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[VIDEO] Learn About World Religions Via Free Screencasts

June 27th, 2014 No comments
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I was delighted to come across philosophy and religious studies professor, Dale Tuggy’s Youtube account. As a religion blogger and scholar, I often find it difficult to locate quality and informative videos that are free from theological/philosophical biases to share with my flock.  It’s a somewhat arduous task, but thankfully Dr. Tuggy has just made it a whole lot easier.  Here, you can learn about the five major world religions (Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism).  You can also learn about various theories of religion put forth by such scholars as Freud, Durkheim, Weber, and Marx.

There are 90 videos to choose from, ranging from just a few minutes long to over 15 minutes – meaning you can complete a ‘lecture’ in about the time it takes to make a cup of tea.  Don’t let the duration of these lectures deceive you – they are packed full of useful information which Tuggy presents in an ‘easy-listening’ voice.

Soar on over and subscribe to Dr. Tuggy’s YouTube channel or start watching now:

World Religions (Screencast lectures by Dr. Dale Tuggy)

M. xo

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How a Christian and an Atheist Shaped the First Moon Walk

March 31st, 2014 No comments
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I couldn’t resist blogging about this interesting bit of trivia when I accidentally stumbled upon it this morning.  Despite being too young to have been able to actually experience the excitement of human’s first walk on the moon in 1969, I’ve seen the grainy footage an untold number of times.  If you happen to be one of the few in the industrialised world who hasn’t, well, here’s your chance.

Seriously, don’t let the lack of high definition video dissuade you.  This video is EPIC!

Most of us can recite Neil Armstrong’s word’s by heart, “One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind,” but what many of us may not be aware of, are the actions of co-astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, just prior to stepping onto the surface of the moon.

In this article, originally published in 1970 by Guideposts, Aldrin describes how he performed the Christian rite of Communion on the Moon.  This clip from the 1998 HBO miniseries, From the Earth to the Moon re-imagines the circumstances.

So, why were Aldrin’s actions kept secretive for so long?  Well, it turns out that on Christmas Eve the previous year, astronauts of Apollo 8 (the first to orbit the moon) sent greetings back to Earth, and included readings from The Book of Genesis.  This ignited lawsuit threats by the founder of American Atheists, Madalyn Murray O’Hare.  Subsequently, NASA officials refused to live broadcast the Communion rite.

Years later, Aldrin discussed in his memoirthat despite the ritual being of personal significance to himself, he should have chosen something more representative of all mankind humankind.

Watch the Apollo 8 crew read from the Book of Genesis, Christmas Eve, 1968

 

M. xo

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Nature-Connectedness: The Greening of Behaviour, Well-Being and Christian Imperatives: Part 3

February 24th, 2014 No comments
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Read Part One and Two

Getting Back to Nature – A Christian Imperative

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion … over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth” (Genesis 1:26)

“And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31)

In perhaps one of the most significant articles in religion and ecology discourse, Lynn White Jr. (1967) in his article, The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis, discussed the impact of Westernized Christian tradition on the proliferation of the misuse of science and technology that ultimately led to perpetuating a polarity between humankind and nature. Acknowledging that people remarkably and often unintentionally impact the natural world (p. 1203), he suggested that a historical overview of the advent of the ecological crisis was warranted. White discussed the rise of Western industrialization, leading to modern science and technology as harbingers of doom for nature (p. 1204). In a critical examination, White admonished the Western Christian tradition for spreading ideological narratives from the Biblical account of the story of Creation that called for a fundamental reign of humankind over nature (p. 1205-1206). He suggested that solutions to the ecological crisis should be one of a religious nature because its origins were based in religion. Further due to the influence of the Christian tradition on science and technology, he believed that further remedies of this nature could not aid in a resolution because they were ultimately based on religious ideology (p. 1206-1207), therefore a religious response could be the only proper course of action.

White’s arguments provide a sound base for what roles, if any, religion and science should impart in the continued efforts toward ecological salvation. Clearly, this argument lays the blame squarely at the foot of the Western Christian tradition and as such has incited much response from the community. Responses have ranged from outright denial to acknowledgment of partial culpability; however, there appears to be a growing trend of redefining the terms and understanding of dominion or stewardship as suggested in the Genesis account. Indicative of this sentiment have been many messages and appeals from leaders of the Roman Catholic Church, particularly Pope John Paul II.

 

Christian Perspectives

In a 1990 address celebrating World Day of Peace, Pope John Paul II discussed an emerging adversary to world peace – the present day ecological crisis (Message of His Holiness, Intro., par. 1). Pointing to the same passages in the book of Genesis that White used in his argument, in which Adam and Eve were granted dominion over the Earth (Gen 1:28), he expanded the interpretation to suggest that dominion was granted on condition that it was carried out with love and care. He further suggested that it is through sinful acts of rebellion against the Creator’s instructions that have led to the present day environmental devastation (Sec. I, par. 2).

The Pope’s message also discussed the negative impacts of consumerism, irresponsible use of science and technology, a complacent disregard for life, and the lack of education encompassing an environmental ethic. These, he theorized, are all factors that have contributed to ecological devastation affecting every life on the planet. The solution he put forth called for a united world of peoples who step into their place as proper stewards of creation (Sec. II – Sec.V).

His Holiness also exalted the benefits of the human-nature relationship, “[o]ur very contact with nature has a deep restorative power; contemplation of its magnificence imparts peace and serenity” (Sec. IV, par. 8). In closing his address, Pope John Paul II alluded to a kinship with nature by urging people to keep, “[…] alive a sense of ‘fraternity’ with all those good and beautiful things which Almighty God has created,” (Sec. V, par. 5).

Clearly, one of this generation’s most influential leaders of the Christian tradition felt a deep urgency over the state of matters concerning the environment. In addition, he appears to have intuitively connected with notions of the beneficial effect of nature on not only one’s physical well-being, but also one’s spiritual well-being. His ecotheological contemplations lay forth a path in which Christians can breathe new life into the Biblical account of Creation, including a new standard of humankind’s call to stewardship of the earth.

Renowned ecotheologian and Catholic priest, Thomas Berry, has written much on the subject of the relationship between humans and nature. He suggested that, “[w]e have indeed become strange beings so completely are we at odds with the planet that brought us into being” (Meadow Across the Creek, 2000, par. 9). Discussing the upbringing of children in industrialized nations, he posited that a learned alienation from nature imparts indifference concerning the effects of future economic aspirations that exploit the environment (par. 9).

One response Berry (2003) offered to reconnect humankind with the earth was to usher in an age which he dubbed ecozoic. In this new era, Berry believed that people will and must come to appreciate not only the intrinsic value of all life forms (pg. 569), but also their role as a supreme manifestation and celebratory agent of the universe (pg. 565). Endowed with the ability of self-awareness and heightened intelligence, humankind is tasked with responsibility of stewardship (p. 565) in such a way that honours the symbiosis of all species and the earth itself (pg. 568).

Berry’s reflections suggest a deep spiritual connection and rational understanding about people in relation to the environment. He discussed the inharmonious consequences of human actions on the balance of nature and how this reflected a tragic implementation of the gifts and burdens of intelligence and self-awareness (p. 565-567). Despite the culpability of people on the present state of the natural environment, he acknowledged that future pursuits must still maintain the interests of humans, but also maintain the health of the planet (p. 566-567). Through initiating responsible ecological and economical governance Berry suggested, “[…] that the well-being of each [is] fulfilled in the well-being of the whole” (p. 570). It is in recognizing that the “[…] universe is a communion of subjects, not a collection of objects,” (p. 570) that the greater potential of humankind may be actualized.

Berry’s profound spiritual reflections show a remarkable integration of the views of his traditional faith, but also those stemming from an understanding of a universal consciousness. It is through the integration of multi-faceted frameworks of spirituality and scientific practice that a new era of environmental ethic can arise to influence humanity in shifting their current relationship with the earth.

 

Toward an Integrated Environmental Ethic

The aforementioned research and philosophical discourse highlights a need for an integrated framework to be adopted in order to appropriately respond to the environmental crisis. Lynn White Jr. made the argument that the most adequate responses must be ones rooted in religion; however, scientific knowledge must also be included in the solution. Religion may offer a motivation toward ecological salvation, but science can assuredly offer important tools and methods that will be invaluable toward implementing responses and measuring successes thereafter.

Science and religion have historically been polarized in such discussions; however, both can provide immense benefits. As has been demonstrated, theologians and ecological thinkers often begin by asking important questions that should, and must, be investigated with the rigor of the scientific discipline. One of humanity’s greatest assets is the ability to ponder profound existential issues, and then follow through with logical methods of inquiry. How then, can humankind use these powerful forces to advance a responsible ecological age, while still advancing the human potential in all its pursuits?

