David Hume’s Famous (and Failed) DIsproof of Miracles

DAVID HUME’S SELF-CONTRADICTORY REJECTION OF MIRACLES By the Rev. Colin Liske January 10, 2015
Many academics in our universities and colleges have rejected the reality of miracles as reported in the Bible. Their view is usually that all reality is ultimately reducible to physical things which are governed by the laws of nature. Further, they say that the laws of nature cannot be broken or suspended., as would be required by miracles.
Thus the laws of nature trump the existence of miracles. Alternatively, some of these academics may say that there may be two realities, one physical and the other spiritual, but the spiritual cannot have anything to do with the physical. Therefore, even here, because miracles undoubtedly would have to impact the physical world, miracles still cannot be real. They then further conclude that the miracles reported in the Bible were simply stories that must have been invented by human beings, especially by the earliest Christian communities.
Academics who these days almost universally hold to this perspective base it largely on an eighteenth century Scottish philosopher by the name of David Hume who in his ‘Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding’ developed this idea in his epistemology, his theory of knowledge.
Over against these notions, it will be the position of this essay that David Hume’s own epistemology essentially refutes his rejection of miracles, and that his rejection of all positive testimony for miracles belies a faulty understanding or application of the traditional principles of historiography.
We might first of all recall Hume’s definition of a miracle and the manner in which he contrasts miracles and the laws of nature. In the ‘Of Miracles’ section in his ‘Enquiry concerning Human Understanding’ Hume says, ‘A miracle is a violation of the laws of nature; and as a firm and unalterable experience has established these laws, the proof against a miracle, from the very nature of the fact, is as entire as any argument from experience can possibly be imagined (Allen and Springsted, Primary Readings, p. 158).
Thus Hume defines a miracle as a ‘violation of the laws of nature.’ We might object to the term ‘violation,’ because such an appellation would appear to cast a negative light on the issue. We might rather in a preliminary manner restate Hume’s definition of a miracle as a ‘suspension’ of the laws of nature. At least that would be a more neutral term.
But aside from that, a miracle may not necessarily be a violation or suspension of the laws of nature at all. One possibility might instead be that miracles on the one hand and the regularities of nature on the other could come from one basic activity or substance underlying both such manifestations in nature, expressed in two different ways. Thus it might be said that a miracle is one particular expression of the substance underlying nature, and the ordinary regularity of nature is a different manifestation of the same substance underlying nature. Thus miracles and the regularities in nature might be similar to the manner in which Spinoza suggested that substance manifests itself in two ways, mind and matter, without any contradiction between the two, yet having their dual manifestations rooted in one basic substance.
Theologically speaking, it might be held that miracles and the ordinary regularities in nature are simply two different manifestations of God’s one underlying creation and preservation of the natural world. There would then mean that there is no Newtonian ‘god of the gaps.’
But let us take Hume’s definition as he himself puts it, that a miracle is a violation of the laws of nature. According to Hume, miracles cannot occur because they purportedly run contrary to human experience and therefore contrary to the laws of nature.
Hume’s claim here is based on the role that experience plays in his epistemology. Hume says that knowledge is formed in three stages. First of all, every particular sense-perception that one has he calls an ‘impression.’ These particular impressions arise in our minds, and then as the second step, our minds create copies of these impressions which he calls ‘ideas.’ The difference appears to be that we can recall these ‘ideas’ after the particular sense impressions themselves disappear. We can, as it were, picture these ideas in our minds without the sense-perceptions or impressions themselves.
The third stage in Hume’s epistemology is that our minds then associate these ideas, one with the other. This he of course calls this the ‘Association of Ideas.’ This association occurs by way of three different kinds of activity of the mind, by resemblance, contiguity, and by cause and effect. (Allen and Springsted, Philosophy, pp. 143-144).
That one idea might resemble or be like another, and that our minds would notice this, is not particularly difficult for our understanding. This might indeed be the way that our minds have the capability of organizing things we perceive, giving general classifications to things whether they be people or sheep or houses. There are ways in which all persons more or less resemble others. The same is true of sheep or houses. Thus our minds are able to come up with the activity of associating one idea of a house or person with another house or person.
