Posted by: Geoffrey Meadows | July 3, 2011

Maxims, #3

How many of us realized that the Jews we grew up with were the first generation after the Holocaust?  And that they were beautiful.

And after all is said and done, and the Earth goes through its calamities, the reason we will have for not doing anything will be, “Some of us thought it was sunspots.”

To be ignorant of others’ religions is to be lacking in your own.

There’s a certain way of trying to be good in which you don’t reap any of the benefits of it.

No matter how much I wish things were easier or better, simpler even, it’s a great blessing to feel I am where I’m supposed to be and doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Sometimes you are redeemed most by your own choices.

What do you mean you don’t want change?  Change is happening anyway.  It’s up to us to decide what changes we want or need, and what changes we don’t.

It seems America could use a refresher course on propaganda.

I just don’t think it’s good policy, if every time we stand to lose money in order to save a species, that we go for the money.

Truth-telling professions: teachers, ministers, journalists, artists and politicians.

If I do it my way, I go to hell; but if I do it your way, the whole world goes to hell.  Which is more important?

Politicians are the only people who feel it’s their civic duty to lie.  And the public are the only ones to judge their patriotism by how many lies they can believe.

If you don’t hate someone in politics, you probably don’t know much about politics.

If you hate someone in politics, try to learn something more about them.

To cross the mountain you need happiness – to move the mountain you need something else.

I’m open to any reasonable suggestions, but I won’t just sit around any more.  I have to do something now.

I don’t want a list of all the answers.  I want an answer to my question.

I haven’t decided yet whether grace is one of the rarest things in the universe or one of the most common.  It’s just as important either way.

There’s no such thing in America as the Christian party.  There’s the Republican Party and the Democratic Party, and neither one is the party of God.  God gets represented in politics when people do the right thing.

The Republicans are distrustful of government, and the Democrats are distrustful of big business.  These are anti-establishment feelings on both sides.  But we are fortunate to have two parties that differ in this respect.  Otherwise, one or the other of big government or big business would reign supreme at the snap of a finger.  It’s not that big government should be defeated or that big business should be defeated, or even that either the Republicans or the Democrats should rise to become ascendant.  What’s important is the balance, so we can, when appropriate, side with either big government or big business, the Republicans or the Democrats, when legitimately called upon.  It’s the balance we are seeking, really, not winners.  It’s when all the actors in our society are in balance, that we achieve the society we most desire.

Salvation is more than just believing the right things.  It’s about, in spite of everything, being able to believe at all.

The thing about slamming doors is, then all the doors are broke.

You don’t have to be great to be loved.

You have to meet them wherever they threaten.

Sometimes travel deep, not far.

Conservative: “I have absolutely no tolerance for people who are the way I used to be.”

You avoid your fate by taking hold of your destiny.

Nature is too cultured for some people.

Where we fail, God may still succeed.

Hate is anger without limits.

Hate is anger without compassion.

Hate is anger without understanding.

It’s difficult to watch the helplessness of your parents in their old age.

Most discipline is not doing things you don’t want to do.  It’s doing things you want to do well.

It may be cynical, but I suspect the recent state’s rights movement is nothing other than a corporate strategy of divide and conquer.

It’s love of country that makes us want to solve our problems, to make our country even better.

We are obliged as Americans, to treat one another with mutual respect and even brotherly love.  The effort to cut certain Americans out of such an obligation is a sin against America itself.

What can a man do for God anyway, but to do what you believe to be his will, and to be more like him.

If you suffer enough, then you pretty much are ready to go when the time comes.

Beware of people that get good at war.  (And that includes us.)

Posted by: Geoffrey Meadows | December 10, 2010

Noah’s Law

In the Bay Delta area of California conflicts have arisen lately over water.  The American West is known for its water wars.  In this installment, big farming companies (in the Central Valley) want more water for their farms, so they can grow more of the lettuce, tomatoes, and other crops we eat every day.  To do so, they need to practically drain the region’s river water supplies.  This is bad news for the fish in the river and bad for local fishermen who rely on salmon.  It also probably means the end of the line for some small native fish(1) which will go extinct without the needed water levels.

Admittedly, most people would probably never in their lives see these native fish.  And maybe it’s important to feed ourselves, too.  But during the recent drought big farming interests have been very obvious about their “unconcern” over the fish that will go extinct.  Human needs vs. nature’s needs? – who’s more likely to win that one?

But it is never a good idea to cause the end of a species.  Despite the things we could lose by causing an extinction – possible medicines, recreation revenues, etc. – even small species can be critical to the proper functioning of an ecosystem.  The loss of some foundational species could even possibly cause cascading effects which could increase our own risks as a species exponentially.

Another reason?  It’s just not a good policy to let species go extinct every time there is a conflict between a species and financial gain.  Environmentalist, Aldo Leopold, once said that the first step in tinkering is to keep all the parts.

What’s really at stake is a mistaken notion of human economic growth.  Can’t we just make a distinction between economic growth and population growth?  It can easily be stated.  We can be for a complex society – a society with doctors, and artists, and teachers, and scientists – and still be for a smaller population.  We can also be for change and economic progress, adding new things to our culture like cell phones and computers.  We will just never get over the wealth divide – the rich getting richer, the poor getting poorer – hundreds of millions of people starving – if we keep adding billions of people to the planet.  Some people seem to think we can.  But we can’t.  There just aren’t the resources on the whole planet to do anything more than feed so many people (if that).

Even when we do the right thing and set aside parks and preserves for preserving nature, when there are so many of us, the temptation is for people to go into preserves and poach animals just to feed themselves.  As long as our population is growing, this will always be the case.  And other types of encroachment will also continue to increase the more people there are.  This is what’s called pressure on the land. For a Biblical reference for pressure on the land see Genesis chapter 13.  In short it says, “Now Abram was very rich in livestock… Now Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents. And the land could not sustain them while dwelling together, for their possessions [animals] were so great that they were not able to remain together.” (Genesis 13: 2, 5-6)  This is a critical Scripture for Christians and Jews seeking Biblical proofs for protecting the Earth.  It demonstrates that the Bible is aware that the land will not accept too much pressure.

Another important Scripture is the story of Noah and the Flood.  This story not only places humans at the center of nature’s salvation but it does so after the fall and indicates to us that this is still to be our role in the world.  It also declares that all of God’s creatures are worthy of salvation and that our appropriate role as humans is to save all of them.