Throughout this paper the concept of interdependency has been explored in relation to people and nature. This same concept can be examined in the context of this issue between religion and science, both of which are inherently human concepts of viewing the world. Striving to integrate these concepts can only serve to benefit broadening humanity’s understanding of these important issues.

As noted, much of the research undertaken has stemmed from ecospiritual ideas. These thinkers expressed concern for the alienation of humans from a fundamental part of their being – nature. Clearly, the scientific community has become more interested in these ideas as evidenced from the growing body of research concerning people and the environment. Similarly, science is both validating these claims through a methodological approach and providing important tools in which to understand the causal links between people and nature. Thomas Berry (2003) advocated this integral framework where science, technology and religions forge a new ecozoic era and universe story.

Religion and ecology literature is replete with discussions on whether anthropocentrism or biocentrism is the problem and/or solution to the unfolding crisis. The examination in this paper suggests that anthropocentrism and biocentrism may not be mutually exclusive ideas in the search for an appropriate response. The research indicates that humans receive enormous benefits from being connected or having a kinship with nature. Human needs and interests are fulfilled when the needs of the environment are also fulfilled. This speaks for an anthropocentric ideal in which human behaviour and utilization of the planet’s resources are based on what is in the best interest of humanity.

Interestingly, this adapted anthropocentric notion may also have elements of biocentrism. Human interests are fulfilled through having a deep interest in maintaining a healthy environment and forging a deep connection to nature. Additionally, as the aforementioned research suggests, pro-environmental behaviour may also increase identification with the environment, thus resulting in a greater appreciation for the inherent worth of the environment. This would suggest that claims of anthropocentrism, argued to be inherent in religious traditions such as Christianity, would not necessarily negate an appropriate response to the environment.

Similarly, the concept of stewardship in the Christian ideology can be integrated into a robust environmental ethic. Historically, there may be evidence to suggest that the dominion argument had precedence over stewardship in humanity’s relations to nature; however, religious traditions evolve and adapt in accordance with the acquisition of knowledge and shifting societal ethics. Clearly, as evidenced by the messages from Pope John Paul II and Thomas Berry presented in this paper, a shift in ideological territory is taking place. Christians are heralding a renewed response to their relationship with the environment; perhaps in part due to the growing scientific evidence that highlights humanity’s culpability in the destruction of God’s Creation and in addition to empirical inquiries into the value of nature for people. Reinterpretation of Biblical passages allows for the integration of this knowledge into an appropriate and decidedly Christian response. Part of this response may include the atonement for past sins perpetrated on God’s Creation. Additionally, Christians can seek guidance and a new ethic based on revisiting their sacred text for renewed revelation.

In light of the research and philosophical discourse above, stewardship can provide a bridge for which Christians may develop a deeper connection to nature. If the research holds true, a deeper kinship with the environment will result in an increase in positive actions toward the environment which ultimately will fulfill God’s mandate to care for the land He created. Befittingly, these actions and connections will likely increase the well-being of the Christian community which could be interpreted as divine reward for fulfilling divine providence.

Essentially, science and religion are working in parallel toward the same prospect. One institution doing so based on divine mandates and influenced by modern knowledge; the other based on contemporary methodologies and influenced by spiritual reflections. Clearly, this suggests that cooperative efforts toward ecological sustainability are already underway. The future challenge will be maintaining this synergy, while valuing the insights each paradigm can offer toward the effort.

M. xo

References

Bible, The King James or Authorized Version of the Holy Bible.

Berry, T.  (2000). The Meadow Across the Creek.  In The Great Work.  Retrieved from http://www.thomasberry.org/Essays/MeadowAcrossCreek.html.

Berry, T. (2003). The universe story: its religious significance. In R.S. Gottlieb (Ed.), Liberating faith: religious voices for justice, peace, and ecological wisdom (565-572). Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield.

John Paul II.  Message of His Holiness Pope John Paul II for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace. 1 Jan. 1990. Retrieved from http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/messages/peace/documents/hf_jp-ii_mes_19891208_xxiii-world-day-for-peace_en.html.

White Jr., L. (1967). The historical roots of our ecologic crisis. Science, 155 (3767), 1203-1207.

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Nature-Connectedness: The Greening of Behaviour, Well-Being and Christian Imperatives: Part 2

February 18th, 2014 No comments
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Missed Part One?  Read it here.

Translating the Nature-Connectedness Hypothesis into Theoretical Frameworks

The groundwork of any psychological research involves the study of various facets of human nature and behaviour. There are numerous branches of psychology that focus on specific frames of reference to focus investigations, such as social, physiological, forensic, personality, etc. The emerging sub-discipline of ecopsychology (also related to environmental psychology and conservation psychology), “[…] proceeds from the assumption that at its deepest level the psyche remains sympathetically bonded to the Earth that mothered us into existence” (Roszak, 1995, p. 5). Clearly, this focus of empirical research sounds remarkably similar to the aforementioned hypothetical musings of Wilson, Naess, Louv and Jung. Although these ideas are not new, scientific inquiry is a refreshing course of action that may provide stronger evidence for the validity of these philosophical claims.

It is important to point out that while psychological inquiry does make use of scientific empirical techniques that the essence of this study is inherently speculative (p. 14). The mysterious nature of the mind makes even the soundest theory difficult to prove conclusively. Additionally, no two people are exactly alike; therefore, psychology can most often speak in terms of generalities and correlations. Despite the seemingly inconclusive quality of this research, it is still extremely valuable in assisting to understand the motivations and behaviours of people. This can be a powerful tool in influencing policies and actions of social institutions.

 

Toward Environmental Well-Being

Some research inquiries assist to further understand human motivation toward positive environmental action. P. Wesley Schultz (2000) conducted research on the role of empathy with nature on concern for the environment. Drawing on previous research that suggested that an individual’s value system could determine the extent of environmental concern, Schultz constructed a research design to measure three factors of value-based environmental concern.

The first, egoistic concerns, suggested that people will have greater concern for environmental issues that affect them personally. Altruistic concerns proposed that concern is derived from the degree to which environmental crises affects others, including individuals, communities, nations, and/or humankind. The last concern, biospheric, assumed that interest in the environment is propelled by a deep value for all living organisms (p. 392).

Schulz did not believe that these concerns worked independently; however, he suggested that the degree to which an individual felt interdependency with self, others or all living organisms could propose motivating foundations with regard to environmental concern (p. 393-394). Further, he posited that individuals could have differing motivations for their concern about the same issue (p. 392). For instance, individuals protesting the destruction of a local forest may be engaged in the environmental cause because the forest represents a personal place of leisure (egoistic). It could also provide important community recreational and aesthetic attributes (altruistic), and it may also be a place of great bio-diversity worthy of protecting for its own sake (biospheric). Egoistic and altruistic concerns may be easier to activate as they appear to direct concern toward more localized and personal areas of interest, while biospheric concerns could propel wider reaching implications of global concern, such as issues surrounding carbon emissions.

Drawing on past research on inducing empathy to increase helping behaviour, Schultz assigned two groups of participants into either an objective condition or perspective-taking condition. Participants were shown a series of images depicting people engaged in outdoor recreational activities, animals in nature, and animals being harmed in the natural environment. Following, participants completed a questionnaire designed to measure environmental attitudes and the three proposed value-based factors (p. 398-399). The results indicated that when shown images of animals being harmed, biospheric concerns were activated in the perspective-taking condition significantly higher than those in the objective condition (p. 400), suggesting that empathy toward nature seems to increase concern for it, thus potentially highlighting an important element in which to engage individuals in environmental issues. The link between connecting to nature and pro-environmental behaviour will be discussed further in subsequent sections.

In his discussion, Schultz pointed out that more psychological research is needed to understand motivations and behaviours with regard to people and the environment, especially in light of the growing ecological crisis facing the world. He acknowledged that much of the research is disjointed – drawing from models within the field of social psychology – and that there has yet to be a comprehensive and organized theory to understand ecological behaviours (p. 401). He suggested, “[…] that any activity that reduces an individual’s perceived separation between self and nature will lead to an increase in that individual’s biospheric concern” (p. 403).

As Schultz aptly demonstrates, psychology is making strides toward narrowing the gap between philosophical ideas concerning nature-relatedness and the scientific understanding of this phenomenon.

A 2004 paper documented investigative research, influenced by the work of famed ecologist Aldo Leopold. Using the Connectedness to Nature Scale (CNS), the research sought to test Leopold’s assumptions that people need to feel a kinship with nature in order to respond to environmental crises as if their own welfare was at stake (Mayer & Frantz, p. 504-505). In addition, parts of this study were designed to test Wilson’s biophilia hypothesis using established measures of previously conducted social psychological inquiry derived from theories of the need to belong to groups (p. 509). The results of this work demonstrated that the CNS is a reliable and valid measure that supports Leopold’s postulations.

