May 15, 2013
May 10, 2013
Despite the federal government’s efforts to keep this debate from happening, we apparently are going to be having a big national debate about abortion. (For those following from outside the borders of Former Soviet Canuckistan, Canada doesn’t actually have any abortion law on the books at the moment, and Stephen Harper’s government of “bitter-clinging, right-wing, Bible-thumping, fundamentalist Christian” Conservatives is desperate not to have to bring one in.) Colby Cosh explains why the efforts by some back-bench MPs to use “gendercide” as a way to force the government’s hand won’t work:
Here, then, is my contribution to the big conversation.
(1) “Gendercide” is incoherent religious militancy in cheap drag. (Editors certainly shouldn’t be taking sides by putting it in headlines as if it were an actual thing.)
(2) However you feel about personal eugenics, which is an accurate name for “mothers choosing babies that are likely to be better in some respect they deem relevant”, the Era Of It is arriving now and will not be wished away.
(3) Sex-selective abortion perpetrated for reasons of religious superstition is, upon all evidence, a marginal phenomenon in this country, probably a fading one, and quite likely to be an inherently self-correcting one. It makes a shabby excuse for blowing up the political truce our country clings to when it comes to the topic of abortion. (It seems remotely possible that Stephen Harper has perceived this and concurs with it.)
(4) In particular, no statute is likely to be effective against sex selection by mothers. We had one, you know, and it actually made a hypothetical exception for parents at risk of X-linked gene disease. A Liberal government devoted to “reproductive choice” criminalized sex-selective embryo implantation by means of the Assisted Human Reproduction Act; a Supreme Court found that law offensive to the Constitution; and a Conservative government closed the agency that was supposed to enforce it because it had accomplished the sum total of jack squat ever.
(5) People who wish to police sex-selective abortion had better figure out what exactly kinds they don’t like. And why. And what other reasons for a woman to have an abortion don’t cut their brand of mustard. And whether they really want their wives, girlfriends, daughters or nieces to end up as a future Case 6 running afoul of the law.
(6) Fellow-travellers of Mark Warawa who think he makes an awesome test case for parliamentary purity should consider looking for one that, pardon the metaphor, doesn’t have quite so many oopsies in its DNA.
April 27, 2013
An obituary (and short history lesson) in The Economist:
AT THE heart of several cities in Belgium lies an unexpected treasure. A gate in a high brick wall creaks open, to reveal a cluster of small, whitewashed, steep-roofed houses round a church. Cobbled alleyways run between them and tiny lawns, thickly planted with flowers, grow in front of them. The cosiness, the neatness and the quiet suggest a hortus conclusus, a medieval metaphor both for virginal women and the walled garden of paradise.
Any veiled women seen there now, however, processing to Mass or tying up hollyhocks in their dark habits and white wimples, are ghosts. Marcella Pattyn was the last of them, ending a way of life that had endured for 800 years.
These places were not convents, but beguinages, and the women in them were not nuns, but Beguines. In these communities, which sprang up spontaneously in and around the cities of the Low Countries from the early 13th century, women led lives of prayer, chastity and service, but were not bound by vows. They could leave; they made their own rules, without male guidance; they were encouraged to study and read, and they were expected to earn their keep by working, especially in the booming cloth trade. They existed somewhere between the world and the cloister, in a state of autonomy which was highly unusual for medieval women and highly disturbing to medieval men.
Nor, to be honest, was it the first thing Juffrouw Marcella thought of when, as a girl, she realised that her dearest wish was to serve her Lord. But she was blind, or almost so, and no other community would accept her. She wanted to work, too, and was not sure she could in an ordinary convent. The beguinages had originally been famous for taking the “spare” or “surplus” women who crowded into 13th-century cities in search of jobs. Even so, the first community she tried sent her back after a week, unable to find a use for her. (In old age she still wept at the thought of all the rejections, dabbing with a handkerchief at her blue unseeing eyes.) A rich aunt intervened with a donation to keep her there, and from the age of 21 she was a Beguine.
