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Archive for April, 2013

Paulo Coelho: The Intelligent Servant (10 second reading)

When he was staying at an air base in Africa, author Saint-Exupéry passed the hat among his friends because a Moroccan servant wanted to return to his home town. He managed to collect a thousand francs.

One of the pilots flew the servant as far as Casablanca and told the following when he came back:

– As soon as he arrived he went to have dinner in the very best restaurant, handed out generous tips, paid for drinks all round and bought dolls for the children in his village. This man hadn’t the slightest notion of economy.

– Quite the opposite – answered Saint-Exupéry.

“He knew that the best investment in the world is people. Spending in that way, he managed to win all over again the respect of his countrymen, and they will offer him a job. After all, only a winner can be so generous.”

Should citizens be allowed to carry guns?

According to the FBI, between 2006 and 2010, 47 856 people have died gun related deaths. That would make 34 people every day. I also found an interesting fact on Barack Obama’s official Twitter account: Since 1968, more than 1.3 million Americans have died from gun violence. That’s more than in all of the wars in American history combined. That is some shocking statistics and something has to be done. It is clear that there is always going to be people who are either pro or against the gun laws, but U.S. can’t go on like this anymore. There are way too many gun related deaths in the United States. Over many years, there has been a heated debate about gun control. There have been many deaths in the past in relation to guns, therefore making many people be against the access to guns in the United States. I am opposed to this viewpoint. I say this because there are many things that people do not realise like the fact that criminals are criminals, they will find a way, and the fact that crime rates have risen in countries that have banned firearms.  But should citizens be allowed to carry guns? How much control should be placed on them?

No citizen should feel unsafe in his own home. Having the right to a firearm to protect oneself should not be taken away from any citizen. Some might look at that number of 34 people a day and might be outraged. I, however, see that this helps my point very well. About 45 percent of these deaths are delivered from guns from the black market, and 40 percent are the killing of criminals with legal guns. And yes, I do care about rest of the 15 percent of criminals attacking innocent or innocent people killing innocent people with legal guns, and I find that a problem, but this will continue to happen, even if there are laws that outlaw all guns. People will buy weapons from the black market anyway. Criminals are criminals. They will never learn. Mentally unstable criminals will find a way, no matter what law is in their way. Since when have criminals abided by laws? If these laws are passed it will only encourage crimes that show the government who is in charge. In the US, 44.1% of criminals go to jail more than once. In England, where all firearms are banned, the crime rates have risen 89% from what they were before there was a ban on firearms. This happens because nobody has a form of protection. Nobody can brandish a handgun to a threat to scare them away. It may seem scary to have people have the power to kill you all the time, but one must trust others and dismiss any paranoia that could result by this.

To be honest, sometimes I really don’t feel that safe being in the U.S. Especially when I am in the bigger cities like Chicago or New York City. It’s probably because I come from a little European country where gun violence practically doesn’t exist, but the facts of the gun violence in the United States speaks for itself. There are just way too many gun related deaths in the United States. At the same time, private citizens legally owning guns enables people to protect themselves from criminals. Taking guns from law abiding citizens who use them for target shooting, hunting or self protection doesn’t solve anything. If someone wants to commit a crime with a firearm, they can get a hold of any type they want from the black market. Sure citizens owning guns makes it easier for a person who is not in organised crime to go on a shooting spree, however you cannot solve society’s biggest problems by taking the freedom away from everybody. Then you end up with north Korea. Small, extremely rare events such as the Connecticut shooting should not take the rights away from the millions of people all across the country who abide all gun laws and use firearms for legitimate uses. All the people who are opposed to citizens owning firearms are people who don’t have a need for firearms and have never appreciated the importance of firearms in some people’s lives. I don’t believe you can compare the US gun laws and firearm related crime rates to any other developed countries because other countries were created on completely different constitutions. The US has a violent past that was largely influenced by firearms. There is also vast amounts of wilderness in the US where hunting is a way of life for people. To take away guns would be altering traditions and ways of life that date back to before this country was confederated.