Overall, the researchers concluded that people do need to feel connected to nature in order to protect it; however, the researchers also noted that a cause-effect relationship cannot be cited because of issues of bi-directionality (p. 512). In essence, does a deep affiliation with nature lead to environmental behaviour or does environmental behaviour lead to a deeper affiliation with nature? These are important elements for future research to investigate in order to provide even more robust theories that can be adopted by social institutions seeking to integrate methodological frameworks into responsible environmental directives.

The authors also noted that some people can and do engage in self-destructive behaviour, either consciously or subconsciously, and therefore increasing connection to nature may have little impact on positive environmental behaviour (p. 512). For example, this insight demonstrates that knowledge, such as the negative environmental impact of burning fossil fuels, may be difficult to manifest into positive change, particularly due to cognitive processes that override the integration of this logic. Immediate gratification and short-term benefits may supersede the long-term gains derived from an ecologically superior course of action. For instance using public transit may be more environmentally friendly; however, using one’s own vehicle may provide greater comfort and decreased travel time. Clearly, individuals’ actions toward the environment are mitigated by numerous factors, suggesting further research is warranted.

Research published in 2011 in the Journal of Environmental Psychology examined how commitment could impact environmental behaviours. The authors postulated that dedication to nature could lead to pro-environmental behaviour (Davis, Le & Coy, p. 257). Drawing from work on interdependency theory and other such commitment models, the research sought to draw conclusions on the relation of an individual’s dedication to the environment and one’s willingness to sacrifice to sustain it.

Overall, the study demonstrated that commitment to the environment does lead to positive environmental behaviour, especially when instances of experience in nature are fulfilling. Additionally, individuals’ sense of purposefulness in their actions toward the environment also tended to increase commitment and positive ecological behaviour. The authors cautioned that results are correlational only; suggesting that one cannot ascertain whether commitment affects behaviour or behaviour affects commitment (p. 263). Of positive note in this study, is the attempt to bring together fragmented frameworks of inquiry into a combined analysis.

 

Toward Individual Well-Being

The aforementioned studies demonstrate just a small sample of the robust investigations being conducted into the motivations of human behaviour toward ecological well-being. If, as has been put forth, there is an interdependent relationship between people and nature, what can this research reveal about the influences on individual well-being when engaged in ecologically positive practices?

Paul Stevens (2010), in an article published in Perspectives in Public Health, presented a comprehensive overview of research in the area of individual well-being resulting from interaction with the natural environment. He documented research that demonstrated most individuals display a preference for natural environments, which are posited to produce relaxation, focus, and emotional engagement. Additionally, ecotherapy models have advocated that feeling disconnected from the environment could result in various maladaptive psychological symptoms such as anxiety and depression, which is mitigated through increased contact with the natural world (p. 267). This appears intuitive when considering that people often recharge their bodies and minds through breaks from the hectic technological world by getting back to nature through hiking, camping, or exotic vacations on tropical beaches. People seem to instinctively know that nature has a restorative quality that nourishes the body and soul.

Perhaps more intriguing is research indicating a decrease in biological ageing with subsequent increases in the availability of green space in areas where people live (p. 268). Clearly, there is a causal connection; however, it’s difficult to ascertain the cause-effect relationship. Perhaps, individuals who have more natural settings nearby are likely to get out and enjoy those spaces more frequently – resulting in increased exercise, a healthier body and a healthier mind.

Stevens concluded his overview by stating, “[e]nvironmentalism has never just been about the loss of habitats and other species becoming extinct – it is fundamentally linked to all aspects of who we are, individually and collectively. Well-being requires a healthy environment, local and global, to ‘be well’ in” (p. 268).

Shifting ecological arguments from focusing solely on other species and future generations, to the present state of human well-being, may induce social institutions to radically alter paradigms. Acknowledging the importance of a healthy environment for a healthy individual may increase environmental protection regulations, similar to other health regulations surrounding tobacco and alcohol control or food safety. There’s legislation designed to mitigate psychological and emotional harm to an individual in the form of various anti-discrimination laws and guarantees of certain rights and freedoms; therefore it’s not difficult to imagine legislation that lessens harm to individuals resulting from lack of access to a clean and healthy environment. It appears that as a collective the global community sees the various facets of well-being as important to foster and protect; therefore, protecting the environment which provides so many benefits for humans appears intrinsic to these pursuits.

Specific research undertaken at Carleton University has focused on the correlation between happiness and nature-relatedness. This research utilized the Nature-Relatedness Scale (NR) to measure identification with nature, as coined by Arne Naess and discussed previously in this paper. Thought to be an enduring and stable aspect of an individual, NR reflects differences in the degree of connectedness to the natural environment (Nisbet, Zelenski & Murphy, 2011, p. 304).

The results of three studies conducted demonstrated a positive association between NR and various facets of well-being (including positive affect, purposefulness, and personal growth). Additionally, the research suggested that NR could help mitigate negative emotions and mood or affective conditions. Further, it was shown that students enrolled in environmental courses tended to show higher states of well-being versus students not enrolled in these courses, even when highly stressful academic demands were included (p. 316). This investigation showed that these results were similar regardless of age or occupation of the participants (p. 317), suggesting that they could be generalized to the larger population.

Similar to previous research discussed, there are notable limitations that should be highlighted. This study showed a correlational link between NR and well-being. Additionally, concerns of the complexity of what role NR may play in not only well-being, but pro-environmental engagement were cited (p. 318). Despite these limitations, this research provides strong support for the psychological benefits of humans relating to the natural environment.

The aforementioned ecopsychological pursuits demonstrate that there is an important link between people and nature that certainly requires continued investigation. A failure to advance this inquiry would seemingly result in the loss of opportunity to increase the well-being of not only the earth, but also its various inhabitants – including humankind. It appears intuitive that this research should and must continue, and that influential social institutions must support and even adapt these ideas into a framework that assuredly can only benefit their communities.

One of these institutions, particularly influential in the Western hemisphere, should take interest in this research as a means in which to engage in dialogue and effect a new environmental age of awareness. Religious institutions heralding a Christian perspective will find these insights not only offer adaptive methods to shepherd an age of environmental integrity, but will also offer devotees a path to greater well-being. In addition, a greater spiritual fulfillment may be sought through penance of historical actions that have been suggested as the root cause of the alienation of humankind from nature which may have led to the present day ecological crisis.

***Read Nature-Connectedness, Part 3***

M. xo

References

Davis, J. L., Le, B., & Coy, A. E. (2011). Building a model of commitment to the natural environment to predict ecological behaviour and willingness to sacrifice. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 31, 257-265.

Mayer, F. S. & Frantz, C. M. (2004). The connectedness to nature scale: a measure of individuals’ feeling in community with nature. Journal of Environmental Psychology, 24, 503-515.

Nisbet, E. K., Zelenski, J. M. & Murphy, S. A. (2011). Happiness is in our nature: Exploring nature relatedness as a contributor to subjective well-being. Journal of Happiness Studies, 12, 303-322.

Roszak, T. (1995). Where psyche meets gaia.  In T. Roszak, M.E. Gomes & A.D. Kanner (Eds.), Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, healing the mind (pp. 1-17). San Francisco, CA: Sierra Club Books.

Schultz, P.W. (2000). Empathizing with nature: the effects of perspective taking on concern for environmental issues. Journal of Social Issues, 56 (3), 391-406.

Stevens, P. (2010). Embedment in the environment: a new paradigm for well-being? Perspectives in Public Health, 130 (6), 265-269.

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Nature-Connectedness: The Greening of Behaviour, Well-Being and Christian Imperatives: Part 1

February 17th, 2014 No comments
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A subset of psychology called ecopsychology is developing intriguing research based on theories concerning nature-connectedness and how this affects overall well-being and environmental behaviours. Inspired from the philosophical work of enlightened ecological thinkers, the coalescing of these powerful ideas with empirical investigative techniques has introduced new theories in which to shift conventional knowledge about the interdependent relationship between humankind and nature. As research continues and more empirical data is gathered, social and political institutions will find this growing body of work calls for a fundamental shift in policies and patterns of belief in order to respond to the growing discontent of peoples with the destruction of the natural environment.

As concerns grow about humanity’s impact on the natural environment it will be imperative for institutions, such as religious traditions, to seek out ways in which to change the destructive behaviours of those they guide and to usher in a new era of environmental sustainability that reflects mutual well-being for people and the biosphere.

As a key institution in the Western world that influences public policies and opinions, it is necessary for the Christian tradition to integrate this dynamic body of research into a more robust worldview. Two arguments that appear repeatedly throughout ecospirituality literature demonstrate the ideological tensions inherent in the discourse of both historical and present day response from the Christian perspective.