That our minds can also notice that one idea is normally contiguous to or next to another idea is something that is common to our everyday lives. It is often the case that a car and a person are in the same place, and thus it is common for us to conclude more generally then that the person has something to do with that particular car.
But the major issue for Hume is causality, cause and effect. We normally conclude that, just because one sense-perception or impression comes after another, that the latter is caused by the former. When I quickly move my foot toward and then touch a football, and the football then moves rapidly down the turf, then surmise that my kicking of the football has ‘caused’ the football to move so rapidly. Hume’s famous example of the impacting of billiard balls says exactly this. (Allen and Springsted, Philosophy, p. 144).
This kind of thing occurs again and again, and if this occurs often enough, repeatedly and without exception, we naturally and finally seem to conclude, not only that this happens regularly, but that it happens universally, that there is a ‘necessary connection’ between the kicking of my foot and the motion of the football, and that this occurs because of a universal law of nature.
But Hume objects that we never actually experience or have an impression of this presumed necessary connection. In another of his most famous examples, Hume says that the rising of the sun occurs regularly every morning, but we can never be totally sure that it will rise again tomorrow morning. While we can speak of a regularity in our impressions, we cannot speak of a necessary connection between those impressions because we do not actually have an impression of the necessary connection itself.
One question that Hume does not seem to address here is how the very notion of cause and effect or necessary connection can arise in the mind as an ‘idea’ at all if there is no impression of the necessary connection in the first place. If all ideas are rooted in impressions, and there is no impression of a necessary connection, how is it possible for the idea of a necessary connection to be formed ? Yet we do have this idea of causality or necessary connection in our minds.
It would seem that, following on all this, one might then suspect that Hume himself ought not to believe that laws of nature actually exist. But this does not seem to be the case. Hume does, after all, in his definition of miracles speak of the laws of nature. Thus Hume seems to think that there are indeed laws of nature, but he simply cannot prove that there are laws of nature because he is not able to prove that there is a necessary connection between our impressions. (Allen and Springsted, pp. 146-147)
But it seems that if Hume were to be consistent here, his own epistemology ought actually to prevent him from concluding that miracles are not possible. If he cannot prove that there are laws of nature, including the necessary connection of cause and effect between impressions, then by his own definition of miracles, it follows that he cannot prove that there are no miracles because he cannot prove that there are laws of nature which can be violated. If he cannot prove that there is a necessary connection of cause and effect between appearances, or impressions, then he also cannot contend that miracles are impossible.
Exactly the opposite is true. For Hume, one appearance simply follows after another, and the fact that there is no necessary or causal connection between these impressions means that miracles may indeed be possible. The fact that Hume cannot prove the existence of the laws of nature must lead to the conclusion that miracles may indeed occur. There can be no violation of laws of nature that cannot be proven to exist. This is our first criticism of Hume on miracles.
Thus Hume realized that he could not prove the existence of a necessary connection between impressions, and that he therefore could not prove that laws of nature actually exist. One wonders why Hume himself does not appear to have further realized that he could therefore also not deny miracles on the basis of this lack of a necessary connection, and that in fact his own epistemology therefore contradicted his notion that miracles cannot occur.
In any case, Hume turns to another approach to substantiate his denial of miracles. He simply speaks about regular human experience in the present and throughout history, and the notion that this regularity of human experience implies that miracles are not probable and therefore do not occur.
In Part II in ‘Of Miracles’ Hume notes that ‘. . . in our reasoning as historians all we have to go on are our experiences of today. In our experience nature operates with regularity. Because of the common course of nature, it is always more likely that reports of miracles in the past are not correct than that they are.’ (Allen and Springsted, Philosophy, p. 147).
We of course might wish to ask how Hume would know that reports of miracles in the past are more likely incorrect than not. How does Hume know that there are no unique events in the past? This is circular reasoning, or the logical fallacy of petitio principii, that is, begging the question. Hume here sets out to prove that which he already assumes, namely, that events in the past never included miracles. Hume did not have the capability of checking every event in the present or in the past to see if there were any miracles or not. He is simply saying that there are no miracles in the past because there have never been any miracles in the past.
