Monday, October 13, 2014

The elephant in the room -- revisited

As World War III develops, the words of George Galloway keep coming back to my mind.

Less than a week after the 9/11 attacks, as the evidence continued to point towards Osama bin Laden as the mastermind and the "Coalition of the Willing" was forming around the US and Britain to throw military might into the arena and crush the enemy, Galloway, the British MP for Bradford West -- then a Labour Party member -- declared that if they killed Osama bin Laden today, 10,000 more bin Ladens would spring up tomorrow.

So here we are, 13 years later, and doesn't it seem like his prophecy has come to pass? ISIS, ISIL, Boko Haram and other Muslim extremist groups are terrorizing, well, the whole world, and yet the best those who want to stop the terrorism can offer is more military might. That over-worked definition of insanity, attributed to Albert Einstein -- doing the same thing over and over, hoping to get a different result -- is spot-on.

To be sure, my perspective is different from Galloway's in that he also contended that the West was the author of its own misfortune and what had happened on 9/11 was a drop in the bucket compared to what Iraqi civilians had experience because of sanctions and other actions taken by the US and others.

For me, that was no time to say, "I told you so - you had it coming!" But as a Christian, I believed then -- and believe now -- the best response to 9/11 should have been no response. Or more accurately, that any response should not return evil for evil. Bury the dead, mourn them, remember them always -- and get on with life. But do not rise to the bait. Pray for the attackers and their supporters, Resiliency would have shown the terrorists that they cannot win. Living well, as they say, is the best revenge. Above all, I said, do not let the victims' collective epitaph be World War III.

I wrote that in a primitive (by today's standards) chat session -- a series of emails among a bunch of people who would just hit "reply all" to make their comments. One of them -- a Canadian comedian and social commentator of some note -- ripped into me for a weak, cowardly position and then demanded to be dropped from the mailing list. His sister -- a good friend of mine -- sent me a separate note, "my brother is an idiot: don't mind him", but I backed off the discussion.

But the inconvenient truth is, we're not dealing with a human army: we're dealing with an ideology, and recent history has shown that overpowering it with worldly weapons kills people, but not ideas. The Allies won WW II, but has Nazism or anti-Semitism gone away? France and the US spent more than 20 years trying to keep Communism out of Vietnam, and how well has that worked? Martin Luther King, jr., set out to end racial discrimination through means that, I believe, Jesus would have endorsed, and it was beginning to work; but he was killed and the Black Panthers stepped up with their "kill Whitey" message and 40 years on, I still hear "you people have been f**king up my people for 400 years!"

So how long has the West been battling Islamic extremism? And how well has it been working?

The fact is, God told us this all would happen back at the beginning. He said that the descendants of Ishmael -- the Arabs/Muslims -- would always be at odds with everybody else (Genesis 16:12 --[Ishmael] shall be a wild man; his hand shall be against every man, and every man's hand against him.); Jesus also told us, two thousand years ago, that we would see the events we're seeing now (Matthew 24:4-14).

But along with these warnings, the Word of God gives us hope, in the knowledge that Jesus' return is at hand, and also gives us keys to handling the adversity by renewing our minds (Romans 12:2) and by following Jesus' instruction to "resist not evil" (or, as some translations put it, "do not resist the evil person"): do not fight back when attacked. Rather, He says, pray for that person, reach out in love and FORGIVE.

In the meantime, we go into spiritual warfare, using the weapons Jesus gave us as we receive Him: the weapons the Apostle Paul says are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. (2 Cor. 10:4) That is the only way we can battle an ideology.

At the same time, we live our own ideology -- our faith in Jesus Christ and the Royal Law of Love -- we are better able to show people who embrace the terrorists' ideology that there is a better way of living -- and people get saved.

As we do this, we draw closer to God, and as we draw closer to God, He promises to heal the problems in our lives. I get this image of God, watching His creation from the outside, saying, "Have you had enough yet? ... Had enough yet? ... How about now?"

Psalm 46 says [God] makes wars cease to the end of the earth; He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariot in the fire. God -- not man -- makes wars cease.

There is an elephant in the room and His name is Jesus. I've said that before, and it's still true. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life 100% of the time. People may reject out-of-hand the idea of using a Christ-based approach, but the fact is, we haven't tried it -- and maybe it's time that we did.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

How can a loving God ...?

