Who am I to talk about race?

I had a conversation with a friend recently who said something to the effect that the reason people don’t object to my discussions about race and race issues is because I am black. Specifically, they don’t want to express any disagreement they may have with me because my status as a minority means I get to set the rules, and disagreement would look like racism. While I don’t think his/her statement was accurate in the specific case of people who read this blog (who are, for the moment, predominantly personal friends of mine or people who get here from comments I leave around the internet that link here), he/she may have a point for the population in general. It may be that nobody wants to disagree with a black guy about racial stuff because they don’t want to look hateful.

I would honestly hope that isn’t the case for me. I have been trying my best to lay out the reasons for why I think what I do, and provide evidence (wherever possible, or at least corroborating opinions) to back my beliefs up. As I do with my discussions of free speech, religion, and other important topics, I try to lay out a case for where my opinions come from. I provide and encourage a forum for people to disagree with me, and engage in robust discussion.

Be that as it may, there may still be people who disagree with me, but won’t say anything. I want to take this opportunity to explain where I’m coming from in all of this, and what my “qualifications” are to talk about race.

1. Being black doesn’t make you an expert on race

I grew up in mostly white communities. I went to a Catholic elementary school in which I was the only black kid in the class, of 2 in my grade. I went to a high school in a program where there weren’t a lot of black kids in my classes. I went to university in Waterloo, Ontario and did my graduate degree in Kingston, Ontario – neither town is exactly known for its large population of black folks. I now live in Vancouver, BC – again, not a bustling African Diaspora metropolis. My life and upbringing are about as far from the stereotypical black experience (at least the one that makes it into popular media) as you can get. There are white and Asian kids who know far more than I ever will about growing up in the “black” parts of the city – “growing up black”. I self-identify as a black person, despite this upbringing. Being black does not mean being “urban” – there are countless different “black experiences” that are all equally valid.

2. I don’t have an academic background in race, psychology, or anthropology

I took a handful of courses in undergrad, mostly for personal interest, in psych. I did a lot of private reading about philosophy and books with black characters. I’ve seen Roots a bunch of times. I don’t have what you would call a robust academic background. If pressed for specifics, I would be quickly overrun by anyone who is 2 years into a bachelor’s degree in social psych, or anyone who’s been to a historically black college for just about any subject. Nothing in my academic history makes me any kind of expert.

3. I can’t claim to speak for black people

My upbringing does not give me some magical authority to speak on behalf of all black people. I don’t know a lot of black people, to be honest. As noted earlier, I didn’t grow up around a lot of black kids. Most of the black kids I do know had childhoods similar to mine. Even now as an adult I am not deeply entrenched in “the black community”, which I say in quotations because it’s entirely mythical. Black people, like tall people, or Greek people, or people born in the 80s, do not have “a community” except insofar as we recognize when issues affect us all. People group themselves by any number of arbitrary (or non-arbitrary) characteristics. The larger the group, the more difficult it is to point to any one person and say “(s)he represents what we all think.” I cannot, nor will I, claim to be able to speak on behalf of anyone except myself, and perhaps a few of my friends.

So what the hell am I talking for?

There are two main factors that make me at least somewhat qualified to speak about these issues, and that make my opinions at least worth listening to.

The first of these is my racial heritage. While I self-identify as black, it is more mathematically accurate to say I am half black and half white. Of course the whole idea of anyone being half of something implies that it is possible to be pure something, and that idea is as unscientific as it is offensive. As I said above, I spent most of my life as a self-identifying black person among white people. When I got older and went out of my way to make black friends, I found myself feeling “not black enough”, or at least not as black as those who had been around other black people their whole lives. This experience gave me a unique perspective: I can look at race from an entirely outside perspective, having a foot in either camp but a home in neither. I will never know what it is like to be a non-black person, and I won’t even pretend to be able to speak on behalf of white people, but I have spent most of my life in white company, and have shared some very interesting and revealing conversations with my white friends about race.