The great thing about the Endangered Species Act is that it draws the line at the same place.  No species is “supposed” to go extinct.  Nothing is worthless, everything is worth it.  At the point of extinction, we are forced to re-evaluate our activities and are required to make the necessary changes.  We do this on a case by case basis.  In some ways, we might save more of nature by setting aside plentiful habitat, but the Endangered Species Act effectively draws the line in the sand forcing us to provide habitat where it is most urgently necessary.  But in the long run, we will experience less pain and suffer fewer losses by finding a way to limit ourselves.  And that’s the key ingredient that’s missing.  And that means decreasing our population.

To me, the Endangered Species Act is exactly the policy we should have.  It makes of the planet (in the U.S. at least) an ark and draws the line at destruction in a place it appears even God would draw it.  The Endangered Species Act is not only the scientific line in the sand against cascading effects and ecological failure, it is also spiritually the right thing to do.

Maybe it’s time for us to stop bickering over whether the story of Noah and the Flood is to be taken literally or not, and start trying to learn what it is God is saying (in the Bible) we should do.  In the end, no one wins, if we don’t do that.

*****

(1) The Delta smelt is the fish in question.  It was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 1993.

Posted by: Geoffrey Meadows | November 10, 2010

Corporate Crimes, Corporate Accountability

I’ve been thinking about my driving.  When I go out after work on Fridays with friends, I’m having only one small beer or two, but not two big ones as I used to do.  I have always resented people who drive recklessly. They weave in and out of traffic and go about 80 miles an hour when they can.  It’s not a big deal if they drive that way and kill themselves in an accident – that’s the risk they took – but what about everyone else?  What if they cause an accident and someone else dies?

Corporations, like the company that produces Atrazine(1), would have us believe that there is a small risk in the product they manufacture, and that there is some risk in almost everything we do.  There is risk in airplane flight, for instance, or – driving a car.  But the question is, who is taking that risk, and is it necessary?  The company isn’t taking that risk, they’re just making money on a product they know will bring in “X” amount of dollars every year.  But we, the public, are the ones taking the risk.   And have we reached a place in the science of chemistry when there just are no more new discoveries, no more possibilities for new products at hand?  I doubt it.  What really is motivating these companies is fear, fear that by taking a product off the market they will lose their place in the business hierarchy, that is, in the esteem of the company’s real management, the investors.

After many years of taking no action at all, the EPA is finally, under Obama, making some positive moves.  Government has been weak and ineffectual.  Now you can see a little hope on the horizon.  Traditionally, when a company does something wrong and workers get sick or even die, government gives them a small slap on the hand.  Our laws, as they had been under Bush, were not at all enforced, and Congress had no will to make them stronger.  Well, not everything has changed.  Our last line of defense is that people can sue big companies when they endanger life and well-being, but even that is on the table; Obama said during the health care debate that he would consider tort reform.  So are we going to limit damages that companies will have to pay, even if they are negligent, regardless of what kind of pain and suffering they have created?  We need those big damages to keep them accountable, otherwise we have to depend on weak government entities that may or may not be effectual – particularly when you consider how leadership changes every four to eight years.

The word, “corporate,” is not an evil word.  It simply means a group, a collection of individuals.  Where the evil comes in is when the collection of individuals does something wrong. (One thing I did learn from my years in the church is that there are individual sins, but also there are corporate sins, that is, sins made by the group as a whole, societal sins.) It goes like this.  Taco Bell, owned by Yum Foods, does not pay a fair wage to it’s tomato pickers in California.  That action is made on our behalf, since it saves us money when we buy a taco at Taco Bell.  Thus, “we”, the people, are implicated.  We play a part in the crime.

But most people, I have a feeling, if they had the opportunity, if they were the ones who had the power, would pay a fair wage to their workers.  Most people, I have a feeling, would not expose their workers or the community to unnecessary risk.  Something is broken in the system when these companies seem bound to do things that normal people wouldn’t.  Why?  It’s because they are not beholden to anyone.  They are not accountable.  They are accountable only to the investors, and the investors in turn are motivated only by profit.

What we have to do is figure out how to make corporations accountable.  We are the “corporate” in the word, “corporation.”  Where there are “corporate” crimes there needs to be “corporate” accountability.  And that means “us.”

So, what can we do?

1.)  We can make CEO’s criminally responsible for what their corporations do.  They already make the big salaries, shouldn’t they be made to be accountable?  Right now they are only responsible for making a profit.  How might it change their outlook if they had to think not only about making a profit but also about whether they are endangering the lives of their employees or the public?

2.)  Support our government agencies.   The EPA(2), FDA, OSHA, and the rest, have an important role to play in our society.  Just as we would not expect government to unnecessarily or capriciously overburden a particular business or industry, we should also expect our government to assertively protect public health and safety and the safety of the environment for living things in general.  It is because we have not been vocal enough about our agencies (and the progress they have made possible) that we are stuck in a quagmire of anti-regulation politics.

3.)  Protect science.  One of the ways corporations get away with doing bad things is by manipulating science.  They take scientific studies and rearrange the math in them to make them look inconclusive.  They finance their own studies which dutifully find nothing wrong with their products.  Science is not perfect – it isn’t even always right – and it can be a slow process – but it does have a way of finding out the facts – eventually.  We should do our best to support it.

4.)  Use public awareness as a tool.  Programs like the Energy Star program have used public awareness to change the market and the business world.  Some other ones are the Marine Stewardship Council and the Forest Stewardship Council.  Even Wal-Mart has signed on to the Marine Stewardship Council.  When people work together, when they cooperate instead of fighting to the bitter end, things can change for the better.

5.)  And let’s look for other structures, other ways of making corporations responsible.  I read a book once which talked about the “stakeholder model” of business management.(3)  It was common in Europe before the wars, I believe.  The corporation’s board would consist of stakeholders – people like labor, residents of the community, local government officials, as well as businessmen.  It turns out the American system of a board wholly responsible to the investors was more successful; but maybe we could give up a little success in order to have boards that are more responsive to their workers and the community.  I’m not saying it is likely to happen, but we must find some kind of reforms that will improve the system.

6.)  And generally, we can just make noise.  Writing your congressman is a skill we all do not practice enough.  Demonstrations are a good way to get the issues some attention.  If we do nothing, we can only expect nothing in return.

So now, by the way, Taco Bell is fighting back.  After boycotts of their products and all the bad publicity, they have announced a new program called, “SAFE”, or “Socially Accountable Food Employees.”  It’s an effort to make the workers work at the same old wages.  Come on!  So who’s being “socially accountable” here?  Who’s kidding whom?  It seems some people are still under the impression that the bigger the lie the more people will fall for it.

Admittedly, most corporations never get into trouble.  It’s for the ones that are irresponsible and incorrigible that we need to put the pressure on.  And for that, a good portion of us have to be involved.  Corporate crimes, corporate accountability.

And, as I’m realizing with regard to my driving, if we want corporations to be accountable, we have to be careful about the unnecessary risk we expose others to ourselves.