George Washington once said: “Firearms stand next in importance to the Constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence.” There is a lot of people who say that military should only have weapons, not anyone else. And this is true, because without guns, Unites States of America would not have that good military. Why do they carry weapons? It is to protect themselves. Should citizens have a right to protect themselves? I think so. After all and I say it again, it isn’t guns who kill people, it is people who kill people. The thing is, with guns, if we outlaw them, that’s not stopping the bad guys from getting them, it is stopping the good people who abide by the law. There are already so many illegal guns on the street that law enforcement has their hands tied and banning them would just add that much more.  One more reason is that if we ban having a concealed weapon then wouldn’t we have to ban being able to carry a pocket knife? Or having a baseball bat. Vehicles kill people to! What would we do without cars? Banning handguns would not lessen the amount of guns on the street and would not lessen crime rate. I did some further research on the gun violence and self-defence in U.S. and found some very interesting statistics: Incidents of gun violence and self-defense have routinely ignited bitter debate. 12,632 murders were committed using firearms and 613 persons were killed unintentionally in 2007. Surveys have suggested that guns are used in crime deterrence or prevention around 2.5 million times a year in the United States. The American Journal of Public Health conducted a study that concluded “the United States has higher rates of firearm ownership than do other developed nations, and higher rates of homicide. Of the 233,251 people who were homicide victims in the United States between 1988 and 1997, 68% were killed with guns, of which the large majority were handguns.” The estimated in 1995 that the number of firearms available in the US was 223 million.

Guns do not decide to get up and shoot themselves. They must have a finger to pull the trigger. A human finger. People kill people. We humans are animate, alive, and we have the freedom of choice. Why should we change what is working? We should stay with the tried and true, and not risk the freedom of people. The guns used to commit crimes are stolen and black market weapons. Private citizens are threatened by these criminals and need a form of protection for themselves. Criminals will find a way to acquire weapons even if they are illegal for the private citizen. Then, the private citizen is just less protected than before.

‘The Great Symbol Drain’ analysis

Following text is my analysis of ‘The Great Symbol Drain’ by Neil Postman.

Aspects of human nature – like our capacity for language, reasoning or emotions – are subject to scientific analysis that looks at where they come from and how they work using tools like evolutionary biology, genetics, or neuroscience. But not everything about us that is important is innate. Some deeply entrenched features and characteristics of human life are actually contingent on our human history, not our human biology. Such aspects of the human condition – like marriage, sports, and war – are therefore not amenable to such scientific analysis and must be studied in a more humanistic way. Technology is changing and improving every single day, and so is world of advertisement business. Companies would do everything to get good sales of their products, and sometimes some geniuses are coming up with the craziest and most inappropriate adverts and commercials. Some are very racist, some are very sexist, some are insulting and some may hurt someone’s religious views. A lot of companies gain attention by their ”different” and ”inappropriate” adverts, and that is what they are actually looking for. Even if they are getting a lot of criticism, it is usually good marketing for their product or service. Sexist ads and commercials are very common and appealing among consumers, but have advertisers gone too far in using sex to sell products? I chose sexist adverts and tried to match them with Neil Postman’s ideas and theories.

Sexuality has been employed in advertising since the beginning of advertising itself. Sexual appeals used in adverts are of many types and consist of a variety of elements. They often are grounded in visual elements, such as attractive models, and may portray varying degrees of nudity and suggestiveness. Over the past two decades, the use of increasingly explicit sexual imagery in consumer-oriented print advertising has become almost commonplace. Whether it is good or bad – sexuality is considered one of the most powerful tools of marketing and particularly advertising. So when it comes to creating an advertisement and you do not have too many clever ideas – always remember one general rule – sex sells. I think most of the people can agree with me that sex sells and a lot of people do like sexy commercials, but in some ways advertisers had gone too far in using sex to sell products. Use of sexual imagery in advertising has been criticized on various grounds. Religious Conservatives often consider it obscene. Some feminists and masculists claim it reinforces sexism by objectifying the individual. Moreover, the unrealistic importance given to body image has been blamed for the poor self – esteem and unhappiness among ordinary people, particularly the youth. At the same time, there are many adverts and commercials that are related to sex, but are very important part of our lives. For example – condoms, lingerie, so there is probably nothing wrong with these companies using sexuality to promote their products. One company that sells jeans has a picture advert with the young girl wearing only very short shorts and slogan on the ad: ”Sex sells. Unfortunately we sell jeans.” In my opinion, the girl on the ad looked like she was raped and she was not more than twenty years old. Some adverts are offensive and very inappropriate, and that was one of them. Another offensive and inappropriate ad was made by Dolce & Gabbana. In that ad, a gang of young men are gathered around one skinny model, who looks like trying to get away from them, but man on top of her is not letting her go and all the other are watching and waiting for their turn. The woman is in a very vulnerable and powerless position compared to the men, but all that the company seems to care about is that everyone supposedly looks good. After doing some research on this advert, I saw a lot of people who actually loved this advert. People said it is art, it is sexy and it sells. I can not disagree more. This is what NOW Foundation President Kim Gandy said about that Dolce & Gabbana advert, “It’s in Esquire, so they probably don’t think a stylized gang rape will sell clothes to women, but what is more likely is that they think it will get them publicity. It’s a provocative ad but it is provoking things that really are not what we want to have provoked. We don’t need any more violence.” This advert was definitely very offensive to women and made me very uncomfortable.