Today's edition of "Worldcrunch" has brought another barrage of tragic news, including the latest pogrom by Boko Haram in Africa, bloody battles in Eastern Ukraine and a mass grave of nearly 800 children in Ireland who had died at an orphanage between 1925 and 1961.

Someone, somewhere, is probably saying, "How can a loving God allow such things?"

It's a favorite mantra of atheists and agnostics, who want to make their case that there can't possibly be a God Who loves us, if these things happen in the world He created. Indeed, some Christians also find themselves asking that question.

It's often intended as a rhetorical question -- no answer expected. But it really isn't.

See, the tragedies in this world are not the fault of God. He created the earth and all that's in it, but He handed the responsibility for it over to humans. "Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it," is the way Genesis 1:28 puts it. We have been given dominion -- lordship, headship, responsibility to nurture and care for the earth; we are to enjoy creation and make sure that it's replenished.

But as we also know from Genesis, we handed that authority over to Satan in exchange for a bite of fruit. And God, not being a liar or One to go back on His Word, can only stand aside, let us do what we see fit, and occasionally remind us that He's there to help whenever we ask for it. He sent His Son to show us how to re-take that authority through the Holy Spirit, but it's still up to us to exercise that authority.

In other words, don't blame God. Human atrocities are committed by humans.

Indeed, He loves us so much that He sacrificed His Son in order to restore the authority we gave away.

The more we fail to exercise that authority and follow what Jesus commanded us to do -- love one another -- the more we are responsible for the tragedies in our world.

Monday, May 19, 2014

The Great Cat Conspiracy - continued

... actually, we could call this the Never-Ending Story ...

Oddly enough, considering I've been a Cat Man all my life (even though our household also includes a magnificent Border Terrier), it wasn't until a few years ago that I started suspecting that cats were in cahoots pretty much all over the world. I blogged about this early in my blogging career, when I first saw a Simon's Cat cartoon and realized that Peaches did exactly the same thing as the cat in the cartoon, except, of course, for the bit with the baseball bat; and that was only because I didn't have one handy.

The suspicion was confirmed when others at my workplace (so many of my co-workers on the 17th floor at Metrotower II were cat people at the time that I'm sure the Evil Empire (otherwise known by its official title, "Human Resources") started to check into the definition of "discriminatory hiring practices") saw Simon's Cat and said, "my cat does exactly the same thing!"

Now ... more evidence that the International Cat Conspiracy is alive and well. When I was little, I noticed early on that my cat -- a Siamese named Tuptim (as, in fact, were many Siamese cats at the time, thanks to The King and I) -- had an uncanny ability to pick the exact spot on a book or newspaper where I happened to be reading and curl up there. As it turns out, she was by no means unique.

Exhibit A

Exhibit B

and, lest you think this concept exists only in cartoons,

Exhibit C

Daisy Mae, who's "helping" Amelia, also finds my computer keyboard particularly comfortable, and I've had to develop a reflexive motion with my left hand, sweeping her tail away as I type. Even by not actually being directly on the keyboard, the constant "C" is significant. 

"If she knew what she was staring at,
she wouldn't be a cat."
-- Walt Kelly (creator of 
When she's not on the keyboard, Daisy Mae has another favorite place on my desk: under the lamp ... and on top of the router. She hasn't knocked me offline yet, but while she appears to be dozing in the lovely, relaxing warmth, she's probably communicating telecattically (like Peaches, on the right) with other cats around the world (those with the motto: "Opposable thumbs? We don' need no opposable thumbs!") to find out how to do that.
The Kaufman-and-Hart play, You Can't Take it With You, includes a woman who writes novels and uses kittens as paper-weights. When my parents produced the show at the old Avon Theatre in Vancouver in the 50s, they used real kittens in the cast. They were generally kept on the desk with saucers of cream, but one day they went walkabout. Dad went a-hunting and eventually heard mewing backstage and discovered the kittens had found a hole in the wall and -- being cats -- crawled in to investigate. Dad wound up ripping out most of the drywall before getting to the beasts in time to get them onstage. Even then, the constant "C" had not been factored-in, and this was a good decade before Moore made his prediction.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Trinity Western's Community Covenant and religious freedom

Monday's Vancouver Sun has some excellent perspective this week from Dr Emma Cunliffe, associate professor in the UBC Law Faculty, about the controversial Community Covenant at Trinity Western University.