The first follows the argument originally put forth by Lynn White, Jr., suggesting that Western Christian traditions bear the brunt of the responsibility for the devastation to the environment resulting from the subservient role of nature to man as recounted in the Creation story (White, 1967). Ironically, other arguments point to the same Creation story for divine mandates on humankind’s responsibility toward ecological sustainability, whereby man is called upon as shepherd or steward of the earth (Hathaway, 2000).

Regardless of whether White’s arguments hold merit, this should not dissuade the tradition from seeking ways in which to address the environmental crisis. In fact, if White’s thesis is to be believed, it would suggest that Christians can embark on a new era of atonement for the wrongs inflicted upon one of God’s most sacred creations – the earth. The validity of their response will be bolstered by turning toward empirical research, such as that emerging from the field of ecopsychology, for modern tools in which to engage their congregants. Faith-goers may find that reconnecting with nature not only increases their well-being and positive environmental behaviour, but may also fulfill a higher spiritual mandate.

The Historical Development of the Nature-Connectedness Inquiry

Famed biologist Edward O. Wilson coined the term biophilia to describe the, “[…] innately emotional affiliation of human beings to other living organisms” (1996, p. 165). Wilson pointed to a variety of curious human behaviours, in addition to our shared evolutionary history, as support for the biophilia hypothesis. He suggested that the proliferation of both dreams and symbols involving a decidedly nature-oriented quality could demonstrate a connection between human beings and the natural environment. Through examining the representation of animals and natural phenomenon in various myths, rituals, and symbols, Wilson conceived of an embedded genetic code of biocultural origin to further validate the biophilic proposition. He also pointed to the preference of children and adults for activities that involved contact with natural elements, such as trips to the zoo, and an inclination for people to desire living near water or park-like settings (p. 165-177).

Wilson is one of many scholars who hold strong convictions regarding a human-nature bond. Others have conceived ideas on how the strength or weakness of this bond could impact environmental attitudes and behaviours.

In a 1973 paper, Arne Naess introduced the notion of deep ecology which he differentiated from shallow ecology, where the former expressed nature as being intrinsically valuable rather than the latter as valuable as a resource for human beings (p. 83). He suggested that identification with the natural environment and other species could spur a deep ecological attitude that would manifest itself as internalizing the interests of the environment as one’s own interests (p. 86). He further postulated that this identification process did not require the ability of the subject of interest to reciprocate, suggesting that humans could identify with mountains, trees, and oceans (p. 87).

Additionally, Naess did not overlook the possibility of tensions arising from conflicts of interest embedded within the identification process, such as a traditional hunting tribe having deep affinities for the animals being hunted. He suggested alienation could be remedied through the process of ritualization and ceremony, thus re-establishing identification (pg. 87). Other ecological thinkers have postulated, in somewhat bleak detail, how the modern technological landscape is rapidly disconnecting us from this potentially innate identification with nature.

In his best-selling book, Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv (2005) coined the term nature-deficit disorder to describe the phenomenon of children growing up in the technological age as being disengaged with the natural environment. He suggested that the resulting disconnect from nature was inhibiting human vitality through stunting the physical, psychological and spiritual health of children. In his follow-up book entitled, The Nature Principle, Louv (2011) expanded his nature-deficit hypothesis to discuss the diminished overall well-being of adults navigating a hard-wired world.

Louv argued that the future of environmentalism must include reconnecting with nature in addition to sustainable practices and policies. Without re-establishing this nature bond, humans are subjugating themselves to a future of decreased well-being and a failure to realize the full human potential (2011, p. 4-6). Through a series of interviews, summaries of research and personal accounts, Louv makes a strong case for the nature-deficit hypothesis – suggesting that researchers should consider investigating the validity of the phenomenon.

Louv, a writer, demonstrates how artists and other creative thinkers facilitate bringing these ideas to the attention of scientists and researchers. Additionally, innovative hypotheses are consumed more readily by the masses through artistic endeavours that can connect with the emotionality inherent in the human spirit; while science tends to alienate the lay person with its hard facts, figures and constraining methods. This shouldn’t imply that some great scientific minds haven’t popularized some of these concepts, such as Wilson mentioned previously, and C.G. Jung to follow.

Renowned psychologist, Carl Gustav Jung had much to say about the effects of modern technology and Western religious ideology on the connection between nature and the human psyche. He lamented Western technological and consumer-driven societies, pointing to the growing lack of focus, purpose and meaning in the lives of children and adults alike – particularly directed to what he called city-dwellers. Jung decried the paradoxical quality of modern technological time-saving devices that filled time such that one was left without any (2002, p. 138-139), resulting in a detachment from the self and the world.

In a collection of published letters, Jung recounts a story that succinctly sums up some of his ideas on the effects of technology on the soul:

“I would mention the story of a native [African] who had been invited to be driven in a car. After half an hour he asked the people to stop. He stepped out and stretched himself on the ground. They asked him whether he was sick, and he said, “no,” he felt alright, but he had just to wait for his soul that had remained behind, as they went too fast for it” (p. 140).

Many of Jung’s writings clearly display a deep belief in a transcendental quality in nature. He reflected on how the natural environment seemed to personify God better than humankind (p. 28) and pointedly called “[n]atural life the nourishing soil of the soul” (p. 67).
Despite being a well-known psychiatrist, the field of psychology has only recently begun to delve into robust empirical work on the effects of nature-connectedness on the human psyche.

***Read Nature-Connectedness, Part 2 here***

M. xo

References

Hathaway, M. (2000).  Overcoming paralysis, healing the earth: ecospirituality and empowerment. In J. Mihevc (Ed.), Sacred earth, sacred community:  jubilee, ecology & aboriginal peoples (163-171).  Toronto: Canadian Ecumenical Jubilee Initiative.

Jung, C.G. (2002). The earth has a soul: C.G. Jung on nature, technology & modern life. M. Sabini, (Ed.). Berkeley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Louv, R. (2005). Last child in the woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder.  Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Louv, R. (2011).  The nature principle: Human restoration and the end of nature-deficit disorder.  Chapell Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

Naess, A. (1997). Identification as a source of deep ecological attitudes. In E. Soifer (Ed.), Ethical issues: perspectives for Canadians, 2ed (83-93). Peterborough: Broadview Press Ltd.

White Jr., L. (1967). The historical roots of our ecologic crisis. Science, 155 (3767), 1203-1207.

Wilson, E.O. (1996).  In search of nature.  Washington, DC: Island Press.

 

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Creationism in Canada: Part 4

July 9th, 2013 4 comments
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Read part one, two, and three.

Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools, Today

It becomes clear in reviewing some of Canada’s provincial and territorial curriculum guidelines that the issue of origin of life is far from settled.  Perhaps, most relevant is the fact that many curriculum outcomes begin by acknowledging that students and parents may have questions or oppose the scientific theories being put forth.  Some jurisdictions appear to concisely outline how these concerns should be addressed, while others leave much room for interpretation.  To date, however, British Columbia is the only jurisdiction to have an explicit policy banning creationist instruction.

On the topic of evolution, change, and diversity, the New Brunswick Ministry of Education’s curriculum guide states (bolding maintained):

“By the consideration of questions generated by students and teachers and the discussion of issues raised, various learning and assessment activities will meet specific curriculum outcomes within this section. The main focus of this unit falls within the realm of scientific inquiry and observation as it transposes from a historical to modern perspective on the scientific thought and techniques related to evolution, change and diversity.” (New Brunswick Department of Education, 2008, p. 13)

While the stated focus of the curriculum suggests that only scientific theories be considered, the verbiage does not explicitly omit theories that some Christian associations have claimed as scientific, such as those coming from Intelligent Design (ID) proponents.

In Ontario, the science curriculum is quite dense in terms of policies, procedures, and components.  One interesting section discusses “Antidiscrimination Education and Science.”  In it, the Ministry discusses “cultural sensitivities” regarding participation in various science classroom activities:

“There may be cultural sensitivities for some students in areas such as the use of biological specimens. For example, a number of religions have prohibitions regarding pigs. Although it is impossible to anticipate every contingency, teachers should be open to adjusting their instruction, if feasible, when concerns are brought to their attention.” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2008, p. 39)

The implications of this clause appear to leave room for the possibility of creation-science instruction, or at the very least, the forgoing of evolutionary instruction due to religious beliefs.  The latter is indeed the crux of many arguments for evolution education advocates who charge that Canadian students are simply not learning about evolution because teachers wish to avoid the controversy (Laidlaw, 2007).