*****

(1) Syngenta is the primary manufacturer of atrazine.

(2) For info on what EPA has accomplished over its forty years try their “EPA@40″ site – http://www.epa.gov/40th/index.html .

(3) The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea, Micklethwait and Wooldridge (2003).

Posted by: Geoffrey Meadows | May 30, 2010

Christianity and Political Parties

I used to get a magazine many years ago, called Transformation.  It was a Christian magazine on ethics.  I’m not sure I remember much of it now, but one article I do remember.  It was a study of Christian churches in Africa that had either supported the political party in power or had sided with the opposition.  The survey found that Christian churches that sided with one or another side of power politically, in the long run, usually did worse (in terms of growth, pubic approval, etc.) than churches that didn’t side with either party too much.  They took a stance in the middle, approving of power on some issues, and disapproving on others.  The point of the article was that our own church in America should be wary of becoming too aligned with one party or the other.

What I want to say is not that the church should not be involved in politics, but it should be wary of buying into the process so much that it’s own interests, however you want to talk about them, are not served.  I am especially concerned about the Protestant or evangelical church’s buying into the Republican party.  But even so, there are other churches, especially the Catholic church, that have not so completely bought in.

Different denominations have different histories and are greatly affected by them.  Conservative Protestant churches often have come from the evangelical movements, the great revivals across America in it’s early history.  They are pro-life, conservative as opposed to modern in ethics and theology, slightly anti-science or anti-intellectual, but very positively pro-business.  The Catholic church may also be pro-life and can be very conservative, but with it’s history of immigrants, sides more with the poor and with the underprivileged, and so may be more Democratic than Republican in inclination; it is also not expressly against science to any great degree.

In any case, there are differing ways to be Christian in the political environment.  The two parties also have different policies that could appeal to Christians.  The Republicans are pro-life.  The Democrats are for support of the poor and disadvantaged.  Both of these emphases can be seen as Christian, or as attractive to Christians.

If it’s all determined by history, why even write about the subject then?  The problem I see in some churches is that there is an assumption that there is only one way to see the issue.  You are either on God’s side – and God prefers party “A” – or you are against God.  Reasoning like this surprises and disappoints me.  Both parties do some things right and some things wrong.  In the long run, for such simplicity, the church may end up paying a price.

Now, I don’t consider myself a Christian, so Christians can take or leave my conclusions, as obviously they will, but I think the church needs to be aware that political conformity is not necessarily a Christian goal.

Someone might say, “You are writing this because the conservatives are on the rise, and you do not like that.”  And yes, I admit, there is something to that.  The conservatives are definitely on the rise, and that disturbs me.  As an environmentalist, I am concerned that conservatism, as it is now playing itself out, could set us back in this country, especially with regard to science and science-related policies.  As an environmentalist, I feel it is my obligation to work against conservatism when it espouses such values.

On the other hand, it could be said that there may be forms of conservatism that are very pro-environment and pro-nature.  The very word, conservatism, is related to the word, conservation, for instance.  Indeed, the two may be somehow mysteriously in alignment.

In any case, one has to hope that some day the Republican party will care more about people and nature than they do about economics alone.  One also has to hope that the church itself will become an active player in bringing about a very necessary American transformation – a transformation with respect to nature and the environment.  But before it can do that, it may have to work out just exactly what a uniquely Christian viewpoint on politics might be.

Posted by: Geoffrey Meadows | March 2, 2010

8 Things We Could Do About Cancer (but probably won’t)

I suppose it would be a better story if I could say that I had learned enough about toxics and that I agree that toxics, generally considered, represent no or little threat.  The problem is, the data is mixed.  One would expect, if toxics were the problem (with regard to cancer) that cancer incidence would be going up markedly.  (Aren’t emissions of cancer causing substances going up?)  But that is not the case.  Cancer incidence has actually been slowly decreasing since the early 90′s.  Much of this decrease in cancer incidence could be due to lower rates of tobacco use.  Still, even though this is significant, some other types of cancer have indeed been on the rise.

Here is what a 2007 National Cancer Institute review of the data said:

“The incidence rates of cancer of the liver, pancreas, kidney, esophagus, and thyroid have continued to rise, as have the rates of new cases of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, myeloma, and childhood cancers. The incidence rates of cancer of the brain and bladder and melanoma of the skin in women, and testicular cancer in men, are rising.”(1)

So, even though there is good news, there is still a lot for us to be worried about.

If we wish to battle cancer in our generation, there must be things we could do in order to bring rates down.  These are some ideas.

1)  Tobacco - Any effort to reduce cancer must start with tobacco.  30% of all cancer deaths are caused by smoking.(2)  It causes not only lung cancers, as we all know, but other cancers like cancers of the lip and esophagus – anywhere in the body the traces of tobacco go when a cigarette is smoked.  The federal government, in prior years, has made deals with the tobacco companies that would gradually lower the rates of smoking in the populace while still allowing the tobacco companies to thrive and exist.(3)  I can’t think of a bigger sellout.  A better idea is to let people sue those companies, and continue suing them, until the tobacco companies themselves go out of business.  Why not?  If the tobacco companies were pharmaceutical companies they would have had to pull their product from the shelves a long time ago.  Some might argue that tobacco is an economic good – tobacco provides jobs.  But tobacco also costs our health system billions of dollars every year in an effort to save people who would have been helped more by taking away the cigarettes.(4)  In addition, all the money spent on radiation and chemo could be going for other goods and services in the economy.  By the way, a long-term smoker has about a 50% chance of dying of a smoking related disease.(5)  Those are not good odds.  We could be getting rid of tobacco!

2)  Radon - A significant percentage of cancers are also caused by radon in homes.  Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer.(6)  Apparently, the testing for radon is inexpensive, and it is not difficult to make needed repairs to homes, etc.  Your state can help you get tested for radon.(7)  Unfortunately, there does not seem to be a major public health campaign going on about radon.  If more people knew about the dangers of radon and knew that testing and remediation were relatively easy, they would certainly take steps to protect themselves. We could be having a public health campaign about radon.

3)  Food and Food Packaging - Our food is probably one of our most vulnerable areas in terms of being exposed to toxics.  We do have laws on the books, and promises have been made in the past to deal with these dangers, but still very little work has been done.  If we are suspicious of toxic chemicals in the environment, based especially on laboratory tests with animals, our food and food packaging have to be made a priority.(8)  The Food Quality Protection Act of 1996 already bans such chemicals in our food supply.  We could enforce that law.