It is sad, that women discrimination and diversity still exist in our world, and declines very slowly. The way a lot of companies present diversity, racism, sexism and religious views in their adverts and commercials is just wrong and something has to be done to against it. There are four main points that advertising has to accomplish. First of all, attract a consumer’s attention. Then focus the attention onto the message. Third of all, make the consumer remember the message and last, cause the consumer to take the desired action. This is all psychology. Postman wrote in his book: ”Today, television commercial, for example, is rarely about the character of the products. It is about the character of the consumers of products. Images of movie stars and famous athletes, of serene lakes and macho fishing trips, of elegant dinners and romantic interludes, of happy families packing their station wagons for a picnic in the country – these tell nothing about the products being sold. But they tell everything about the fears, fancies, and dreams of those who might buy them. What the advertiser needs to know is not what is right about the product but what is wrong about the buyer,” (N. Postman, 519). I could not agree more with Postman ideas. I believe that effective advert and commercial should appeal three innate emotions: love, fear and rage. Even that Dolce & Gabbana was very offensive to women, it made me think about it, also see other Dolce & Gabbana adverts. Even though it is offensive and sexist, it is definitely effective. I am not saying it is right, but I can see how it sells. Of course, many ads tread very close to the pornographic border. Of course, sexually explicit imagery is proliferating elsewhere in popular culture as well. Television, movies and music videos routinely air images that would have been forbidden just ten years ago. A lot of music videos on video sharing website Youtube are forbidden if you are underage because they contain too much sexual content. But the fact is, American apparel and many other products are steadily losing business. Companies have to come up with something new and even better to sell their products, and I am sure they will.

Sex definitely sells. Adverts and commercials can be very offensive and inappropriate, but this is exactly what sells. World of advertising is deeply related to psychology. Effective advert and commercial should appeal three innate emotions: love, fear and rage. I am actually really happy to hear that American apparel and other products are steadily losing business and having to close down stores. The way they try to sell sex to make up for their bland clothing no doubt been their downfall. Not everyone wants to enter a store and see half naked men spraying you with cologne or want to take pictures with some hot girls. I hope they have learned their lesson and would stop this arrogant objectification of the human body.

The World Without Child Labour is Possible

Child labour is an issue of international concern as it can have negative effects on the child’s health, educational achievements, and quality of life. United Nations children fund (UNICEF) estimates that there are 100-200 million child labourers in both industrialised and developing countries. Estimates for Africa are that 25% of children between the ages 10 and 14 are involved in labour while children comprise 17% Africa total labour force. By the same estimates, India with 15 million bonded child labourers which have the largest child labour force in the world (Human Rights Watch 2004). Latin America too, is estimated to have been 15 and 20% of children in work; Pakistan records 7.5 million, Thailand 5 million, Senegal, 500,000 and In Nigeria, 12-15 million minor work more as a consequence of abject poverty hunger and destination. (www.marxist.com, 2004) Not all work done by children should be classified as child labour, because there are many different jobs that are just perfect for children, and it is actually a great way for children to gain some work experience before it is time to start earning their own money. Children’s or adolescents’ participation in work that does not affect their health and personal development or interfere with their schooling, is generally regarded as being something positive. This includes activities like helping parents doing some work at home or in the family business, as well as earning some pocket money selling ice cream or doing some other physically and mentally easier jobs.

child labour in coal mineChild labour usually starts with children whose parents are homeless on the streets, some are abandoned runaway and have no families. Children who live with families; these include those who hawk all day on the streets and go home at the end of the day; go to school and hawk on the streets before and after school, during weekend and holiday. Child labour results in urban unemployment as they pickup jobs meant for adults. A lot of countries are not collecting data on their child labour statistics, but child labour among working children is definitely worst in Africa, India and South-America. Child labour is a curse to our society and a crime against humanity. Children should not work, they are supposed to play, have fun and go to school, however, across the world, millions of children do extremely hazardous work in harmful conditions, putting their health, education, personal and social development, and even their lives at risk. It is not fair! Countries and their governments are not doing enough to prevent this issue. United States Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman said once: ”If we can’t begin to agree on fundamentals, such as the elimination of the most abusive forms of child labor, then we really are not ready to march forward into the future.”

