Canadian Government: Non-Christian Prisoners Must Turn to Christian Chaplains

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 5, 2012 — 44 Comments

It appears that the controversial move by Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews to retract a paid position for a Wiccan prison chaplain was merely a harbinger of much bigger things. The CBC reports that Toews, who oversees Canada’s penitentiaries, has eliminated all paid part-time chaplain services, effectively making government prison chaplaincy a Christian-only affair.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

Canadian Public Safety Minister Vic Toews

“Inmates of other faiths, such as Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews, will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance, according to the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is also responsible for Canada’s penitentiaries. […] Toews’ office says that as a result of the review, the part-time non-Christian chaplains will be let go and the remaining full-time chaplains in prisons will now provide interfaith services and counselling to all inmates.”

Toews’ office said in a statement to the CBC that “[Christian] chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to inmates of all faiths.” This lead one Sikh chaplain to ask the obvious question: “How can a Christian chaplain provide spirituality to the Sikh faith, because they don’t have that expertise.”

Wiccan chaplain Kate Hansen, speaking with the National Post, said she was disturbed by this turn of events.

“I’m disturbed that the government believes that all these minority faith people can be dealt with by Christian chaplains, I don’t know where they’ll get all the minority faith volunteers from. I don’t know how they’ll make that work. I can’t think of why they would think this is a good way to treat people.”

So from this point forth, all non-Christian chaplaincy services to federal prisons must either be provided by volunteers, or the prisoners: Wiccan prisoners, Pagan prisoners, Buddhist prisoners, First Nations prisoners, must all turn to the full-time (Christian) chaplains for spiritual guidance and resources. Luckily all Christian chaplains are heavily trained in dealing with the spiritual needs of religious minorities, right? I mean, it seems inconceivable that this would be an invitation for some to abuse their power, to push for jailhouse conversions in exchange for proper treatment.

Frankly, I’m still reeling from this announcement. I wasn’t overly surprised when Toews decided to engage in a little discriminatory Witch-kicking, our community has weathered those slings and arrows for years, but this is something far more audacious. Toews and his office are essentially doubling down, saying that a full-time Christian chaplaincy is enough to handle all faiths, no matter what their history or relationship with Christianity might be. It’s stunning. Whether he’ll be allowed to get away with it is, I suppose, up to the Harper administration and Canadian voters. I’ll update on this story as it continues to develop.

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  • http://twitter.com/Kattale9 Kat Summerbell

    Thought I would share the letter I just sent:

    Dear Mr. Toews and Prime Minister Harper,

    I am writing with
    deep concern about the recent news that Mr. Toews has cancelled
    multi-faith prison chaplaincy in BC, and plans to allow applicants of
    only a single faith (Christianity) to hold jobs in this position.

    My
    first concern is the legality of this decision. In Canada, to limit
    the remaining pastoral care employment position to Christians only is in
    contravention of The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms as well as
    in direct violation of Part I, Sections 7 and 8 The Canada Human Rights
    Act. It is not legal to discriminate against the applicants of a
    public service position or filter the citizens holding the position
    based on their religion or faith. The position must, by Canadian law,
    be open to any person of any faith who meets the qualifications of the
    position. This can of course be very tricky when the position in
    question requires duties of a relgious nature to be performed. An
    applicant for the position of a Christian minister would of course hold
    the qualifications of that ministry, and employment would be based on
    those qualifications, not on the applicant’s personal faith.

    Previously,
    the numerous religious qualifications for pastoral care positions were
    divided among several full- and part-time positions, each requiring
    qualifications unique to the individual faith group that the position
    administered to. The new single pastoral position will require a broad
    multi-faith list of qualifications, which means that the position cannot
    legally be limited to only Christian applicants – each and every
    pastoral care position in the prison system would need to be re-opened
    to any qualifying person, regardless of their religion – and the
    qualifications for this multi-faith pastoral position would need to be
    broadened to include the pastoral requirements for ALL faiths
    represented in the prison system. Applicants for this broad position
    simply can not be discriminated against on the basis of their faith. It
    is illegal to limit the holders of this position to Christians only –
    they MUST be selected by their qualifications to provide a broad
    assortment of religious services, not selected on the basis of their
    single Christian religion. To do otherwise is against Canadian law.