April 7, 2013
I have to assume this is a week-delayed April Fool’s prank:
In addition to groups that probably belong on such a list (Hamas, Al Qaeda, the KKK), some of the more startling additions to the list:
- Evangelical Christianity (U.S./Christian)
- Catholicism (U.S./Christian)
- Jewish Defence League (U.S./Judaism)
- Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (U.S./Morman [sic])
The U.S. Army listed Evangelical Christianity and Catholicism as examples of religious extremism along with Al Qaeda and Hamas during a briefing with an Army Reserve unit based in Pennsylvania, Fox News has learned.
“We find this offensive to have Evangelical Christians and the Catholic Church to be listed among known terrorist groups,” said Ron Crews, executive director of the Chaplain Alliance for Religious Liberty. “It is dishonorable for any U.S. military entity to allow this type of wrongheaded characterization.”
March 17, 2013
In Slate, David Plotz separates the myth from what is known about the real St. Patrick:
Today we raise a glass of warm green beer to a fine fellow, the Irishman who didn’t rid the land of snakes, didn’t compare the Trinity to the shamrock, and wasn’t even Irish. St. Patrick, who died 1,507, 1,539, or 1,540 years ago today — depending on which unreliable source you want to believe — has been adorned with centuries of Irish blarney. Innumerable folk tales recount how he faced down kings, negotiated with God, tricked and slaughtered Ireland’s reptiles.
The facts about St. Patrick are few. Most derive from the two documents he probably wrote, the autobiographical Confession and the indignant Letter to a slave-taking marauder named Coroticus. Patrick was born in Britain, probably in Wales, around 385 A.D. His father was a Roman official. When Patrick was 16, seafaring raiders captured him, carried him to Ireland, and sold him into slavery. The Christian Patrick spent six lonely years herding sheep and, according to him, praying 100 times a day. In a dream, God told him to escape. He returned home, where he had another vision in which the Irish people begged him to return and minister to them: “We ask thee, boy, come and walk among us once more,” he recalls in the Confession. He studied for the priesthood in France, then made his way back to Ireland.
He spent his last 30 years there, baptizing pagans, ordaining priests, and founding churches and monasteries. His persuasive powers must have been astounding: Ireland fully converted to Christianity within 200 years and was the only country in Europe to Christianize peacefully. Patrick’s Christian conversion ended slavery, human sacrifice, and most intertribal warfare in Ireland. (He did not banish the snakes: Ireland never had any. Scholars now consider snakes a metaphor for the serpent of paganism. Nor did he invent the Shamrock Trinity. That was an 18th-century fabrication.)
February 9, 2013
It is not an original thought to say that public health crusaders often resemble religious zealots, but seldom is the comparison more literal than in the case of Mike Rayner, director of the British Heart Foundation Health Promotion Research Group.
[. . .]
So far, so mundane. Another illiberal battler against the free market with a heightened sense of his own importance and his nose in the trough. The only point of interest is that Mr Raynor is a Church of England priest who is guided by voices.
In all of this I see a sacred dimension. You may not believe that I have heard God aright but I think God is calling me to work towards the introduction of soft-drink taxes in this country and I am looking forward to the day when General Synod debates the ethical issues surrounding this type of tax rather than some of the other issues that august body seems obsessed by.
Golly. Where to begin? On a theological note, I do wonder whether Jesus would really be in favour of a deeply regressive stealth tax that would take from the poor to give to the rich. Perhaps the reason the General Synod does not debate tax policy is because they recall the old “render under to Caesar…” message and realise that it’s none of their business.
If we weren’t already sceptical about the documents coming from Mr Rayner’s team of would-be policy-makers, the fact that its director believes that God has told him to bring about a fat tax in this land should be enough to make us suspect that a tiny bit of research bias might have crept into his work. Considering that the Almighty has approved of the policy, what are the chances of his loyal servant producing evidence that would question its efficacy?
