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History, News

Residential schools and the devastation of State-perpetrated family breakup

For the past several months, Canada has been convulsed by the heartbreaking rediscovery of hundreds—and likely thousands—of child graves outside residential schools where Indigenous children were placed (incarcerated is probably a better word) by the Canadian government to “kill the Indian in the child.” The history of residential schools is one of the blackest in Canadian history, and anyone who has read even portions of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s report (I did research on forced abortions in residential schools several years ago) must conclude that this was a systematic crime committed against entire peoples. As Terry Glavin wrote in the National Post:

"Imprisoned in chronically underfunded institutions that were incubation chambers for epidemic diseases, the children died in droves. Enfeebled by homesickness, brutal and sadistic punishments and wholly inadequate nutrition, they died from tuberculosis, pneumonia, the Spanish influenza and measles, among any number of proximate causes. At the Old Sun boarding school in Alberta, there were years when children were dying at 10 times the rate of children in the settler population…

"The TRC report chronicles barbaric punishments, duly recorded by federal bureaucrats and officials with the churches that ran the schools. Students shackled to one another, placed in handcuffs and leg irons, beaten with sticks and chains, sent to solitary confinement cells for days on end — and schools that knowingly hired convicted “child molesters.” Only a few dozen individuals have ever been prosecuted and convicted for the abuse those children endured."

In much of the debate over the nuances of these re-emerging stories, I think an opportunity for appropriate empathy is sometimes lost. Yes, it is true that not all of the children were abused. Yes, it is true that healthcare standards during that time meant that diseases were far more deadly. Yes, some students remain ambivalent about their experiences to this day. But none of this changes the central fact of the matter: Children were forcibly removed by the state from their families for the express purpose of destroying their family bonds and eradicating their language and culture. If they'd come for our kids... I hail from the Dutch diaspora in Canada, and like many immigrant groups in our multicultural patchwork, our communities have remained largely culturally homogenous. Imagine if the Canadian government had decided, at some point, that Dutch-Canadian (or Sikh or Ukrainian or Jewish) culture needed to be destroyed for the good of the children in those communities, who needed to be better assimilated. Then, imagine if the government forcibly removed children as young as three years old from the parental home – state-sanctioned kidnapping. At school, they were deprived of their grandparents, parents, siblings, language, and culture—and told that their homes were bad for them. At the end of the experience, if the children survived disease, abuse, bullying, and loneliness, he or she would have been remade in the image of the state – and community bonds would have been severed and many relationships irrevocably destroyed. The children who died of disease were often buried on school grounds. That means many children were taken by the government – and their families simply never saw them again. Imagine, for just a moment, if that was your family. If you were removed from your family. If your children were removed from you. How might you feel about Canada if her government had, for generations, attempted to destroy everything precious to you? It is a question worth reflecting on. Over the past decade, as religious liberty has been steadily eroded by Western governments, many Christians have wondered, fearfully, whether the authorities will eventually interfere with how they raise their children. Christian parents have been presented as a threat to their own children because of their “hateful” Christian values. When considering the residential schools, Christians should realize that what happened to Indigenous people in Canada is their own worst nightmare. This happened to real children and real families within living memory. Those families have not yet recovered. That devastation cannot be undone – it can only be survived. The intergenerational damage from these state-inflicted wounds ripples forward in time – and social conservatives, of all people, should be able to understand the fallout from family breakup. Except in this case, the families were forcibly broken up, against their will. As a father and member of large families, I cannot fathom the helplessness, despair, and rage that those who saw their family members stolen from them must have felt. Imagine losing your three-year-old son or daughter to the government, with no recourse for getting your child back. Imagine never seeing that child again. Hatred is absolutely never the answer. But I can certainly understand it. Why minimize this crime? If it had been my child stolen from me, who then died from disease years later and was never returned, I can imagine how I would feel if the response from people was: “Well, lots of people died from disease.” Or: “Many of the educators tried their best.” Or: “It wasn’t feasible to send the bodies of the stolen children home.” I can imagine how I would feel if I heard that in response to raw pain and grief at state-perpetrated injustice. I would feel as if people weren’t listening; didn’t care; and were simply, once again, making excuses. There are times when injustice must be faced in the raw, and the intricacies of healthcare in the early part of the last century can be discussed some other time. Over the past several weeks, residential school survivors have come forward anew to detail their experiences. Many of them struggled with substance abuse as a result of what they endured; many of the issues with alcohol and drugs on some Indigenous reserves today stem from the state-perpetrated breakup of their families. It is easy for those looking at reserves from the outside in to criticize without realizing the context for the state of many families, which would likely still be whole if the Canadian government had not intentionally destroyed them. This is not to say that people bear no responsibilities for their actions. It is to say that we should consider how we would think if the government had perpetrated this on our own communities. Christians know how important families are For several generations, social conservative and Christian scholars have been warning that family breakup is at the root of many of our social ills. Largescale family breakup results in crime, risky behavior, substance abuse, mental illness, PTSD, and other traumas and anti-social behavior. Fatherlessness is one of the greatest disadvantages a boy can face. In the case of our society at large, family breakup was largely facilitated by the Sexual Revolution (and in many communities, wealth has cushioned the blow and masked the damage). In Indigenous communities, family breakup was inflicted by the state, and the consequences they have suffered as a result have been devastating. Social conservatives should be able to intuitively understand this. I’ve said many times that I believe the real “privilege” in our society is not primarily racial, as progressives claim – but the blessing of growing up in a two-parent home where a mother and father love their children. This is a tremendous social advantage, and it was denied to generations of Indigenous children by the government, who felt they would be better off without the love and influence of their parents and grandparents. In her recent book Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics, Mary Eberstadt explored how family breakup inhibits the passing down of knowledge and skills from one generation to the next. Again, this is a key part of the puzzle that social conservatives should instinctively recognize. During university, I toured an abandoned residential school in British Columbia with several other students. Our guide was a survivor who told us about the children who had died there and the abuse they had suffered. I remember the cold, damp chill of a dark tunnel in the basement as he told us how he and others had been locked there in the blackness for using their own language. His voice was heavy with pain, and it struck me again that these things are not history – they are still memory. There are thousand of Indigenous Canadians still living with the effects of these government policies, and their anger is well-warranted. We should listen to them and remember once again the horrors that unfold when the government wields power over families for the so-called good of the children.