4)  Safer Homes – Again, if experiments with laboratory animals have any validity, we should be looking at ways of phasing out the use of such chemicals.  One of the things you learn when you read a little about the issue is how difficult it is to determine if a factory or so-called “point source” of pollution is responsible for local cancers.  As the Goldsteins suggest in their book, perhaps our methods should adjust to this.(9)  We should also be looking into toxics that we are more closely and frequently exposed to – like toxics in the home.  Bedding, furniture, carpeting, glues, paints, shelacs and the like, should be studied for their relation to cancers and prevented from entering the home.  As in the area of food, more could be done not only to determine risk but to successfully shift over time to non-toxic materials.  We could also look at clothing and cosmetics.

5)  OSHA – As I said in the previous paragraph, it can be very difficult to determine if a point source of pollution is responsible for local cancers.  What I’ve learned so far has led me to believe that it might be more appropriate to monitor and aggressively prosecute companies that abuse toxic chemicals, and who, in doing so, make their own workers sick.  Typically, the work environment is a much more dangerous arena, in terms of toxic exposures, than the local community or region. Workers who produce pesticides in the factory have much more risk than you or I have in being exposed to the pesticide residues on food.  The problem, though, seems to be that the government is often reluctant to prosecute companies.  There are cases where exposures and fatalities are documented, though.(10)  We should prosecute and make someone responsible for these abuses.  CEO’s should be criminally liable for what their companies do.  And we could make workers’ health like the canary in the mine with regard to cancers outside the workplace and in the local community.

6) Protecting Science and Our Regulatory Agencies – Science is under attack.  Companies are trying to divert and subvert the science which says their products are unsafe.  For instance, there was another study done of atrazine lately, with the usual denials from business.(11) Although the issue there was birth defects and not cancer, the point is that there is a pattern to what business is doing.  They know that if they can slow down the regulatory process the public will not have the will to fight against the many destructive chemicals that are out there.  Science needs to be free to do its work, and our regulatory agencies need to be empowered to do their job. We need to fight back against corporate delaying tactics, bogus corporate science, etc., and pressure our government agencies to play their proper role.(12)  We could be protecting science and enabling our regulatory agencies.

7)  Public Information – This one is for the journalists and educators among us.  One of the things you learn as you try to write something yourself about these topics is how limited our collective knowledge is about cancer.  Benzene is an example.  You could poll your friends and see if they have ever heard of this highly toxic substance.  Many of them will not.  Benzene exists in gasoline.  It can be breathed in when you are filling your tank, just from the gas fumes.  Also, as you burn gas, benzene is released in the exhaust.  I have heard of studies that show that there is a higher incidence of cancers around major, busy highways.(13)  Benzene is a suspect.(14)  But most people don’t even know that such a relationship could exist.  The question is, at what point is the use of gasoline no longer worth it?  How many deaths will we tolerate before we try to remove benzene from gasoline?  Clearly, we are not there yet.  But how would the public even begin to start asking questions, if they don’t even know the danger is there?  Although, I don’t like the constant “alarmism” coming out of our news departments, we do seem to need, more than ever, good information on these topics.  We could be informing ourselves better.

8)  Prevention and the Precautionary Approach – Some of the things that are working the best in terms of fighting cancer are coming out of preventive medicine.  Things like colonoscopies, that test for polyps in the colon.  Tests, like mammograms, that look for breast cancers.  Prevention of this kind is working and is bringing death rates down.  The problem is that for some cancers incidence is still rising, so the burdens on our medical institutions for these cancers will be only greater as time goes on.  Some people, therefore, suggest that we take a “precautionary approach.”  Instead of allowing all these new chemicals and then dealing with the health care fallout afterwards, why don’t we try to limit the use of cancer-causing chemicals in the first place? In the precautionary approach a judgment is made about whether a chemical’s benefits are even needed.  Maybe another chemical, less toxic, can have a similar benefit.   This seems like a better position philosophically.  But it would be an enormous change for us as a society.  And big changes like this don’t happen overnight.  My advice for anyone involved in promoting such change is – persevere!  We could be moving more and more towards the precautionary approach.(15)

I heard or read somewhere that when Singapore modernized and joined the Western style economies, it lost the low cancer rate it shared with most of Asia.  Most non-Western peoples, who live out of doors, and who don’t have a Western lifestyle, have lower cancer rates than people in industrialized economies.  Until we find out exactly why that is, we will always be beset with doubts and agonies about toxics and cancer.  And to my mind, that means one thing.  We have to try to do something that could make a difference.  For instance, if we never try to make our food system cancer-free, we will never know if the pesticides, etc. that we are eating are doing us in.  We have to do something to find out what works.  My idea is try to get it out of our food and out of our homes.  Then, if cancer incidence goes down, we know what we have to do.  But if we never try we will never know, either.

And those are my eight things we could be doing about cancer.  Although I wish my list could be much more authoritative, this is (honestly) the best I can do for now.

**********

(1) A one-page summary from 2007 – http://progressreport.cancer.gov/highlights.asp .

(2)  National Cancer Society – 30% of all cancer deaths are related to smoking – http://www.cancer.org/docroot/PED/content/PED_10_2X_Cigarette_Smoking_and_Cancer.asp .

(3)  Wikipedia on Tobacco Master Settlement – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Multistate_Settlement_Agreement .  For a recent law signing see – http://www.whitehouse.gov/the_press_office/Fact-sheet-and-expected-attendees-for-todays-Rose-Garden-bill-signing/ .

(4)  Tobacco’s cost to health care system/Medicaid  -  http://www.consumeraffairs.com/news04/2007/11/tobacco_cost.html .

(5)  Long-term smokers have 50% chance of dying of a smoking-related disease – http://www.diabetesmonitor.com/diet-and-lifestyle/facts-about-smoking.htm .

(6)  Radon – http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Risk/radon .

(7) Radon testing: to find out how to get tested – http://www.epa.gov/radon/radontest.html .

(8) A short (2007) page on pesticides – http://progressreport.cancer.gov/doc_detail.asp?pid=1&did=2007&chid=71&coid=713&mid=#trends .

(9) How Much Risk?: A Guide to Understanding Environmental Health Hazards, by Inge and Martin Goldstein. — Oxford: Oxford University Press, c2002.

(10) For several, very well documented examples, see – Doubt Is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health, by David Michaels. — Oxford: Oxford University Press, c2008.

(11) Atrazine birth defects – http://uk.reuters.com/article/idUKTRE6174DW20100208?pageNumber=2&virtualBrandChannel=0 .

(12)  Several specific suggestions can be found in Michaels’ book.

(13) Cancer more common in high traffic areas – There are studies on both ends of the question, but here’s one that found a greater risk for childhood leukemia. – http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/106563372/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0 . (If this link does not work, you might try a keyword search on Google Scholar.)