When the issue blew up a few weeks ago, with Law Societies in other parts of the country refusing to recognize TWU law grads because of that Covenant, I took a few minutes and actually read the thing. It's full of all sorts of subversive stuff, like respect others, love your neighbour, treat others with dignity and humility -- a cynic might suggest that's the very thing that would turn off the legal community -- but the section on sexual morality is the one that people are exercised about. Certainly, it's been construed as anti-gay, although the actual wording is pro-traditional male-female relationships, so it also excludes people who have sex out of wedlock and/or live together without being married.

(By the way, the love, respect, dignity and humility thing is something TWU would do well to apply to traveling fans of its sports teams. I work closely with the UBC Thunderbirds, and TWU fans are, far and away, the rudest, most obnoxious fans we can think of. I wrote a blog posting a few years ago, called "What Would Jesus Cheer?" and the response from some readers when a TWU student paper picked it up suggested I'd struck a nerve.)

But Dr. Cunliffe hit a point that moves this into a completely different realm. She contends that requiring students and teachers to live by this Covenant on penalty of expulsion "compels individuals to live according to a discriminatory moral code regardless of their true beliefs." I'd take it a step further: while the Professor focuses on the fact that gay or lesbian students would have to suppress their true feelings and/or beliefs, the notion of any organization imposing a particular code of conduct on those who want to be part of it smacks of cultism. Whether or not I agree with the principles is neither here nor there: the fact is, no one should be forced into agreeing.

God gives us freedom of choice. Having given us dominion over the earth, He is not about to make Himself a liar by manipulating us. Yes, He makes it clear which He would prefer us to choose -- I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that thou and thy seed may live ... and that thou mayest cleave to Him, for He is thy Life ... (Deut. 30:19-20 KJV) -- but the choice is still up to us. No institution should presume to take that choice away.

One is not known as a Christian by the things one hates or shuns: "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)

Love, in other words, is what defines a Christian. Is signing a Community Covenant part of that commandment?

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Sterling opportunity to forgive

The media have been all over the Donald Sterling saga like the proverbial fat kid on a Smartie, and truly, what else could overshadow the threat of WWIII starting in Russia and Ukraine, than the shocking revelation that an 80-year-old white billionaire philanderer holds racist views?

There have been some interesting viewpoints: Cam Cole points out that Sterling is not the first team owner who's acted or talked like an owner of the players; Steve Nash has weighed in, asking rhetorically how much longer people will be taught racism; Christie Blatchford spares no ammo in her delight at the NBA's response. Philip DeFranco offers a viewpoint which is, well, different.

But something is disturbing in all this (besides the fact that no one appears to have batted an eye at the fact that this guy dumped the woman who stood by him for 50 years in favor of a woman who's about that much younger): I'm not hearing anyone utter the F-word:


I thought this when Don Imus made a racist remark about the NCAA Women's basketball champions a few years ago and was subsequently drummed out of the business. I think this when I hear representatives of ethnic groups in Canada which have been wronged over the years -- native Indians, Chinese immigrants from a century ago, Japanese-Canadians who were interned during the Second World War, etc., etc. -- express their outrage and demand apologies from their oppressors. Wouldn't Jesus remind them to forgive?

Wouldn't Jesus remind us that casting the first stone is reserved for the one without sin? Wouldn't He remind us that if we don't forgive others for doing us wrong, how can God forgive us for what we do wrong to Him?

Forgiveness breaks the vicious cycle we get into when someone wrongs us. Like all of God's commandments, it goes against our natural instinct to hit someone back when they hit us. It also releases God's will and love over the situation. Sure, there may be soul- and flesh-satisfaction in barring Sterling for life from the NBA, fining him to the max and recommending a forced sale of the Clippers, but at the end of the day, what will that accomplish? Will Sterling be any less racist as a result? I realize it would be shocking to think that other old white guys who own sports franchises might also hold racist views, but will they come out of this with a refreshed way of thinking, or will they -- and other racist people -- simply drive their thoughts further underground and find more subtle ways of expressing them? (I note Mark Cuban's remarks at the end of Cam Cole's article and say that the guy has a point: indeed, that's a pretty scary aspect to this; because while I'm personally disgusted at this particular incident, what happens if, one day, the way I think and the things I believe run counter to the "accepted norm"*?)

But I digress. I keep considering a series of "What if"s:

  • What if someone said, "I forgive you for the hurt," and reached out with a hand of friendship? (As it's been said, hurt people hurt people.) 
  • What if someone said, "maybe you don't know me well enough - why don't we talk?"? 
  • What if someone said, "we don't agree, but we love you regardless and are here for you"?