Jonathon Van Maren is an author and pro-life activist who blogs at TheBridgehead.ca from where this is reprinted with permission. Jonathon was the guest on a recent edition of the Real Talk podcast. Photo is "All Saints Indian Residential School, Cree students at their desks with their teacher in a classroom, Lac La Ronge, March 1945" and is cropped from the original in the Library and Archives Canada collection.

History, Politics

The rise and fall of Canada's most effective opposition MP

It’s hard to conceive of any way that a Christian politician could, in today’s Canada, win a mandate to turn the country in a Christian direction. So if seizing power seems an unreachable goal, is there any other means by which Christians could prove influential in the political sphere? Yes. As Svend Robinson proved, you don’t need to be in government to have enormous influence – you just need to be fearless, dedicated, hardworking, and outspoken. And did we mention fearless? Svend Robinson was by far the most influential opposition Member of Parliament in Canadian history. He was not a force for good, however; Robinson used his influence to push Canada to the Left, especially on social issues. He was the first openly homosexual elected politician in Canada, and also worked to expand abortion rights, and legalize assisted suicide. Robinson’s life and influence are chronicled in Graeme Truelove’s 2013 book Svend Robinson: A Life in Politics. Truelove is an adoring fan including only the occasional bits of criticism, and that from other left-wing critics, like some of Robinson’s NDP colleagues who did not appreciate his brash and publicity-hungry style. Still, Truelove’s book gives us a look at how much can be accomplished by a politician unconcerned with playing it safe. Early life Svend Robinson was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota on March 4, 1952. His parents were both left-wing activists and his father was an English professor. However, according to Truelove, Robinson’s father was also an alcoholic with an anger problem, and had a hard time holding onto a job. As a result, the family moved frequently, mostly within the United States. Then in 1966, in conscientious objection to the Vietnam War, Robinson’s family moved to Burnaby, BC where his father got a position at Simon Fraser University. From an early age Svend Robinson demonstrated that he was intelligent, driven and as Truelove puts it, he had a “monumental capacity for hard work.” In 1972 he won the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) most prestigious award. He was appointed to a BC government commission on post-secondary education in 1974 and subsequently to the UBC Board of Governors in 1975. He was still in his early twenties. For most of his student years at UBC Svend was married to a women, Patricia Fraser. Eventually, however, he gave in to his homosexual urges and his marriage ended. He graduated from UBC with a law degree in 1976 and then spent a year at the prestigious London School of Economics in England. All through this time Svend had been active in numerous left-wing causes and organizations including the New Democratic Party (NDP), as both the president of BC Young New Democrats, and as a member of the Provincial Executive and Federal Council of the NDP. NDP candidate Returning from England, Robinson became the NDP candidate for Burnaby’s federal riding in 1977. Working as a lawyer during the day, he spent much of his free time campaigning for a federal election that wasn’t held until 1979. As a young, first-time candidate, Robinson tried to get support wherever he could. Truelove notes that Robinson: "used his socialist background to personally convince the Burnaby Club of the Communist Party not to run a candidate against him, assuring him a handful of votes that could make the difference in a close race." On May 22, 1979, he won his seat in the federal election and became an NDP MP. His first private member’s bill proposed the complete decriminalization of abortion, which was still partially restricted at that time. Prime Minister Joe Clark’s minority government fell a few months later and a new election was held in 1980. Robinson was re-elected. Pierre Trudeau became Prime Minister again and renewed his drive to change Canada’s constitution. Robinson’s Charter influence One of Trudeau’s main goals was to have a Charter of Rights and Freedoms added to Canada’s constitution. A special parliamentary committee was formed to carefully review the proposed Charter and to reshape it as necessary. Robinson was one of two NDP MPs on this committee. In this role, he had a crucial impact on the shaping of the Charter. Robinson proposed numerous changes, some of which were adopted and some of which weren’t. His influence, however, was substantial. Truelove quotes journalist Michael Valpy as writing that Robinson, “perhaps more than any other opposition MP, has been the architect of the Charter of Rights.” Robinson proposed adding “sexual orientation” to the list of protected categories in the Charter. That was rejected by Justice Minister Jean Chrétien. However, Chrétien said that future courts were free to interpret the Charter as if sexual orientation was protected. That would be up to the courts to decide. Chrétien’s caveat ensured that “future courts would be empowered to take evolving social mores into account and expand the list themselves.” Today, few people remember the central role played by Robinson