    My
    second concern is that funding and position cuts to prison ministry are
    being made at all. What, exactly, is the purpose of the cut? If the
    role of prison is to provide rehabilitation and social conditioning to
    prepare inmates to return safely to society, then the removal of
    minority faith pastoral care from the system works against this purpose.
    Spiritual faith plays a strong role in shaping the morals and ethics
    of inmates, and also provides comfort, support, and structure to those
    living in prison conditions. I am strongly in support of rehabilitation
    in prisons, and strongly support government-provided ministry in
    prisons.

    This part-time ministry service requires a very small
    fraction of budget in comparison to other prison expenses. If the
    “Christian” pastoral care positions previously catered to 67% of
    religious inmates, then those positions will now need to be increased to
    provide care to 100% of the religious inmates – no budget cut will be
    accomplished. This decision is not a fiscal one, belieing Mr. Toews’
    claim that it is a waste of taxpayer money. The number of inmates
    guaranteed their right to pastoral care will not change because of this
    cut, regardless of which faith representative provides the care. Since
    this is clearly not a fiscal decision, I begin to suspect it is a
    personal, reactionary, targeted cut, not a fiscal casualty of necessary
    budget cuts.

    My final and strongest concern, though, is the
    thought of a single government-supported faith in Canada. The strength
    of our country is in our progressive diversity. The establishment of a
    Christian-only prison pastoral system is a decades-long step back in
    time for our human rights condition. It would force inmates to accept
    the tenets of a state-sponsored Christian prison ministry. It reeks of
    government-sponsored religious oppression – very much a revisit to
    Canada forcing about 150,000 aboriginal children to attend state-funded
    Christian boarding schools aimed at assimilating them, a horrific human
    rights contravention which required Mr Harper to make a formal apology
    in parliament, in front of hundreds of these former schoolchildren.
    Canada cannot afford to revisit that circumstance.

    According to
    the website of Correctional Services Canada, “‘Religious and spiritual
    accommodation’ means providing access to an adequate level of resources
    (leadership, opportunities for worship, educational resources, religious
    articles, dietary requirements) to allow offenders to practise their
    religion or spirituality as fully as they desire (up to a level that is
    generally available to people in the community) within the correctional
    setting.”

    In the words of Mr. Toews’ office, “The minister
    strongly supports the freedom of religion for all Canadians, including
    prisoners … however, the government … is not in the business of
    picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status
    through government funding. The minister has concluded … [Christian]
    chaplains employed by Corrections Canada must provide services to
    inmates of all faiths.”

    To fully meet the rights of prisoners to
    “Religious and Spiritual Accommodation” in the CSC, a pastor holding a
    single public service position must be capable of guiding Muslim
    prisoners through their observance the Five Pillars of Islam, be able to
    lead Sikhs in the apropriate chants of their Gurpurb, lead Jews in the
    prayers of the siddur and the reading of the Torah, must be able to cast
    and purify a Wiccan circle, invoke the quarters, and draw down the
    gods, and must also be able to administer the Holy Sacrament to
    practicing Catholics. I do not have much faith that a single pastor of
    ANY faith would have the training or authority to meet the spiritual
    needs of every inmate of every religion represented in Canadian prisons.
    Yet Mr. Toews feels that a Christian would be competent at all of
    these things, and could hold the respect of persons of every faith.
    Would Mr. Toews be equally comfortable with a Wiccan pastor
    administering his Christian sacrament, or a Muslim pastor leading him in
    The Lord’s Prayer? If not, is it fair to decide that minority-faith
    inmates should accept less than he himself would feel comfortable with?

    If
    Mr. Toews believes that a Christian pastor is capable of providing
    competent, sincere, and compassionate ministry to a diverse array of
    minority religions, then he must, if he supports Canada’s position of
    human rights diversity, concede that a Muslim or Sikh pastor could
    equally provide for the needs of Christian inmates.