Hume goes on to present four basic arguments for the probability that miracles cannot occur. We now present some of the basic elements of these arguments here. Firstly, he says that ‘there is not to be found, in all history, any miracle attested by a sufficient number of men, of such unquestioned good sense, education, and learning, as to secure us against all delusion in themselves; of such undoubted integrity, as to place them beyond all suspicion of any design to deceive others; of such credit and reputation in the eyes of mankind, as to have a great deal to lose in case of their being detected in any falsehood; and at the same time, attesting facts performed in such a public manner and in so celebrated a part of the world, as to render the detection unavoidable. All which circumstances are requisite to give us a full assurance in the testimony of men.’ (Allen and Springsted, Readings, p. 160).
Hume’s argument here is illogical because it is fundamentally an ad hominem argument. He claims that there simply is no sufficient evidence in the case of any reported miracles by upstanding men to guarantee that we would not be misled by them. But he does not tell us exactly what the qualifications for their education, standing, etc., would be, or how many such men would be needed. Nevertheless, he does claim to know that there are no situations where there are such trustworthy men who might be believed about miracles. He seems to conclude that most people are untrustworthy.
One wonders what Hume thought about the appearance of the risen Christ to over 500 people at one time In I Corinthians 15:6, including finally an appearance to one as educated as St. Paul.
Secondly, Hume argues that ‘The maxim, by which we commonly conduct ourselves in our reasoning, is that the objects of which we have no experience resemble those of which we have; that what we have found to be most usual is always most probable; and that where there is an opposition of arguments, we ought to give the preference to such as are founded on the greatest number of past observations.’ (Allen and Springsted, Readings, p. 160).
But how does such a criterion assure us of what is possible in the occurrence of past events? Hume here denies the possibility of the unique in history. We might ask how Hume could know that there could not be anything unique in history, that there could not be miracles in history. To apply the historian Von Ranke’s dictum in a manner in which he likely did not intend, we might ask how Hume would know by definition that miracles cannot happen and instead that the occurrence of a miracle might in fact be ‘wie es eigentlich gewesen war,’ ‘ how it actually happened.’
One of Hume’s mistakes here is that he argues from the probability of miracles instead of addressing the matter of the possibility of miracles. It is of course generally true that miracles are not probable. By definition, miracles would be extraordinary and unique occurrences. Thus the fact that miracles do not normally occur in our human experience does not mean that they could not occur in certain cases. The real issue is the possibility of miracles as unique or possible occurrences in history, not the probability of miracles.
Hume then in the last part of this second section and in the third section of Part II in his ‘Of Miracles’ goes on to indict those who testify to miracles as people who are emotional, influenced by surprise and wonder, and who generally are ignorant and barbarous. His argument here is essentially that the presumed universal experience of human beings against miracles far outweighs the questionable testimony of easily influenced human beings who claim in particular cases to have experienced or witnessed miracles. (Allen and Springsted, Primary Readings, pp. 161-163).
This is again the same ad hominem argument. While it might certainly be true to say that there are some people who might be easily influenced and are rather gullible, it is surely unwarranted to paint almost everyone with this brush. (Allen and Springsted, Readings, pp. 161-163).
Finally, Hume argues that, if the miracles recounted in Christianity are to be accepted, the miracles recorded in other religions must also be acknowledged. But how does he know this? Again, he assumes that reality must be the same everywhere, that if miracles occur in one religion, then they must also occur in another. This again disregards the possibility of the uniqueness of miracles.
Hume goes on to claim the witness of history (Allen and Springsted, p. 160), but he betrays a lack of knowledge of the traditional criteria of historiography. John Warwick Montgomery in his book ‘Where is History Going?’ indicates that there are traditionally three basic criteria that must be followed in writing history. The first one concerns bibliographic or documentary evidence, that is, reference to and giving a fundamental priority to the received texts from history, to the primary sources. The number of such documents and their closeness to the events described must be taken into account.
The Bible is one such set of documents, and in particular, a set of documents which report a number of miracles, and especially the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus, the Christ. (Montgomery, Where is History Going?, p. 44ff.)