in the framing of the Charter. However, Truelove correctly notes that: "an examination of Robinson’s contributions to the debate at the time, and of the ways in which the courts have embraced his point of view in the years since repatriation, suggests that his name deserves mention among the movers and shakers who crafted this defining feature of the Canadian legal landscape." Stacking the witness list In 1985 the government of Prime Minister Brian Mulroney established a parliamentary subcommittee to seek public input on the Charter’s equality rights provisions. The committee would travel across the country holding hearings for this purpose. Svend Robinson was appointed to this subcommittee. He immediately began to contact homosexual activists across the country to get them onto the list of presenters to the committee. Truelove writes that this tactic of “stacking the witness list” is common across the political spectrum. Whatever the case, Robinson successfully stacked the list with activists who would argue that homosexual rights should be protected by the Charter. In this way, politically-active homosexuals had a disproportionate influence on the subcommittee. His tactic was very successful and the subcommittee’s report was overwhelmingly favorable to the homosexual rights cause. The Justice Department’s 1986 official response to the subcommittee’s report echoed its commitment to homosexual rights. This was a major success for the gay rights movement in Canada. Friend of Morgentaler Brian Mulroney and the Progressive Conservative Party had come to power in the federal election of 1984. Robinson had been re-elected at that time. Besides his efforts on behalf of homosexual rights, he also pushed hard for the liberalization of Canada’s abortion law, proposing bills to that effect. Furthermore, Truelove writes that Robinson: "worked closely with pro-choice advocate Dr. Henry Morgentaler (one pamphlet circulated by opponents in Burnaby called him Morgentaler’s 'best friend' in Parliament) and accompanied him to the Supreme Court in 1988 as Morgentaler appealed his conviction for performing illegal abortions." The 1988 Morgentaler decision struck down any legal restrictions on abortion in Canada. It came out in January, and the following month Robinson, for the first time, came out publicly as a homosexual. He was the first elected official in Canada to do so. Many people believed that his public “outing” would hurt his political career, but they were wrong. The culture had changed enough that a significant body of opinion supported him. In fact, donations to his NDP riding association poured in from all over Canada, and it raised more money for the 1988 federal election than any other NDP riding association. That would also be the case in subsequent elections. Assisting suicide Besides abortion and homosexuality, Robinson worked hard on behalf of assisted suicide. He supported a woman named Sue Rodriguez who had a debilitating disease and challenged the criminal prohibition on assisted suicide in court. She argued that the prohibition violated her Section 7 Charter right to security of the person. Rodriguez lost in a 5-4 Supreme Court decision in September 1993. The prohibition on assisted suicide was ruled to be constitutional. In spite of the decision, Rodriguez wanted to proceed with an assisted suicide anyway. As Truelove relates, she: "needed someone else to help her end her life when the time came, so she asked Robinson. He felt privileged to be asked, and despite the serious legal risk, he agreed to help." He was the only person with her when she died in 1994 but he was not charged with any crime due to a lack of evidence. He continued to push unsuccessfully for the legalization of assisted suicide. His 1997 parliamentary motion to create a committee to write legislation legalizing physician-assisted suicide was overwhelmingly defeated in the House of Commons. Leadership campaign In 1989 Robinson supported Yukon MP Audrey McLaughlin in her campaign to be the federal NDP leader. She won the leadership but the party lost most of its seats in the 1993 election. She resigned in 1994 and the following year Robinson launched a campaign to become NDP leader. He represented the most extreme left-wing faction of the NDP. Among his early supporters was future NDP leader Jack Layton. A Toronto city councilor at the time, “Layton was put in charge of fundraising, and the Ontario campaign was launched in the living room of the home he and Chow shared.” The leadership convention was held in October 1995. With three candidates for the leadership, Robinson finished first on the initial ballot ahead of second-place Alexa McDonough and third-place Lorne Nystrom. Nystrom intended to have his delegates support McDonough to block Robinson’s path to the leadership. Sensing defeat, Robinson decided to concede to McDonough before the second ballot was held as a way to unite the party. It didn’t work. McDonough and her people thought that Robinson was trying to upstage them by throwing the convention to her. This led to continuing rifts within the party between McDonough and Robinson. And many of Robinson’s supporters were outraged that he conceded defeat after winning the first round of balloting. Spinning a hiking accident On December 31, 1997, Robinson was hiking alone on Galiano Island in BC and fell off an 18-metre cliff. He was severely injured. Concerned he might die alone in the wilderness, thoughts of his Cuban