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PROSPECTS FOR THE FUTURE OF CHRISTIANITY.

By Paul Merkley

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Some Contradictory Trends in the Church today.

 Two contradictory trends mark the situation of the Church today.

 Despite the consensus among journalists and media types,– always supremely confident, almost always supremely wrong — the Church of Jesus Christ is growing in numbers everywhere in the world –in some places rapidly, in others barely. Nowhere in the world is the church in absolute decline, although here in the West it may be in modest, relative decline.

 The notion that the church is in decline supports the self-esteem of people who dimly remember being hauled off reluctantly to Sunday School or to Mass as children, and who now draw their imagery of self-liberation from the elite establishment’s contempt for the uneducated masses.

 The other false generalization about the Church today – dominating most minds in the West, whether “religious” or not –  is that Christianity began here in our midst somewhere and was subsequently disseminated there,  throughout the world, through various missionary enterprises – the missionaries being nowadays reckoned as prominent pioneers in the story of oppression of other races. On all counts, this is historically indefensible.

 When Christianity appeared in the second quarter of what we call the First Century Anno Domini, its home was in the place where now stands the State of Israel, but what was then Palestina—a Province of Rome’s Empire. The masters of that Empire despised the Jews for their record of un-governability; and, after destroying the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, they made clear their contempt for the Jews by naming the region Philistia, after Israel’s ancient enemy, the Philistines.

 So thorough and so brutal was Israel’s campaign against the indigenous “Canaanites” that they ceased to exist as an intact nation. In Jesus’ time on earth, however, travelers might encounter pockets of non-Jewish folk who called themselves “Philistines”. In the usage of the Jews of Jesus’ time, Philistines had become a generalizing and invidious label to describe Jews who dissented from the traditions of the mainstream of Jewish people.

 The people who call themselves “Palestinians” today are of course Arabs, descendants of the warriors who swarmed out of the deserts of Arabia on the advice of Prophet Muhammad in the mid 7th century, sweeping away the several small Christian Kingdoms that then occupied these lands and imposing by force the new religion of Islam.

 Perversely, some leaders of churches here in the West have gone along with the hoax, advanced by Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO, that the local Arabs, the descendants of Muhamad’s conquering warriors, the people who call themselves “Palestinians”, are descendants of the Canaanites, and thus have an “aboriginal” claim to the land—trumping the claim of the Israelis.  The complicity of some church leaders in this massive hoax, is of course driven by contemporary deconstructionist politics and has no foundation in history. The fact that it gets off the ground at all is made possible by the massive spirit of contempt for history, which operates in tandem with the spirit of anti-Judaism – the source of all so-called “anti-Semitism.

 Geographical Aspects of the Future of Christianity

But now get a grip on something! It now seems that the centre of gravity of Christendom is shifting to Africa.  This should not come as an earth-shaking thought, given that, as Professor Brian Stanley of Edinburgh University’s Centre for World Christianity, points out, “The period in which [Christianity] appeared to be indissolubly linked to western European identity was a relatively short one, lasting from the early sixteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries.” https://www.christiantoday.com/article/a-growing-church-why-we-should-focus-on-the-bigger-picture/49362.htm

 About six centuries after Jesus’ time on earth, an entirely unrelated race, the Arabs, illiterate and uncouth, came screaming out of the East, bent on destroying everything related to the history of the region – for that matter, to all history everywhere. Christian people had been the masters on that scene, and therefore Christians suffered most from the depredations of these masters. But it was not until the Twentieth Century that it became feasible for Christians born in that part of the world to take their families, their culture, and (usually) their faith to the New World and begin a new life. For most, this involved trans-planting their old churches in unfamiliar soil.

 Christians are today under persecution everywhere. In our own part of the world, the persecution takes mild forms. Clergymen and bishop as well as virtually all persons who publicly identify themselves as Christians are excluded from the discussions that take place at the highest levels of social and political life. Our elites never stand up for Christianity; indeed, they do everything possible to be seen as indifferent or hostile to it. This fact creates great disadvantages in some respects; but, perversely perhaps, it can create advantages of a limited sort.  Only the most poorly informed imagine that Christians or Christianity are part of any oppressive force. No informed person sees Christians as part of the power elites.