(14) For the recent benzene incident at Camp Lejeune see – http://www.thetimesnews.com/articles/miller-31784-calls-probe.html .

(15) For more on the Precautionary Approach see – http://www.ourbodiesourselves.org/book/companion.asp?id=7&compID=14 . (You can’t backtrack on any of the links, though.)

NOTE: The Obama administration has made an effort to deal with the toxics issue. Here is an article about the “Chemicals of Concern” initiative taken under the Toxic Substances Control Act or TSCA (1/11/2010) - http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=epa-chemicals-of-concern-plans .

NOTE: (5/19/10)  Here’s an article that summarizes many of the issues.  It’s a reaction to a report done by the President’s Cancer Panel.  -  http://www.environmentalhealthnews.org/ehs/news/environmental-cancers .

NOTE: (5/29/10) And here’s a link to Myles Tougeau’s site (I hope he doesn’t mind) that talks about what individuals can do to reduce cancer risk.  It’s based on the President’s Cancer Panel, as well. – http://amidthemaddingcrowd.wordpress.com/2010/05/11/cancer-panel-recommendations-for-individuals/

Posted by: Geoffrey Meadows | December 1, 2009

Reasons for Doing Restoration Work

Sometimes people ask why we have to do restoration work on prairies and the like.  By my (admittedly amateur) account there are several reasons.

History

One reason which ranks somewhat lower in the estimation of some is history.  We want people to know what our region looked like and what lived here before Europeans came and irrevocably altered it.  And the best way to do that is to set aside areas that mimic that past.  What did the world look like apart from my civilization’s influence on it?  How can I gauge my, and my culture’s, own impact?  A restored site can be a good answer to that question.

Some can argue against “history” and use all kinds of philosophical arguments, but in some ways we need reminders more than ever of what our influence has been on the planet.  We need to see the “other” for what it genuinely is or was.

At one time, long-grass prairies were the dominant habitat here in the Midwest.  We need to know that.  And the land itself, with all its living apparatus, is an important part of our American historical heritage.

Aesthetics

Another reason for doing restoration work is what can simply be called aesthetics.  For those “in the know” a golden prairie in the fall season is a beautiful thing, much like the colors of the trees.

But it’s not just landscapes, it’s even insects, for instance.  The Hine’s Emerald dragonfly is one of the most rare dragonflies in the world, and it lives not 20 miles from my house.  Tiny little workmanship, small and incredibly fragile, these insects are in their own way quite beautiful.  Nature’s original beauty should be protected.

Admittedly, aggressive, invasive species can also be beautiful.  Purple loosestrife, for instance, is a beautiful flower in our wetlands.  But it is non-native and prolific, and takes up space our native plants need, making native species more rare and threatened.

The Ecosystem

One of the more popular reasons right now for restoration work is ecosystem benefits.  Making more wetlands not only helps the animals and plants but it helps us in that it cleans the water, protects against floods, etc.  For me, this is not the only reason, even though for some it seems it is.  I will say that this is the most motivating reason, for some of us.  When the bottom line (i.e., money) is affected, there tends to be action.

The reverse side of ecosystem benefits is ecosystem disruption.  How much does disruption of the ecosystem cost us when we are not taking care of nature?  For instance, how much does it cost businesses every year to clean out discharge pipes filled with zebra mussels, an aggressive, non-native freshwater species?

Another side of the ecosystem as a reason for doing restoration work is ecosystem maintenance itself.  These small areas where we have nature preserves are often hotspots for many species, endangered as well as more common.  Maintained areas tend to do this better, and for more species, than non-maintained areas.  They usually have more species of plants, and then those plants are able to sustain more kinds of other living things.

Our nature preserves are like island archipelagos for many species.  Take them away, or don’t protect the native habitat there, and the whole system can be affected.  At some point we are really protecting ourselves from ecosystem breakdown when we restore natural areas.

I want to make one more point with regard to the ecosystem.  I saw a program on PBS not long ago – I think it was the “Now” program.  It told of a manufacturer who in prior decades had released large amounts of PCB’s, a toxic chemical, into the local waterways.  Of course now the government wants the company to clean up all those PCB’s and the company is resisting.  The government says the area must be clean enough for people and birds to eat the fish in the waterways.  The company says that those areas will never be that clean, and that, in any case, they will not pay to clean the areas up to that level of safety.  I’m not making any judgment here about who should or should not pay or even how much they should pay.  That is not my point.  The point of the matter is that ecosystem viability is the real deal, the genuine criterion for what should be done.  In other words, if a heron or an ibis comes to this waterway, eats a fish and dies from it, and the waterway does this to living things on a regular basis, then the waterway has become what is called a natural “sink.”  It’s a place that is no longer viable as part of our ecosystem.  Ecosystem viability is the criterion we have to go by.

Biodiversity

Well, that was a little off-subject, but now we get to some of the bigger reasons we do restoration work for.

Most people do not know it, but native habitats harbor far more species usually than disrupted areas do.  I’ve talked about Gensburg Prairie before.  It harbors hundreds of insect species on top of the maybe 200 plant species that are there.  Gensburg Prairie is a high-quality site, but it’s not uncommon for other good prairies to garner similar results.

One thing I’ve been doing on a site not far from my home is cut an invasive weed called, teasel.  It’s an aggressive, non-native species.  It can virtually take over a prairie, which is what I fear is happening to “my” site.  It creates large stands of itself, not allowing any other plants to grow at all.  Teasel does have some allies.  Bumblebees, some of my favorite insects, just love teasel, and there are many kinds of beetles that seem to like it, too.  The area I’m trying to save has about 200 native plant species along a mostly prairie trail.  If the teasel takes over, all of that will be lost.  All the native pollinators that like the native flowers will be lost, too.  That is what you have to weigh when you make these judgments.  That is the gist of what conservationists are talking about when they talk about the need for management or restoration. We are protecting what’s there from invasive species, and we are favoring native species over non-native ones to enhance biodiversity.

Responsibility

Which brings us to another very important reason for what we do.

If you describe what’s happening in the natural world right now as a story, people take a profound place in it no matter how you look at it.  At the time when Europeans  came to this North American continent, nature was so robust and prolific that they were astounded.  Then we cut the trees and plowed the grasslands.  We have, to a large extent, domesticized an entire continent in only a few centuries.  But our influence on the land has not stopped with agriculture.  We are still in the process of mining mountaintops, introducing destructive non-native species, polluting the waters, etc.  We haven’t stopped altering the natural world in profound and ubiquitous ways.

What that looks like on a local level naturally centers on the parks and preserves, the last places left for living things.  Our introduced species, like buckthorn or teasel, purple loosestrife or reed canary grass, are still playing havoc with our communities’ natural areas.