lover, Max Riveron, inspired him to muster all of his strength to try to find help. He was successful and subsequently recuperated in hospital. This was a terrible experience, of course. But Truelove writes that Robinson saw a potential political benefit: "He hoped that he could use the story of his fall to demonstrate that the love between homosexual partners was as real and as powerful as the love between heterosexual partners." Homosexual rights achievements In the early part of the 2000s, same-sex marriage became a major issue in Canada. Unsurprisingly, “Robinson was acknowledged as one of the leaders of the same-sex marriage movement.” However, he was actually more concerned about adding “sexual orientation” to the law against hate propaganda. He introduced his own bill, C-250, in 2002 to accomplish this goal. Despite the fact that it was a private member’s bill, it was passed by the House of Commons in September 2003 and by the Senate in April 2004. According to Truelove, “Today he keeps a framed copy of the bill hanging over his desk at home.” Becoming a thief After years of highly effective political work, Robinson’s career came crashing down when he stole an expensive piece of jewelry. The spring of 2004 was a very significant time for Robinson. On March 20 a special event was held in Vancouver to celebrate his 25 years in Parliament. The speaker for the occasion was the world-famous left-wing American intellectual Noam Chomsky. The 2,500 attendees gave Robinson a standing ovation. This was the height of his career. However, three weeks later, on April 9, Robinson stole a ring valued at $21,500 from a jewelry auction in Vancouver. He just took the ring, put it in his pocket and went home. Subsequently, he was overcome with guilt and turned himself in, apologizing profusely for his crime. The fallout ended his political career. As Truelove relates: "If the Office of the Attorney-General had announced it was satisfied with Svend’s apology, and that he wouldn’t be charged, he might have run again. But no such announcement came, and he was left in limbo" A federal election was imminent and Robinson had to let someone else run in his place. Eventually he was charged. Interestingly, Truelove implies that the government was pushed into charging Robinson by a conservative organization: In mid-June an Alberta-based lobby group, run by publisher and former Reform Party activist Link Byfield, ran an ad in The Province which read, ‘Two months ago MP Svend Robinson was caught stealing. Will he be charged with theft?’ With one week to go in the election campaign, Svend was charged. Why did he do it? In the wake of this scandal Robinson was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. His supporters explained the theft as being a result of his anguished mental state, or the stress he experienced from encountering virulent homophobia. Strangely, despite being an ardent atheist, Robinson himself explained his criminal behavior in a rather Christian way. When asked about the theft by Truelove, Robinson replied: "In all of us there’s, you know, there’s bad and good. Maybe this was bad. Maybe I just, you know – temptation overcame me. I don’t know." Robinson tried to make a political comeback by running for the NDP in Vancouver Centre in the 2006 federal election. He was soundly defeated by the sitting Liberal MP. Subsequently, Robinson and Max (who got “married” in 2007) moved to Switzerland where Robinson works as the senior advisor for parliamentary relations at the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. Conclusion Truelove is correct in writing that Robinson was “more effective than perhaps any other opposition MP of his generation.” His hard work and determination led to numerous accomplishments in pushing Canada to the Left. Robinson was a “superhero for left-wing activists.” Robinson’s success and influence in Canada are unmistakable. However, it’s interesting to note how Robinson’s career crashed and burned immediately after he reached the pinnacle of success. His 25-year parliamentary anniversary, with adoring crowds and celebrity endorsements, was soon followed by a criminal act that ruined his career and severely tarnished his legacy. Perhaps the end of his career can be compared to that of a political leader mentioned in the Bible who was also at the height of power when “he was brought down from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him” (Daniel 5:20, ESV). But there is a more important point to consider. What made Robinson so effective? And what can we learn from his approach? He succeeded because of his commitment to his principles. Make no mistake - Robinson is a godless man, but most certainly a principled one. And what his career demonstrates is that a clear commitment to principles, and a determination to advance those principles, can be an effective political strategy. He would not stop talking about the issues that mattered to him. His outspokenness meant he could never have become prime minister but it also meant that while others politicians were too careful, too tactical, or simply too cowardly too speak out, Robinson was being heard. A principled politician may not be able to rise to the highest positions of power, but what Robinson shows us is that such a politician can still be an influential player who makes a distinctive contribution to the direction of the country. We would do well to imitate his fearless, principled, outspoken approach....