 Perhaps the last toe-hold that Christian theology had in the open air was for that brief few days when the Baby Jesus appeared in public spaces everywhere in His wooden crib, while angels and shepherds presided. Even these vestiges are gone – driven away from popular gaze by atheist-zealots who imagine that they are protectors of the young minds from religious zealots The spaces previously occupied by manger-scenes is now give over to advertising Black Friday and Boxing Day Sales.

The theme of the Death of Christianity is assisted by the circumstance that the particular churches that might be remembered from youth by presently-aging members of the cultural establishment have been declining for decades. These would include Anglicans (Episcopalians), Lutherans, Presbyterians,  some branches of Methodism and a certain constituency among the Baptists. The branch of Protestantism that has most successfully overcome the pattern of decline that seems to apply everywhere else has been the branch called Evangelicals. Under which most include the Pentecostals. This company of “Evangelicals” includes a growing category of churches that are entirely unaffiliated to any denominations. “Evangelicals” now make up fifty-five percent of all U.S. Protestants.

Evangelical Growth is Good News for Israel.

It is among these Evangelical Christians that support for the State of Israel is most solid. Also worth noting by beleaguered Israelis is the fact that Evangelical Christianity has grown in numbers in most European countries since 1990 — even while the population of these same countries has declined.

Informed Jews (not the vast majority) know that the most devotedly pro-Israel, pro-Zionist, constituency of all is here, among Evangelical Christians  To take only one indicator- self-described  “Evangelicals” make up a larger portion of the annual company of visitors to Israel than do American Jews!.

But while these indicators of modest growth among European and American Evangelicals should re-assure most Jews this is as nothing compared to the dramatic the growth Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, in Africa and South America.

As for Africa: in 1900 there were fewer than 9 million Christians in Africa. Now there are more than 541 million. This works out on average at around 33,000 people either becoming Christians or being born into Christian families each day in Africa alone.

According to Molly Wall, the programme director of Operation World, “Generally speaking, the world is becoming more religious, and that is because the world’s largest historical non-religious populations (former Communist countries, especially China) are becoming more religious. Non-religious populations are in decline there, and overall global figures reflect that change.” https://www.christiantoday.com/article/a-growing-church-why-we-should-focus-on-the-bigger-picture/49362.htm

The Church is growing dramatically in most of the world.

Most spectacular of all is the growth of the African Church, although this fact never gets noted in our secular press. In 1900 there were fewer than 9 million Christians in Africa. Now there are more than 335 million. In the last 15 years alone, the Church in Africa has seen a 51 per cent increase, which works out on average at around 33,000 people either becoming Christians or being born into Christian families each day in Africa alone.

Summary.

Today there are more than 2.4 billion Christians worldwide — just over a third of the world’s total population. This figure includes many in our part of the forest who are of nominal belonging only but who nevertheless, speaking to the census-taker at the door, declare themselves as Christian.

Islam comes second, with 700 million fewer adherents than Christianity has

All around us there is taking place a campaign of low-grade mockery as well as overt mockery of Christian faith. All positive reference to Christian faith has disappeared from the academic literature as well as from secular commentary in the newspapers and journals.   Persons known to have a sincere Christian commitment never make it onto the rolodexes (or whatever they use today) of television talk show producers. This is happening precisely as our indigenous intellectuals are standing in solidarity against any  negative public expression about the virtues of Islam.

It is not yet clear what price we will ultimately pay for this perfidy. Sincere Christians should pray that it will stop short of complete erasure of the Christian legacy from our public life.

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We could use more major studies on today’s democratic socialist. These people are a major force in our schools and colleges and it would be helpful to better understand their thinking. At first glance, they appear to have amazing hearts and questionable intelligence. What gives? Continue Reading »

ANOTHER CLUE TO BRITAIN’S FUTURE UNDER EUROPEAN UNION

By Paul Merkley.

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Discussion continues to rage around Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union.

So far as I can tell, almost all of this discussion revolves around what writers imagine will be the economic consequences of withdrawal.  These will of course be large, but, I expect, manageable—certainly worth the price of achieving greater sovereignty over Britain’s affairs in general.