Montgomery indicates that there are some 8,000 manuscripts of the Latin Vulgate and at least 1,000 earlier versions. There are over 4,000 Greek manuscripts and some 13,000 copies of portions of the New Testament.. Among others the major codices of the fourth and fifth centuries A.D., the Vaticanus, the Sinaiticus, and the Alexandrinus are perhaps the most important of various texts in Greek, and there are many papyri as well, such as P52 and P66 which come from the second century A.D. P52, the John Rylands papyrus, a portion of John 18, is acknowledged by most scholars to be the earliest extent manuscript, dating from around 125 A.D.
However, in addition to this, it is still important to consider P64, the so-called Magdalen or Jesus Papyrus, more recently redated by Carsten Thiede to sometime prior to 70 A.D. or earlier. (Carsten Thiede, The Jesus Papyrus.150). In addition, the scholarly community still awaits publication by the Green Scholars Initiative of an apparently recently discovered manuscript of a First Century Gospel of Mark. (Earliest Christianity website).
The second criterion of doing history is that the traditional historian must respect the internal evidence of these texts, that which the document itself claims to be. Citing Aristotle’s ‘Art of Poetry,’ Montgomery reminds us that the ‘benefit of the doubt is to be given to the document itself, not arrogated by the critic to himself. This means that one must listen to the claims of the document under analysis, and not assume fraud or error unless the author disqualifies himself by contradictions or known factual inaccuracies.’ (Montgomery, Ibid., p. 46). Thus the historian cannot legitimately put his own criticism of the documents forward regarding what the text says of itself unless he can prove that there are errors in the text.
A practical application of this fundamental criterion of doing history would be to regard what the Bible says about miracles and the miracle of the resurrection of Christ as indeed historical unless it can be proven otherwise. St. Luke tells us in 1:1-4 that he is reporting the things in his Gospel on the basis of ‘those who from the first were eyewitnesses of such things,’ as also does the Apostle John in I John 1:1, where he says, ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched –this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.’ Hume does not give the internal evidence of the Bible this sort of respect.
The third criterion of doing history is that the historian must also pay attention to the external evidence for the claims of the documents under consideration. External evidence may also be called ‘secondary sources.’ Such external evidence for the Bible is the documents written by the Early Church Fathers, as well as various pagan sources at the time.
There are many such secondary sources or external evidences in history which report to one extent or another on the evidence about Christ from the Scriptures, including the resurrection of Christ. Among those from the Early Church are Papias, Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Quadratus of Athens, Aristides the Athenian, and Hegesippus. External evidence regarding Christ from outside of the church is to be found in Suetonius, Tacitus, Celsus, Pliny the younger, Lucian , Serapion, Josephus, and the Talmud and other rabbinical documents.
Thus there is in history, in the Bible and in the Early Church, a considerable amount of evidence which points to the reality of miracles, and especially of the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Christ in particular fits these criteria of historiography exceedingly well. The documentary evidence is especially close to the events, and the number of such documents is vast, when one considers other ancient events and their documentation by comparison. The documents of Scripture by way of internal evidence themselves claim that these miracles actually occurred, and there is considerable external evidence from the earliest church as well, both from within and without the church, including hostile witnesses.
Is it not very odd that a miracle as profound as that of Christ’s resurrection has such great historical evidence for it? If one does not exclude miracles by definition, the historical conclusion must be that the miracle of the resurrection of Christ has indeed occurred.
We therefore conclude against Hume that a proper application of the traditional criteria of doing history to the Bible and the Early Church shows that miracles may indeed occur, albeit they may be unique or few in number.
We also conclude against Hume that the general regularity or probability of our experiences of nature does not argue against the possibility of miracles. Miracles by definition are not probable. Hume argues in a circle. He contends that miracles are not possible because they are not probable, and they are not probable because we do not have regular experiences of miracles. But much like he cannot by his own epistemology prove the laws of nature to exist, so also he cannot prove that the unique, miracles, do not occur in history.
We also conclude that Hume’s epistemology itself not only does not point to the rejection of miracles, but in fact on the contrary must be open to the possibility of miracles. Because Hume cannot demonstrate any necessary connection or causality in nature, there is in Hume’s epistemology no empirically provable laws of nature for miracles to violate. Because Hume cannot prove the existence of the laws of nature, miracles are therefore actually possible.

