Sunday’s Sermon

. . . I learned about the importance of point of view, not from my graduate classes, but from our little daughter in a stroller. As I grow older I find my mind circling back on a few vivid memories from the past. One of my favorites is of a time when our family went to the zoo in Seattle for a Sunday visit. Our daughter, Margaret, was a little girl, still riding in a stroller. We went to see the apes and the lions, the monkeys and the polar bears.

“What do the monkeys say, Margaret?” “Monkeys say, uhhn, uhhn uhn!”

“What does the bear say?” “Bear says, rrroaar, rroaarr.”

We then were walking along one of the many paths, pushing the stroller and trying to keep Margaret’s older brothers from climbing into the fields with the ruminants. At one point we saw a water buffalo grazing in the field just on the other side of the fence that the boys kept looking at as a challenge to be overcome. As we stopped by the fence we watched as the water buffalo walked towards us, curious, I suppose, about this group of non-water buffalo. As it came closer Margaret was equally curious perched there in her stroller at the height of the first strand of barbed wire. It came right up to the fence. Its broad nose was almost touching Margaret as it smelled her to determine, I guess, if she were friend or foe, or food. The five of us stood there looking at the beast for several minutes. If finally made whatever determination it needed to make and continued its grazing in the field.

“What does the water buffalo say?” “Says, woof, woof, woof.”

“Oh, no,” I laughed, “that’s what a dog says.” “No,” she insisted, “ bufflo say woof, woof.”

I thought about that for a moment and then I came to realize an important lesson about reading the world. So much depends upon point of view. From Margaret’s point of view, down there close to the bufflo’s nose, it did indeed say “woof, woof” – the sound of its breathing through those big silky nostrils. To my ears, four or so feet above hers, there was no such sound, and I also had some preconceived idea of what a bufflo should say! But Margaret simply reported what she experienced. She didn’t know what bufflo were supposed to say, only what that one on that day did say.

Ralón, L. (2016). “Interview with Bob Lane,” Figure/Ground. April 1st.
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Shakespeare and the English Language

If a time machine were available to take you back to Shakespeare’s time, and you jumped aboard, would you be able to understand the language being spoken?

It was a period of “a large intake of loanwords from the Romance languages of Europe…, which required a different kind of pronunciation”—and of a great flood of Latinate words from scientific, legal, and medical discourse. “Latin loanwords in Old and Middle English are a mere trickle,” writes Charles Barber in The English Language, “but in Early Modern English,” Shakespeare’s Elizabethan English, “the trickle becomes a river, and by 1600 it is a deluge.”

Shakespeare’s language revels in such borrowing, and coining, of words, while often preserving the pronunciation and the syntax, of earlier forms of English from all over the UK. All other arguments for reading and listening to Shakespeare aside—and they are too numerous—the richness of the language may be the most robust for centuries to come. As long as there is something called English—though a thousand years hence, our version may sound as alien as the language of Beowulf does today—Shakespeare will still represent some of the wittiest, most adventurous expressions of the most fertile and creative moment in the language’s history.

To hear some Shakespeare please go to OPEN CULTURE.


Review – THE PROBLEM of WAR  By Michael Ruse

Oxford University Press, 2019

Review by Bob Lane

Ruse ends with “War is a horrible thing. We should work together toward a bigger picture.” Almost no person in this world will disagree with that sentiment. War IS a terrible thing, and we continue to be involved in war year after year after year. Why? Is the answer in our culture? Or is it in our biology? Or, perhaps in our religion? Why do we, knowing of war’s consequences, continue to glorify it, to participate in it, to kill and die for it?

Ruse writes, “Since I was a schoolboy, I have been haunted by Wilfred Owen’s terrible poem, written as the conflict was about to enter its final year. This book is a tribute to those who fought, those who suffered, those who died, those who were left behind.”

Read Wilfred Owen’s poem, “Dulce et Decorum Est”

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est Pro patria mori.

That poem captures in its few verses the emotional and intellectual attitude toward war that we all should try to achieve, and the emotional/intellectual stance that Michael Ruse writes from in this book.

This is a book about religion, primarily Christianity, about war and its causes and consequences, about biology, primarily Darwinism, and about the human condition. “Because we are sinners and ongoing sinners, war will be with us always. God promised David peace and tranquility. “And I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant him, and he shall dwell apart, and shall be troubled no more” (2Samuel 7, 10).

This is not for this world. “But if anyone hopes for so great a good in this world, and on this earth, his wisdom is but folly. Can anyone suppose that it was fulfilled in the peace of Solomon’s reign?” (Augustine 413– 426, 801).

Because of original sin, war is part of life.”

What is original sin? Do we have it; and, if so, is it religious or cultural or biological?

Looking for a good review of Darwin’s theory of evolution? This is the book for you.

Looking for a thoughtful review of Christianity and its relationship to war? This is the book for you.

Ruse insists, “One absolutely fundamental thing must be grasped right here, for it is the key to the whole Darwinian story. Selection does not merely cause change, but change of a particular kind. It makes for useful features or characteristics, things that will help their possessors in the struggle.”

So, what about original sin? Ruse: “Am I now saying that the only way we get out of the traditional Christian take on war is by giving up Christianity? Absolutely not! One counter move is to go on defending the Augustinian position by insisting that no sophisticated Christian thinker today takes literally the story of Adam and Eve. An obvious way of executing this defense is by appealing to evolutionary biology. Inherited sin is not something that came about through the act of Adam but something that comes with our biological nature. We are sinners because, as Thomas Henry Huxley pointed out, the things that lead to sin are good adaptations for survival and reproduction. This not only explains sin, but shows why it is very unlikely that we will get rid of it once and for all. Even if culture can overcome sin, cultures change, and reverses occur. From the Weimar Republic to the Third Reich.

Of our sinful behaviors, evolutionary biologist Daryl P. Domning (2001) writes: “it is demonstrable by experiment and fully in accord with Darwinian theory that these behaviors exist because they promote the survival and reproduction of those individuals that perform them. Having once originated (ultimately through mutation), they persist because they are favored by natural selection for survival in the organisms’ natural environments.” This explains the “stain of original sin.” Culture is involved but ultimately it is biology.”

 This is a good book. Thoughtful and thought provoking – the problem of war is, I am afraid, one that will always be with us.

War is a horrible thing. We should work together toward a bigger picture.”


Bob Lane is Professor Emeritus in Philosophy at Vancouver Island University and a Korean Veteran.

Sunday’s Sermon

world_religion2Though we can’t prove the existence of one (or many) god(s), we can provide evidence for the power of religion. For good or for evil, faith factors into our everyday lives in one way or another. We’ve evolved to believe. But it is also clear that extremist beliefs can have terrible consequences.

I won’t go through a list of the evils that religion can support or contribute to, for all you need to look at for a history of evil is most any “holy scripture” describing “holy” wars and destruction (the one I am most familiar with is “The Book of Judges” in the Hebrew Bible). Or, your daily newspaper or twitter feed.

Here are several articles: (Yes, there will be a quiz! Smile)

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