History

Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms was always meant to be revolutionary

Many Christians are puzzled by the decline of religious freedom in our country. Time after time, in conflicts involving homosexuals or abortion rights activists, Christians seem to lose. For example, we’ve seen people who voice opposition to special status for gays being harassed by "human rights" commissions. And recently we’ve also seen university pro-life groups being prohibited or severely restricted. Why aren't Christians’ religious freedom or freedom of expression protected in these cases? After all, the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees both of these freedoms — religion and free expression. So when Christians lose out, it's because our Charter freedoms are being ignored, right? Well, maybe not. What if the Charter was adopted as part of a strategy to fundamentally change Canada? What if the framers of the Charter saw the historically Christian basis of Canada as an obstacle to be removed? If this were the case, then favoritism towards the opponents of Christian views would be a natural consequence. Not a conspiracy theory Now, at first glance that might sound like a conspiracy theory or something — a secret cabal plotting to shift Canada's historic foundation. But by definition a conspiracy occurs in secret, and this was never a secret. Some of the Charter's early proponents supported it because they wanted to make significant changes to Canada, and they said so openly. It wasn't secret, so it wasn't a conspiracy. Until 1982 Canadians had enjoyed considerable rights and freedoms under the traditional British system of common law. Certain rights and liberties were recognized by the courts despite their lack of explicit mention in the constitution. This British method was strongly influenced by a Christian worldview because Britain had been an explicitly Christian nation for hundreds of years. (Queen Elizabeth, for example, swore in her 1953 coronation oath to “maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law.”) Thus to reject this system was to reject the special place that Christianity had in undergirding Canadians’ historic rights and freedoms. With Christianity’s privileged position gone, the Christian perspective just became one among many views, and one that was clearly out-of-favor with Canada’s elites. A sudden secular shift Most people who supported the entrenchment of the Charter in the early 1980s simply thought that human rights should receive constitutional protection, and the Charter was a way of doing that. There's nothing sinister about this idea since it makes perfect sense. Don't you want your rights constitutionally protected? Of course, we all do. That's why the Charter was widely popular at the time of its drafting, and it's probably even more popular now. Christians commonly cite the Charter in defending their own positions. But what most people didn’t understand was that the worldview underlying the Charter was an alien thing. The changes that have been wrought in Canadian society as a result of court decisions (and political decisions) based on the Charter are the natural consequence of that document. Conservatives like to blame judicial activism for these changes but that's not fair to the judges. The judges are basing their decisions on the intent of the Charter. Now, they do so happily, because they support the Charter’s secular humanist worldview, but they are truly following its original intent rather than making it up as they go. After the Charter was adopted in 1982, the provincial and federal governments had to immediately review all of their legislation to bring it into conformity with the Charter. Before any judicial decisions were made on the basis of the Charter, a major change in Canadian law began to occur to prepare for its effect. “A revolution in Canadian society” When testifying to a parliamentary committee in 1985, federal Justice Minister John Crosbie made it perfectly clear that the adoption of the Charter was no ordinary kind of change — Canada was being fundamentally altered, and Canadians didn't yet know what was about to hit them: “The public does not realize that we already have had a revolution in Canadian society. The adoption of a charter was a revolution. It has changed the whole power structure of Canadian society.” As the head of the Department of Justice, Crosbie knew better than anyone the wholesale legal change that was about to engulf Canada. This was before any court decisions had been made, so it is clear that the judges are not to blame. They are only implementing the agenda given to them by the Charter itself. Fundamental change was always the point Of course, Crosbie isn't the only one to realize the revolutionary character of the Charter. Various left-wing activists and academics celebrate the Charter's overturning of the Old Canada. University of Toronto law professor Lorraine Weinrib is one such academic. In her 2003 article entitled “The Canadian Charter’s Transformative Aspirations,” she summarizes the matter this way: “The Charter’s purpose and desired effect, from the point of view of those who supported it was to transform the Canadian constitutional order in fundamental ways, not to codify existing constitutional values and institutional roles.” The Charter was not adopted to protect the rights and freedoms that Canadians enjoyed up to 1982, but rather to make Canada into a different kind of country — “transform the Canadian constitutional order in fundamental ways” — as she puts it. Weinrib describes the Charter as being part of a “remedial agenda.” That agenda includes the expectation that: “...through extensive institutional transformation the Charter would impose a new normative framework upon legislators, the executive and the administration, as well as the judiciary.” That may look like a bunch of egghead gibberish, but the main point is the imposition of “a new normative framework.” The “norms” of Canadian society would henceforth be different from before. New is not always improved In this view, Canada was an awful place before 1982. Weinrib says that “the Charter took Canada away from a repudiated history that had failed to respect liberty, equality and fairness.” But now people like Weinrib are freely remaking Canada into a wonderful new country, using the Charter to uproot the oppressive, crypto-fascist state that existed before 1982. That’s how they see it, anyway. The truth is, however, that before 1982 Canada was one of the freest and fairest countries in the history of the world. Few other nations had records that could rightly be compared to Canada’s humane achievements. Millions of people came here to escape the problems of their homelands. But in order to complete the Charter’s revolution, Canadian history must be rewritten into a narrative of oppression. This will help shore up support for the Charter while its “remedial agenda” is enacted throughout society. So if you're wondering why religious freedom and freedom of expression for Christians seem to be shrinking in Canada, consider how the country has changed since 1982. If you think your Charter rights are being denied, think again. The Charter is accomplishing just what it was set out to do — make Canada into a different kind of country. And it's not a coincidence that Christianity is being left behind. The adoption of the Charter in 1982 represented a deep philosophical change in the nature of our country. Originally published in the January 2011 issue under the title "Charting a path to tyranny? Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms was always meant to be revolutionary."...

History

Ulrich Zwingli: Reformer in the shadows?