Still, I suspect that most Brits voted to leave Europe because they had concluded that a great gulf had developed between Europe’s values and purposes and what Brits imagine are their own values – what they are today, and what they have been in the past. The instinct of most was that Britain had to recover its former distance from Europe and henceforth follow its own purposes.

In colorful illustration of this existential imperative we need look no further than to a decision issued just a few days ago by the unelected members of the European Court of Human Rights. (Soren Kern, “European Human Rights Court Backs Blasphemy Law,” October 29 [www.gatestoneinstitute.org/1302; “A Black Day for Austria,” ibid. December 26, 2011.]

The immediate object of this decision was something that happened in the courts of Austria, but the decision itself is immediately applicable to all of Europe. In the opinion of this body, Austria has violated the human rights provisions laid out in protocols of the European Convention on Human Rights. by failing to prevent Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff, from dishonoring Prophet Muhammad.  The offending speech was an offhand remark by Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff during a three-part seminar on Islam held in in November, 2009, in Austria, under auspices of a body called “the Freedom Education Institute,” to the effect that Mohammed was a pedophile because he married his wife Aisha when she was just six or seven years old. Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff’s actual words were: “A 56-year-old and a six-year-old? What do we call it, if it is not pedophilia?”

The ruling establishes a dangerous legal precedent, in that it requires European states – and this would include the United Kingdom — to curtail the right to free speech if such speech is deemed to be offensive to Muslims and thus might pose “a threat to religious peace.” In effect, the decision would establish in the law-codes of Western nations the full force of the Islamic blasphemy code.

The case began when Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff was convicted of “denigration of religious beliefs of a legally recognized religion” according to Section 188 of the Austrian Criminal Code. Her subsequent appeal to the Provincial Appellate Court in Vienna was rejected on December 20, 2011, as was her subsequent appeal to the European Court of Human Rights. The decision at the ECHR was that states could restrict the free speech rights enshrined in Article 10 of the Convention if such speech was “likely to incite religious intolerance” and was “likely to disturb the religious peace in their country… [or was] capable of arousing justified indignation.”

In making this decision, the European court has in effect imposed an Islamic code about blasphemy upon the people of Europe and has done so for the sake of  preserving religious peace in Austria.  Their view was that “it was not compatible with Article 10 of the Convention to pack incriminating statements into the wrapping of an otherwise acceptable expression of opinion and claim that this rendered passable those statements exceeding the permissible limits of freedom of expression.”

Did you get that? You are deluding yourself if you imagine that you did. This is a clear case of smothering failed logic under impenetrable syntax — as ever, the clue to a bad conscience.

Still, it is clear that this decision now imposes on European governments – including that of the U.K. – the duty of curtailing the right to free speech of their citizens, if such speech is deemed to be offensive to Muslims. Such an obligation might not stop the President of France in his tracks; and we can be quite sure that it will not spoil Justin Trudeau’s day when, not if, the same matter comes to be deliberated by our courts.

The American tradition, following the British tradition, does of course acknowledge limits to the right of freedom of speech. These are best summarized in Oliver Wendell Holmes’s proscription of the right to cry fire in a crowded theatre. But only good sense, not jurisprudence, is needed for understanding these matters. The bottom line here is that proscription of free speech along the lines mandated by the European Court is plainly incompatible with what every grown up recognizes as my right to criticize other persons and/or the institutions which they embrace—as I am doing here.

The story behind this story is the campaign waged over recent decades by the Organization of  Islamic Cooperation (OIC), a bloc of 57 Muslim countries, which argues for entrenchment  of the Islamic view-of-things at the United Nations. OIC  also claims to speak for the  interests of the exponentially-growing Muslim community in Europe and in North America.

Hard to grasp for us born-Westerners is the reality that these immigrant communities in our midst for which OIC claims to speak and who are made up of persons in flight from incompetent or oppressive Muslim governments in their homelands are telling us with apparent enthusiasm that they want to see established here,  in Europe and in North America, for themselves and their children and their children’s children,  equivalently oppressive Islamic institutions.

The cornerstone of the Muslim campaign against people like Mrs. Sabaditsch-Wolff who stumble into negative expression about the Prophet is an appeal to UNHRC Resolution 16/18, to which Canada like other Western nations subscribes, and which requires our governments to combat “intolerance, negative stereotyping and stigmatisation of religion and belief.”

