Which, in my pidgin Latin, translates into “the voice of the people is the pox of god”.
One of the weird, seemingly counterintuitive things about Canada is that despite having no official segregation of church and state in our Charter, religion is more or less absent from the larger issues our government deals with. We don’t have national fights about crosses at memorials or references to God in our national anthem. References to a deity are more or less absent from our various Throne Speeches (commonwealth readers will understand this phrase – Yankees should think of the State of the Union), and doesn’t play a major role in our elections except in the most bizarre ways.
Which is why when a high-ranking federal minister appears in an article about the Vatican, it’s always an interesting story:
Federal bureaucrats told Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird to tread carefully in a meeting last month at the Vatican about his plan to set up an office of religious freedom within his department. A briefing note obtained under the Access to Information Act by The Canadian Press pointed to a potential trouble spot with the Vatican which is watching a case before the Supreme Court of Canada.
The case involves the parents of Drummondville, Que., students who object to the religious teaching their children receive and bureaucrats advised Baird not to mention the case. If it did come up, they suggested he dismiss it as a provincial matter. The parents object to their children being forced to take a course in ethics and religious culture because it teaches them about other religions, not just Catholicism. The parents argued that the course caused “premature” contact with a series of beliefs that ran counter to the religious faith of their family.
For a blogger like myself, this story is what one might call a ‘target rich environment’. I’ve already given my opinions on how ridiculous and potentially dangerous this “office of religious freedom” is. It is a minefield since not everyone agrees what the definition of “religious freedom” actually is. Making that freedom a priority for government in other countries is not really what I want my federal government spending its time on.
I’ve also spoken previously about my feelings on this Quebec ethics course and the backlash against it. A challenge against the course was upheld by a provincial supreme court judge on the grounds that the Charter contains an explicit reference to ‘God’, meaning that religious instruction should trump secular education. This is an incredibly stupid act of jurisprudence, especially considering that religion (particularly Catholicism) is a horrible method of teaching ethics. “Do good or Yahweh will fuck your shit up” is not ethics – it’s morality by threat of eternal torment.
There’s also the argument made from the perspective of ‘parents rights’, a doggerel that always makes me roll my eyes whenever I hear it invoked. Demanding control over what ideas are allowed to go into your children’s heads is not only ridiculous zealotry, but ultimately impracticable. Kids are exposed to ideas beyond the control of mom and dad as soon as they leave the house (assuming you keep the TV and computer locked up). It’s never “too early” to give a child the tools ze needs to judge which ideas are good and which are bad.
All that gets thrown out the window when religion works its way into the argument. I am not sure if the kind of thoughtcrime and doublethink that is the foundation of religious instruction makes people more xenophobic when it comes to foreign thoughts (the illegal immigrants of cognition), but I only ever seem to hear this argument from conservative religious parents. It doesn’t ever seem to bother them that what they’re arguing for is the exclusive right to brainwash their kids because learning about other information undermines their ability to nail their particular religious blinders on their kids’ eyes. Parents – if your beliefs are vulnerable to reality, then it’s not reality that needs to adjust.
I guess one could make that statement in response to any kind of theist belief, but we’ll leave that alone for now.
The bizarre element of this story (which, admittedly, isn’t really news so much as it is political gossip) is the fact that Minister Baird is being coached on how to answer a religious question posed by a priest representing another “country”. This is the kind of debate that doesn’t really loom very large in Canadian domestic life, and yet our Minister of International Affairs is being forced to answer for a stupid call made by a judge in a province that is openly disdainful of not only his government, but the very idea of Canada as a unified nation.
I would express some sympathy for Mr. Baird for having to deal with this kind of inane subject matter when he is not a religious leader, but it’s hard to feel bad when he did this to himself. Exactly nobody in Canada was clamouring for more international intervention to protect religious minorities. Canadians are compassionate people, to be sure, but the major issues we want to see our federal government tackling have very little to do with religion.
It is also particularly interesting to see Canada being forced to pussyfoot around the Vatican in terms of religious minorities in other countries, when the Vatican is continually advancing its anti-gay agenda worldwide. The Vatican seems to think that there is a greater urgency to battle the “marginalization of religion” in Canadian public life than it is to revisit the incredible level of destruction their preaching has on sexual health, particularly in Africa and Asia. I suppose we are diplomatically better served by having Baird doing this job than me; my response to that line of questioning from any Vatican official would start with the words “from where do you summon the unmitigated gall…” and end with “…until none of you filthy pederast assholes are allowed within 500 meters of a school-aged child”.
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