    The only
    options are to continue Mr. Toew’s proposal to create a single broad
    pastoral job position and description which is open to citizens of all
    faiths, or else to streamline qualifications to create several part-time
    positions unique to the needs of individual faith groups, the hours of
    which would approximate a representative percentage of faiths. I
    believe the second option – the system that was already in place in the
    BC prison system – would be the more effective use of taxpayer money,
    and would provide a significantly higher quality of pastoral care to the
    inmates.

    I do not believe this decision to cut part-time
    minority faith pastoral positions is a reasoned, sensible response to
    Mr. Toews’ investigation into the prison ministry service in BC prisons.
    I believe Mr. Toews was caught unaware by the press sensationalizing
    and fear-mongering a little-known minority religion, and he was easily
    manipulated by the press into squashing what came as basically an
    embarrassing surprise to his Ministerial position. This hasty
    reactionary decision will not only deprive prison inmates of all
    minority religious faiths of their guaranteed right to pastoral care and
    undermine the progress of rehabilition, but will halt human rights
    progress in Canada, contravene the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with
    regard to religious discrimination in the public sector, put unfair
    ethical pressure on any pastor in a full-time broadly-scoped prison
    pastoral position, and set an illegal and dangerous precedent of
    state-sponsored faith in Canada.

    I would appreciate a response from the Office of the Prime Minster and the Office of Mr. Toews with regard to my concerns.

    Sincerely,
    Katherine Summerbell
    Ottawa, Canada

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      Great letter! My concern is how we south of the border can get behind this sentiment without looking like the Ugly American.

      • Obsidia

        Yes, if there’s any way those of us in the US can contribute to this cause, please let us know. The letter is very informative, thanks for posting!

      • kenneth

        Don’t worry about it. Canada’s leadership is rapidly becoming the Ugly American!

        • Thriceraven

          True enough. They are rapidly eroding the things I love about my country.

  • http://twitter.com/PhoenixGrove Phoenix Grove

    This is f’ing ridiculous.

  • http://twitter.com/thelettuceman Marc

    Reeling, yes. That’s a good word. This really helps to shatter the image of Canada as some sort of model of rationality and realistic expectations that some of us in the US idealize. What a step backwards.

    • Baruch Dreamstalker

      The step forward one may take from this is to refrain from idealizing actual, physical nations. They are made up of human beings like us.

  • http://thewheeloftheyear.tumblr.com/ MsChievous

    I usually have a smart ass comment but I don’t even know what to say. Vic Towes isn’t exactly a well respected politician and he’s infamous for making bad choices and thumbing his nose in the direction of the constitution.

  • http://www.gopagan.com/ GOPagan

    I hate to say it, but the answer to the question you pose in the last paragraph is probably going to be “who cares, it’s only a handful of criminals?”

    Looking at the numbers (I found some hard numbers from 2005, so they’re a little out of date, but it appears to be the latest data available), the Christians are 63% of the inmate population, the “nones” are 20%, and the remaining 17% are the “Others” including Wiccans, Sikhs, Jews, Muslims, etc. A total of about 3,600 people.

    http://www.csc-scc.gc.ca/text/prgrm/chap/rsa/doc-eng.shtml

    I don’t say it’s right by any stretch of the imagination, but the defense will be that spending all that money for a relatively small number of prisoners is not a good idea in these times of fiscal austerity.

    The one bright spot is that they’re not, as far as I can tell, forbidding volunteer chaplains of other faiths; they’re simply not paying them for their services. So the short-term solution might be to organize an interfaith group to provide those services on a volunteer basis to serve the non-Christian inmates. Personally, I’d get rid of *all* paid chaplains, and have them all be on a volunteer basis, but that’s just me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=508933184 Gearoíd Gós Tiuíte

    This is absolutely ridiculous. I have to say the original story did not surprise me all that much.

    But this is ridiculous enough, and effects enough people (not just us easy to dismiss neo-pagans) that there is no way it will stand. It’s pure Christian Supremacy, it’s inexcusable.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=693252858 Holli S. Emore

    This apparent blatant discrimination is regrettable. Something to keep in mind, however, is that chaplaincy is not religion-specific. A chaplain may be a Christian, but is not a Christian chaplain. Chaplains are trained to minister to people from any and no religion – or at least that’s how it is supposed to work.