In 1983 churches all over the world commemorated the 500th anniversary of the birth of Martin Luther. Ulrich Zwingli should have gotten the same sort of celebration a year later, when his own 500th birthday came and went on January 1, 1484. But Zwingli (1484-1531) has had to stand somewhat "in the shadows" of such giants as Luther and Calvin. But Zwingli's person, work, and life merit some more attention than he has received through the years. The call to "remember your leaders" (Hebrews 13:7) extends also to this man and the work he was enabled to do by the Lord. Early life Ulrich Zwingli was born into a relatively prosperous family living in the mountainous region of Wildhaus, Switzerland, as one of many children. Already at a very young age he left home, first to learn from an uncle, Bartholomew Zwingli, who was priest in the town of Wiesen. When he was ten years old, Zwingli proceeded to the grammar schools in Basel and Bern. Fearing that, because of his beautiful singing voice, Zwingli would be inducted into monastery life, his parents sent him on to Vienna, where he studied (natural) science and literature. Here in Vienna, Zwingli was drenched in the humanistic philosophy of his time. In 1506 Zwingli returned to Basel where he was promoted to magister artium (Master of Arts). After a brief training in (mostly scholastic) theology, Zwingli was ordained as priest in the village of Glarus. At this time Zwingli is a typical priest: well educated but humanistically oriented in his thinking. Taking a pacifistic turn Zwingli's period of service in Glarus is significant in many ways. It is here that he begins to study both Christian and secular classics, and becomes attracted to the works of Erasmus, the Dutch humanist. Here, also, Zwingli displays some of the patriotism for which he will become legendary. Although he twice accompanies Swiss infantry in battle for the Pope against the French, Zwingli begins to discourage young Swiss men from becoming mercenaries in foreign service. He expresses these sentiments strongly in an Aesop-like morality tale, The Fable of the Ox. Having experienced the ugly, mass slaughter of the battlefield, Zwingli turned to a more pacifistic philosophy. In 1516, Zwingli left Glarus and took up ministry in Einsiedeln. Here Zwingli further refined his emerging pacifistic views. During this time he considered all service in foreign armies a curse, although he maintained that it is one's patriotic duty to defend one's homeland. While in Einsiedeln, Zwingli met Erasmus and discovered Erasmus' edition of the Greek New Testament. As he proceeded to study this edition, Zwingli began to distance himself more and more from Erasmus' humanistic views and from the prevailing allegorical interpretation of Scripture. He began to study the Word of God in its own light and began to understand that Scripture require a literal interpretation. He realized that the scholastic and philosophical approach to the Bible and theology must be rejected. It is during this same time that Zwingli made a serious study of the works of Augustine and came to condemn the worship of relics and the adoration of saints. This growing resistance gradually deepened into a carefully-worded warning against the worship of Mary, and into a ridiculing of the indulgences. Ministry in Zurich In 1519 Zwingli was installed in Zurich, and it is in this city that he clearly made himself known as a prophetic reformer of great influence. It became evident that Zwingli wanted to let the Scriptures speak for themselves, and that he understood traditions and precepts of men that are made binding for the church are to be rejected. The sola Scriptura of the Reformation began to take powerful form in his ministry! Zwingli supported those who rejected the Romanist laws of fasting. He spoke out against celibacy and himself married a widow of class, Anna Reinhart, a marriage which became officially known two years later, in 1524. That same year Zwingli broke with the Church of Rome by declaring that he can no longer accept the Pope as the "head of the church," instead accusing the Pope of abusing worldly power. Christ is declared as the only Head of the church and His Word as its only guide. Spurred on by Zwingli's preaching, the city council of Zurich refused to give in to the objections of the Bishop of Constanz, but it did agree to conduct a public disputation. The first of these disputations — not unknown in the days of the Reformation — took place in January 1523 between Zwingli and the influential Romanist prelate, Johann Faber. The result was a smashing victory for the Reformation, for at its conclusion the city council of Zurich decrees that from then on nothing may be preached which is not in full accord with the gospel. Growing divisions Many Swiss cities, such as Basel and Bern, took the side of the Reformation in Zurich and, in 1528, formed a Christian federation. However, the Roman Catholic cantons were also organized against the influence of Zwingli and Zurich. This situation ultimately led to battle and bloodshed. On October 11, 1531, in a battle near Kappel, Zwingli was killed along with 400 other citizens of Zurich. After having declared him to be a heretic, a hastily formed court lets his body be quartered and burned. Zwingli paid the price in blood; at age 47, his earthly course suddenly came to an end. While the rift between the Romanist and Reformed factions in Switzerland was inevitable, there also emerged other, perhaps not so expected, divisions. In the years before Zwingli's death, there were radicals in Zurich who felt that Zwingli was not going far enough in his reforms. These radicals, such as Konrad Grebel and Felix Mantz, began to reject all civil authority. The Anabaptist movement was born and it causes so much dissension and confusion that the city council of Zurich arrested its leaders. One of these, Felix Mantz, is executed by drowning in 1527, and the Anabaptist movement then also had a martyr. All this was a source of great sorrow for Zwingli; many of the Anabaptist leaders were former associates and close friends. Of greater significance, perhaps, was the growing division between Zwingli and Luther. In 1529, in a meeting in Marburg, Luther and Zwingli discussed at length the matter of the Lord's Supper but could not come to agreement. Luther's theory of consubstantiation is too far from Zwingli's symbolic interpretation. Although both agree that Christ is present in bread and wine, they cannot agree as to the manner. Luther and Zwingli depart bitterly from each other and become estranged. This controversy, of course, greatly damaged the cause of the Reformation. Since it furthered Zwingli's isolation, it also contributed to his death. Conclusion It is not easy to estimate the significance of the work of a person such as Zwingli. Because of his own development and changing insights, Zwingli's significance cannot be caught in an easy formula. In liberal circles, Zwingli is hailed as the reformer who was a true humanist, a worthy forerunner of contemporary radical and political theologians. His humanistic background and patriotic zeal, perhaps, cause him to recede somewhat to the background in Reformed appreciation. We generally turn to Calvin for advice. Yet it cannot be denied that Zwingli's basic convictions and personal endeavors are true to the spirit of the Great Reformation. Zwingli wanted nothing else than to live by the Scriptures alone and to let the Scriptures explain themselves under the illumination of the Holy Spirit and not under the tradition of the church. For Zwingli it was without doubt that it is not the church with its sacramental administration that governs the flow of grace, but that men are reconciled to God only by the death of His Son. He clearly rejected the "cursed idolatry" of the mass and its excesses in the worship of saints and relics, proclaiming that our salvation lies only in the sacrifice of Christ, once offered on the cross. Zwingli did not tire in defending the just cause of the Reformation over against the Anabaptists, remaining firm with respect to the Scriptural doctrine of infant baptism. Although in many ways a disciple of Erasmus, he refuted the teaching of the master that the will of man is free. Man cannot save himself, Zwingli emphasized time and again, but must have true knowledge of God and sin, knowledge learned only from the Word of God. Man has no saving knowledge in himself! It is clear, then, that in these key issues there is a direct line from Ulrich Zwingli to John Calvin. In the turbulent era of the Reformation, Zwingli maintained the Scriptures over against the prevailing humanism and emerging radicalism of his time. In this respect he is still an example for the church, some five hundred years later. It would be good if in this commemorative year his works were rediscovered and studied anew. Since we are faced in our time with similar extremes, humanism and radicalism, we can learn from Zwingli's struggle. Zwingli definitely does not belong in the shadows between Luther and Calvin. Rev. Clarence Stam (1948-2016) was the editor of Reformed Perspective for eight years, from 1985-1993, and was a contributor for many more. This is an edited version of an article that first appeared in the June, 1984 edition....