It never occurs to Roman Catholic or Protestant or Jewish organizations to fight this same fight under their own banners — even though ear-splitting mockery and abuse against Christian and Jewish faith and practice rings out all day long in lecture halls in every university and college in the West, and likewise finds unchecked expression in academic bodies and academic journals

If Britain intends to stay in the European Union, she will have  to promptly adjust her ancient vision of the rights and duties of citizens so as to conform to the utterly alien view of the same which has always obtained in the Islamic world. This is, indeed, what Europe is doing and doing gladly, as must be concluded from the judgments of the European courts with respect to the challenge to the peace caused by Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolff.

All by itself, this prospect should be enough to validate the  wisdom of the British public in the Brexit plebiscite of 2016, when they rejected by democratic ballot the project of total immersion of Britain’s identity in Europe’s

There should be no need for British libertarians to crank up a mighty public campaign against the creeping accommodations of British intellectuals to the clamoring of Muslim activists. All that is needed now   is for British politicians to carry through on their commitments to lead the British people out of the European Union.

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TOPPLING THE WORLD’S TOP COP:

China Has Re-Defined the Meaning of Law for All of Us.

By Paul Merkley.

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Triumphs of Engineering.

In recent days, we have witnessed a breath-taking acceleration of the  state-planning project of the Communist regime in China.

Co-incidentally, we are witnessing great strides towards political and social absolutism — a vindication of the sober fantasy envisaged by George Orwell back in 1948. (See Paul Merkley, “Orwell Didn’t See The Half Of It, Bayview Review, September 22, 2018.)  China is actively promoting around the world a fantasy about record-breaking economic consequences that are expected to follow from the building of its “Belt Road Initiative.”  (See , Matt Brown, “New Silk Road seemingly built on good intentions, but some fear a China  ‘debt trap,” October 14, 2018, https://www.stuff.co.nz.

A Chinese government spokesman for this project pledges that the highway itself, plus a global infrastructure to be built around it, will usher in “the Silk Road spirit of peace and co-operation, openness and inclusiveness, mutual learning and mutual benefit.” Continue Reading »

ORWELL DIDN’T SEE THE HALF OF IT.

By Paul Merkley.

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For 1984¸ his now-classic book describing the dystopian possibilities for totalitarian thought, George Orwell lifted information about recent technology and extrapolated its possibilities to describe the life that would await his descendants — that is to say, us.

1984 is certainly the best-known of the works of Eric Blair (1903-1950), the short-lived genius who wrote under the nom-de-plume, George Orwell. The futuristic novel describes a state-of-the-1940s-art universal two-way communications system, which, in the book, cannot be turned off and from whose eye one is never allowed to turn away. All agree that it would be awful to live under such circumstances.

Yet the painful truth is that some parts of Orwell’s vision-of-the-future are far too benign. One quaint feature is that Orwell has had to imagine giant, in-your-face -television screens as venues for give-and-take between the regime and the citizen, whereas the instruments of control today are those ubiquitous tiny hand-held electronic devices.

But if you really want to get yourself worked up about the possibilities for mass control in the world today set aside Orwell and consider what is actually happening in China as we speak. (https://www.gatestoneinstitute.org/12988/china-social-credit-system; https://pjmedia.com/rogerlsimon/google-and-china-made-for-each-other.)

As far back as 1995 President Jiang Zemin spoke of the Party’s intention to meet the challenge of “informatization, automation, and intelligentization.” What he had in mind, apparently, were the newest means by which non-compliance with the regime’s wishes could be rendered literally impossible. In theory, violent force should  never be required to accomplish these ends. Instead, all means necessary to the accomplishment of total compliance with the Party’s would soon exist as Chinese society becomes encompassed, with no loose ends left over, in a massive totalitarian system of knowledge about the actual behavior of each-and-every citizen.

Some first fruits of this effort can already be seen in China’s new “social credit” system. Over the years, each and every Chinese citizen has been dragooned into an ever-more-exhaustive information-gathering system run by the State. And now the acquired details are being sifted, with the result that each citizen can now be assigned a numerical score for reliability, based upon the regime’s reckoning of the “social value” of each and every activity in which he is engaged or to which he admits to being drawn.