Newfoundland and Labrador’s curriculum guideline merely provides suggestions for teachers as to how they should approach science studies (author added italics):

“Students should be aware that the topic of evolution is based on many different theories. Like all theories, there is no evidence that completely eliminates doubt. Since many of the topics relating to Earth origins, life origins, evolution, etc., may be addressed from various points of view, it is the suggested intent of this biology course to outline the topics from the scientific process approach. Teachers should be aware that many topics in biology, (and in medical research), especially evolution, may be appraised along the lines of personal value judgements, ethical assessments and religious beliefs. It should be emphasized that the purpose of learning about all views is so that the student can intellectually question each and make educated decisions about what s/he believes.” (Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Education, 2004, p. 118)

The italicized portions appear to carry the same essence as the original Origin of Life policy enacted by the Abbotsford School District.  While the above stated policy certainly doesn’t advocate equal time for creationist instruction, it does appear to permit such discussion and exploration.

For the most part, Canada’s education system seems to relegate evolution to upper year elective biology courses.  This means that the vast numbers of public high school students are graduating without ever learning about Darwin’s evolutionary theories.  Quebec is the only province to mandate elementary school teaching of evolutionary concepts (Halfnight, 2008).  Perhaps then, the critics are right.  Canada appears to draw less divisive lines between creationist and evolution instruction as is the case in the United States.

It’s important to this discussion to also point out that I’ve only surveyed the Canadian public school system.  There are many private schools across the country, most of them with strong religious ties and some of whom receive generous taxpayer subsidies, that are not necessarily bound by the same policies as those of the public system.  Similarly, across the country there are thousands of homeschooled children who are not necessarily restricted to provincial/territorial curricula.

In 2007, a group of Quebec Mennonites moved their families to a small town in Ontario.  They did so because the Quebec Ministry of Education had mandated that their small private school must adhere to the provincial curriculum, which included instruction on Darwin’s theory of evolution (Alphonso, 2007; Bergen, 2007).  As one reporter covering the story pointed out, “In Ontario, private schools are essentially seen as private businesses.  Schools […] don’t have to follow the provincial curriculum, and principals and teachers are not necessarily certified by the Ontario College of Teachers” (Alphonso, 2007, para. 5).

The Big Valley Creation Science Museum, which opened in Alberta in 2007, helps provide resources for homeschooled children whose parents want them to learn a Biblically-inspired account of the origin of life.  In a CBC televised news report covering the opening of the museum, Mrs. G. Gee was interviewed about her interest in creation-science.  Alberta’s provincial curriculum requires that evolutionary theory is taught as fact, which contravenes her family’s beliefs.  As such, The Big Valley Creation Museum allows her the opportunity “to teach her children her truth” (as quoted in Dunn, 2007).

It appears then, that creation-science is afforded a platform in education systems in various jurisdictions – albeit one not overtly supported by public institutions.  In particular, various government bodies seem to avoid taking a hard stance on the issue.  Evidence for this claim also comes from a McGill University evolution researcher who was denied funding in 2006 to examine the occurrence of creation-science instruction in Canada’s schools (Halfnight, 2008; Laidlaw, 2007).  The Social Science and Humanities Research Council, the federal body that rejected the proposal, stated that there was not “adequate justification for the assumption in the proposal that the theory of evolution, and not intelligent design, was correct,” (as cited in Halfnight, 2008, p. 1).  Thus, creationism seems to be an issue that some government institutions would rather not bring into the public consciousness.  The refusal to fund such investigations speaks volumes to this being a hot-button topic best avoided. 

Concluding Remarks

Given Canada’s placid nature when confronted with controversial issues, it is not surprising that creation-science has been met with apathy.  Most disconcerting is that so many high school students are entering post-secondary institutions with either no knowledge or very limited knowledge of Darwin’s theory of evolution.  This is particularly worrisome for those students choosing undergraduate work in biological sciences.

It is doubtful that Canada will ever reach the polemical stratosphere of this debate that is seen in the United States.  While Canada and the United States do share a border, there are distinct differences that typify these two countries.  Canadians do not seem particularly prone to taking a hard stance on controversial issues.  Indeed, Canada seems more open to a variety of influences.  This may be why the country is often lauded for its cultural mosaic.  This seemingly more tolerant nature could then allow for a variety of viewpoints to be permitted in public settings, including those that may stem from religiously-motivated ones.  Examining the Abbotsford School District creation-science controversy seems to support the notion that Canadians don’t rally as a united front on issues that create controversy.  Rather, the tendency is for more localized protests by small grass-roots organizations.  Perhaps, then, this is why the creationist controversy in British Columbia received scant nation-wide media attention.

In addition, many jurisdictions in Canada offer parents the choice to provide their children with a science education that more appropriately aligns with their religious beliefs – despite the unscientific nature of those beliefs.  Private schools and homeschooling options are readily available across the nation.  In these settings, education is shaped by families and private organizations that clearly have an agenda – one which is most often rooted in religious ideology.  By allowing private institutions and individuals to shape education, Canada’s public institutions are still able to maintain secularity, while also affording its citizens certain rights and freedoms.  This seems to be the Canadian way.

The main crux of this issue though, is one in which Canada may be poorly represented on a global stage in the future.  If young Canadians are not keeping adequate pace with advancements in scientific theories that are widely accepted by the community, then they will invariably not be accepted as legitimate and relevant contributors to that community.  This may mean the loss of research and other scientific pursuits that can benefit not only Canadians, but also the wider global community.  Further, given the multitude of religious views in the world, it seems wise to avoid a particular theological brand of origin of life theory.  This is poignantly relevant for a country, such as Canada, that prides itself on cultural diversity.

Thus, Canadians should not passively allow religious ideology to inappropriately shape institutions and realms of which religion cannot adequately resolve.  Science classrooms should not be relegated to the domain of theology.  By ensuring that citizens are given appropriate opportunities to study the sciences, as they are generally accepted by scientific communities around the world, Canadians will be poised to continue to make great contributions to the industry.  In parallel, by also allowing citizens to continue to pursue sacred knowledge – outside the context of science classrooms – Canada will also be poised to continue as a country that values diversity and freedom of religion.  Admittedly, this is a fine balancing act.  Indeed, it is one that will continue to require refinement, particularly as the scientific paradigm evolves and concepts of religiosity change.  Silence concerning such issues is not an option.  Canadians, as a whole, need to be more actively engaged with the education of its youth and the future prospects Canada’s public school system will afford them on the global stage.

M. xo

Suggested viewings & readings:

References

Alphonso, C. (2007, September 4). Quebec Mennonites moving to Ontario for faith-based teaching. The Globe and Mail. Retrieved from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/quebec-mennonites-moving-to-ontario-for-faith-based-teaching/article1081765/

Bergen, R. (2007, September 1). Education laws prompt Mennonites to pack bags; Quebec residents move to Ontario so kids can be taught creationism. Times – Colonist. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/348191325?accountid=9894

Dunn, C. (2007, June 5) A Canadian home for creationism. CBC News. [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V8hL2Vw1klI

Halfnight, D. (2008, September). Where’s Darwin? The United Church Observer. Retrieved from http://www.ucobserver.org/ethics/2008/09/wheres_darwin/

Laidlaw, S. (2007, April 2). Creationism debate continues to evolve. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from http://www.thestar.com/life/2007/04/02/creationism_debate_continues_to_evolve.html

New Brunswick Department of Education. (2008). Daily Teaching Guide Biology 122/121 [Curriculum Guide]. Retrieved from http://www.gnb.ca/0000/publications/curric/Biology122-121.pdf

Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Education. (2004). Biology 3201 Curriculum Guide. Retrieved from http://www.ed.gov.nl.ca/edu/k12/curriculum/guides/science/bio3201/outcomes.pdf

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2008). The Ontario Curriculum Grades 11 and 12 Science. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/curriculum/secondary/2009science11_12.pdf

 

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Creationism in Canada: Part 3

July 8th, 2013 2 comments
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Read part one and two.

Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools, 1990s

In 1992, letters were circulated to Canadian school boards from Creation Science Association of Canada (CSAC) director, Robert Grieve, requesting that presentations be allowed in classrooms from creation science associations.  It was brought to the attention of the media that CSAC had been making routine presentations in Abbotsford schools for a number of years (Barker, 2004).  Several British Columbia news outlets published editorials, letters, and stories regarding the now hot topic of Abbotsford’s Origin of Life policy.  Most of these pieces were resoundingly negative.  Members of the public also began weighing in on the issue by addressing it with government officials.  The 1992 provincial Minister of Education, Anita Hagen, addressed some of these concerns with passive interest by suggesting that the policy be reviewed.  Interestingly, the Minister never formally addressed the Abbotsford School Board regarding the policy (Chahal, 2002).  Since no formal intervention was being carried out, a group of teachers and parents aided by a science teacher from outside the district, Scott Goodman began to covertly investigate the policy.  This examination led the Abbotsford Teachers’ Association to issue a request to the board to review and rescind the policy.  This request was ignored (Barker, 2004).