Wouldn't that break down more barriers and accomplish more than a $2.5 million fine and public vilification? Wouldn't that shift the focus away from "us versus them" and onto "us and us, under God"? As the Apostle Paul writes, There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:28) 

Look at it this way: for over a century, we've tried to cure racial tensions by slapping down those who still hold those views and in some cases, trying to "re-educate" them, and we still have people with racist attitudes. Could using Jesus' approach possibly be any worse?

It's an opportunity to let God do His work over a situation, and I hope we seize on it.

*When people make statements that oppose the direction society has taken recently, they're sometimes told they're "on the wrong side of history". Which would you rather be: on the wrong side of history or the wrong side of God?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Farewell -- and thank you -- to a friend

Sad news to wake up to this morning: the passing of my old friend, Rodd Crandall -- known to the public as Peter Clemente. He was my mentor at CKPG Radio/TV in Prince George, where I worked in 1981. As a newscaster, his delivery could make you laugh or make you cry, and as assistant news director, he led by example: encouraging, cajoling, teaching; always giving. He set a standard and it was one you wanted to meet -- not because he might tear you a new one if you didn't (which he never would, anyway), but because you knew it was a standard worth achieving.

Thanks in large part to his mentoring, I made it to the big time, landing at C-FUN in 1982. "There's one phrase that says it all for me, as far as C-FUN is concerned," he said, "and I want you to nail it!" His voice dropped into his best Dick Smyth/CHUM impression. "'WEST COAST WEATHER!'" Shortly after I started at C-FUN, I brought him an aircheck of one of my newscasts, and I could swear there was a bit of a tear in his eye when he heard me go into the weather forecast with that signature line. (It didn't hurt that C-FUN's equalization was boosted on the low end, so that I sounded like I was 6'4" and built like Ken Dryden.)

He got his shot at the big time in 1984, just after I'd moved to Victoria. Before that, he and Joanne came to Vancouver a couple of times, and on one of these trips, he demanded I take him to The Penthouse. Yes, the strip joint on Seymour Street that's still grinding away, literally and figuratively. But he wasn't there to see the girls: Rodd wanted to see the legendary club and the people who hung out there; and overarching all of that, he wanted to see the owner, Joe Philliponi. He was just as legendary for his many years of involvement with the nightlife and all the, um, stuff that you would associate with nightlife, Vancouver and a strip club.

So most of our attention was fixed on the bar and the coterie of "Damon Runyon types" who were perched on their stools. Suddenly, Rodd's eyes lit up. "There he is!" he hissed.

In the middle of the group, as though holding court, was a thick-set man in a sport-jacket and tie. The Great One, himself. At one point, he got up from his stool and walked towards the office -- coming right past our table.

"Hiya, Joe!" Rodd called out.

Joe clapped him on the shoulder. "Hey - how ya doin'?" and he went on into his office.

"He touched me!" Rodd hissed at me. "He patted me on the shoulder!"

I wonder if Rodd ever cleaned that jacket.

It wasn't long after that, in that same office, that Joe met his end during a botched robbery attempt. 

When I told Rodd I was going to Vancouver, he was philsophical. "That's my job," he sighed, "getting people ready and pushing them out the door." Up until the early 90s, small- and medium-market stations were regarded as a farm system for major-market operations, and I'm sure many news directors felt like minor league baseball managers. But Rodd played an even more important role in my life, being one of about a dozen or so people who spoke Christ into my life. I was 25 and knew everything, including the "knowledge" that Christians were goofs who couldn't think for themselves and that the Bible was out of step with the times. Rodd didn't preach at me, but occasionally would inject a word or an observation into our conversations that made me stop and think -- or at least wonder, "why exactly was I rejecting it?". Eventually, it all sank in: I was the one who wasn't thinking ... and what we really needed was to bring the times in step with the Bible.

Rodd's passing also reminds me that "someday" doesn't come. I returned to the Vancouver area around the time that he retired due to the health issues that eventually took him far too soon. We made plans to go for lunch, but I had to cancel at the last minute. We said we'd do it soon. That was eight years ago. Then they moved back to Prince George and we said we'd get together again "someday".

... ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life?
It is even a vapor, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.
For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that.
-- James 4:14-15 (KJV).