Keep in mind that Xi Jin-ping appears by name in the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China as China’s President-at-will — Dictator for Life. He believes and declares that the Party must have absolute control over society and he must have absolute control over the Party. Not a peep of dissent is being heard.

How will this be accomplished? Well, for starters, the plan is to have about 626 million surveillance cameras operating throughout the country before the end of next year. Those cameras will, among other mercies, feed information into a national “social credit system.” That system, when it is in place in perhaps two years, will assign to every person in China a constantly updated score based on all observed behavior. For example, an instance of jaywalking, caught by one of those cameras, will result in a reduction in one’s “social credit” score – helping to establish one’s place along a scale culminating in over-the- top virtue —sainthood,” we might almost be tempted to say. China will then be truly what the Economist called “the world’s first digital totalitarian state.”

In their own words, Chinese officials describe the goal of their finished work as “to allow the trustworthy to roam everywhere under heaven while making it hard for the discredited to take a single step.” Hou Yunchun, a former deputy director of the State Council’s development research center, said at a forum in Beijing in May that the social credit system should be administered so that “discredited people become bankrupt”. As early proof of the system and how it works we are told that as of the end of April 2018, authorities had blocked individuals from taking 11.14 million flights and 4.25 million high-speed rail trips.

And by the way: Xi Jin-ping, the Lord-High-Everything-Else-for Life of China,  does not believe in second chances for those who fall short: “Once untrustworthy, always restricted,” he proclaims.

But of more immediate concern to us are signs of early cooperation between the Chinese regime and certain zealous entrepreneurs in our own midst who are attracted by marketing possibilities in such pioneering work.  Roger Simon, writing for pjmedia, September 13, 2018, has caught wind of this, story, virtually ignored by our media. Documents leaked to a source called Intercept disclose that Google plans to substantially expand its role in the Chinese market through the potential launch, as early as next year, of “Dragonfly,” a  Chinese search app for Android devices..  https://pjmedia.com/rogerlsimon/google-and-china-made-for-each-other.)

Prototypes and negotiations with the Chinese government are already far along, laying the groundwork for the potential service to launch as soon as early 2019.

Simon notes:

In its attitude toward political dissent, the Chinese Communist Party has proven much harsher than the old Soviet regime of the Brezhnev era. Modern Chinese sentences are longer, the prospects for early release are far worse, and the Chinese authorities are generally unmoved by pleas for leniency from foreign diplomats. None of this seems to bother Google…

https://pjmedia.com/rogerlsimon/google-and-china-made-for-each-other/

It is a chilling thought: collaboration between the mighty Google empire and the Chinese Communist party in preparation of two-way information systems for sale to governments and merchandizers alike. Right out of 1984!

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ON HATING YOUR CHILDREN

ON HATING YOUR CHILDREN.

By Paul Merkley.

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 On Hating Our Children and Being Applauded For It.

What must be the future of a civilization whose most privileged voices are celebrated for declaring that they hate their children and that they have told them so? 

Here is the link : https://www.macleans.ca/regretful-mothers.

And here, to spare you, are a few salient lines:

French psychotherapist Corine Maier stoked an international firestorm and condemnation in 2008 with her manifesto No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children. Her two children, the manifesto proclaims, left her bankrupt and exhausted. 

Also summoned to the spotlight to receive applause is “Isabella Dutton, a 57-year-old British mother of two grown children [who] created a furor with a Daily Mail  Essay headlined: ‘The mother who says having these two children is the biggest regret of my life.’”

These researchers  have cornered a number of mothers who describe the happy day when they sat their “kids” down and explained that they hated everything about them. “Hated” is the very word they use. In the words of one, the new life of liberation began with discovering that “their amazing life comes at the expense of my own.” This heart-stopping truth – this truth which Maclean’s  magazine imagines is the hottest bit of psychology off the press — has been the homeliest of home-truths, proclaimed by our ancestors back in cave -man time.  But now expunged is all sense that something of priceless value has been gained in exchange for this “expense.”

Children are Exhausting.