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Vancouver Island Christian Schools Won’t Profit from Public System Strike

st.patricks kindergartenBy Steve Weatherbe

Although some Christian schools on Vancouver Island face a tough fight maintaining enrolment due to shrinking numbers of children in the population at large, they are making no efforts to attract parents concerned about a threatened closure of public schools this coming fall.
Says Stuart Hall, headmaster of the Christ Church Cathedral School in Victoria. “We don’t want people to come for the wrong reasons. We don’t want parents who are angry.” Nor does Hall want private schools seen as “sheep-stealers.” “Our province depends on good public schools and we wish them well. Our teachers are worried about their friends who teach in the public system.
Hall can count perhaps two enquiries caused by the teacher’s strike. “The woman lives near our school, attends Christ Church and has thought about our school for years. Now, because of the strike, she calls.” And there was a father who had a checklist of grievances against the public system—classroom size, too many students with special needs—“That’s where I drew the line,” admits Hall. “I told him we have special needs students too. It is our responsibility as a Christian school to accept them.” The man left.
David O’Dell, principal at Pacific Christian School, says Victoria’s largest by far K-12 Protestant school is making no effort to attract worried or disgruntled parents and their children.
“We’re not about stealing kids,” says O’Dell. PCS expects parents and children to be believers and churchgoers and once enquirers learn the school is serious about this, they politely withdraw. “We tell we are not judging them for their beliefs but we are a faith community.” Even when there is no strike action imminent, some parents come to PCS hoping it can “fix” their problem-child. “That’s not what we do either,” says O’Dell.
Bev Pulyk, the new superintendent of Vancouver Island’s Catholic schools, agrees. She says her system won’t be doing anything to attract public system pupils, “though certainly there will be a discernable increase in interest in private schools in the province overall,” she says. Enrolment could increase, but only from families that are already committed to the Catholic faith. “We exist to pass on our Catholic faith. We’re not going to dumb that down to appeal to greater numbers.” While Catholic schools do accept non-Catholics, as with Protestant schools, all students must attend all school events, including religious instruction and services.
But in places in the province where there is population growth and, relatedly, income growth, a strike will boost Christian school enrolment, says the head of B.C.’s chief private school organization. “Without a doubt, says Peter Froese, the executive director of the B.C. Federation of Independent School Associations, “ a strike will definitely have an impact.” Already FISA is fielding more than the average number of inquiries from worried parents, but Froese’s prediction is based on past experience.
While public school enrolment is declining year over year as the population ages, Christian schools are bucking the trend and growing at 2 percent a year across the province. And in 2012, the last time labour unrest darkened the educational horizons, Christian school enrolment climbed 4 percent.
“It pushes parents who’ve been thinking about our schools for years over the edge,” says Froese. So does prosperity. When natural resource activity increased in Northern and Central British Columbia in recent years, so did Christian school enrolment: the parents could finally afford it the fees, which vary from $2,500 (for Catholic schools) to $5,500 (for Protestant).
Conversely, Vancouver Island’s relatively stagnant economy has stalled enrolment at most Christian schools here, while public systems have shrunk. In Campbell River, where a pulp and paper mill recently shut down, enrolment at Campbell River Christian School is struggling. There is another factor, according to staff person who talked to the Vancouver Island Christian News: people are immigrating to the region, but they are retirees; they bring income, but not children.
The story is different in Vancouver, which is not only booming, it is booming with young Christian immigrants and is one of the places in Canada where church attendance has actually increased lately. That’s why, Doug Lauson, superintendent of the Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver schools, says a public-system strike will have no impact. “The reason is simple. We already have a waiting list of Catholics and have had for years.” Lauson guesses the reason is immigration, especially “the influx from South East Asia, which has large Catholic populations who are used to having their own schools.”

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Moral Foolishness from the Worldly Wise

Simon Anholt Helsinki May 2009 01(1)Countries are rated by an ‘expert’ ignorant of morality, history and Christianity

By Steve Weatherbe

The “goodest country in the world” is Ireland, says a British consultant named Simon Anholt, and I don’t disagree. He and “a team of experts” have rated all the countries using some objective criteria they assembled to assess how altruistic each country is towards people outside its own boundaries and Ireland comes up as the most selfless.

But there are two things that ought to appall Christians in the TED talk Anholt gave to an adoring audience about his annual goodness rating. First, he appears to believe he has “discovered” a new idea—that countries ought to do good in the world and not merely act out of self-interest.

This is not new: it is the Christian ideal of statehood and international relations. This ancient view sees states bound by morality as they act as individuals, as parents, really, protecting their own children first, while acting towards other individuals with loving kindness.  Just as parents might have to resort to violence to defend themselves or their families, or others,  from harm, so governments must go to war to protect their citizens—or their allies. Just as parents give generously in service and money and prayer to other individuals and families in need, so states help those beyond their borders. So it’s not new, Simon Anholt.

True, Machiavelli promoted the idea of the amoral king and state and he was backed up by philosophers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke. Today this view of the conduct of states is still popular. It even prevails. But it is not the Christian view. It is appalling that a well-informed person and one self-billed as an international advisor would not know it, or, knowing it, would conceal it.

The second appalling thing is Anholt’s view of morality. His goodness criteria has “nothing to do with morality,” he reassures his Ted audience. It has to do with altruism. My confident guess is that he thinks morality only deals with sex, possibly along with other things his parents forbade him to do when he was a kid—smoking? Slow dancing? Of course, altruism is a form of moral behaviour, called charity or caritas.

In separating the two, he expresses the popular view that we can cherry-pick morality, and that the way the people of a country choose to behave in terms of sexual morality has no impact on their conduct in other areas. We think this is wrong.