    Holli Emore
    Cherry HIll Seminary
    http://www.cherryhillseminary.org

  • Olivia

    As a Pagan Canadian, “reeling” is not the word I would use to describe this. More like “appalled”. For me, this doesn’t even seem like money anymore. I’m shocked that my own country could do this.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I can’t say that I am surprised by this. Disgusted, certainly, but not surprised.

    The obvious thing, to me, is to call for full equality. Either reinstate the minority faith chaplains or get rid of the Christian ones, as well.

  • http://www.gopagan.com/ GOPagan

    Something happen to the comments? There were a bunch of them here not too long ago.

  • http://threeshoutsonahilltop.blogspot.com/ gorm_sionnach

    I find this terribly disturbing, but not terribly surprising. Towes (and by proxy the Conservative party) need some bone to throw at the members of their base who are the religious right. Same sex marriage is here to stay, Harper has shown he is unwilling to reopen the abortion debate, so what else is there to give to that segment?
    Rolling back the “PC excess” of a “frill” like multi-faith prison chaplaincy seems like an obvious choice. It matches triumphalism with “fiscal responsibility”, supports the “crime and punishment” image the party has worked hard to embody, and is likely to do little to sway the swing votes towards the NDP.
    Afterall, people may care about their charter rights, but only a few “bleeding hearts” are going to kick up a fuss about the charter rights of inmates.

    • Thriceraven

      That’s right. This government is savvy enough to only make the changes they think they can get away with, and Harper keeps a fairly tight leash on his MPs so we don’t typically get the ‘legitimate rape’ or ‘47%’ comments from them, even though their personal views and those of their base supporters tend that direction. Instead, they make quiet changes at the corners that they think they can get away with. We depend on our press and the opposition parties of the Parliament to throw up a stink on our behalf, and here letters editor and to the Liberals and NDP can make a huge difference.

  • Strider

    This is really sad. I am curious to see if they will be able to make this work or if the fallout ends up hastening the demise of Christian only Chaplaincy in the Canadian system.

  • http://thewheeloftheyear.tumblr.com/ MsChievous

    Where did all the comments go?

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      They all got thrown into the Spam Filter for some reason. I’ve went and fished them out…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=586268271 Makarios Ofiesh

    The Minister is already receiving some
    serious blowback
    on this, and a Charter challenge is not at all out
    of the question.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=586268271 Makarios Ofiesh

      And more blowback here and here.

      • http://threeshoutsonahilltop.blogspot.com/ gorm_sionnach

        I enjoyed the lauding religious freedom, coupled with the “Wiccans are silly” bit. Nothing quite like backhanded support…

    • Thriceraven

      Indeed thank the gods of civic matters (and the LIberal government of the late 1970s) for our Charter. This government does change its mind sometimes given sufficient blowback from the opposition and the press. Bob Rae of the Liberals and the NDP caucus work hard at it, but with a majority government the Conservatives only choose to listen when the opposition to a proposal really gets going.

  • GodlessPoutine

    I’m an Atheist and I find this offensive. Here’s a post I did on it.

    http://www.mysecretatheistblog.com/2012/10/bothered-by-part-time-wiccan-chaplains.html

    This sort of thing demonstrates this government’s hostility towards all religions but Christianity. I think it also is another piece of proof that their proposed Office of Religious Freedom won’t be of any good to anyone who’s not one of their preferred religions or – for that matter – non-religious or anti-religious.

    Here’s some posts on the Office of Religious Freedom:

    http://www.mysecretatheistblog.com/search/label/oorf

  • Maya White Sparks

    This is the situation in the US . . . christian chaplains are ministering to all faiths. Spiral Grove receives frequent requests from pagan prisoners for sponsorship, pen pals, educational materials, ritual items, etc. Each prison has its own protocol for getting things to prisoners and it is a pain . . . One of our priestesses has volunteered to meet with a pagan circle in a women’s prison, but they have been stalling her and she has not got into the prison after a year of trying. This change in Canada puts the burden on the pagan community, especially pagan clergy, to help voluntarily. If pagans cannot personally help, perhaps they can support their local pagan clergy to do so. But I do hope you can get the wiccan ministers reinstated in the prisons
    . . .