Maclean’s refers us to “a French psychotherapist Corinne Maier [who] stoked an international firestorm and condemnation in 2008 with her manifesto No Kids: 40 Good Reasons Not to Have Children; her two children left her ‘exhausted and bankrupt,’ and she couldn’t wait for them to leave home, she wrote.” And there is “Isabella Dutton, a 57-year-old British mother of two grown children [who] created furor with a Daily Mail essay headlined: ‘The mother who says having these two children is the biggest regret of her life.’”

A special heroine of the anti-motherhood cause is Lauren Byrne, who “rejects the idealized script, and with it the silencing of mothers. That’s why she set up her Facebook page, she says: ‘Everyone was talking about how fantastic it was. And I was, “Who are you people?’ I’m exhausted. … Even saying you want time away from your kids is verboten… People say, ‘You shouldn’t say that. They’re blessings. You should feel lucky.’ But it’s not unicorns and rainbows all the time. But women can’t complain that ‘this is really hard’ because people think you’re a bad mom.”

Angela, who lives in Newfoundland, went for months with debilitating undiagnosed post-partum after the premature birth of twins. She felt cheated, she told Maclean’s, when she didn’t experience the instant bond she was told mothers are supposed to have. ‘I felt I had been robbed.’ She wasn’t prepared for the difficulties: ‘Everyone talks about motherhood like it’s this wonderful thing and you’re going to love those children the second they come out,’ she says. ‘Nobody talks about how hard having children can be, how exhaustion can affect you and how sometimes love has to be developed.’ She doesn’t feel she can be candid, even with health professionals.”

 **Discovering Sex and Suffering and Motherhood.

Imagine telling your children that you hate them, that you regret ever having born them, and that your wish they were out of your way for ever! This is exactly what these exemplary Canadian mothers have told Maclean’s  magazine that they have done. These are people who imagine that their generation invented love and sex and suffering. They are, in short, people with no sense of history. In more seemly times homicidal intention along this line, with the right names embedded, would lead immediately to calling in the police.

But all of this is to the good: “In pushing the boundaries of accepted maternal response, women are challenging an explosive taboo.”

As to how these children –no doubt now famous among their peers at school – reacted to Mother’s refreshing declaration, we are left to our own imaginations. 

***Some Demographic Realities.

Since 1971, the fertility rate in Canada has dropped from 2.1—the replacement level needed for the population to renew itself without immigration—to 1.6 in 2016. Maclean’s“ scholarly source explains the decline in fertility rates to “older, more educated first-time mothers.” Being older than mothers used to be in previous generations, these better-educated, mothers,  Maclean’s believes  are “entitled to expect a bigger boost from the experience of child-bearing.”

There is a revealing line of thought! No until this jaded, morally-bankrupt generation has anyone stooped to describing child-birth as about “a bigger boost!”

And why are precious upper-income, better-educated women entitled to anything more than their less educated peers? The thinking here is downright feudal – and very ugly.

These older but not wiser mothers confront the reality of motherhood just like all mother before them: “incontinence,  boredom , weight gain, saggy breasts, depression, the end of romance, the lack of sleep, dumbing own “ (that is, adjusting  to the intellectual demands of conversing with infants and toddlers.)

But this cohort of educated mothers is, we repeat, “entitled” to exemption from the experience of women down through the ages. So they are fighting back. There is a  Facebook community having more than 2,600 members founded by Lauren  Byrne, a 32-year-old ER nurse and mother of two who lives in Newfoundland. “Angela, who lives in Newfoundland, went for months with debilitating undiagnosed post-partum after the premature birth of twins. She felt cheated, she told Maclean’s, when she didn’t experience the instant bond she was told mothers are supposed to have.”

I Work, Therefore I Am.

Isn’t it amazing that this cohort, described as educated several levels above the level of mothers of yore, should have to start so far before the starting line of all these other mothers in the matter of common folklore about having babies! Maclean’s  ideal of a mother takes out all of her rage at the low-down-ness of it all – and they take it out against the appropriate object: the children. Dealing with the ugly truth of mother hood, “Augustine Brown says she ‘s candid with the children, telling them that being a mother is not the most important aspect of her life. They know that It (that is, the most import aspect of her life) “ties with my work and who I  am… They cry when I leave [on a vacation by myself]…  but I feel it is important for them to know they’re not the centre of the world.” 