About 250 million children between the age of five and fourteen work in developing countries. At least 120 million of these children work on a full-time basis. In India the conservative estimate is about 11.3 million (according to the 1991 censure), but the International Labour Organization (ILO) estimated it at 23.2 million. Both estimates include full-time and marginal child workers. Most working children in rural areas are found in agriculture, many work as domestic labourers, urban children work in the trade and services sector, while some other work in manufacturing and construction. Such children range from four-years-old doing petty jobs to seventeen-years-olds helping out on the family farms. Denied education and a normal childhood, some children, confined and beaten, are often reduced to slavery. At times they are denied freedom of movement – the right to leave the workplace and visit their families. Some are abducted and forced to work. Instances of human rights abuses in such practices are clear and acute. All these statistics are public and official. This is just terrible and sad. Children in that age should not work. They should play and have fun with their friends and go to school. This is mentally, physically, socially or morally dangerous and harmful to children. Child agricultural workers frequently work for long hours in the heat, haul heavy loads of grains, are exposed to toxic pesticides, and suffer high rates of injury from sharp, dangerous tools. Children working in factories often work near hot furnaces, handle hazardous chemicals like arsenic and potassium, work in glass blowing units where the work harms their lungs, damages their eyes and causes disease like tuberculosis, asthma and bronchitis (Human Rights Watch, 2012). Some are injured in fire accidents. They become unemployable at the age of 20. If injured or incapacitated, they are mercilessly discarded by their employers. Child domestic workers, mostly girls, work for long hours for little or no pay. They are subjected to verbal and physical abuse, at times even sexual abuse. They may be fired from their work, losing not only the job but their place of shelter as well. Millions of children are involved in work that, under any circumstances, is considered unacceptable for children, including the sale and trafficking of children into debt bondage, serfdom, and forced labour. It includes the forced recruitment of children for armed conflict, commercial sexual exploitation, and other illicit activities, such as drug trafficking. This is not the world we want to live in. Millions of children do not have a childhood and missing out on education which is a very important nowadays. Without an education, it is very hard to get a good job today. I could go on and on about the consequences of child labour. A world without child labour is possible with the right priorities and policies: quality education, opportunities for young people, decent work for parents, a basic social protection floor for all.

The prevalence of child labour is a slap on the conscience of society. It harms not only the present generation but also the posterity. The origin of the problem of child labour can be traced to some complex social vices illiteracy, poverty, inequality, failure of social welfare schemes, population explosion, etc. The root cause lies in the economic insecurity of families that results from job loss, natural calamities, and sickness of parents in poor families that are often in debt and have no savings. Children of the poor have become an expendable commodity. The children either supplement their poor parents’ income or are the only wage earners in the family. Discrimination based on gender, race or religion is also responsible for the problem of child labour. Domestic employers often compel poor children to work for minimal wages. Also, work is relatively easy to get in households. Thus, the household sector employs the largest number of children labourers. Sometimes, child labour is deliberately facilitated by vested interests to get cheap labour. Employers justify this with the logic that it saves children from starvation and prevent them from being sucked into the world of crime. The “nimble finger theory” (India Legal Service) holds that children are better producers of certain products such as knotted carpets and other such kinds of goods. That is why, poor children are hired, exploited and made to work and produce such types of goods. The government says that it is not easy to completely end child labour, therefore, has only tried to improve their working conditions–reducing working hours, ensuring minimum wages and providing facilities for health and education. It can be said that the government measures have three main components legal action focusing on general welfare, development programmes for child workers and their families, and a project-based action plan. Rose Schneiderman, United States labor union leader, socialist, and feminist of the first part of the twentieth century once said: ”Of course, we knew that this meant an attack on the union. The bosses intended gradually to get rid of us, employing in our place child labor and raw immigrant girls who would work for next to nothing.”