The second factor in my qualifications is that I am happy and eager to talk about race and racial issues. I relish robust discussion. While I am constantly worried that I will get something horribly wrong and my position might get twisted to suggest that I want racial supremacy or segregation or something of the sort, I am willing to deal with that fear. I find often, in my conversations with all kinds of people, that as soon as racial issues come up, people immediately shut down and refuse to speak for fear of being misconstrued. I might not like hearing ignorance, but I won’t condemn someone for saying what’s on their mind. It’s only through open, honest and vigorous discussion that important issues become resolved. Ignoring them is not helping.

What my whole history has made me is the kind of person you want talking about race. From a black perspective I have at least somewhat informed ideas, and can get in touch intuitively with those things that resonate with the general population of black people. From a non-black perspective I am someone who understands a bit what it’s like to look at racial groups from an outsider’s perspective, and so won’t immediately get my back up whenever someone says something impolitic. From both sides I am a skeptic and a scientific observer whose criterion for the value of an idea or theory is results rather than whatever makes people feel good.

This kind of reads like a self-congratulatory piece, and it is not intended in that way. In any issue, there needs to be a number of different voices articulating different sides. I like to think that my role in this is to give people the vocabulary and the tools which allow them the courage to speak about their perspective on race and racial issues.

A number of people have said to me that they’re glad to see someone talking about this, since they don’t feel qualified to do so themselves. That’s nice to hear, but you’d have to work pretty hard to be less qualified than me, and it won’t take that much effort to surpass me. Everyone has a position or an opinion about race, even if it’s just to say “racial issues don’t play much of a role in my day-to-day life.” We shouldn’t be afraid to talk about it, and if my essays help spur a discussion, then I’m happy to continue to write them. As I’ve consistently said (and will continue to say), the issues of racial disparity and conflict will not merely dissipate with time. Like any major social issue, it must be discussed openly and without fear. It is only through such fearless and robust debate that progress can be made, and I am trying my best to get the conversation started.

What you missed this week: May 24th-28th

Holy crap! You missed it! What were you thinking? No worries, because you can always go back and see:

Here’s what’s coming up this week:

  • I’ll tell you what qualifies me to talk about race;
  • More sodomy!;
  • Another happy news post;
  • The Pope getting so close to being right that I could almost taste it; and
  • A look at the gathering storm of Christian fundamentalist influence in Canadian politics

All that, and maybe more, next week!

Movie Friday: God Hates Fred Phelps

Some things are so unbelievably over-the-top evil that you just have to laugh (DISCLAIMER: if you are easily offended by strident and hateful homophobia, you might not want to watch this):

For those of you who don’t know, Fred Phelps is the head of a ultra-right-wing hate group that calls itself the Westboro Baptist Church (link not safe for work). The group is famous for its slogan: “God Hates Fags”. As Freddie reveals here, God hates pretty much everyone and everything. Fred’s God is kind of a dick, actually – He wants them to picket military funerals and funerals for kids killed by homophobic hate crimes. Of course Fred’s God doesn’t exist any more than anyone else’s – he’s just using the idea of YahwAlladdha to push his own small-minded puritanical agenda. The sad thing is that children are brought up in this group, and taught to believe that hating people who you don’t like is a virtue. Fred’s no better than the Taliban or Al Qaeda leaders who seduce kids into suicide bombing

Fred is bent out of shape in this video because his group was denied entry into Canada under the auspices of the hate speech laws. As much as I disagree with them, they do have at least one useful upside: they kept the WBC out of my country. Fred is right to castigate Canada for not having completely free speech; however, that is entirely immaterial. Canada’s laws guarantee free speech to Canadians, not damn dirty foreigners. Keep your bigotry and your Dick God on your side of the 49th, Freddie baby!

Any country that a guy like Fred has such contempt for is one that I am proud to be a member of, and I will wear the title of “fag enabler” proudly. I also rather like Michael Moore’s response to this walking scum.