Christopher Snowdon, “Fat tax campaigner: ‘God told me to do it’”, Velvet Glove, Iron Fist, 2012-05-21
November 7, 2012
Kevin Rooney looks at the sad state of free speech (or should that be free singing?) in Scotland:
Imagine the scene: a young man is led away in handcuffs to begin a prison sentence as his mother is left crying in the courtroom. He is 19 years old, has a good job, has no previous convictions, and has never been in trouble before. These facts cut no ice with the judge, however, as the crime is judged so heinous that only a custodial sentence is deemed appropriate. The young man in question was found guilty of singing a song that mocked and ridiculed a religious leader and his followers.
So where might this shocking story originate? Was it Iran? Saudi Arabia? Afghanistan? Perhaps it was Russia, a variation of the Pussy Riot saga, without the worldwide publicity? No, the country in question is Scotland and the young man is a Rangers fan. He joined in with hundreds of his fellow football fans in singing ‘offensive songs’ which referred to the pope and the Vatican and called Celtic fans ‘Fenian bastards’.
Such songs are part and parcel of the time-honoured tradition of Rangers supporters. And I have yet to meet a Celtic fan who has been caused any harm or suffering by such colourful lyrics. Yet in sentencing Connor McGhie to three months in a young offenders’ institution, the judge stated that ‘the extent of the hatred [McGhie] showed took my breath away’. He went on: ‘Anybody who participates in this disgusting language must be stopped.’
Several things strike me about this court case. For a start, if Rangers fans singing rude songs about their arch rivals Celtic shocks this judge to the core, I can only assume he does not get out very much or knows little of life in Scotland. Not that his ignorance of football culture is a surprise — the chattering classes have always viewed football-related banter with contempt. But what is new about the current climate is that in Scotland, the middle-class distaste for the behaviour of football fans has become enshrined in law.
November 5, 2012
Today is the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot:
Everyone knows what the Gunpowder Plotters looked like. Thanks to one of the best-known etchings of the seventeenth century we see them ‘plotting’, broad brims of their hats over their noses, cloaks on their shoulders, mustachios and beards bristling — the archetypical band of desperados. Almost as well known are the broad outlines of the discovery of the ‘plot’: the mysterious warning sent to Lord Monteagle on October 26th, 1605, the investigation of the cellars under the Palace of Westminster on November 4th, the discovery of the gunpowder and Guy Fawkes, the flight of the other conspirators, the shoot-out at Holbeach in Staffordshire on November 8th in which four (Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy and the brothers Christopher and John Wright) were killed, and then the trial and execution of Fawkes and seven others in January 1606.
However, there was a more obscure sequel. Also implicated were the 9th Earl of Northumberland, three other peers (Viscount Montague and Lords Stourton and Mordaunt) and three members of the Society of Jesus. Two of the Jesuits, Fr Oswald Tesimond and Fr John Gerard, were able to escape abroad, but the third, the superior of the order in England, Fr Henry Garnet, was arrested just before the main trial. Garnet was tried separately on March 28th, 1606 and executed in May. The peers were tried in the court of Star Chamber: three were merely fined, but Northumberland was imprisoned in the Tower at pleasure and not released until 1621.
[. . .]
Thanks to the fact that nothing actually happened, it is not surprising that the plot has been the subject of running dispute since November 5th, 1605. James I’s privy council appears to have been genuinely unable to make any sense of it. The Attorney-General, Sir Edward Coke, observed at the trial that succeeding generations would wonder whether it was fact or fiction. There were claims from the start that the plot was a put-up job — if not a complete fabrication, then at least exaggerated for his own devious ends by Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, James’s secretary of state. The government’s presentation of the case against the plotters had its awkward aspects, caused in part by the desire to shield Monteagle, now a national hero, from the exposure of his earlier association with them. The two official accounts published in 1606 were patently spins. One, The Discourse of the Manner, was intended to give James a more commanding role in the uncovering of the plot than he deserved. The other, A True and Perfect Relation, was intended to lay the blame on Garnet.