History

Karl Marx: preaching a different gospel

To mark the 100th anniversary this month, of the Communist Revolution in Russia, we're sharing Piet Jongeling's brief biography of Karl Marx, first published 34 years ago.  **** Karl Marx was both an economist and a politician, but in fact he was much more than that. He was the founder of a new atheistic political religion, the prophet of a new world-to-come in which righteousness would dwell. Man in his own strength would bring this about. Marx proclaimed the coming of a new messiah, the proletariat, which through suffering and struggling would eventually bring salvation to the world. His message has had great influence, not only before his death, but especially after it. At present one third of the world's population lives under a political and economical system that can be called "Marxist" . This indication as "Marxist" is valid, even though there may be many differences between Marx's theoretical concepts and the practical application which the communist countries have made of them. Life story Karl Marx was born on May 2, 1818, at Trier, Germany. He descended from a long lineage of rabbis. His father was the first to break with that tradition. Instead of becoming a rabbi, he studied law and he broke with the Jewish religion. His mother was Dutch. When young Karl was six years old, he was baptized together with the other members of the family. That baptism, being a social affair, had little religious significance. It served only as evidence that the Marx family belonged to those modern Jews who favored assimilation and who desired to eradicate their cultural and religious heritage. Baptism functioned as a ticket of admission to European civilization. That could — as it did in this case — coexist with atheism in practical life. Marx Junior was uncommonly intelligent. He studied law and the history of philosophy in Bonn and in Berlin, and he received his Ph.D. degree in 1841 at Jena. After he was awarded his doctorate, Karl Marx became a journalist. Soon it became apparent that he espoused some very radical social and economic ideals. His paper, accused of inciting rebellion, was closed up. Karl Marx married a woman from an outstanding German family. Shortly after his wedding he fled to Paris. There he studied the history of the French Revolution. He got to know the French laborers in their often bitter poverty and in their just as bitter revolutionary zeal. Sometimes he lived in poverty himself, so as to gain deeper insight into, and firsthand experience in, the painful inequality and the depth of the social injustice of those days. When France also expelled him a few times, he fled back to one of the German states (the federal German state was not in existence yet). In 1849 he departed for London, where he remained living and working until his death in 1883. Turn socialism into a system Marx perceived very clearly that the society of his days was distinctively a class society, in which the working class was badly abused. He even invented a new name for this class: "the proletariat," people who have no possessions except their "proles" – that is, their children. It was Marx's intention to come to the aid of this oppressed bottom layer of society. He believed that socialism was the solution. But the socialism of his days was more of a golden pipe dream of the future than a usable doctrine and practice based on a principled structure. The road towards the ideal state had not been charted in a system that was methodically and logically acceptable. This bothered the intellectual in Marx. Rejecting this socialist romanticism as "Utopian Socialism," he developed a well-thought-out system himself in which he delivered the "proof" that the prevailing economic system, which he gave the name "Capitalism," was itself instrumental in unleashing the powers that would inevitably bring about the downfall of Capitalism and the victory of a new and superior system: Communism. The Communist Manifesto and Das Capital In 1847 Karl Marx and his German friend and spiritual brother, Friedrich Engels, drafted the Communist Manifesto. Published in 1848, it contained three main points: 1. Communism is a historically determined direction of society, a development which will unstoppably continue and whose eventual victory cannot be held back by anything. 2. The road toward that victory is marked by the class struggle, which, after an ocean of misery, shall lead to the great showdown. Capital and the means of production will accumulate in the hands of ever fewer owners. The proletariat shall encompass ever greater numbers, suffer more and more poverty, and so be better prepared and determined for the great battle. Eventually the proletariat will rob the last of the supercapitalists of their possessions. After the great expropriation for the benefit of all, the conflicts between the classes will disappear. 3. The proletariat must be well-organized in national and international societies, accept proper leadership, discipline, and order, and be able to act as one man. The Communist Manifesto thereby condemns the revolutionary movement of the anarchists which had a much greater individualistic character and would not accept a strict organization, a systematic approach to the problems, or subjection to a leadership. The Communist Manifesto was probably written mainly by Friedrich Engels, the son of a rich merchant and manufacturer. Marx and Engels were both gifted students of Hegel, the German philosopher. The two worked together for many years, and during this partnership, Karl Marx became more and more prominent. When the year 1848 did not bring the expected and hoped for breakthrough of Communism, Marx went back to elaborate on the thoughts developed in the Communist Manifesto. He attempted to place the Manifesto on a scientific footing in his trilogy Das Capital. The first volume came out in 1867. The second and third volumes were published after his death by Engels, in 1885 and 1894. Communism in theory and practice Now, this column is not the place for a detailed analysis of the Marxist political dogmas so a few broad outlines will have to suffice. Karl Marx has attempted to construct his study in a scientific manner and to base his conclusions on irrefutable evidence. This impressed a great number of people. The evidence that the communist victory was inevitable was backed up by a mathematical formula! Nothing and nobody could avert that triumph. Later thinkers have undermined this foundation of scientific irrefutability. They pointed at errors in the line of theoretic reasoning. But history has done greater damage to the system than the critics. Many of Karl Marx's predictions never came true. 1. The Soviet Union has had sixty-five years of experience with its "new" system. But although Karl Marx predicted that after a short transition period the state would wither away, the reality was that anywhere Communism took power, the state became stronger, harder, mightier, and more brutal: an all-oppressive dictatorship! Communism is nothing short of state Capitalism! 