Sometimes the only thing you can do in the face of overwhelming evil is highlight how ridiculous and risible it is.

Free Speech under attack… apparently EVERYWHERE

Every morning when I come in to work I scan the headlines in the CBC, local news and the BBC. The more interesting stories, or those that I think deserve my special attention, get thrown into a folder in my e-mail that I keep filed away for later. That’s why sometimes I’ll feature news stories that are separated by a few days or a few weeks. Oftentimes there’s nothing blog-worthy – stories about federal politics and African elections are interesting to me, but not really the purview of this forum.

Other days, the shit really hits the fan.

Seems like I’m always picking on China. There’s a reason for that – the Chinese government is a repeat offender when it comes to free speech. China is in its economic position because it has perfected economic and industrial techniques that were developed in the United States and Europe. Those techniques were only possible under a capitalist system that allowed free speech. It’s the height of hypocrisy to use those techniques to shut down the very principles that made the techniques possible – I am seeing flashes of Hugh Ross and other fundamentalists that rape the principles of science and logic to “prove” religion. China is using the internet, the biggest source of free speech in the history of the world, to shut down dissent. Part of me thinks that people who post comments online should be held accountable for the things they say, rather than being allowed to engage in the kind of hit-and-run tactics we see in forums all over the internet. However, that kind of accountability is not possible under an oppressive regime that makes it a criminal offense to criticize those in power.

Apparently there’s been a state of emergency in Egypt for the past 30 years, such that the emergency powers that allow the government to tap the phones of political opponents, crack down on free media and confiscate property have been on the books since then. Police are also allowed by law to beat protesters – good thing too, because as everyone knows, freedom rings with the sound of boots and truncheons on skulls. While the president has said he plans to remove the wire tapping, confiscation and media provisions, he still insists there’s a constant state of emergency, and that the laws are required “to battle terrorism”. Someone’s been paying attention to the United States – Patriot Act anyone?

How do you know when your government is corrupt? Surely one of the telltale signs must be when people are imprisoned for being critical of government policy and actions. Every night I pray that someone at Fox News spends an hour or two watching episodes of The Daily Show and realizes that it’s possible to keep your ludicrously-obvious bias while divesting yourself of obvious hypocrisy. Clearly, they never do, and feed the beast known as John Stewart’s sarcasm gland more and more each day. In a similar act of blind obliviousness, the Iranian government has sentenced a reporter to 13 years in prison and more than 70 lashes with a whip for reporting on the massive protests and accusations of fraud that surrounded the last federal election. They don’t even have to pretend to be a legitimate government at this point, it’s blatantly obvious that they’re corrupt.

Ever wonder how dictatorships get started? This is how – by giving an elected leader immunity from prosecution, abolishing term limits, and passing laws enshrining him as a figure above criticism. My prediction is that, like Egypt, a state of general emergency will be declared, the president will be granted “emergency powers” that place elections on hold indefinitely, and parliament will eventually be dissolved. It’s not rocket science… it’s barely political science. The paradox of power is that those who seek it the most vociferously are the ones you want to have it the least.

This all happened in one day.

I talk about free speech because it’s important for me. Democracy and enlightened government are built on free speech. The same rights that prevent a government from declaring it illegal for women to own property or for black people to vote have their foundations on principles of free speech and equality of personhood. When those rights are chipped away, we end up with situations like the ones I described above. It is of the utmost importance that we fight for the right to speak freely, to criticize those in power, and to have open, accountable government. I’m much happier living in a society where I can say what I want, even if it means living in a country where morons and racists are afforded the same privilege.