But Catesby had form. He and several of the plotters as well as Lord Monteagle had been implicated in the Earl of Essex’s rebellion in 1601. Subsequently he and the others (including Monteagle) had approached Philip III of Spain to support a rebellion to prevent James I’s accession. This raises the central question of what the plot was about. Was it the product of Catholic discontent with James I or was it the last episode in what the late Hugh Trevor-Roper and Professor John Bossy have termed ‘Elizabethan extremism’?
November 4, 2012
An older post, but still rather informative:
The ‘biblical view’ that’s younger than the Happy Meal
In 1979, McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal.
Sometime after that, it was decided that the Bible teaches that human life begins at conception.
Ask any American evangelical, today, what the Bible says about abortion and they will insist that this is what it says. (Many don’t actually believe this, but they know it is the only answer that won’t get them in trouble.) They’ll be a little fuzzy on where, exactly, the Bible says this, but they’ll insist that it does.
That’s new. If you had asked American evangelicals that same question the year I was born you would not have gotten the same answer.
That year, Christianity Today — edited by Harold Lindsell, champion of “inerrancy” and author of The Battle for the Bible — published a special issue devoted to the topics of contraception and abortion. That issue included many articles that today would get their authors, editors — probably even their readers — fired from almost any evangelical institution. For example, one article by a professor from Dallas Theological Seminary criticized the Roman Catholic position on abortion as unbiblical. Jonathan Dudley quotes from the article in his book Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics. Keep in mind that this is from a conservative evangelical seminary professor, writing in Billy Graham’s magazine for editor Harold Lindsell:
God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: “If a man kills any human life he will be put to death” (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22-24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense. … Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.
Christianity Today would not publish that article in 2012. They might not even let you write that in comments on their website. If you applied for a job in 2012 with Christianity Today or Dallas Theological Seminary and they found out that you had written something like that, ever, you would not be hired.
At some point between 1968 and 2012, the Bible began to say something different. That’s interesting.
Even more interesting is how thoroughly the record has been rewritten. We have always been at war with Eastasia.
October 31, 2012
In History Today, Maggie Black looks at the origins of current Halloween traditions:
…the feast which the early Church took [over] most completely from the great pagan, Celtic feast of Samhain which celebrated the end of summer and the harvest, together with the start of winter and the New Year. The Celts believed that, on the eve of the festival (our own Hallowe’en), the dead returned to walk the earth for a night and a day and with them came the spirits of evil, at their most potent. Fires blazed on every hilltop to purify the land, defeat the evil ones and encourage the wasting sun to revive. Ceremonial dancing, noisy games and harvest-end rituals took place around these fires with drinking of the herbal ales for which the Celts were renowned. Seizing their chance to question as well as to honour and propitiate their dead, the Celts chose this time for divination rituals too.
The force and vigour of the ancient beliefs overrode all newer ones and these practices survived the advent of Christianity, in barely translated form at first, and only very gradually died out. The evil spirits became witches, and the bonfires burned them in effigy (for instance the Shandy Dann at Balmoral where, we are told, Queen Victoria much enjoyed the fun). A great number of divining rituals and games, often involving apples, nuts and fire, persisted; apples and nuts were the last-harvested fruits. Even the old herbal ale: survived as mulled ale or punch with roasted apples floating in it.
The more significant pre-Christian practice of impersonating the dead and other spirits and by so doing protecting oneself and others from their spectral power also continued. Sometimes this was acted out by processions of young adults (later children) wearing or carrying grotesque masks and often headed by a youth carrying a horse’s skull (as, for example, the Lair Bhan in co Cork, or the Hodening Horse in Cheshire). They went from door to door or visited friends and neighbours, collecting money for food. Before Christian times, such largesse had no doubt been given to feast the dead spirits in return for the promise of fertility and protection from evil provided by the visit. But in pre-Reformation Christian Europe, it provided candles and masses for the dead and snacks for the living.