I can say with certainty that I know where I should see Rodd next. Lord willing, I'll be there, too.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Should Pastors Marry Couples Who've Been Living Together? (re-run)

Well! If you ever think the Internet has a short shelf-life, here's proof against that idea. Fortunately, it's not something like an ancient Facebook posting warning the invasion from the planet Zargon was already manifest at the New York Stock Exchange or a blog entry from the time when I believed that when you die, your soul goes to a used-car lot in Buffalo. It's a guest article I wrote on Ron Edmonson's blog back in 2010 about the question of couples who'd been living together, deciding to get married: should a pastor perform the service?

I actually think the answer is a slam-dunk: yes, he (or she) should. My reasoning is spelled out in the blog, but it boils down to two passages in Scripture:

  • (Peter said), "Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?" (Acts 10:47)
  • (Jesus said), "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost." (Matt. 28:19)
A couple shacks up, then decides to make a permanent commitment; and if they want to do so in front of God and a gathering of witnesses, why turn them away?

The posting generated 50 comments, most of which were very thoughtful but the discussion often moved into the question of whether couples should live together prior to marriage at all. Not sure that I'd recommend that for a couple who came to me for advice, especially given the statistics on such marriages. But there didn't seem to be a clear consensus on what to do when the couple had already been together.

So while I wrote the piece to try to firm up some ideas in my own mind, the final answer, for me, remains: "It depends".

ANYWAY ... on Friday (Feb. 14), I got an email from the producer of a program, Up For Debate, on the Moody Radio Network. 3-1/2 years on, they discovered my blog posting and have asked me to take part in this week's show. It's on between 8 and 9am Central Time, or you can get more information and listen to the podcast here.

And it's another good reason to be VERY careful with your online postings!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What I learn from my dog

A dog teaches a boy fidelity, perseverance, and to turn around three times before lying down.
 -- Robert Benchley, US humorist (1889-1945)

I've been a cat man all my life. Ever since a little basket was handed to me at my fourth birthday party, containing a Siamese kitten, I've been hooked on cats. The man in the Kliban cartoon who's surrounded by cats and says, "It started innocently. Someone offered me a cat. So I thought I'd try one, just to see what it's like ... and I kinda liked it, so I had another ... and another ..." -- that could have been me.

There have been a couple of dogs along the way: one that only lasted a couple of months when I was 7, because he turned out to be chronically ill, and one that belonged to my ex-wife. 

And then came Millie.

Amelia and I had cats. At one point, there were 5 of them around our two-bedroom apartment. Two of them died in their old age, and around the same time, Amelia started talking wistfully about getting a dog. For a time, she talked about getting a King Charles Cavalier spaniel, and it looked like there was some kind of conspiracy going on, because hardly a week would go by when I didn't see a KCC in some random location. But one day, we were visiting some friends on Vancouver Island who had a border terrier. Amelia remarked, "Jessie is such a nice dog, and great with kids and the cat. Maybe we should consider a border terrier."
Millie and Sadie, on alert

Before I could say anything, our friends said, "Well, one of our neighbors is a breeder, and she's just had a litter."

We still had three cats at the time (we're down to 2 now), so I pointed out that our complex had a 2-pet limit as it was. "We'd have to buy pet offsets from our neighbors who don't have pets," I said.

We arrived at the breeder's place, and one of the puppies ran straight to me and started chewing on my shoe. I picked her up and she burrowed into my neck. She practically ignored Amelia: even at that tender age, she knew whom she had to work on. 24 hours later, we were the proud owners of Millicent K. PupDog.

As Benchley said, Millie has taught me about fidelity and unconditional love; and I had never experienced a situation where an animal would step up to protect and care for me. She saw me crash on my bicycle last summer and was absolutely frantic. While Amelia and a kind passerby re-set the chain and saw to the bike, I was in mild shock, and Millie spent her time licking my wounds. Another time, a dog that I thought was playing came charging a little too close to me, and Millie went into "repel boarders" mode, positioning herself by my feet and darting out to chase the other dog away.

But the biggest lesson Millie has been teaching me so far is how to play. She loves to run, and seeing her race around the field at the park across the street, hair flowing in the breeze, reminds me of helmet-less Guy Lafleur, speeding down the ice. But if the other dog(s) are clearly slower than she is, she'll drop to 3/4 or half speed, looking over her shoulder as she runs. She'd rather canter than out-run another dog, so that she can play with him or her.