So here is a man with good intentions and even a good point to make basing it all on an  exceedingly shallow understanding of morality,  political thought and history. Apparently, he has simply excised Christianity from his understanding. He typifies our intelligentsia in the media and university.Can much good come from this?

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Home from Prison: the island’s pro-life heroine

mary-wagnerMary Wagner ‘s mission takes her into abortion clinics and behind bars

Mary Wagner, Vancouver Island’s pro-life crusader, was released from an Ontario prison jail after doing 22 months for entering a Toronto abortion clinic, interfering with the lawful conduct of its business, and breaching probation.
She was released at her sentencing hearing, sentenced to time already served. After “three to five” convictions, she must await trial in jail, because she always returns to the clinic while on probation.
For now, though she is back visiting her siblings in Victoria and parents in Nanaimo. They are supportive of the 40-year-old woman though they expect she will soon return to her calling—witnessing to women seeking abortion—and so to jail.
Mary faces the prospect of every lengthening sentences for her crimes with philosophical aplomb. “I’m not trying to get thrown in jail,” she says. “But if it were a 10-year sentence, then that would at least serve to highlight even more what is at stake–that each unborn baby is unique. What mother or father wouldn’t give their lives to save their own child’s life? Or go to jail? And just as each poor person was Jesus to Mother Theresa, each unborn baby is Jesus to me.”
While others have broken these laws by demonstrating within the bubble zones set up around clinics in Ontario and B.C., Mary Wagner has always gone right into the clinics, not she says, to protest, but to minister and witness.
Her usual modus operandi is to give whomever she finds in the waiting room a flower and talks to whoever will listen. If no one does, she talks softly to the room at large. At Christmas, before police came, she gave the patients little, brightly-wrapped gifts. If they asked what was inside, she replied, “You have to wait, just like to have to wait for what’s inside your womb.” The women she finds there are not usually very receptive, she admits. But occasionally, there is a positive reaction. “Once, when I talked about how 17 dead fetuses were found in a Lansing, Michigan dumpster, discarded by an abortion clinic, and how the bishop held a mass funeral for them, a woman who had been ignoring me looked up, held my gaze in shock , gathered her things and left. I think she finally got it.”
It is the crowning irony of Mary’s ministry that her time in jail—always the Madame Vanier Institute for Women in Mississauga, just west of Toronto—is well spent and may well be more effective than her witness in clinics. “The women in jail are way more receptive. Maybe because they have fallen so low, so much has been stripped away. Maybe God makes His love known to them out of His love for the poor,” she says. “Many have told me they have seen His hand in their lives at crucial moments.” She does not proselytize. The women come to Mary, attracted by her regular prayer life. The Catholics join her in the Rosary. Protestants join in study and meditation on Scripture. Mary does not actively proselytize, but women do talk about why they are inside, and most of her fellow inmates who do talk admit to having had abortions. “Unlike women in the clinics, these women know they took a life.”
Though they know Mary is likely to spend much of her life behind bars, her parents are accepting. “I’ve never had a problem with what she does,” says father Frank Wagner. “Mary is called to do what she does. Who could ask for anything different from their children?I wish she weren’t in jail so much, but she does good work while she’s there.”

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Why Even Atheists Should Fight For The Trinity Western University Law School

Comment By Dan Rutherford[1]

The ongoing fracas over the intention of Trinity Western University (TWU), Canada’s only Evangelical Protestant university, to open a law school has now been met with a new challenge, the recent refusal of both Ontario and Nova Scotia’s Law Societies to recognize any l­aw graduates from TWU. While this may please some secularists,  I would argue that those concerned for a flourishing civil and pluralistic society will find this turn of events disturbing.

There is a significant reason why all Canadians might hope for the success of an institution such as TWU in its Law School application. That reason is the benefit to  Canada as a whole of a healthy, growing religious community. This idea may seem suspect in an age where so many people seem to resonate with the words of the late Christopher Hitchens, that “religion poisons everything.”  However, as renowned Harvard Sociologist Robert Putnam and co-researcher David Campbell have stated, and demonstrated through extensive research on religion and society; “Individual citizens who are members of religious groups are better neighbors and more civically active than their secular counterparts.”