We are the ones who have done this.  We are the ones who, in the end, are responsible.

We are responsible in two ways.  One way is that it is what we’ve done, plain and simple.  This is the story.  The other reason we are responsible is because we are the decision-makers.  We are the ones who inevitably will decide what stays and what goes.  It makes no sense to deny that this is so, and leave the results up to chance, as if when it comes to nature preserves we have no rights, but if it has to do with natural resources (we use in the economy) we have all the rights.  That doesn’t make sense.   No, we should make the decisions consciously, based on the best information and the best values.  (If something goes extinct on our watch, as inevitably they will, the least we should be able to say is, “we tried.”)

Natural Values

And that brings us pretty close to my last (but not least) reason we should do restoration work.

Along with all the above reasons, the reason we do restoration work is that living things have value.  They have value far above what value we can give to them.  They have value far above what they can do for us.  They have intrinsic value, much like art, you could say.  If you can say, “Art for it’s own sake,” you can certainly say, “Life for it’s own sake.”  From a religious or spiritual viewpoint you can say that life is sacred.  The value life has, it can be said, especially in the aggregate, is close to infinite.

Now you can anticipate that people’s and living things’ interests will at times collide.  At such a juncture we have to make a judgment.  Which is more valuable?  The human gain or the living thing’s right to exist?  Is a little fish in the river more important or is a large agri-business’s quarterly earnings goals more valuable?  In that case, I think I would decide for the fish.  But there may be times when the case is not so clear.  Maybe a road in the mountains is needed to get people to the hospital when they are in need of emergency care.  Of course, there may be other options – but life and death issues may be one time when we may consider giving way to human needs.

I think it was Stephen Jay Gould in Natural History magazine many years back who proposed the golden rule for such matters - the golden rule in reverse almost.  If we were in the place of the species involved what would we want people to do?

Seen from this perspective there might be a lot of things we might be doing differently.  We might want ourselves to stop growing at such an exponential rate and give back some of the nature we have taken.

Which, in a way, is exactly what we are trying to do with restoration work.

For all the reasons above, and finally for the love of nature itself, we need to do this work.

Posted by: Geoffrey Meadows | October 3, 2009

A New Prejudice

It’s probably not good that I mention conversations which I have had with people about environmental issues.  If word got out that I had been talking about them, they might see it as some kind of insult.  Actually, it’s not.  But I don’t have many opportunities to interact with people about the environment, so (I guess) I have to make the most of the opportunities I have.

One such interaction I had was with a man at a certain environmental group’s meeting.  We had been talking about endangered species and he admitted he did not care about some small fish in a river.  I was surprised by this, because I had assumed that everyone in the group supported the Endangered Species Act.  (I’ve since come to the realization that, as far as endangered species are concerned, the general public’s commitment to saving all species is not at all secure.)

What bothered me about the man’s statement though, was not even so much the statement itself, but more the attitude by which it was given.  The man seemed almost proud of the fact that he didn’t care about a small fish in the river.

Which brings me to say what I have to say in this post.  As I’ve written all these posts - many of them about saving wildlife - I have tried to argue in nature’s favor and to be some kind of advocate.  But what I have really been doing, I think, as I look over what I have written, has been trying to counter prejudice.  Prejudice.  The man and others I’ve encountered, who are so ready to cause a species’ extinction as soon as saving that species costs us something, are really prejudiced.  They accord nature a very small value (especially in comparison with other values) in the same way that people in prior centuries accorded small values to other races or to women.  In a way, nature is the last bastion for the prejudicial.

And, as it is with racial or gender prejudice, you tend to find “nature prejudice” close at hand.  Many times, when my dad was still alive, as I went out to do a nature hike or work with the local prairie project, he would say something like – “Going out to see your weeds, again, huh?”  My dad thought of the plants I was trying to save as “weeds.” 

For a long while, I’ve been trying to write a post about endangered species that would take into account some of this resistance to the idea of “natural values.”  In it I would put forward – without identifying – real endangered species cases.  I would describe the case and then allow the reader to decide what, if any, action should be taken to save the species.  An example would be the wolves of Yellowstone Park.  Of course, I would not tell the reader that I was writing about the wolves of Yellowstone Park.  I would say something like – “A carnivorous species which could be a danger to man and domestic animals.  Even small children might be in some danger at times from these predators.  Would you – a) restore them to all areas where they used to reside, b) shoot them on site if they leave the park, c) do not reintroduce them at all?” etc.  By leaving the door open a little, we would find out where we really stand with respect to saving our species.  Each of us, ourselves, would find out how committed or uncommitted he or she is.  And that would maybe make a good beginning.  Because it is each of us, participating in this democracy, who have the right to say what gets saved and what doesn’t.  Inevitably, it all comes down to a vote, if not for candidates, then by our collective political actions like protesting or writing letters.

I have to admit though, not even having written my post, that my mind is pretty much made up already.  I am committed to seeing every present species of plant and animal continue into the future.  That might still mean that, try as we might to save all species, that some may go extinct anyway.  This is already happening.  But I’m convinced that it is our job and our responsibility to do the best we can.  We are the ones who are responsible.  We are the ones who are supposed to be intelligent.  It is up to us to adapt, not the ecosystem.

I have not written that post yet, but if I do I would hope only that more and more people would see the value of nature and become committed to it.  I think it is liberating, finally, to come to that place of believing that life is sacred and valuable, and to know that that is the value you choose.

*****

P.S. – If you think about it philosophically (or scientifically), that little fish in the river belongs to a chain of organisms going back to the beginning of life on this planet.  It is part of a lineage of living things that goes back unbroken to the origins of life about four billion years ago – just like every other living thing.  If you think of it that way, small though it is, it has just as much a right to be here as we do.  What an awesome thing it is that we have all this nature around us having survived for so long.  And what a fearful thing it should be to us to destroy any of it.

Posted by: Geoffrey Meadows | September 13, 2009

Maxims, #2

The truth is still the best cure for an argument.

As a general rule, most people don’t sit down to a meal of salt.

Hate wins.  It wins because in order to prove that hate is false, you have to prove that love works better.  And as long as you are “proving” love, you’re having to show the hater love; so the hater is being loved; the hater wins.  Now if we could just show hate back a little, from time to time, the hater might know what it feels like.

If you want to get better you have to change.  One day of change is better than a lifetime of continuing in error.

The “truth” is really a crude kind of concept, which makes it all the more surprising that it suffices as often as it does.

If you don’t call yourself a sinner, someone else will.

If you don’t call yourself a sinner, then that’s probably exactly what you are.  And one of the worst kinds.

The man has the worst job of anybody.

Question: Is it possible to mortify one’s thoughts and feelings to the point where it would make more sense not to be alive?

