Humanist Perspectives: issue 191: Fishers of Men

Fishers of Men
by Richard Young

[Photo by Richard Young]

went fishing for the first time when I was 8, at a quarry-turned-stocked-pond halfway between Brantford, Ontario, and Lake Erie. I went with my parents and another couple, family friends and fishing enthusiasts (a-fish-onados, if you will) Mr. and Mrs. R.

Although it was almost forty years ago, I still remember how uneasy I felt baiting the hook with a live, squirming worm. I also remember how un-easy it was to learn how to properly cast a line, but I managed to master it that day. All my effort paid off when I reeled in my first fish. What a thrill! Now, this is the good life!

But that first-fish thrill was short-lived.

It was a sunfish, not a bass or a trout. A sunfish, I learned, is a “garbage fish,” too small and boney, so it had to be unhooked and thrown back. Easier said than done. This fish had taken the hook deep – so deep that it was a job for needle-nose pliers and adult hands. After what seemed like an hour of crunching, twisting, yanking and cursing (in Ukrainian), the extraction was done and the fish released.

I was surprised to see that it did not embrace its regained freedom with much enthusiasm. It swam listlessly, in an arc, leaving an expanding red contrail behind. A moment later, it gave up and floated to the surface. There it remained, with one eye staring up at me, accusingly.

This is not how I imagined fishing would be.

Possibly having noticed my sudden deflation, Mrs. R walked over, put her hand on my shoulder and spoke this magical incantation:

“Don’t worry. It’s OK. Jesus Himself was a fisherman.”

And, just like that, I felt better.

It took me a good long while (I’m ashamed to say just how long) before I realized what had happened to me on that day: I allowed my natural empathy for a suffering animal to be extinguished by a reference to a holy book. I felt pity for an injured fish, but since Jesus – Jesus! Both god and perfect man! – didn’t seem to care about the suffering of a fish, then neither should I. What right does a little kid have to question the wisdom of The Creator?

I didn’t expect I’d ever be bringing up this old memory in these pages, but most of the articles in this issue brought it up for me. Too many adults in the world have allowed their flame of empathy to be extinguished by holy dogmas from holy men bearing holy books. I have experienced the allure first-hand and I know what it is like to have swallowed it, hook, line and sinker.

In these pages you will read about a man who justifies his religio-centric actions by saying, “When I get to the other side, I’m going to be able to tell Him, I fought for you!” Is this some rabid, deluded jihadi? No, it is Jean Tremblay, Mayor of Saguenay, Quebec, and devout Catholic. (Page 11)

A 180-degree panorama taken in downtown Ottawa – from the Parliament Buildings to the War Memorial – 50 hours after Cpl. Nathan Cirillo was shot dead. For the second day, people have gathered at the War Memorial to pay their respects at the site of the shooting, and the flag flies at half-mast atop the Peace Tower.
[Photo by Richard Young]

You will also read of a man in Ottawa who picked up a shotgun and killed an unarmed soldier, and then ran into the Centre Block of the Parliament Buildings hoping to kill more. Was this some rabid, deluded jihadi? Yes, in this case it probably was. (Page 16)

Page 24: An 84-year-old terminally ill grandmother in British Columbia drags a mattress from her home out into a field so that she can end her own life on her own terms, with far less suffering than nature has in store for her. She drags the mattress alone because if her loved ones help they risk imprisonment. What good is served by this cruelty? Who benefits? And why on Earth does it matter what a holy man in Rome has to say about it? Canada’s Supreme Court is now deliberating the matter. (Page 19)

It would be narrow-minded to say that only religious dogmas have the power to crush empathy. We’ll see a few examples (pages 27, 30 and 36) of how some economic dogmas carry their own dangers. However, these offences are somewhat less appalling since they are done plainly in the name of greed rather than hypocritically and unironically in the name of a loving god.

— Richard Young, Ottawa