  • http://thewheeloftheyear.tumblr.com/ MsChievous

    I never would have thought something like this could happen here. We need Harper and his cronies out.

    • Krystal H.

      As a Canadian Pagan, I completely agree and would like to state for the record that I’ve never voted Conservative and never will, ever.

  • Gus diZerega

    The sad reality is that any religion claiming to be the only ultimate truth is totalitarian at its core. Christianity can become a force for good in the world today only to the extent it gives up this claim and endorses the values its founder praised. Many individual Christians already have, but it’s doctrinal totalitarianism attracts power lovers to positions of authority and always will. Millions have died as a result. Let us hope no more will.

  • Ace

    Here, incidentally, is the debate on the issue in the House of Commons this Friday.

    http://parl.gc.ca/HousePublications/Publication.aspx?Pub=hansard&Language=E&Mode=1&Parl=41&Ses=1#SOB-7710685

    Mr. Raymond Côté (Beauport—Limoilou, NDP): Mr. Speaker, nothing is sacred when the Conservatives decide to make cuts. Inmates who turn to their religion to help in their rehabilitation process are being told, “Sorry, we only accept Christians.” Rabbis, imams, and granthis are being laid off. Maybe the minister can get rid of aboriginal elders while he is at it. The thing is, this is not a costly program.
    Will the minister reverse his decision to cut religious services for Sikh, Muslim and Jewish inmates?

    Ms. Candice Bergen (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, CPC):

    Mr. Speaker, I reject the premise of that question. Our government strongly supports the freedom of religion for all Canadians. Convicted criminals continue to have reasonable access to any religious counselling or services of their choice on a voluntary basis.
    The government does fund full-time chaplains. In addition to serving members of their own faith, these chaplains also make themselves available on a by request basis to provide spiritual advice to the general population.
    The Canadian Forces have used this type of chaplaincy program for years. If it is good enough for our armed forces, then it is good enough for inmates in our federal penitentiaries.

    Mr. Paul Dewar (Ottawa Centre, NDP): Mr. Speaker, picking and choosing on this subject just will not wash. This is not a costly program. The minister has no justification for cutting it.
    The parliamentary secretary should listen to her colleague who said that “religious freedom is a fundamental freedom, one we are very, very supportive of and feel very strongly about”. That was said by her colleague, the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
    How can the Conservatives be so hypocritical in being strong apparently on religious freedom abroad when they will not support it at home?

    Ms. Candice Bergen (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the member is completely inaccurate. It is sad to hear him say these kinds of mistruths. The government funds full-time chaplains based on the number of inmates requesting services from each faith determined by region.
    As I said, in addition to serving members of their own faith, these chaplains also make themselves available on a by request basis to provide spiritual advice to the general population.
    This is a common practice. The Canadian Forces has used this same chaplaincy program and it has been successful for many years.

    Hon. Irwin Cotler (Mount Royal, Lib.): Mr. Speaker, the government is cancelling the contracts of non-Christian chaplains in federal prisons, thereby requiring inmates of other faiths to turn to Christian chaplains for religious guidance. The minister says he “is not in the business of picking and choosing which religions will be given preferential status”, but by providing funding only for Christian chaplains, he is doing precisely that. Will the minister recognize this contradiction, reinstate funding for chaplains of all faiths, and uphold the values of freedom of conscience and religion, and equality before the law, as enshrined in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms?
    Ms. Candice Bergen (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Public Safety, CPC): Mr. Speaker, the Government of Canada strongly supports freedom of religion for all Canadians. Last month the Minister of Public Safety asked for an immediate review of the chaplaincy program to ensure that taxpayers’ dollars are being used wisely and appropriately. Upon reviewing the program, it was determined that changes were necessary so that this program supports the freedom of religion of inmates while respecting taxpayers’ dollars. Convicted criminals will continue to have access to religious services of their choice on a voluntary basis.