To demonstrate the point, Putnam and Campbell’s research looks at three specific measures of good neighborliness: levels of charitable giving, volunteerism and civic engagement. In each of these areas the remarkable findings are that those who are religiously engaged provide substantially more to the social good (social capital) than those who are non-religious. These areas of volunteering, giving and serving are not confined to the walls of their religious institutions, but spill over in significant ways into the margins of society. Putnam and Campbell point out that 91% of those who volunteer for religious causes also volunteer for at least one secular cause. “69% who did not volunteer for a religious group did not volunteer for a secular one either”. Further, ‘in round numbers regular churchgoers are more than twice likely to volunteer to help the needy compared to … (those) who rarely if ever attend church.”  [2]

Similar measures have been explored in the Canadian context by Researchers Paul B. Reed and L. Kevin Selbee in their work titled, “The Civic Core in Canada: Disproportionality in Charitable Giving, Volunteering, and Civic Participation”. Their findings are quite remarkable and somewhat disturbing noting that, “six percent of Canadian adults account for 35% to 42% of all civic involvement.” They have called this small group of individuals the “civic core” in Canada. When they explore the make up of this civic core, they find that “The profile of characteristics of people in the civic core includes those that are customarily found among elites: elevated levels of occupational status, education, and income. Others of their characteristics are not associated with elites: a strong religious orientation…”[3]

 

The work of Ida Berger, “The Influence of Religion on Philanthropy in Canada”[4] also confirms the impact of the religiously inclined in Canadian society. “Religious affiliation and self-perceived religiosity appear to be important as influences on philanthropic variance. Those who are non-religiously affiliated are the least philanthropic, while those who identify themselves, as conservative Protestants are the most philanthropic.

If religious people and the institutions they support are forced to embrace the values of a non-religious majority, then society ceases to be truly pluralistic. Ultimately all Canadians will lose the valuable and generous contributions of an, albeit small, but vital part of its society. Surely even those who do not share the religious convictions of an institution like TWU would do well to advocate for them, so as not to diminish the provisions that many, both secular and religious, enjoy as a result.

This is not an appeal to make all of society more religious or to say that religious people are better people than secular ones. Nor is this article or the application of TWU an assault on the freedoms of those of any sexual orientation, which by the way is not mentioned in the TWU student covenant. Instead, it is recognition of the significant role that religion plays in our society. In fact, this is a plea to consider how all Canadians are the poorer in every measure when the wider culture seeks to curtail the religious freedoms of a vital part of society.

 

[1] The Rev. Dan Rutherford is currently a Community Sabbatical Fellow as The Center for the study of Religion and Society at The University of Victoria. His recent study has been on the Millennial Generation and Social Capital.

[2] Putnam, Robert D., and David E.

Campbell, American Grace. Simon and

Shuster, 2010. pp. 445-446, 627-628

[3] Reed and Selbee 775

[4] Berger, Voluntas: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, June 2006, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 110-127

 

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The Joy of Music

The Joy of Music

With her three sisters, a Vancouver Island woman brings forgiveness and love into Texas prisons.

The Facts

When Lorraine Bandet of Victoria agreed to help her sister Evelyn in Texas with her prison ministry, she had no idea it would mean talking to young women dimly glimpsed through a one-foot by one-foot plexiglass opening in a steel door, and talking to them through a narrow, floor level slot in that door.

“It took me aback at first, for sure,” says Lorraine, whose speech still bears charming traces of her Francophone upbringing in rural Saskatchewan. “They are all in solitary confinement, in tiny stalls. We each knock on a different door, ask them if they want to talk, to sing, to pray. Usually they do.”

“We” includes Aline and Carmel who  have join Lorraine and Evelyn for the past five years in Berzoria County, Texas, “a place with a lot of prisons,” says Lorraine ruefully, for a week of sisterly fellowship—and prison music ministry. Each year, they put on a concert at a men’s penitentiary, and minister more intimately at a women’s jail.

“Music has always brought us together and brought us great joy,” says Lorraine, recalling how the family of six girls and six boys would sing at Catholic church socials accompanied by their parents. “It was the best time of our lives.” Evelyn became a country gospel singer, cut records in Nashville and continued to perform in Saskatchewan at pro-life events before moving with her husband to Texas 18 years ago. There 12 years ago she volunteered to join her parish priest in providing a Catholic presence in the local prisons and eventually roped her sisters in too.

The sisters sing “everything,” pop, C &W, Gospel to an audience of about a 150 men accompanied by a prison band. “The men are incredibly talented,” says Lorraine. The sisters also testify as to the love Christ and tp the important role Mary can play as their guide through life. “Many of these men came from really bad family situations. Mary is a true mother for these men.”

Lorraine has seen men “lifted up to a different place,” by the hymns the sisters sing.  The message that Jesus forgives them and cherishes them is a welcome one indeed to men serving long sentences. Many are baptised and receive their First Communion in jail, dressing all in white for the sacraments.