The Abbotsford creationism case reached its zenith in 1995.  It began in March when the local Teachers’ Association and the Organization of Advocates in Support of Integrity in Science Education (OASIS) represented by Scott Goodman, filed an appeal with then Education Minister, Art Charbonneau (Barker, 2004; British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, 1995).  In an interview with the press, Goodman argued that the appeal was not only about Christian fundamentalist attacks on science, but also concerning religious freedom and the government maintaining its secularity (Wood, 1995).  The Minister agreed with Goodman and the Teachers’ Association and sent a letter requesting assurances from the board that they were adhering to the provincial curriculum.  At the time of this request, the Abbotsford School Board was chaired by Trinity Western University professor, John Sutherland.  The Minister’s requests were not directly acknowledged, but Sutherland was vocal about the issue in local media outlets.  He accused the Minister of religious prejudice by attempting to remove creationism from the district (Chahal, 2002).

The board failed to respond appropriately to the Minister.  Charbonneau sent a second letter.  This time the letter set out distinct actions for the board to take and recommendations put forth by the Minister.  The board was directed to amend its Origin of Life Policy by June 16th, 1995 and cease creation-science instruction in science classes (Barker, 2004; Chahal, 2002; Todd, 1995; Wood, 1995).  In an interview, Charbonneau suggested that the Board was, “trying to force teachers to put a religious theory on the same level as evolution in a science class,” (as cited in Wood, 2003, p. 14).

Sutherland rigorously defended the autonomy of the board and its position by making several statements in the local media.  His sentiments were, by and large, shared with many members of the board and community who felt that scientific dogmatism was hijacking the curriculum (Byfield & Byfield, 1995; Chahal, 2002).  Sutherland countered accusations that the board was attempting to bring theology into science classrooms by suggesting that learning different theories allowed students to hone critical thinking skills (Barker, 2004), and that only alternative ‘scientific’ theories were presented to students (Todd, 1995).  Sutherland also pointed out that the community supported creation-science instruction (Barker, 2004; Sweet, 1997; Todd, 1995; Wood, 1995). In an interview following the controversy, Sutherland mused that:

[He] “would have been happy if students would simply have taken a look in biology class at the scientific data and the underlying hypotheses, including alternative schemes, and how different groups interpret the scientific data. Nobody disputes the scientific data. It’s the hypothesis that you use to explain the data that is under dispute, and the random, purposeless, evolutionary hypotheses are as untestable and as philosophical as any other. They’re a belief system. So where else but in science class could you look at scientific belief systems?” (as cited in Sweet, 1997, p. 210)

Despite objections to the Minister’s request, the Abbotsford School Board moved forward and drafted a new policy.  The draft of the new Origin of Life policy diverted from some of the propositions that Charbonneau had offered in his second letter to the board.  While it removed any reference to Divine creation, it appeared to leave a loop hole by allowing the teaching of alternative theories, without reference to what those theories were.  The revised policy read in part:

“Teachers may find that the evolutionary perspective of modern biology conflicts with the personal beliefs of some students; therefore, when teaching this topic in the classroom, teachers should explain to students that science is only one way of learning about life, and that other explanations have been put forth besides that of biological science. […] In order to promote critical thinking skills, students shall be encouraged to discuss the scientific pros and cons of the alternative theories without being criticized for their opinions.  Where other viewpoints are presented or discussed, teachers are encouraged to be aware of and to respect the personal beliefs of their students without promoting, through instruction, any one belief system.  This discussion would include the evidence/information both for and against the theories of the origins of our universe and life on our planet.” (as cited in Chahal, 2002, p. 138)

Despite the board’s attempts to satisfy the Minister’s request, the draft of the new policy was met with criticism.  Representatives from the BCCLA lobbied the board to disband the policy entirely, while Minister Charbonneau indicated that the policy required further clarification.  There appeared to be some concerns that the revised policy still made it possible for creation-science instruction to occur.  This seems to part of the motive for revisions to the policy.  The board had to comply with the Minister’s requests, but also wanted to satisfy the wishes of its constituency.

As the board moved forward with final revisions to the new Origin of Life policy, members of the public, from within and outside the community, began to mobilize their support of the board’s revisions.  Many of the arguments centered on their religious beliefs and feelings of Christianity being marginalized (Chahal, 2002).  Other supporters claimed that the media was polarizing and sensationalizing a non-issue.  Even some students in the district suggested that the issue was being blown out of proportion.  Yet, others who were firmly on the side of the Ministry suggested that fundamentalist Christian groups active in the region were attempting to impose their own brand of morality on others and that these tactics were not isolated to science classrooms (Wood, 1995).

With the final version of the new Origin of Life policy in place, the board forwarded it to Charbonneau and also obtained legal counsel to ensure the policy adhered to the School Act.  In July of 1995, Minister Charbonneau formally rejected the new policy stating that it was, “vague and open to various meanings,” (as cited in Chahal, 2002, p. 149).  He further indicated that he would be forwarding specific guidelines to address the issue with all school boards in the province.  In his view, “[t]he science classroom is not a place to provide instruction or require discussion of religious dogma,” (as cited in Byfield & Byfield, 1995, p. 36).  Shortly after Charbonneau rejected the policy, the board’s legal counsel weighed in.  The Origin of Life policy contravened the School Act (Chahal, 2002).

Just in time for the start of another school year, Charbonneau informed the board of changes to the Biology 11/12 curriculum.  These changes were made to update the curriculum with respect to the School Act and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  The updated curriculum specifically addressed creation-science theories.  A portion of the updated 2006 curriculum guideline maintains such a clause:

“Reconciling scientific discoveries (for example, in genetic engineering) and religious faith poses a particular challenge for some students. While respecting the personal beliefs of students, teachers should be careful to distinguish between knowledge based on the application of scientific methods, and religious teachings and associated beliefs such as creationism, theory of divine creation, or intelligent design theory.” (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2006, p. 10)

In addition to the aforementioned revisions, the new guidelines also made it a requirement for all curriculum components to be taught in grade 11 and 12 in order for a student to qualify for graduation (Chahal, 2002).  The board was ordered by the Minister to swiftly revise its policy in accordance with the updated curriculum or face penalty of dismissal and replacement by Ministry-appointed representatives (Sweet, 1997).

On September 14, 1995, the Abbotsford School Board drafted a new Origin of Life policy (author added italics):

“Teachers may find that the evolutionary perspectives of modern biology conflict with the personal beliefs of some of their students; therefore, when teaching this topic in the classroom, teachers should explain to students who have misgivings, that science is only one of the ways of learning about life. Other explanations have been put forth besides those of biological science. However, other viewpoints which are not derived from biological science are not part of the Biology 11/12 curriculum. Biology teachers will instruct only in the Ministry of Education curriculum. In the interest of critical thinking, however, it is vital that the teacher assure all students that they are entitled to have their views respected. Respect is best shown by allowing for an expression of those views, provided that any discussion or research is consistent with the content and objectives of the Biology 11/12 curriculum—that is, that they deal only with scientific evidence.” (School District No. 34, 1996, para. 2-3)

This policy, which was formally approved in early 1996, is still incorporated into the curriculum guide today.  It, and the aforementioned curriculum guide, are perhaps one of the most concrete and direct guides concerning science curricula and creation-science theories in the Canadian public education system.  It appears then, that the mid-1990s saw the end of discussion surrounding creationism in Canada’s public schools.

In tomorrow’s concluding post, I’ll explore Creationism in Canada’s public schools today by exploring some provincial education curriculum guidelines. 

M. xo

For more voices in this debate, check out:

References

Barker, J. (2004). Creationism in Canada. In S. Coleman & L. Carlin (Eds.), The cultures of creationism (pp. 85-108). Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.

British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (1995). Comments on the “creation science” movement in British Columbia. Retrieved from http://bccla.org/our_work/comments-on-the-creation-science-movement-in-british-columbia/

British Columbia Ministry of Education (2006). Biology 11 and 12 Integrated Resource Package 2006.  [Program of Studies].  Retrieved from http://www.bced.gov.bc.ca/irp/pdfs/sciences/2006biology1112.pdf

Byfield, T., & Byfield, V. (1995, November 20). Religious dogma is banned in B.C. science classes to make way for irreligious dogma. Alberta Report/Newsmagazine, 36.

Chahal, S. S. (2002). Nation building and public education in the crossfire: An examination of the Abbotsford School Board’s 1981-1995 Origin of Life policy (Master’s Thesis). Retrieved from https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/16315

School District No. 34 – Abbotsford.  (1996). Origin of Life. [Curriculum Guide].  Retrieved from http://www.sd34.bc.ca/sites/default/files/7-140.pdf

Sweet, L. (1997). God in the classroom: The controversial issue of religion in Canada’s schools. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart Inc.

Todd, D. (1995). Abbotsford teachers want Genesis out of Biology 11 class: Creationism stays, school chair insists. The Vancouver Sun.