Where is the line between children working in the summer to save money for school or child labour? In fact I agree that starting working in early age will give a child a good life experience, as well as some pocket money or money to pay for tuition or something else. I started earning money when I was fourteen. I hated asking money from my parents and I always wanted to earn my own pocket money. It is all normal when you go to school and you do not work long hours. After doing some research on the child labour issues in the U.S., it turned out, that there is a lot of children working in the agriculture area 14 to 16 hours per day, seven days a week. Lunch breaks are often only a half hour and as with most farm workers, bathrooms and even clean water to drink are rarely supplied by the growers. Federal minimum wage is $7.50 an hour, but because farm workers are paid by the bucket rather than by the hour, their wages often average out to as low as $2.38 an hour which in my opinion, is totally unacceptable and very outrageous. For children, payment for labour presents a unique problem. Because children are often too young to collect their own pay, parents are paid instead. While it may not necessarily be a bad thing for kids to give their earnings to parents to help with bills, it does seem ironic at best that children are working full-time jobs but because they are not officially on the books, they are not eligible for worker’s compensation should they get sick or hurt, unemployment benefits during any period they are not working, nor are they even getting credit for paying into social security. Research also showed that a lot of parents are making their kids work because they are either very lazy to work themselves or just do not have enough money to survive. In my opinion, children should never be in this situation. “I really didn’t have a childhood, and I don’t want [my own children] to go through what I did.  You’re a kid only once. Once you get old you have to work.” – 17-year-old boy who had been cutting Christmas trees, picking tomatoes, and working in other crops since age 12 in North Carolina (Human Rights Watch). Another 17-year-old boy who started working at age 11 said: “[When I was 12] they gave me my first knife. Week after week I was cutting myself. Every week I had a new scar. My hands have a lot of stories.” Another sad quote by 15-year-old girl hoeing cotton in Texas: “I don’t remember the last time I got to school registered on time. . .  I’m afraid it’s going to hold me back on my education. . . . I got out of math because I was a disaster. I would tell the teacher, ‘I don’t even know how to divide, and I’m going to be a sophomore.’ I’m going from place to place. It scrambles things in my head, and I can’t keep up.” From parents’ point of view, mother whose 11-year-old daughter worked hoeing cotton and caring for her younger brothers said: “I tell my daughter, ‘I’m so sorry I stole your childhood from you.”

Childhood is a critical time for safe and healthy human development. Because children are still growing they have special characteristics and needs, in terms of physical, cognitive (thought/learning) and behavioural development and growth, that must be taken into consideration. Child labourers are at a high risk of illness, injury and even death due to a wide variety of machinery, biological, physical, chemical, ergonomic, welfare/hygiene and psychosocial hazards, as well as from long hours of work and poor living conditions (United Nations Recourses). The work hazards and risks that affect adult workers can affect child labourers even more strongly. For example, physical strain, especially when combined with repetitive movements, on growing bones and joints can cause stunting, spinal injury and other life long deformation and disabilities. Children often also suffer psychological damage from working and living in an environment where they are denigrated, harassed or experience violence and abuse. In addition, child labour has a profound effect on a child’s future. Denied the right to a quality education, as adults they have little chance of obtaining a decent job and escaping the cycle of poverty and exploitation. International Labour Organization director Juan Somavia said: “No to child labour is our stance. Yet 215 million are in child labour as a matter of survival. A world without child labour is possible with the right priorities and policies: quality education, opportunities for young people, decent work for parents, a basic social protection floor for all. Driven by conscience, let’s muster the courage and conviction to act in solidarity and ensure every child’s right to his or her childhood. It brings rewards for all.”

Who is God for me?

This was my very first assignment (essay/paper) for Christian theology class. I hope you like it!

 

peaceofGodI live in Estonia, although I was born in Ukraine (moved to Estonia when I was five) where most people are Christians. I am a Christian too. To be honest, I had never interest in religion, never read the Bible and never went to church before, but theology class made me realise how interesting theology actually is, and how interesting its philosophy is. The most interesting part of theology is definitely learning about God. To me, God is a mystery. Although the Bible does not contain a formal definition of “God,” (as it also does not seek to prove His existence formally), yet His Being, attributes and characteristics are seen on every page of  the Bible. There are theologians who believe God is in heaven and that life of heaven is also present on earth. For example, Westminster Catechism (exposition of doctrine) says: “God is a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in His being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth.” There is also Thomas Aquinas’ famous proofs for the existence of God. I have never seen God, and before I took this class, I never knew anything about God, but he is definitely a part of my life. I do have a faith in God and sometimes I do ask for the help, but I am not very passionate about the religion overall. I do not go to church and normally, I do not read the Bible, but I do believe in God. I believe that God helps me all the time.