Another Mother tells her children that she “hates them for having prevented her from becoming a success in life.”

What room is there for doubting the long-term future of Canada, in light of this testimony of the best and the brightest—the people who have for half-a-century-or-so turned out Maclean’s  magazine?  

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THE TWO FACES OF VENEZUELA

By Paul Merkley.

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Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.

Plato
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When you set the googlim to searching for VENEZUELA AND MUSIC they will drop into your lap items that describe in terms of excitement the good work being done in Venezuela by its music program in the schools.

One is struck immediately by an embarrassing contrast to the situation here in Canada where music has always been a poor relation, God-only-knows-how-many notches below sports in the “academic” pecking order. The actual content of “music studies,” where these exist at all in any school draws mostly upon commercial-popular music, rather than upon  the classical heritage.

By contrast (according to Reuters, in an article from a decade ago), “Venezuela’s youth orchestras and choirs have helped thousands of children resist thug life in some of South America’s most violent slums, and now wealthy countries are lining up to emulate the system.” The Reuters reporter notes a great irony here: “Governments from Los Angeles to Scotland may not much like President Hugo Chavez’s brand of Cuba-inspired socialism but they will soon try to replicate Venezuela’s achievements on their own streets… Teachers say the system markedly reduces truancy in slums with some of the highest murder rates in the world… There are now orchestras being formed in Venezuela’s almost lawless prisons.”

“The System” was inaugurated in 1975, and has thus been around long enough that it is tempting to imagine the effects of music training ramifying through the schools and working a massive transformation of the economic, social and political life of the land. But anyone who has been paying attention to Venezuela’s political, economic and cultural life of Venezuela knows that the national life is not governed by that “moral law” that Plato said radiated from the study of music. In fact, Venezuela today presents quite a desperate picture.

Just a few days ago, President Nicolas Maduro announced a 95 percent devaluation of the country’s currency – just the latest in a series of perverse governmental actions intended to head off an economic crisis caused by falling oil prices, but in reality leading to a massive exodus of economic refugees.

Sadly, the public life of Venezuela has been sliding downwards towards hell just about as long as The System has been pouring its graduates into Venezuelan society.

Without doubt, the most widely celebrated graduate of the System is Gustavo Dudamel, 38, today Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the superstar Guest Conductor of just about every major orchestra this season. Precisely because of his unmatched fame he is being called upon today to speak out about the political reality  in Venezuela. But he won’t be moved. This week, Gustavo Dudamel told the Los Angeles Times that he is simply “a musician. If I were a politician, I would act as a politician for my own interest. But I’m an artist, and an artist should act for everybody.” Grandiose and cowardly at the same time! That very week, six people had lost their lives in Venezuela amid protests against what another Venezuelan musician, pianist Gabriela Montera, calls the “organised thuggery” of Nicolas Maduro’s government.

Poignantly, these protests occurred precisely as Dudamel was conducting a concert to celebrate the 39th year of The System.

Without claiming to know how Venezuelan musicians should discharge their political duties, we certainly have a right to point up the failure of the most thoroughly democratic music-education system in the world to affect political realities under what would seem to be nearly-ideal conditions. With Gustavo Dudamel leading the parade, the children of The System are moving in lock-step celebration of the dictator, Nicolas Maduro. Yet, there seems to be nearly-universal agreement that Maduro cannot long preside over a government so incompetent and so venal that prices are rising at an annualized rate of over 100,000 percent!

Since the opening of the French ‘Revolutionary Era three centuries ago, the prosperity of music and musicians has generally been seen to follow from political stability and that has meant, for the most part, singing the praises of extant political regimes. Confronted by critics on the matter of his apparent political apathy, Dudamel says: “We are creating in Sistema not only musicians but better citizens. We exchange instruments for guns. We teach tolerance and respect….I’m a musician. If I were a politician, I would act as a politician for my own interest. But I’m an artist, and an artist should act for everybody.”

 Unless musicians of the stature of Dudamel discharge the responsibility of political leadership that goes with their cultural eminence they risk seeing the rapid collapse of their cultural eminence.

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