But it is working with the women that Lorraine especially cherishes. “There is a real pro-life angle to this,” says Lorraine, who is a regular participant in the 40 Days for Life prayer vigil outside the CRD’s abortion clinic in View Royal. That angle emerges in those talks  conducted through the steel doors.” “Ninety per cent of the women that we speak to have had an abortion. They have destroyed a life and now feel their own life has no value.” The sisters preach Christ’s forgiveness. Later, Evelyn’s parish takes in many of these women when they are released, providing advice and instruction on how to live productive lives, be good mothers and reclaim their children from the foster care system.

As grim as the settings are, says Lorraine, “When we come out we feel renewed.

You never know what these women have been through,” she adds. “We’ re not there to judge or condemn but just give them hope that life can be better for them.  But doing this helps us too. It has made me stronger in my faith, more willing to stand outside the abortion clinic.”

 

The Comment

Unpaid volunteers send a powerful message to those serving time. These men and women know how scary they are and appreciate those brave and kind enough to get close. The Good News that Christ forgives sinners is easier to hear behind a steel door.

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Water for Haiti

Some Victorians band together to bring clean water to a poor community
The Facts
A remote, primitive Haitian community is getting clean water thanks to a small group of

Victoria's Dan Rutherford with Haitian friends

Victoria’s Dan Rutherford with Haitian friends

Victoria Christians. Two hours out of Haiti’s capital of Port Au Prince by road and another 30 minutes by motorcycle (or several hours on foot), scrabbling to exist growing vegetables on one or two-acre plots, farming, the community of a 100 people is also beset by diseases, especially cholera, that are spread by dependence on contaminated rivers and streams. Even the wells are contaminated to a depth of 100 feet.
Now work has begun on a new well, dug down below the contamination line, which will have its own purification system, built by Water for the World, but funded by 14 Victoria families led by Dan Rutherford, former pastor at Gateway Baptist Church.
Dan, if anything, resisted the call God was making for him to do something in Haiti after it was devastated by an earthquake in 2010. “I knew nothing about it except what I’d heard about the danger from disease and violence,” he recalls.
The call came via his wife Beverly, however, which gave it some clout. A physician, she had joined a handful of medical personnel from Victoria who responded to the prostrated nation’s plight and while serving there for two weeks met a young pastor who totally had taken 14 children orphaned by the quake under his care.
“He wasn’t asking us for anything, not money or clothing,” says Dan. “He just wanted to be connected with Christians outside Haiti.” One thing led to another and to Dan being asked to visit for a week with Pastor “Fred,” his wife and his orphans, in the no-named community, despite all his misgivings about the place and about his own inadequacy to deal with it. “It was grinding poverty like I’d never seen,” he recalls. “So far out of my comfort zone. I couldn’t ignore what I’d seen but I couldn’t see how one person could make an impact.” So he studied up on community development, read the book by Paul Farmer, Haiti Since the Earthquake, and decided the people in the community itself had to call the shots. “I asked Pastor Fred to invite everyone to a party. Then at some point break everyone up into small groups and get them all to come up with what the community needed most.” The answer turned out to be clean water.
As it was, the only clean water had to be brought in by motorcycle at 25 Haitian dollars a jug, driving most back on local natural sources poisoned by e coli and cholera. Dan lined up an American aid agency , Water for the World, which had developed a cheap new technology that converts common table salt to chlorine for purification and used solar power to pump it out of the ground. Cheap local labour would dig the well and build the concrete building to house the system and the reservoir.
Dan rounded up Victorians with a free dinner and some dance lessons and raised $6,500. He found a Canadian charity, the Haiti Christian Aid Society, to funnel the funds to Water for the World (and give out tax credits here). The project was soon put together. The plan is to sell the water –at H$2 a jug—rather than give it away, partly to move the community towards having an economy, partly so that the community will value the project and partly to pay the system’s caretakers.
Dan doesn’t know what the next project will be. “We’ll watch how this develops first. Maybe we will build the orphanage. Pastor Fred and his wife are having a baby so there are a lot of people crowded into a home the size of your kitchen right now.”

Thousands of Vancouver Island Christians (and some atheists we know) are quietly doing similar volunteer work, as doctors, engineers, nurses, optometrists, plastic surgeons, missonaries and labourers, in the developing world. We tell this story to inspire imitation—that would be Imitation of Christ. Please pass on any inspiring story you know. Email: steve.weatherbe@gmail.com

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