There are no real evidence or proofs of the existence of God. The great scholastic theologian Thomas Aquinas came up with five ways which the existence of God may be demonstrated. The first way begins from the observation that things in the world are in motion or change. Good example would be rain fall from the sky. The second way begins from the idea of causation. In other words, Aquinas notes the existence of causes and effects in the world. The third way concerns the existence of contingent beings. In other words, the world contains beings (such as human beings) which are not there as a matter of necessity. The fourth way begins from human values, such as truth, goodness, and nobility. The fifth way, Aquinas notes that the world shows obvious traces of intelligent design. (Gateway #2) Natural processes and objects seem to be adapted with certain definite objectives in mind. They seem to have purpose. They seem to have been designed. As I understand, everyone and everything was designed by God, but again, there is no evidence or proof which makes it very hard to believe or understand. It is only one man’s point of view, but at the same time, it sounds very real and believable to me. For me, God is life. God is light. God is love. God is a friend. God is faithful. God is holy. God is the creator of the world. God is good and wants only good to human kind. This is how I see God. The Bible says that God is perfect in love. God’s love is always complete, full, unchangeable and self-existent. Man’s love is partial and self-serving. Holiness is also part of God’s perfection. When the Bible says that God is holy, it means that his character is the very definition of holiness. We can have holiness, but we are not holy in the same way God is holy. Our holiness is based on our imitation of His character. Out of God’s truth, holiness, and love spring God’s desire to give us laws and demand our obedience (Bible.ca). I refer to God a lot, especially when I have a very hard and important tennis match, I ask for his help. I have had this habit since I was a little boy and I still do it. What I do is, before the important point I look to the sky and say to myself: ”God, please help me win this point. I really need it.” And I do believe it helps me.

God is someone who helps me go through the hard times. Sometimes I feel that God has let me down or that he did not answer to my prayers in times that I most needed him, but then I realise that everything happens for a reason and everything God does is for a reason. From time to time I thank God that I am healthy, that my parents are healthy, that my friends are healthy. Sometimes I thank God for the opportunities he has given me in this life. I am very thankful. John Lennon once said: “I believe in God, but not as one thing, not as an old man in the sky. I believe that what people call God is something in all of us. I believe that what Jesus and Mohammed and Buddha and all the rest said was right. It’s just that the translations have gone wrong.” I believe in God, and I do not care that I have not seen him or talked to him, I just know that he has helped me and will help me in the future. I am going to end my paper with the quote from the Bible: Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him (1 John 4:7-9).

What is the role of the church in modern society?

The church exists in every single nation in the world. You can travel to any country in the world and find a church there. Every society, which honours basic human rights, has a role for the Church. One of the most debated issues facing the United States today is the role that faith and religion should play in society. In my opinion, the church influences our society in many different ways. There are a lot of issues associated with the church in modern society, such as abortion, homosexuality, marriage and many other issues which I will discuss more deeply in one of my paragraphs. But how does religious beliefs and oppositions contribute in shaping American society and politics, and what is the role of the church in modern society?

churchFirst of all, what is the church? Is the church a building? Is it the place where believers gather to worship? The purpose of the church is two-fold. The church comes together (or assembles) for the purpose of bringing each member to spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:13). The church reaches out (scatters) to spread the love of Christ and the gospel message to unbelievers in the world (Matthew 28:18-20). This is the Great Commission. So, the purpose of the church is to minister to believers and unbelievers (christianity.about.com). According to Augustine of Hippo and others, the church was to be likened to a hospital – a place in which broken, wounded and frail people came for help, in order to find healing and renewal (McGrath 148). Since I do not have much experience with the church, it is very difficult for me to define the meaning of it, however the church has still a lot of meaning to me and I strongly agree with Augustine of Hippo and other early Christian writers. For me, the church is a place where people can pray and be with God. The church is also a place about friendships being forged and social get-togethers, a place of great spiritual refreshment, renewal and support. A German monk, theology professor and a former Catholic priest Martin Luther said once: ”Prayer is a strong wall and fortress of the church; it is a goodly Christian weapon,” (What Christians Want to Know).

According to the Pew Charitable Trusts, The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has four areas of research: religion and politics; religion and the law; religion and the domestic policy; religion and world affairs. First of all, religion and religious organisations influence political behaviour, including voting and campaigns. For example, many people who vote on political issues maybe influenced by their religious beliefs, and the church is obviously a big part of that too. One of the most talked about issues is definitely the relationship between the church and same-sex marriage. According to Catholic church, the couple must be capable of being married – that is, they must be a woman and a man who are free of any impediment that would prevent marriage. To the most churches, same-sex marriage is disgusting and unnatural. In my opinion, this is not right. Everyone should be equal and have the same rights. While the Bible does address homosexuality, it does not explicitly mention gay marriage/same-sex marriage. It is clear, however, that the Bible condemns homosexuality as an immoral and unnatural sin. Whenever Bible mentions marriage, it is always between a man and a female. It really depends on how people see homosexuals. I believe that mostly they are born this way, and this is exactly why I do not agree with the church.