It’s not important who’s the greatest.  Leave that to the politicians.  What’s important is that the people who need him can find him.

A lot of the old imperialism died with Hitler.  And those who seek to follow in his footsteps (we hope) will come to a similar end.

If we could create a pervasively spiritual or ethical culture, without endorsing any particular religion or philosophy, it might benefit a lot of people.

Austerity isn’t just giving up something.  It’s a philosophical insight.  It’s seeing the invisible connections.

Austerity isn’t just giving up something.  It’s holding out for something better.

Don’t quit something which is for you a powerful good, unless you find something better.

The problem with being predisposed to seeing ghosts, is that you see ghosts everywhere, even if what you’re really seeing is a UFO.

God didn’t want us to be perfect, he wanted us to know and love him.

One of the side effects of practicing sin is that you get good at it.

You are a very lucky person to be going to heaven without ever having suffered.

A few books on Lincoln is probably just as good as a few books on Lee — and studying both sides of a war should be preferable to studying either.

Keep your life at arms length.

You do what you can when you can, so that when it comes time to do what you have to, you won’t already be late.

Some say, God will never give you more than you can handle.  I say just the opposite, that God will always give you more than you can handle.  It’s a way of drawing you closer to himself.

We all have to carry our own cross.  Just try not to carry it off a cliff.

You can’t have what somebody else has.  You can only have what you have yourself.

Murder is one of our civilization’s most basic wrongs.  If murder ceases to retain its taboo, or even becomes socially acceptable, then our civilization is in danger.  Such an outcome would fundamentally alter our society and its moral purpose and direction.  But keep in mind that while this could apply to the issue of abortion, it could also apply, not infrequently, to the issue of corporate power and negligence.

There’s nothing wrong with having enough and being content, if that’s what you have.

“Market” is an insecure word.  Someone is always trying to finagle the system.

To a conservative: You seem to care more about the millionaires than about the millions.

To a conservative: You distrust big government.  I distrust big business.  As long as we persist in this, we are still just defining ourselves by our enemies, by what we are not.  If we never define ourselves by what we are for, we can never reach an agreement.  But if we do define ourselves by what we are for, we may find that we have some things in common.

In history, the best men are the men who seek the best.

The best way to look like a good person is to become a good person.

Exit poll: I almost wish there were some  kind of exit poll that could determine how many people voted for someone, or against someone, based on a lie.

Posted by: Geoffrey Meadows | June 15, 2009

A Culture of Progress

I have a friend - and she’s a good friend - that works for a large corporation.  She tells me, in response to my post, “Just Keep Trying,” that corporations will not do anything  that will adversely affect their bottom line.  The only other entity they would respond to is government regulation.  And she tells me, too, that government regulation can be overly restrictive.

All of which may be true, whether we like it or not.  But, to my mind, all the pieces have not yet been playing at their optimum level.

Don’t get me wrong, I think a lot of progress has been made.  With institutions like the EPA and others, we have been able to clean up much of our environment.  But there is still plenty more to do.  And the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, and our other laws may be maturing, but they are increasingly under attack from conservatives who think businesses are unduly burdened.

Ever since Reagan, we are fed and re-fed the platitude that government has to be smaller and get out of our way.  As with all platitudes, there is an element of truth.  But government still has to be big enough to take on big business.  And with banks and corporations getting bigger and bigger all the time, the question remains, Is government big enough to stand up to big business? You could already argue that government is too small and too dependent to fulfill its legitimate and responsible role.

A case in point is the flap over bisphenol A and endocrine disrupters in our food and packaging.  Under Clinton, a law was passed called the Food Quality Protection Act which promised that potentially harmful substances in our food or packaging would be tested.  The EPA promised to test 15,000 “suspected” endocrine disrupters in 1998.  From 1996, when the Food Quality Protection Act was passed, to 2007, not a single chemical was tested and approved or disapproved.  When asked about the delay the FDA, the department responsible for administering the Act, made the audacious reply, “science tends to move at its own pace.” (1)

You can point to several cases where the EPA or other regulatory agencies have made rulings about substances in the environment that have protected public health.  The EPA has been working hard to reduce particulates, for instance, and arsenic.  Lately, there is some movement to reduce black carbon.  These are examples of what government has been trying to do.  In these cases, the system seems to be working.  In other cases, like the Food Quality Protection Act, where no work was done, the system isn’t working at all.

In the case of bisphenol A, there has been a definite public awareness campaign by media and a huge public outcry.  This is good.  This is democracy at work.  But as far as  the review process is concerned - with the charge of reviewing thousands of substances - this is the system working at a very basic and inadequate level.  We just can’t count on such a “democratic” process for the approximately 14,999 other suspected endocrine disrupters still needing to be tested.  Frankly, the public isn’t trained to rule on 15,000 chemicals (present author included), even if we had the time.

The question then is, What should we be doing?  Of course, as consumers, we have to inform ourselves.  We have to buy the right products, and we have to petition government when we think it has to get moving. (2)

What should government do?  There are several things.  1) Government has to enforce the laws on the books.  2) Government should not rely too heavily upon industry supported research.  In some cases, at least in the beginning, this may be all the research that is available.  But that’s just all the more reason to obtain independent research as soon as possible.  This is why we have universities and government labs.  We’ve passed the legislation, we’ve appropriated the funds – now let’s do the research!  3) We might even encourage public research into areas that traditionally have been left to industry – for instance, original research into how to improve pesticides, or making better plastics without the toxic additives.  In this way, government can promote a culture of progress in areas that are bogged down in corporate stagnation.

Government does have a role to play.  It may not always be in the best interests of business, but progress can never be achieved without getting rid of the bad stuff to begin with.  It also can’t be done without  government  funding the appropriate independent research, either reviewing chemicals or seeding research into new areas.

To be fair to business, we have to keep our minds open and seek justice for them, as well, when it is appropriate.

Maybe if we do these things we will be able to create a new culture, a culture of progress, in which we are replacing old, harmful substances with newer and better ones.

*****

(1)  Most of this post comes from the “Bill Moyer’s Journal” program on PBS which was aired several months ago.  A link from their site refers to this page of the Milwaukee Wisconsin Sentinel-Journal who broke the real story about bisphenol A.   NOTE: I have finally relocated the program from the Bill Moyers’ Journal program, which has been updated now.  It’s called, “Chemical War Zone, Updated.”  It’s at the Expose: America’s Investigative Reports site.

(2) The bills in Congress that may ban bisphenol A for use in food packaging may not be voted on until next year!