Wood, C. (1995). Big bang versus a big being. Maclean’s, 108(24), 14.

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Creationism in Canada: Part 2

July 3rd, 2013 3 comments
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Read part one here.

Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools, 1970s

Creation science instruction was quietly introduced into some British Columbia science classes in the late 1970s.  Unlike the Abbotsford case, which received considerable media and government scrutiny, other districts enacting such policies received little attention.  Indeed, scant evidence exists that creationism was ever taught in public schools.

The Mission School Board introduced creation-instruction to its classrooms in 1976 (Chahal, 2002), but there exists little evidence to support rumours that creation instruction was taking place in other schools throughout British Columbia.  Further, the policy enacted by the Mission School Board garnered much less controversy than the Abbotsford case.  It is unclear as to why one board’s policy went virtually unnoticed, while another’s in the same province created a nationwide stir – particularly given that both boards enacted their policies within a few short years of each other.

Minutes from the Abbotsford School Board show that trustees brought the issue to the table in the late 1970s, perhaps at the behest of unofficial lobbyists, including parents and pastors in the region.  There is no further documentation that corroborates what, if any, action was implemented as a result of the issue being addressed by the board; however, additional board reports on creationism in elementary and secondary schools, and evidence of the purchase of several creationist materials around this time, suggest that the board may have acted upon these unofficial requests (Chahal, 2002).  Journalist, Lois Sweet (1997), who interviewed stakeholders embroiled in the controversy, posited that the school board had merely been addressing the wishes of constituents which consisted of many members of the Mennonite and Dutch Reform Church communities. The nature as to how the Abbotsford School District’s Origin of Life Policy came to fruition remains uncertain.  It is clear, however, that strong fundamentalist Christian advocates played a role in ensuring that creation-instruction would be entrenched in the school board’s science program for more than ten years.

Creationist ‘Truth Fish’

Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools, 1980s

In late 1980, an Abbotsford resident, Mr. H. Hiebert, began to a campaign to have more creationist materials available to teaching staff in the district.  Feeling that his requests to the board were not satisfactorily addressed, he approached local news outlets and urged residents to make the lack of creation-instruction a concern during the upcoming election of school board trustees (Chahal, 2002).  In early 1981, the Creation Science Association of Canada (CSAC) sent provincial Education Minister, Brian Smith, a petition with over 7000 signatures from concerned citizens regarding the lack of equal time for creationist theory and evolution theory in science classrooms.  Mr. Smith responded by suggesting that both theories could be of value for students to learn (Barker, 2004; British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, 1995; Chahal, 2002).  The Education Minister’s comments created little more than a ripple of controversy at the time and were forgotten as quickly as they had been mentioned.

Around this same time, the Abbotsford School Board began the first draft of its Origin of Life policy.  The policy read in part:

“In view of the fact that neither the Divine creation nor evolutionary concepts of the origin of life are capable of verification by means of scientific experimentation, and because the teaching of one view of origins to the exclusion of the other view will almost certainly antagonize those parents and/or pupils who hold to the alternative view, all teachers, when discussing and/or teaching the origin of life in the classrooms, are requested to expose students, in as objective a manner as possible, to both Divine creation and the evolutionary concepts of life’s origins, with the evidence that is presented in support of each view, and to refrain from any assertions that would set forth either view as absolute.” (as cited in Chahal, 2002, p. 50).

In 1983, a majority vote made it a requirement that teachers refrain from teaching only the theory of evolution (Barker, 2004).  Further, teachers were instructed to teach both creationist and evolution theories in a few key classes, specifically Biology 11, 12 and Social Studies 7 (British Columbia Civil Liberties Association, 1995).  The application of this policy appears to be far less dramatic than the policy itself.  Textbook resources were made available to students who showed interest in creationist theories.  Many of these resources were from fundamentalist Christian organizations such as the Institute for Creation Research.  In other instances, guest speakers from CSAC were invited to present in classes.  For the most part, however, teachers either avoided the topic of origin of life altogether, or briefly mentioned that some groups contested Darwin’s theory (Barker, 2004).   Fleeting media attention was directed at the policy and its application.  Almost a decade later, Abbotsford was thrust back in the media spotlight.

Stayed tuned for part 3 of 4 in my series on Creationism in Canada.  In Part 3, I’ll explore creationism throughout the 1990’s, once again focusing on Abbotsford, B.C. The final chapter of this series will explore creationism in Canada today, including an examination of some provincial science curricula and policies pertaining to creationist instruction.  

M. xo

Images from Wikipedia

Suggested Readings:

References

Barker, J. (2004). Creationism in Canada. In S. Coleman & L. Carlin (Eds.), The cultures of creationism (pp. 85-108). Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.

British Columbia Civil Liberties Association (1995). Comments on the “creation science” movement in British Columbia. Retrieved from http://bccla.org/our_work/comments-on-the-creation-science-movement-in-british-columbia/

Chahal, S. S. (2002). Nation building and public education in the crossfire: An examination of the Abbotsford School Board’s 1981-1995 Origin of Life policy (Master’s Thesis). Retrieved from https://circle.ubc.ca/handle/2429/16315

Sweet, L. (1997). God in the classroom: The controversial issue of religion in Canada’s schools. Toronto, ON: McClelland & Stewart Inc.

 

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Creationism in Canada: Part 1

July 2nd, 2013 2 comments
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If you enjoy studying how religion intersects public life, then you’ve no doubt encountered the sensational headlines from the United States concerning ongoing legal battles over the teaching of creationist theories versus evolutionary theories in public school science classrooms.  Now, many Canadians may think that we’re immune to this kind of controversy, but Canadian controversies tend to be more localized.  This means that when controversy brews, it doesn’t always make national headlines.  While creationist activity may not be as sensational as that which is seen south of the border, make no mistake – we’ve had our share of “Teach the Controversy” battles.  As part of my Honours work in Religion, I decided to investigate what, if any, creationist controversies have occurred in Canada. Over the following days, I intend to take you on a historical journey of creationism in Canada.  Much of what you will read is adapted from a paper I submitted towards my degree, and since that paper is rather long, I’ve decided to break it into smaller parts.  Before I begin, let me be clear that I support religious freedom.  I have no issue with teaching creationist theories; however, I do firmly believe that creationist theories should not be taught in science classrooms.  That said, I welcome your feedback (no matter which side of the controversy you support), but please keep it respectful.  Let’s dive right in, shall we?

The Creation of Adam

Creationism in the United States: A Brief Overview

During the 1920s a small Tennessee town, Dayton, was on the cusp of financial ruin.  Local leaders and businessmen concocted a clever plan to inject some much need cash flow into the town coffers.  A recently passed state law had made it illegal for educators to teach the theory of evolution.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had advertised their intent to challenge the law by seeking out a teacher willing to be arrested for violating this new statute.  Enlisting local high school teacher, John Scopes, a group of Dayton businessmen contacted the ACLU to express interest in assisting in their legal challenge.  It was hoped that the presumed media spectacle might bring some fortune to their small town (Larson, 1997).  Beginning as an earnest attempt by civil servants to save their struggling town, the Scopes Trial became one of the most sensational and discussed trials in American history.

Scopes was found guilty and fined one hundred dollars for illegally teaching the theory of evolution – violating Tennessee’s anti-evolution statute (“America’s Difficulty”, 2009; Armenta & Lane, 2010).    It would be another four decades before these laws were repealed; however, the trial set in motion an ongoing debate about teaching evolutionary theories alongside Biblically-inspired creation accounts in science classrooms.  Since the Scopes Trial, there have been ongoing challenges in the United States regarding the validity of Darwin’s theory, but also the constitutionality of children being required to learn a theory that counters their religious beliefs.

The early years of legal challenges focused on the constitutionality of imposing religious views in public schools versus the autonomy of parents to provide an education to their children that was compatible with their own worldviews.  The inclusion of creationism in the curriculum was seen by some as a violation of the separation of church and state.  Others argued that by not providing equal time to creationist theories, religious students were being taught in an environment that was seemingly hostile to their religious beliefs. Time and time again, higher courts ruled that creationism could not be taught alongside evolution because creationism was dogmatic in nature and essentially brought religion into the public school system (Armenta & Lane, 2010).

Of Pandas and People is widely considered the first textbook on intelligent design (ID)

More recent legal challenges have shifted to focus on alternative ‘scientific’ theories rather than divinely-inspired ones.  Intelligent design (ID) has emerged from the ashes of earlier creationism challenges.  Proponents claim that ID is a valid alternative to Darwin’s theory of evolution and have lobbied to have it included in science curricula.  To date, several higher courts have ruled that ID is nothing more than creationism in the guise of science (Armenta & Lane, 2010; Moore, Jensen, & Hatch, 2003).  A 2005 verdict stemming from a case that saw a group of parents challenge Pennsylvania’s Dover Area School District’s recently amended curriculum requiring ID be taught alongside evolution, suggested that ID was essentially a secularized version of creationism (Cameron, 2006).  The judge in the case sided with the parent’s group in an effort to uphold the Constitution’s separation of church and state.

