Time and Place



In my years teaching undergrads about ancient religions, history and literature, I spent a good amount of time talking about the relativity of origins of belief, doctrine and social norms. When I was, myself, an undergrad and then grad student, one of my beloved mentors, Kaz, had a distinctive way of using the German term Sitz im Leben as a way of emphasizing that we cannot- CAN. NOT.- begin to read or understand a text- let alone try to do anything as tricky as interpret the thing- without a thorough knowledge of the time/place/situation in life in which it was produced.


I’m starting to think we’ve completely lost this vital awareness. Assuming that we, as a connected grouping of human beings, ever really realized its importance.

What the Hell, people? Come on. We are rapidly ceasing to act in ways that demonstrate the beautiful and limitless potentiality of humanity. We are focusing so much on the divisiveness that keeps us tied to a status quo- one that is nostalgic-yet-fictional, at best, and deliberately-and-maliciously-constructed, at worst. And one that benefits the veryvery small proportion of our population that wields the political and/or economic power and doesn’t do much for the rest of us.

Petty* clerks who refuse to do their jobs (a job to which she was elected) because of a narrow, context-less, rote, and erroneous reading of a series of social controls written for a Bronze Age civilization?!?!?!

As much as I’d love to say that that particular episode of willful idiocy is symptomatic of a seeming US-wide epidemic of willful idiocy (Don’t get me started on her biggest supporter, that Huckabee guy…), the reality is that those that live in Canadian glass houses should not be tossing rocks around the joint. As much as it pains me to say that.

I have to admit that I do submit to certain form of Canadian-born schadenfreude at those times when the apparently-de facto pig-ignorance that is employed, permitted and/or supported by certain portions of the American population becomes overwhelming in its ridiculousness. Increasingly, though, doing so comes uncomfortably close to pots and kettles exchanging insults across the International Boundary.

Back-to-school week here in the Centre of the Universe north of the 49th parallel (Toronto, for those non-residents who deny our awesomeness) has brought back an issue to the media spotlight after a summer hiatus (even irrational and deluded Ontarians head to the cottage, apparently). For the first time since 1998, our provincial government, after years of consultations, has updated our public school health curriculum- including what we, as a society, have to teach, in our public schools, about sex and sexuality.

Since Ontario is clearly run by a secular, elected, governmental body, non-Ontarians might find the outcry over the institution of this curriculum somewhat bemusing. Even I did a fair bit of resigned head-shaking and minimizing of the ‘protests’ that took place before the last school year ended. I had my own opinions about those who might nay-say imparting undisputed facts and realities to our children. Some of those opinions were less-than-flattering, to be sure (there’s one in the paragraph above, in fact).

I keep trying to hope that we have put aside our reliance on adherence to Bronze Age, (Ancient) Near Eastern values and cultural mores that jibe not-at-all with those of Canada, in 2015.

That small spar is fast-disappearing.

The ‘debate’ rages. And not just about this (non)issue, but about too many other things of import that have portions of our population running back to their fairy tales and to the strictures that were put in place to maintain social controls over populations from long ago and far away.

As I’ve said before, I don’t like debate. Debate, by definition, polarizes– and suggests that someone will ‘win’. Which, of course, means that there will always be a loser. And it also means that there is no opportunity for respectful discussion- a dialectic, if you will.

This drawing of lines and taunting of the ‘other side’ has reached proportions of absurdity to such an extent that I find myself beginning to lean ever-more frequently toward the dark side of those who greet differences of opinion with juvenile name-calling and instant-and-absolute dismissal. I’m starting to ‘get’ the approach of some of those New Atheist-types who refuse to so much as acknowledge any way but their own, particular highway.

After decades of learning and teaching about different approaches to the way we humans create reality and culture and society, I’m getting a wee bit too much up on my own high horse of opinions about what we need to codify as our societal- and legal- values.

Holding onto my meliorism has been harder and harder. What’s meliorism when it’s at home, you ask? At its most basic, meliorism is a concept that allows for the fact that the world can be made better through human effort. It’s tied up with the pragmatism proposed by peeps like William James and co. It’s kind of central to my way of looking at things.

Except… That foundation has become shaky, lately. Trust and belief in my fellow human beings isn’t especially strong at the moment. I’m having a whole lot of trouble accessing any level of respect for whole lot of people who are making a whole lot of noise, lately.

Then this morning I saw an opinion piece in our local Star.

Timely as all get-out, IMHO.

Respect. It’s severely lacking in our discourse these days. And, contrary to the assertions of certain talking heads, respect is not some hackneyed, airy-fairy, super-left-leaning-liberal, nebulous concept that posits that everyone is, in some way, ‘right’.

I’m ashamed I needed that reminder.

None of this is to say that I’m faltering in my firm stance that we need to work toward complete civil, legal and societal secularization. I hold the truth of that necessity to be self-evident.