It's the same thing when she and I play. When I throw a ball, she'll chase it, grab it and run back with it -- but she won't give it back. I have to chase her and try to get it away from her. She knows I'm not as fast as she is, so rather than out-run me, she'll bounce sideways while I do the "basketball shuffle" to try to corral her. Indoors, she has a variety of toys (it was very sweet when some of our dog-park friends came over with their dogs and Millie gradually brought out every one of her toys for them to play with), and when she wants to play, she'll bring one over and demand that I try to take it away from her.
This will go on for some time ...

That leads to a tug-o-war and a lot of head-shaking on her part, as I try to wrest the toy from her jaws and she tried to yank it out of my hand, and I often wonder what the purpose in it is for her. She knows the stuffed teddy bear isn't an actual animal, and what could be so important to her about a piece of knotted rope, that it becomes a life-or-death struggle to keep me from having it? To what end is all this?

It's then that I realize that for Millie, play is an end to itself. There is no competition, no desire to win. When she and Babz, a little Havanese, get together, they spend all their time wrestling -- not to harm each other, but because it's fun to grapple. When she runs with Tegan (a Jack Russell), Buster (Heinz terrier) and Horatio (Yorkie), the other speed merchants in our group, they actually take turns leading for the others to chase. Sometimes when we're at home, she'll get one of her balls and bounce it for herself. She even invented a game, in which I sit in a chair with my legs together and she takes her ball and rolls it down my legs like a chute, then chases the ball.

Participaction has launched a campaign called "Bring Back Play", and Canadian Tire's "We All Play For Canada" campaign ran through the fall. Play for the sake of play is something humans seem to lose sight of, and at an earlier age than before. Little league ballplayers and peewee hockey players are looked at as potential major-league material, and the resulting favoritism and competitiveness is probably a big factor in driving other kids away from play before their time. 

But dogs don't compete. Dogs don't keep score. Dogs don't trash-talk one another. Dogs play.

We can learn a lot from our dogs.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Online comments - gentility, grace ... and censorship?

The Vancouver Sun reported this week that online news providers -- like AOL, Huffington Post and others -- are taking steps to tone down some of the rhetoric in comments regarding stories. The growth of social media like blogs and Twitter has coincided with (or contributed to) the rise of the Age of Nasty. Having been part of TransLink's cutting-edge rise in direct communications with the public, I've seen how easy it is for someone to launch a day-destroying (or even job-destroying) salvo and then duck-and-cover.

The main part of the solution described in the Sun article is exactly what we need: require commenters to use their right names. Nothing tones down rhetoric like making someone publicly accountable for their words. My mother used to advise me, "never say anything you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the New York Times", and there were moments in my career in broadcast and media relations that I rather wished I'd remembered that.

But the part that gives me concern is the suggestion that moderators on these sites screen out "offensive" comments: you know - racism, bigotry, violence, etc., etc. I get the notion of preventing blowhards from dominating a conversation or ensuring the follow-up discourse stays on-topic, but monitoring against "offensiveness" smacks of censorship. I've long maintained (and believe me, I used to be all-for stifling people whose views didn't square with my own) that truth is its own defense and doesn't need to hide behind rules and regulations. One person's bigotry may be another person's strongly-held belief; it's only when those beliefs are aired-out fairly that the truth becomes clearer.

About 20 years ago, the late Sam Kinison brought his standup comedy act to Victoria. A crowd of protesters -- including the Member of Parliament at the time -- picketed the Royal Theatre, demanding the show be shut down. I went to review it for Monday magazine, which at the time was an "alternative" weekly. "Are you going in?" I asked the MP. "Absolutely not!" he said. "I'll have no part of that bigotry." "Then how do you know what it is?" "I've heard."

And truth to tell, I found his act horrific. Certainly, the people who went enjoyed it, and unfortunately, they appeared to represent a particular mentality and lifestyle. Maybe Sam was out to hold up a mirror and get us asking why we found it funny to put down people of different ethnic groups, the homeless and impoverished, and so forth. Sadly, Sam didn't live long enough to tell us.

Maybe through being able to express even the most misguided of opinions, the person expressing them can get an idea of how misguided their thinking is. That doesn't happen if they're being suppressed, driven underground, or forced to yell their thoughts into a paper bag.

Make someone responsible for what they say by requiring them to associate their name with it, fine; moderate against domination and name-calling, great; but that should be all we need to improve the level of online discourse.

"Speak the truth in love," says the Apostle Paul; and "I do not agree with what you are saying, but I will defend to the death your right to say it," said Voltaire. The Internet is "growing up," as the Sun article says, and those two quotations can help make sure it matures, as well.