  • Martin Anthony

    I am a volunteer Statewide Chaplain (Wicca) for the Colorado Dept. of Corrections. All of the chaplains in Colorado are volunteers; the state pays no money for pastoral services. I have been volunteering in prisons for 15 years. In that time I have discovered several important things;
    1. If it is a prison or jail anywhere in the US, it has Wiccans and pagans in it. They all need outside support to help practice their faith and to help overcome the discrimination they experience. Most of the Wiccan and pagan inmates did not discover their faith until they had committed their crime and been incarcerated. While looking for tools to make a change in their lives, they found a spiritual path that made sense to them. Many of them have experienced the same “coming home” moment that many of us have experienced.
    2. The presence of Wiccan and pagan volunteers in prisons helps to educate staff and other volunteers about our faiths. It brings a human face to the faith and helps to demystify it, This goes a long way toward changing peoples’ attitudes, and changing a culture of discrimination and bigotry. It often also help the Wiccan and pagan staff come out of the closet to their fellow staff members, and overcome the discrimination that they also experience.
    3. The neo-pagan community also has a strong level of bigotry to overcome, against incarcerated persons. Years ago, when our community found out that my spouse and I were volunteering, the universal response was, “Are you crazy? They’re criminals. They’re in prison. F*ck ‘em.” 75% of inmates are in prison for non-violent, drug related crimes. But no matter what their crime was, no matter if they are getting out some day or not, they are still PEOPLE, with the same hopes, dreams, ambitions, fears, and emotions as any of us. They deserve the same level of dignity and respect as any member of the human race. I can certainly understand if individuals are reluctant to be prison volunteers; not everyone should be. It takes a certain type of hard-nosed pragmatic individual to have the fortitude to volunteer with inmates. If you aren’t personally willing to do it, that’s fine, but at least be supportive of those who are. As a community, we need to do a better job of addressing the spiritual needs of these people.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    John
    3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
    14:6 Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.
    3:36 He that believeth on the
    Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not
    see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

    In essence, the values the founder of Christianity pushed included some pretty dire threats against those who will not follow YHWH.

    Kind of hard for Christianity to give that up and remain even remotely credible.

    • Gus diZerega

      I think you are playing into the hands of the worst of Christians. I’ll give a personal example (this will yake a bit of time, but I think you’ll find it worth it)…

      In a discussion with a conservative Evangelical minister I brought up those passages after mentioning Jesus’ words about the fruits revealing the reality of someone’s faith, and the bloody and hideous record of imperial Christianity. Christianity’s bloody record of vile fruits suggested by Jesus standards it was a false religion. But then Jesus said those things you mention – so believing in Jesus seemed an absolute requirement for salvation. I could see him relax as he found familiar ground.

      Then I pointed out that no one seemed to wonder what Jesus meant by “me” and that this was pretty crucial. For example, in Matthew 25:31-45 Jesus says:

      “When the Son of Man comes . . . he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed . . . for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

      “‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ [And to those he rejects for not acting in this manner]

      “‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ ”

      Jesus is saying (if we want to stick just to the Bible) that he is in every person. EVERY person. Treating a person kindly is treating Jesus kindly, treating a person harshly is treating Jesus harshly, and he was particularly aware of and cared about how the least of people were treated.

      By this account and in Jesus’ terminology, every imperial ‘Christian’ is a goat and every kind person is a sheep…

      The minister paid me the ultimate compliment: “when you started I thought I knew where you were headed- then I found myself flat on the
      floor from a judo blow.”

      My ‘literal’ reading of this passage puts Jesus’s teachings into complete harmony with any decent ethic rather than the cosmic blackmail scheme that so many Christians push.

      Textual interpretation about things of real substance are always matters of judgment whether it be the Bible or the Constitution. Intellectually naïve or dishonest people mistake their judgment with that of the writers as in the case of textual ‘literalists’ regarding the constitution. This gets even worse when they thereby assume they are speaking for God with the prideful ‘spiritual’ bigots of imperial Christianity.