October 18, 2012
James Delingpole discusses his niece’s exposure to religious education at her school, and discovers that one religion is exalted above the others:
My brilliant niece Freya was talking to my brother the other day about the religious education curriculum at her predominately white, middle-class state school in a pretty English cathedral city. She happened to mention ‘Mohammed, Peace Be Upon Him.’ ‘Eh?’ said my brother. ‘It’s what we’re taught at school. After we mention “Mohammed” we have to say “Peace be upon him”.’
[. . .]
Mohammed, Peace Be Upon Him? I suppose it would make sense for a non-Muslim to use that phrase were he, say, trying to persuade his Islamist terrorist captors in Mali perhaps or the Yemen not to cut his head off. But since when did it become necessary for white, notionally C-of-E-ish English kids in a middle-class school in a pretty cathedral town?
I mean it’s bad enough — as I’ve argued — to teach kids to think that their country’s religious traditions no longer really matter. But what is surely unforgivable is simultaneously to teach those same kids that there is one particular religion which matters so much that even when you don’t subscribe to it you must still treat it with the reverence, fear and awe of those who do.
Why? You can imagine the fuss if at every mention of the name Jesus Christ all children of whatever creed were forced to raise their arms in the air and add ‘Our Lord and Saviour, He is risen, Alleluia’. We ought to be equally appalled, I would suggest, at what children at Freya’s school are being forced to do with regards to the prophet of a rival religion.
October 5, 2012
At least, that’s the most charitable interpretation of this move by the federal government:
The federal government is cancelling the contracts of non-Christian chaplains at federal prisons, CBC News has learned.
Inmates of other faiths, such as Muslims, Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews, will be expected to turn to Christian prison chaplains for religious counsel and guidance, according to the office of Public Safety Minister Vic Toews, who is also responsible for Canada’s penitentiaries.
Toews made headlines in September when he ordered the cancellation of a tender issued for a Wiccan priest for federal prisons in B.C.
Toews said he wasn’t convinced part-time chaplains from other religions were an appropriate use of taxpayer money and that he would review the policy.
In an email to CBC News, Toews’ office says that as a result of the review, the part-time non-Christian chaplains will be let go and the remaining full-time chaplains in prisons will now provide interfaith services and counselling to all inmates.
According to the report, 57% of inmates are Christian. I smell a charter challenge to this ruling.
September 26, 2012
Strategy Page has an article about the history of the Copts in Egypt after the Muslim take over:
An ugly and ancient aspect of Islamic culture recently triggered violent demonstrations throughout the world. The cause was a low-budget film (“The Innocence of Moslems”) made by an Egyptian-American Coptic Christian. A minority of Moslems have always been particularly sensitive about their religion and how it should be practiced. These conservatives have gone by many names over the centuries. The most common tags these days are Salafists and Wahhabis. These fanatic minorities have exercised an influence on Islamic culture far larger than their numbers (usually less than 10-20 percent) would suggest.
[. . .]
This brings us back to “The Innocence of Moslems” and why it was created by an Egyptian Christian who had fled his homeland. He’s one of many, actually. Some 1,500 years ago most Egyptians were Christians, nearly all of them belonging to the local Coptic sects. Then the Moslems invaded in the 7th century and used threats and financial incentives to encourage conversion to Islam. After three centuries of this, Moslems were the majority. Ever since, Egyptian Moslems have sought, often with violence, to convert the remaining Egyptian Christians (currently about ten percent of the population). Some converted, but increasingly over the last century, Copts have simply fled the country. Those who left had bitter, and ancient, memories of Moslem persecution. That apparently led to making the “The Innocence of Moslems” (allegedly financed by Copts in Egypt).
In response the Egyptian government issued arrest warrants for seven Copts (including the man believed behind the film) and an American clergyman noted for his anti-Moslem attitudes. All eight are accused of having something to do with the film. This is a largely symbolic gesture, as all those being sought by the police are outside the country. Copts living outside Egypt frequently say unkind things about Egypt and Islam, but these comments are usually ignored inside Egypt. Meanwhile, a senior Pakistani government official has offered $100,000 of his own money for whoever kills the Egyptian-American man responsible for the film.