People don’t seem to get that there’s a distinct difference between working for social justice for all people and being ‘politically correct’. Yes, everyone is entitled to their opinion- regardless of how backward-thinking and based in tenuous, misinterpreted, anachronistic apologetics such thinking might be. But no one is entitled to expect such opinions to interfere with the larger, overriding and instructional societal rules and standards that guide us in living together as equitably and respectfully as is possible for a country/province/county/city of humans from different places and with different levels of education and different ways of looking at the world.

We are, thankfully, not a theocracy. Nor, for that matter, is the US- although it’s getting harder and harder to remember that little fact. We are not governed by laws that discriminate based upon things like race, gender or sexuality. Not anymore. These over-arching laws aren’t perfect- not by a long-shot they aren’t. But they are demonstrative of forward momentum- the correct direction- away from past distinctions that were established- and supported- by distressingly out-of-context ideologies and institutions.

It is becoming increasingly necessary to remind ourselves just where and when we are. Not where and when we think we are- or wish we were. If you are committed to retaining adherence to the strictures and social norms that were dictated by things like the Hebrew Bible, the Christian Scriptures, the Qur’an, or the standardized version of Manifest Destiny-driven North American history that many of us grew up learning, you must needs seriously sit down and actually learn something about the times and places in which those things were codified. Seriously.

If you do, and still think things were better back then, I’ve got a time machine for sale, cheap (it’s a DeLorean, so it’s a bit dated retro, but still functional).

Knowledge of history does more than help prevent its repetition. Knowledge of history illuminates our awareness that there were no ‘good old days’. Not compared with the situations in life that the majority of us can claim here in North America now.

Again, things aren’t perfect- or even great- for too many of us. Relative economic stability and lack of equitable opportunities remain elusive for too many people in countries that command unprecedented access to resources such as food and shelter (and even many of those numbered among our most vulnerable can still claim more than, when compared with too many others elsewhere on this big blue marble of ours. Exhibit A: the current global refugee crisis. But more on that another day…).

Human progression and evolution may experience periods of reactionary reversion now and again (I cite the fact that that Trump buffoon has anyone taking him seriously as a contender for leadership as proof of that), but our drive to dispel ignorance as we seek understanding and justice for all trumps (pun totally intended) the backsliders every single time. Every. Single. Time.

The past should not, CANNOT, govern us. We can must learn valuable lessons from the wisdom that came before our time, certainly, but we are not beholden to the limited thinking of people who had significantly less information and leisure for reflection with which to work than we have achieved- and continue to achieve- as a human race. We can hear and respect the values and knowledge of people from places that seem far-flung (even as communication causes the world to shrink), but those values that we have instituted, through our agreed-upon system of governance, will always take precedence. In 2015. In Canada.

We can stand around (or go for a troll on the internet) calling others ‘immoral’ and ‘blasphemous‘ and ‘against god(s)’ and ‘idiotic’ (I’m guilty of that one) and ‘stupid’ (okay, that one too, sometimes) or we can keep to the forward momentum that promotes the values of “mutual tolerance (although I’ve noted my concerns with that term, previously) and respect for each other’s dignity and humanity”, as Edward Keenan so wisely stated in his editorial.

Our time and place demands that we do so. We know so much more than we did 4500 or 2000 or 1400 years ago. We are ever-evolving and better than we were even a century ago. Although I’d personally prefer that they didn’t, those who wish to hold onto the ideas that came out of those bygone times and places are welcome to do so. “Diversity of practices and beliefs… (and a) social and legal framework of mutual respect… (are enforced) through government institutions that acknowledge our differences, and insist that we respect each other despite them.”

Those ideas are out of place and time, though. And, as such, need be weighed reasonably and evidentially against our current societal values.

I think that’s a pretty fair summation of forward thinking. Secular forward thinking. We’re not there yet, but we’re on a solid heading. It’s hard to remember that, sometimes. But it’s true.

As a (nameless, female) character in that Big Book O’Stories found out, there is never value to be found in looking backward– to a time or place- with longing.

To do so is risk her fate. And pillars of salt are eventually worn down by unstoppable forces like waves and winds of progress.

Don’t look back
A new day is breakin’
It’s been too long since I felt this way
I don’t mind where I get taken
The road is callin’
Today is the day

I can see
It took so long to realize
I’m much too strong
Not to compromise
Now I see what I am is holding me down
I’ll turn it around

I finally see the dawn arrivin’
I see beyond the road I’m drivin’
Far away and left behind

It’s a new horizon and I’m awakin’ now
Oh I see myself in a brand new way
The sun is shinin’
the clouds are breakin’
‘Cause I can’t lose now, there’s no game to play

I can tell
There’s no more time left to criticize
I’ve seen what I could not recognize
Everything in my life was leading me on
but I can be strong

I finally see the dawn arrivin’
I see beyond the road I’m drivin’
Far away and left behind**

*I use the term ‘petty’ in this case not as a descriptor of her duties as a representative of the county, but because her so-called reasoning behind her unwillingness to do her job are ‘of little importance and trivial’. Contextually-speaking.

**I hesitated using anything remotely Boston-related after the trouncing their hometown team gave MY hometown team last night (sheesh guys. What was THAT?!?!), but the song just sort of lent itself to the topic…