NOTE (1/15/11): Here is an article on Bayer CropScience’s decision to stop producing the chemical which led to the Bhopal tragedy in 1984.  This is the type of thing that must happen if we are to make progress on our toxic chemicals.  Better, smarter; get rid of the “outdated.”   The job losses are significant, but considering the costs of the chemical on society not at all regrettable.  http://wvgazette.com/News/201101110865

Posted by: Geoffrey Meadows | January 19, 2009

Is There a Way?: On a First Reading of the Qur’an

Reading the Qur’an today is an essential.  While the world is succumbing to war and strife, it is almost a prayer to be reading a book so important to people who are different from one’s self.  We should all be learning, instead of learning to kill.

That said, I will also say there are things in the Qur’an that are at least hard to read.  So much so, that it has taken me a couple of tries to actually make it through.

One of the things is that in almost every sura (or chapter) there is a warning against the “unbelievers” that they are headed for a severe punishment.  It’s almost like sitting in church week after week when there is a known sinner sitting in the midst, not repenting or coming forward for a “new life.”  Time and time again the warning is made, and made uncompromisingly.  It’s withering to read again and again the plight of “unbelievers” in eternal torment as opposed to the bliss of the believers. 

And what’s even more disturbing is to sit there as you read it and not know exactly who these unbelievers are and if  you yourself should be lumped in with them.  Are they unbelievers because they are idolators?  Are they unbelievers because they don’t believe in God?  Or, are they unbelievers because they don’t believe in Muhammad?  Maybe in Islam there is no distinction, but as you read you are forced as an individual to come up with an answer for yourself.

So there are things hard to read in the Qur’an, but there are also things that are just different or unfamiliar.  There are the additions to Biblical stories that are sometimes made.  One addition is when Moses’ powers outshine Pharoah’s sorcerers’ powers.  In the Qur’an, the sorcerers seeing this, repent and believe in Moses’ God. (26, 46-52)  There’s the story of Zulaikha, which inserts a princess into the story of Joseph, instead of Potiphar’s wife.  She falls in love with Joseph, because he is so beautiful; and she can’t stand to see him sold as a slave. (12, 26)  There is also the story of Iblis.  When God makes mankind he commands the angels to bow down and worship mankind, but one angel, Iblis (or Satan), refuses.  Although in some ways I rather enjoyed these additions to the Bible, this last addition raised many questions for me.

If there are things hard to understand in the Qur’an, there are also things quite regular, for instance, like the proofs or signs of God from nature.  Here are some examples -

“And He it is Who makes the Night as a Robe for you, and Sleep as Repose, and makes the Day (as it were) a Resurrection.” (25, 47)

“It is He Who sends down rain from the sky: from it ye drink and out of it (grows) the vegetation on which ye feed your cattle.  With it He produces for you corn, olives, date palms, grapes and every kind of fruit: verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought.” (16, 10-11)

“In the daily Pageants of Nature – the dawn and the restful night, the sun, the moon, the stars that guide the mariner in distant seas, the rain-clouds pouring abundance, and the fruits that delight the heart of man – can ye not read the Signs of God?” (C. 79)

The conclusion to all this is simply that – “both Revelation and Nature are eloquent in instructing man for his own good… ” (C. 196)

When reading the Qur’an,  I tend to be aware of verses that could be used by the terrorists.  But I won’t go into that here.  I feel it would be against my real purpose in reading the Qur’an to overemphasize that.  On the contrary, there are many passages which sound out against such strife.  

For instance, the Qur’an’s opposition to what it calls “contention” is one such theme.  In some ways this can be seen as self-serving.  But it certainly works both ways.  For instance, in Sura 6, verse 159, the formation of “sects” are forbidden.  Islam, as Fazlur Rahman has written (1), has had comparatively few dissentions as compared with Christianity.  The Sunni/Shia split, although still violent,  is really one of only a few such schizms.  Christianity, on the other hand, has hundreds of denominations.  The Qur’an’s opposition to “contention” is probably one of the reasons for this.  In another passage, Muslims are forbidden to engage in “disputes” among themselves.  The passage goes like this -

“And obey God and His Apostle; and fall into no disputes, lest ye lose heart and your power depart; and be patient and persevering: for God is with those who patiently persevere.” (8, 46)

The softness of Islam can also be felt in the following passage about “contention” -

“Faith has been one at all times, but sects and divisions rose through selfish contumacy.  Let all contention cease, and conduct weighed by the just balance of God’s Word.  The just and the unjust will all be brought before God, Whose Mercy and Bounty are writ large in the Signs in His marvelous Creations – one, yet diverse!” (C. 211)

Almost a pretext for tolerance!

(I will mention two other passages, here, too.  As a proof of the inspiration of the Qur’an, this scripture raises the idea of intelligent talk: “Then, by the Lord of heaven and earth, this is the very Truth, as much as the fact that ye can speak intelligently to each other.” (51, 23) I don’t know if it means the same thing in the Arabic, but it seems important to me.  The other passage holds that some criticized Muhammad for not speaking enough.  It says – “Among them are men who molest the Prophet and say, ‘He is (all) ear.’  Say, ‘He listens to what is best for you…’ ” (9, 60) Listening was a critical skill for Muhammad, as it should be for anyone.  So, talking intelligently and listening – two great things.)

At the end of the Qur’an there is this statement.  Apparently, it is partly directed at unbelievers (the “hatred” part), but it is really talking to Muslims.  And I have no reason to believe they would disagree.

“To the man of God, rich in divine blessings, is granted a fountain unfailing, that will quench the spiritual thirst of millions; turn, then, in devotion and sacrifice to God, nor heed the venom of hatred, which destroys its own hopes, alas, of the present and the future!” (C. 288 )

Although this is not the absolute ending of the Qur’an, to me, it could be.  No more powerful statement can be made of our duty in the present moment.  This is really the Qur’an at its best.  With all the battle lines drawn, there is still an answer, and it is not hatred.

Finally, as to the question in the title of this post, “Is there a way?”, I would like to look at the following verse -

“Abraham was not a Jew nor yet a Christian; but he was true in Faith, and bowed his will to God’s, (which is Islam), and he joined not gods with God.” (3, 67)

It could be remembered that the Apostle Paul also argued from Abraham.  When Paul wished that new believers would not have to be circumsized, he pointed out that Abraham talked with God and received promises before he was circumsized.(2)  Why should Paul be able to argue from Abraham’s faith, and no one else?

So, is there a way?  Can a person talk to God without joining a church or becoming involved with a religious community?  I think they can.  Faith is required, because we are sinners.  But the solution, more often than not is just talking to your own God. 

This is maybe something that Muhammad can hold out to us – that one person and God is still a majority.

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(1) Islam, by Fazlur Rahman. – (2nd ed.) – Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979.  I never did own this title, so I don’t know what page.

(2) Romans 4: 9-12.

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