Islamic terrorism often gets explained away as being a reaction to Western imperialism, or colonialism or simply cultural differences. No one, especially in the Islamic world, wants to admit that the cause of it all is religious fanatics who would rather appear righteous than be righteous.
August 16, 2012
In her National Post column, Tasha Kheiriddin discusses the topic that most of the Canadian media is being ultra-careful about:
Racist or not? When it comes to the Quebec election campaign, remarks made this week by a variety of politicians provided considerable fodder for debate, and considerable distraction from the real issues — health, taxes and corruption — that voters actually want their elected officials to talk about.
First, Coalition Avenir Québec leader François Legault lambasted young Quebecers for being interested in living “the good life,” unlike children in Asia whose parents all want them to become engineers, and have to stop them from studying lest they make themselves sick. When he was attacked for this remarks, he retorted that the fault lies with Quebec parents, and that they should review the values they are transmitting to their children.
[. . .]
His remarks pale in comparison, however, to the xenophobic tone of those made by Parti Québécois ledaer Pauline Marois, and worse yet, the mayor of Saguenay, Jean Tremblay.
On Tuesday, Ms. Marois unveiled her party’s desire to implement a “Secular Charter” which would ban the wearing of any religious symbols by government employees. With, as my colleague Chris Selley tartly notes on these pages, one notable exception: Symbols of Christian faith, such as the cross which hangs over the Speakers’ Chair in the National Assembly. In other words, a crucifix necklace, good: hijabs and yarmulkes, bad.
[. . .]
Then on Wednesday, Mr. Tremblay took xenophobia one step further, when he launched a tirade against Djemila Benhabib, the Parti Québécois candidate in Trois Rivières. On a popular radio show, Mr. Tremblay let loose: “I am shocked that we, the softies, the French Canadians, will be told how to behave, how to respect our culture by a person who comes from Algeria, and we can’t even pronounce her name.”
Update: Convenient timing suspects Don Macpherson.
— Don Macpherson (@MacphersonGaz) August 16, 2012
August 11, 2012
Words sometimes fail me, as when I first heard of this notion some religious nutbars are pushing to set up a 21st century underground railroad to “rescue” children from gay and lesbian parents:
As has been widely reported, Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association asserted in a tweet Wednesday that “we need an Underground Railroad to deliver innocent children from same-sex households.” Lest anyone imagine he was speaking merely in metaphor, a second tweet from him linked to a Chicago Tribune story about the impending trial of a Mennonite clergyman “charged with aiding and abetting the kidnapping of Isabella Miller-Jenkins, now 10,” who was spirited out of the country so as to evade court orders mandating visitation with Janet Jenkins, who had helped raise Isabella as part of a same-sex couple. Fischer’s summary: “Head of Underground Railroad to deliver innocent children from same-sex households goes on trial.”
Fischer and his American Family Association, it should be noted, are clownish figures whose extremism is a turn-off even to many true believers on the social right. (It can nonetheless be interesting to observe who deems them respectable enough to associate with; for example, the Values Voter Summit, which draws major political figures like Eric Cantor, Jim DeMint, and Ted Cruz, considers Fischer a suitable speaker and AFA a suitable prominent sponsor.) Anyway, Fischer thrives on outraged publicity from his adversaries, so enough about him. What’s worth rather more attention (and provides some insight into the mounting campaign against gay parenting from some quarters) are the two articles he tweeted.
If you’re not familiar with the epic Miller-Jenkins custody-kidnapping case, it’s worth catching up by way of The New York Times‘ account the other day. (Jenkins’ lawyers at GLAD have posted many of the documents, and I’ve been covering it off and on for years at my Overlawyered blog.) While nothing short of tragic for the individuals involved (the little girl is now growing up in a strange country and for many years has not seen Janet Jenkins, who helped raise her), I concluded a few years ago that its greatest significance as a social turning point was in revealing the new willingness of many in organized religious conservatism, “even the lawyers among them, to applaud and defend the defiance of court orders.” Since then, important sections of the social right have evolved further toward a position on lawbreaking more often historically associated with those well to their left.