Abortion is another talked about issue, which the Catholic church has always condemned abortion as a grave evil. The Lord himself said it, “You shall not murder,” (Exodus 20:13). I am totally against the abortion unless the baby is conceived a result of rape, which is extremely rare. To me, abortion is a murder and I just can’t accept that. It is a tragedy not only for the unborn who will never experience life but for the mother also. The Roman Catholic Church has consistently condemned abortion — the direct and purposeful taking of the life of the unborn child. In principle, Catholic Christians believe that all life is sacred from conception until natural death, and the taking of innocent human life, whether born or unborn, is morally wrong (Catholic News Agency).

The church, as well as religion and faith plays a very big role in modern society. People need a place to feel accepted. Another goal of the church is to have a positive spiritual impact on society around us. This happens by praying for the city and country you live in. I am going to end my essay with the quote by a famous French theologian John Calvin: “Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, there a church of God exists, even if it swarms with many faults.”

Essay: Buddhism and its creator Buddha

Erik Aunapuu
College Writing II essay
Lewis University
Topic: Buddhism and its creator Buddha

Nirvana, Zen, Buddha, Karma, Rebirth, The Four Noble Truths, Enlightenment or Dharma. These words are the basics of the Buddhism religion, which is a 2,500 years old teaching of a way of life or philosophy that is based on the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (commonly known as Buddha) from India. He was the founder of this religion, a prince, who after many years of strangulated noble life faced the sufferings of the real life (age, sickness and death) decided to step on a way different road he was before, and after years of learning and meditating, finally became the “awakened one”. Buddha’s teachings have changed a lot of people’s lives and this religion is one of the fastest growing religions around the world. His teachings are famous all around the world and have about five hundred million followers. I have never faced a religion this appealing before; however, Buddhism – just like any other religions or philosophies – is not flawless and cannot provide a perfect view of life that would be influential enough for me to follow.

The founding of Buddhism is a really unique story, during which we learn the Buddha was a real person who decided to change his life dramatically, which had a huge impact on him and many others who later became his followers. Before his eye-opening experience outside the walls of the palace Buddha lived in, he lead an outcast’s way of life, because he was unable to establish any contact with the outside world. When he finally got the chance to experience a little more of the real world, he realized that human nature cannot avoid suffering, it is something inherited, from the moment we are born we are doomed to suffer as the part of our life’s. His encounter with sickness, age and death was eye-opening for him and was such a strong experience that dramatically changed his life. Buddha decided to leave his formal noble life behind to learn more and look for the answers he was desperately looking for. After years of seemingly pointless wondering Siddhartha decided to sit under a tree and don’t get up until he is able to solve the puzzle of his mind. On the seventh day he reached the stage of enlightenment, or Nirvana and he came up with the idea of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path that became the core of his teachings. The teachings of Buddha represent an interesting approach to life, which is really appealing; however the renunciation of the desires is in a contrast with my viewpoints. The Four Noble Truths contain the essence of Buddha’s teachings which are: The truth of suffering (Dukkha), The truth about the origin of suffering, The truth of the cessation of suffering and The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering. According to Buddha all suffering comes from the desires we inherently have and if we can get rid of this unnecessary craving, it can lead us to the ultimate freedom, the Enlightenment or Nirvana. In my point of view, our desires are the forces that motivate us in life, the desire we have for greater things or for pleasure are the ultimate drive to be better and it gives us power to fight the hardships we might encounter. The Second and Third Noble Truths talk about this issue deeper.

The First Noble Truth explains that suffering is present in our life, even if we don’t physically experience it; it is there in a form of craving for more, unnecessary values we would like to gain.  Stephen Batchelor – a Buddhist writer, scholar and teacher – explains the presence and importance of suffering with an “arrow metaphor”: “It really doesn’t matter who shot the arrow or how it got there. The crucial thing is to recognise that it is there. We might then realise that a great deal of our suffering stems from a tight, existential grip, embedded like an arrow in the core of ourselves. This grip is so intimately familiar, that for most of the time, we fail to notice it. Only after a close shave in a car accident or when a friend is diagnosed with a terminal disease, do we feel its cold, implacable constriction.” (Batchelor) This quote shows that the suffering (or dukkha) is there and we, humans, sometimes realize its presence only when something really bad happens in our close unavoidable environment, when we have to face it and cope with it. Buddha suggests that through meditating on the transience of life (which is the cause of most suffering) we would be able to open up and let go the unjust picture of the fiction of being permanent and necessary. According to him if we are able to accept our mortality and vulnerability we will be able to see that the only thing that really matters is the “here and now”. What we do now in our life is the most important. If we are able to accept ourselves as fallible humans, we might be ready to let go of our unchanging, wrongly fixed ego.