2. During this transition period, mentioned above, the dictatorship of the proletariat would have to be established to do its task of destroying the capitalist structures, until, after the last remnants of Capitalism had been eradicated, it itself would disappear. But in reality it was a dictatorship not of the proletariat but over the proletariat. And that dictatorship did not disappear. It is bent on self perpetuation. 3. Also in the countries where free enterprise prevailed (called Capitalism by Marx), things went clearly different from what Mr. Marx had predicted. In the previous century, during Marx's lifetime, there were admittedly very serious dark sides to the free enterprise system. However, social laws, social actions, and mutual consultation have brought about great improvements. That does not mean that the world has become a paradise. Sin keeps doing its work. There is much social injustice even now; violations are committed by employers and employees alike. But looking back at the past we must admit: the improvements are enormous. The material welfare of those whom Marx called "the laboring classes" is much greater than in the previous century. The "proletarians" are no longer the dispossessed. The wealth of the working people in the capitalistic West is considerably greater than is the case in the communistic East. And, more importantly, the Western people enjoy a relative freedom, while the Communist system of servitude takes away spiritual freedom, oppresses the church and church members, and places callous atheism high on the throne. A different gospel What the Red Revolution delivered was the opposite of what it promised. It is terror instead of freedom, serfdom under masters instead of equality, brutal force instead of brotherhood, and above all, the dread of the secret police. How could Karl Marx's doctrine then be so successful? It must be admitted that Marxism achieved great victories. One third of the world's population today lives under a political and social-economic system that is named after Marx. The reason is that Marx came to the world with a new gospel! It was the doctrine of self-redemption which he dressed in the shining apparel of scientific certainty. Marx, the man of Jewish descent, may have broken with the religion of Israel, but he was very well versed in it. His rich and impressive writing style betrayed the influence of the Old Testament. In his writings he has the grand manners of the prophet who proclaims to the people the glad tidings of forthcoming deliverance. The Jews had refused to apply Isaiah's prophecy of the suffering servant of God to Jesus Christ, the Savior. The rabbis applied this prophecy to the suffering people of Israel itself, so that its nation, through suffering, would gain deliverance for itself and so also for the world that surrounded its people. Israel was its own messiah! Marx adopted this model in a secularized format. For him the messiah is the proletariat. Through struggles and sufferings the proletariat shall redeem itself and the world and so bring into the world the eternal "peaceable kingdom." This alternate gospel with its false-religious message, with its inversion of Christendom, has cast its spell on many millions of people. It was not an unstoppable historic determinism that brought the victory to Communism. It was not an automatic, inevitable course of world events that led to the Red welfare state. Wherever Communism gained control it was always a power grab by a minority which used the confusion of wartime or national unrest to its own advantage. And once in power, it could only stay that way by keeping its weapons trained on the oppressed people. Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, East Germany — there are many examples to illustrate this fact. Marx's style of writing is eschatological. He prophecies of a new earth, created and cleansed by man. From that time on, the history of mankind will find rest, because the final destination, the eternal wellbeing of mankind, has been reached. It was that prophetic zeal that attracted so many. Conclusion But how different was the reality! Sixty-five years have passed since the Red Revolution, and still the shining final destiny is far out of reach. This image of the glorious future is a fata morgana – an illusory reflection that recedes as one approaches it and finally dissolves into thin air. According to eyewitnesses, one finds very few genuinely committed communists in the East Bloc countries — percentage-wise, certainly far less than in the Western nations. There is little more than an outward conformation to save one's hide. Open protests will only pave the way to concentration camps, prisons, or, more recently, psychiatric institutions. The Red Bloc, with the Soviet Union as its core, has grown into a superpower, which, armed to the teeth, has become a constant threat to world peace. It is to be hoped that those people who are still free may find the fortitude to oppose that threat. The continuing de-Christianization has robbed the Western nations of their spiritual strength in the face of Marxism, or, at least, has seriously impaired it. If Marx could witness the reality of today, he would very likely be appalled by the manner in which his prophecies of the glorious future have been fulfilled in the drab present. But the negative forces which he has helped to unleash are continuing to have their impact, even now, a hundred years after his death. Piet Jongeling (1909-1985)  was a politician, journalist, and children's fiction author, and it is in this latter role that he might be best known to our readership, though under his pen name, Piet Prins. This article first appeared in the May 1983 edition....