Clearly, the American judicial system has repeatedly turned to the Constitution in this matter.  Due to the strict separation of church and state within the United States’ civic doctrine, it seems reasonable and feasible for this to be accomplished.  Canada, however, does not have such finite divisions between church and state entrenched in its laws (Noll, 1992).  While the Charter of Rights does provide protections to citizens, it does not explicitly outline divisions between faith and politics.  Despite this, Canadian politics do not seem to be overtly intertwined with religion.  On the surface, Canadians seem less preoccupied or concerned about religious influences on government or public institutions.  This has meant that any religious controversies, similar to those in the United States, have remained largely unnoticed.  This lack of public scrutiny has enabled religiously motivated policies to penetrate various public institutions without the similar fanfare that has greeted such policies in the United States.

Creationism in Canada’s Public Schools

Profile: Abbotsford, BC

Abbotsford, British Columbia is a city located about 60 kilometers outside of Vancouver, and is the site for Canada’s most controversial creationism case.  A profile of this community depicts it as a deeply religious one in the heart of British Columbia’s Bible belt.  It is neighbour to Trinity Western University (a private conservative Christian institution), as well as a number of evangelical churches, Bible colleges, and private religious schools (Barker, 2004; Wood, 1995).  During the time of this controversy, Abbotsford’s population consisted of a large Mennonite community, many Western European immigrants, and the highest number of Christian conservatives in the province (Barker, 2004).

Historically, Abbotsford has been involved in numerous religious controversies.  In 1977, 300 students walked out of a local high school to protest the principal’s instatement of compulsory daily prayer and scripture readings.  A few years later in 1980, the Abbotsford School Board defied a Supreme Court of Canada ruling that struck down mandatory daily prayer in public schools. In 1995, the library board was accused of attempting to ban a newspaper whose target demographic was the homosexual community (Barker, 2004).  More recently, the school board has been embroiled in controversies surrounding the refusal to allow a Social Justice course to be taught at high schools due to concerns from the religious community over its content which included issues such as homophobia (“Gay-friendly course halted,” 2008).  Late last year, the school district was one of three under review for policies that allowed Gideons International to hand out Bibles to students (Steffenhagen & Baker, 2012).  The aforementioned are just some examples of the religious controversies that have taken place in the community.  It is little wonder that the community has been recognized as highly religious, or that the inclusion of creation science in public school science curricula remained largely uncontested for over a decade.

In part 2, I’ll explore creationism in Canada throughout the 1970’s and 1980’s (with a special focus on the Abbotsford creationism controversy, itself).Oh, and in case you’re wondering where I retrieved my information, you’ll find a complete reference list below.

M. xo

Suggested Readings:

 

References

America’s difficulty with Darwin. (2009, February). History Today, 59(2), 22-28.

Armenta, T. & Lane, K. E. (2010). Tennessee to Texas: Tracing the evolution controversy in public education. The Clearing House, 83, 76-79. doi:10.1080/00098651003655811

Barker, J. (2004). Creationism in Canada. In S. Coleman & L. Carlin (Eds.), The cultures of creationism (pp. 85-108). Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Company.

Cameron, A. (2006). An utterly hopeless muddle. The Presbyterian Record, 130(5), 18-21.

Gay-friendly course halted by Abbotsford school board. (2008, September 21). The Vancouver Sun.  Retrieved from http://www.canada.com/vancouversun/news/story.html?id=b02d8037-a563-417a-9cd5-31146a42fb6e

Larson, E. J. (1997). Summer for the gods: The Scopes trial and America’s continuing debate over science and religion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Moore, R., Jensen, M., & Hatch. J. (2003). Twenty questions: What have the courts said about the teaching of evolution and creationism in public schools? BioScience, 53(8), 766-771.

Noll, M. A. (1992). A history of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Steffenhagen, J., & Baker, R. (2012, November 8). Humanist wants Abbotsford School District scrutinized for Bible distribution. Abbotsford Times. Retrieved from http://www.abbotsfordtimes.com/news/Humanists+want+Abbotsford+School+District+scrutinized+Bible+distribution/7520217/story.html

Wood, C. (1995). Big bang versus a big being. Maclean’s, 108(24), 14.

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Morgentaler and Abortion in Canada

May 30th, 2013 No comments
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Yesterday, Canadians across the country were either mourning the loss of a highly influential man or praying for his soul.  That’s the kind of divisiveness Dr. Henry Morgentaler had on Canadians.  He was either revered or reviled for his contributions to Canadian society.  In case you’re wondering what the big deal is, Morgentaler is widely considered the man who initiated changes to Canada’s abortion laws.  He began his crusade in the sixties by opening up Canada’s first abortion clinic.  He also lobbied government to strike down the then existing laws that prohibited women from having control over their reproduction.  For decades, Morgentaler fought the system, during which time he was incarcerated, harassed, threatened, and attacked.

Canada’s history on abortion law is long and contentious.  The law was first enacted in 1892 when parliament passed legislation that prohibited “abortion as well as the sale, distribution, and advertising of contraceptives.” It was almost a century later, in 1988, that the Supreme Court struck down Canada’s abortion laws.   To date, there have been several failed attempts to legislate abortion in Canada.  Politicians typically keep a distance from such polarizing topics, meaning Canada has seen little in the way of debate in the House of Commons.  In fact, Canada is one of just a few countries around the world that does not have abortion laws.  This means that if you can find a doctor willing to perform the procedure, a woman can legally have an abortion in Canada at any stage of her pregnancy.

Indeed, proof of just how contentious this issue is can be gauged by the silence from various members of government on the passing of Morgentaler.  Given that Morgentaler is credited by vast numbers of women for advancing their rights, one would think that the Minister for the Status of Women might have released some official statement – yet, nary a peep from the Hill.  While no official statements were released, comments from politicians were quickly captured via Twitter.  Not surprisingly, very few Conservative politicians had much to say or anything positive to say about the man.  This is the same political party that appears heavily aligned with the evangelical Christian movement in Canada.

U of T Students for Life rally 2009

 Evangelical Christian groups are the biggest supporters of the pro-life movement.  There are several pro-life organizations operating in Canada, all of which appear to be aligned with various fundamental Christian groups.  When news of Morgentaler’s death broke, representatives from pro-life associations indicated that they had been and will continue to pray for his soul.  In contrast, the national group for pro-choice supporters released a statement praising Morgentaler for his “courage and compassion.”  Yes, in death, as in life, Morgentaler continues to divide Canadians.

Pro-choice counter-protest to the National March for Life in Ottawa, Ontario, in 2010

Yet, it isn’t the man himself that is polarizing as much as it is the symbol of a movement that he represents.  The debate often involves matters of religion and science intersecting ethics.  Indeed, many of the arguments put forth by pro-life advocates are laced in religious tones and scriptural connotations.  Public policies that are overtly influenced by theological considerations are not the norm in Canada.  Mixing religion and politics is frowned upon by the vast majority of Canadians – despite the fact that Canada does not have any legislation that officially separates church and state (like our neighbours to the South do).   Therefore, efforts to change the status quo through the voice of scripture just aren’t going to fly in the Great White North – at least not any time soon.  This is particularly true for a country whose demographics are shifting away from religious institutions toward a more secular spirituality.  Movements lose relevancy when changes to public policy are sought based on religious concerns (what the Bible, or other holy scriptures, say about abortion is another blog topic for another day).  The point is that debates concerning public policy cannot be framed within a particular theological worldview – especially in a country as religiously diverse as Canada.  Doing so, means your cause will no longer be about human rights – but rather a particular brand of divine ordinance that may not even be relevant to a large section of the population.  Religious groups have given us many fine social institutions in Canada (schools, hospitals, etc.), but that was during a time when religion dictated almost every aspect of life.  This isn’t the case in today’s Canada.  It likely won’t be the case in the very near future.

So, if we’re going to have a debate about rights, responsibilities, and life – let’s avoid the usual religious rabble-rousing.  This doesn’t mean that I think we should open the debate about abortion.  If you read between the lines of my post, it’s pretty easy to see where I stand on the issue.  That said, part of me is disconcerted that Canada theoretically allows fetuses to be aborted up to the moment before birth (if you can find a doctor willing to do it).  Even the staunchest pro-choice advocate must flinch – at least for a moment – at that thought.  But, where do we draw the line?  That my faithful flock, is another question to be answered another day.

M. xo

P.S.  An interesting – and perhaps highly sensational – book on the subject of the evangelical movement in Canada’s political system is Marci McDonald’s The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada.  Check it out, and then let me know what you think!

 

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