In the Second Noble Truth Buddha teaches that the main reason that we suffer is that we are selfish and therefore unable to see our true self and real condition. Humans tend to perceive themselves as the most important, the centre of the world and this leads to a conflict, where unfortunately, there is only one possible outcome. People who think this way will always loose this battle against the universe, because there will not be any other person who feels the same way about the self. During life it is something unavoidable to encounter challenges that show us: we are not the central point of the universe and probably we are the only entity who believes the opposite. This lost battle will always cause suffering, which we cannot hide from. So, according to Buddha, the only possible solution would be to accept that we have no self, no ego or with one word: anatman. This comes from the Hindu concept of atman, which is the individualized aspect of the divine drive.  If we are able to live our life with no “self” perception, we would be able to let go of the innate drives we have towards an afterlife and of the natural tendency to try to play the most important role in everybody else’s life. As Buddha said, we are craving to have a soul and believe in reincarnation, which causes us suffering. Humans are changing forces and energies that are changing from moment to moment, like the flame of the candle. Many argue that Buddhism is a pessimistic religion especially because the way it views the self. The teaching that we have no soul is really depressing, since it would mean we lose all our individualism. However, Buddhists say that it is only about being realistic and seeing the world as it really is, without the fake picture people tend to create for themselves. This sounds appealing; however they can’t deny the possible negative effect of being realistic, since the truth can be sharp and harmful sometimes.

This concept of self that Buddhism is presenting is inherently different from the core of the western concept, which tells people that they are all unique and capable of everything. Behind this concept marketing is the leading force, because advertisements are the core of this approach, like Nike’s “Just do it!” slogan. It tells the customers – who could be anyone – that we are all unique and have great individualism and freedom. Our choice is what we do with that, so the control is in our hands. However, this control on the other hand comes with a type of pressure, because we have the weight of choosing the “right” way, the “right “things. After a bad choice a bad outcome will follow and we, humans are the only ones responsible for that. This is the reason, Buddha argues, having no soul is only beneficial for us, even though it is a long, hard way of letting go of the self. In my opinion, the western approach is much more liveable nowadays, more accurate and the contrast between the two approaches is probably the main reason why somebody would not choose to become a Buddhist.

According to Buddha, the Third Noble Truth is to earn the ability to be able to let go of the cravings we have for materialistic and philosophical forces that give us pleasure, like money or the need to live in the centre, which leads to the Forth Noble Truth, which is the final step to the culmination of the Truths, the Nirvana. The craving Buddha was teaching about is for example the desire for power, influence over others, money and basically any type of pleasure we can experience. It is important to state that Buddha did not deny the pleasure itself, but the unnecessary craving for it. He thought that we have to be able to let things go when it is time to do so, instead of getting attached to them, which causes suffering. The ultimate goal of Buddhism is to reach the Enlightenment or Nirvana, which means to get a clear understand of the world around us and the ability to let go of the cravings we all have. This leads to a possible peaceful life, where suffering is not present in a non-physical form. The eight steps of the Noble Eightfold Path lead us this direction, which has three basic points: Ethical Conduct (right speech, right action and right living); Mental Discipline through Meditation and Wisdom through the right understandings and thoughts we have achieved.

As I see it, Buddhism is a really unique and appealing religion that awakens many people’s interest, because it is something really different than what the other, most popular religions offer. It is a hard way of life, which is not easy to maintain mainly because the pleasures we have to let go. However, this is the strongest point of this religion as well. If somebody successfully went through the steps Buddha assigned, it possible gives a source of comfort and power to the person, since he or she will have the feeling that something hard has been achieved. On the other hand, non-Buddhist people’s eyes this is a huge achievement, since many of us simply can’t imagine our life’s without a perceived soul or the need for pleasure. For me, my desires are really important parts of my life, which lead me through many tough moments in my life, because they show me a goal I can achieve. Without that, I might be peaceful and accomplish great freedom and happiness, but I would have the feeling that I miss what the so called “real-life” is.