, he can do all sorts of fancy magic tricks that is beyond the imagination of mankind in a matter of nanoseconds, he has a list of things he does not want you to do and above all, he loves you. He loves you and he demands you to worship him in your entire lifetime. In fact, religion has been used as a tool to boost the power and monarch of kings and queens for thousands of years already. And let's face it; this is exactly why religion was created in the first place. id rather have the facts not faith.

    • Catherine
      August 14, 2013 - 12:45

      It's so sad, GMAN, to see such bitterness in an individual who obviously believes in nothing unless your five senses are involved. Miracles really do happen, but you don't necessarily have to hear, see, smell, taste or touch to believe.