      But as the above shows, decent people with decent ethics can easily find a decent way of being both devoted to Jesus and his teachings, and good neighbors to the rest of us.

      • Obsidia

        Gus, just want to say I agree with you as to the meaning of that quote. That’s what the Sufis meant, too. It comes from a long and poetic tradition.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        It misses the point, though.

        The key verse is 3:36. The implication of that is clear enough.

        Yes, we can see that Jesus favoured action over words (Matt.7:21), but good deed without faith are not enough to ensure ‘salvation’. And, according to Jesus, death without (Christian) ‘salvation’ means you will be subject to the wrath of YHWH.

        In short, the only way to not end up in Hell is to kiss Jesus’ arse.

        Of course, some Christians can overlook this as ‘backward’ and ‘no longer relevant’, but once people start picking and choosing which bits of scripture to follow, I can’t see that there is any way to respect their stance.

        • Gus diZerega

          My point- and all of religious history backs me on this – is that what one person sees as clearly meaning one thing another thinks means something else, because meanings occur in contexts and what counts as sufficient context is always always always a judgment call.

          People have ALWAYS picked and chosen what scripture to follow because scripture does not give an invariant set of directions without contradiction. It doesn’t even get its accounts of the resurrection straight, and the different roles of women in those accounts have led to different evaluations of women by Christian theologians.

          We can be very grateful that no Pagan tradition makes claims to have a sacred text on the level of the monotheists and their claims about their scriptures.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            Some things are clearer than others, however.

            I get that, in some instances, there is conflict within the scripture and that, at those points, a judgement call between the conflicting data is required. But is there a conflict in the example I gave? Is there a point that says that a virtuous ‘pagan’ will avoid hellfire?

            That is the clincher in this particular case.

            I have to say that I am somewhat surprised you didn’t pick up on the fact I have been quoting the KJV. Pretty words, but some of the most obvious politicising of any translation of the Bible.

            Some days I think that a strong scripture would be of benefit to Pagan traditions. If it was without need of interpretation, it could prevent a fair amount of squabbling. Of course, it would more likely do more harm than good. Dogmatism is not a word that is synonymous with positive aspects.

          • Gus diZerega

            Honestly, I have more to do with my time than inspect different translations of a book that does not play much of a role in my life and no longer interests me spiritually except as I might be able to help some believers respect others with different views. My scholarship is oriented elsewhere.

            That said, Jesus spent no time attacking other religions – he attacked the guys who paid all their attention to texts and never to their hearts. And he spoke quite highly of a Centurion, a part of the occupying Roman army who therefore was likely Pagan. Anmd again, in the passage I quoted the evidence is pretty clear a virtuous Pagan will avoid hellfire. You disagree. Fine. End of discussion, because that is just my point.

            I truly am not interested in parsing texts when Christians themselves don’t agree, the Quakers were tolerant of Pagans and now even include some, and other Christians have slaughtered one another for over 1500 years over the thing. So this will be my last response on this issue. I personally thjnk texts get in the way of spirituality.

          • Lēoht Sceadusawol

            I get you not wanting to respond, but I just wanted to say that something you have just said is something I really can respect: the ability to accept disagreement civilly.

    • Obsidia

      “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” Most people misunderstand this saying of Jesus. It is actually a common Sufi saying, and Sufi saints have been martyred for saying the same thing. It was thought blashphemous (!) at the time, however it was connected with the Sufi belief that there is a seed of “All-That-Is” within each of us.

      • Tara

        What does it mean?

        • Obsidia

          It means that the person speaking is identifying with All-That-Is. Read Rumi’s poems and you might find some understanding there, Tara. It’s a long and poetic tradition.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Of course, Jesus was a Jew, not a Muslim mystic.

        • Obsidia

          Sufism actually springs from a more ancient source than Islam, which was founded by Mohammed, born in the year 570 AD. Elements from the Jewish philosophies as well as the Essenes may have been mingled with the Sufi philosophies, as Sufism grew and matured.
          Here’s a page that considers the different views of the origins of Sufism:
          http://www.sufiway.org/history/origins_of_sufism.php