Pakistan gets it EXACTLY wrong

May 20th was “Everybody Draw Muhammad Day” (Yes, clearly I keep abreast of the latest goings on – I write these 2 weeks in advance, give me a break). People from all around the world drew pictures of what the prophet Muhammad might look like (nobody really knows) and posted them on the internet, as a protest against the actions of radical groups threatening or carrying out acts of violence against people who draw the prophet (including Trey Parker and Matt Stone). Muslims all over the world completely missed the point and protested that they were being victimized. How one is ‘victimized’ by a campaign supporting the rights of people not to be censored or physically attacked is beyond even my considerable mental powers of comprehension.

True to form, the Muslim world responded by doing exactly what everyone was complaining about, making violent threats and completely ignoring the purpose of the criticism. And of course, not wanting to be left out, the government of Pakistan blocked all access to Facebook, and for greater measure canceled YouTube as well, citing concerns that there might be content that was offensive to Muslims. First of all, Pakistan, not all of the people who live in your country are Muslim. Second, those who are Muslim have the option to simply not use Facebook or Youtube. Third, they can still use it, but not navigate to those pages they find offensive. Fourth, there’s content on the internet that everyone finds offensive (or at least should) – that’s the world. You can’t simply stick your fingers in your ears and make all the bad things go away.

Fida Gul, the lawyer who asked the high court to uphold the ban was quoted as saying:

“I am grateful to the High Court judges for this verdict… We needed to provide a message to non-Muslims not to disrespect our prophet.”

The problem with Mr. Gul’s reasoning is that it does not provide a message of any kind. It provides a giant non-message. It says to the world “every time you do something we don’t like, we will walk out of the conversation.” It says, quite proudly “we will refuse to engage in any kind of rational discussion, and let religious superstition and irrational idiocy rule our lives.” What a sad statement to be proud of.

A part of me wishes I was more sympathetic to Muslims in this matter. Right now, Islam is the whipping boy of the entire world, and people who have no dog in the fight are being dragged in. The problem is, it’s not arbitrary. Atrocious acts are being committed on a regular basis under the guise of Islamic teaching. Women are being subjugated and abused, children are being seduced into murdering people, secular education and life is being forced to make accommodation after accommodation for impractical dress codes… Islam is not being targeted at random. And while I’m sure there are many moderate Muslims who don’t think it’s right that these things go on, they complain until they are blue in the face when someone draws a picture, but there is no similar outrage when someone firebombs a hack cartoonist’s house. Where’s the protests then? Where are the Facebook groups decrying the distortion of your purportedly peaceful religious beliefs? Oh right, they’re right there next to the “Evangelical Christians for Abortion Rights” and “Jews against Palestinian civilian deaths” groups. You can’t have your hypocrisy and eat it too.

There is one group of people in this story with whom I do sympathize. Just like you’ll find in any group of people, there are many smart Muslim people who can see the point of Everybody Draw Muhammad Day – affirming the statement that one’s personal religious beliefs do not apply to anyone else. If I believe that the ghost of Colonel Sanders lives in the apartment next door, my neighbours don’t have to let me into their home to pray and eat chicken 4 times a day. Just as they are not obligated to accommodate my superstition, nobody in the world has the right to tell me that I must censor myself to abide by their religious beliefs. Talk about why it offends you, if you wish. Engage in a dialogue. But when people see that the beliefs of one group of people are affecting how they live their lives and express themselves, they have every right to fight back and do the exact same (minus the violence). While I deplore anyone who lifts a finger to hurt an innocent Muslim (or an innocent anyone) as an act of revenge for the actions of extremist groups, I cannot condemn someone for drawing a picture and forcing a debate.

Sodomy – the ULTIMATE sin

For anyone who’s ever complained about the government needing to “get off our backs”, or complaints about legislation being “shoved down our throat”, you can stop whining. It could be way worse:

The trial of the Malaysian opposition leader, Anwar Ibrahim, on charges of sodomy, has resumed after a long delay.

Unsurprisingly, sodomy is a crime in Malaysia. I say unsurprisingly because Malaysia, like Lebanon, has articles in its constitution that make it a requirement for holders of certain levels of political office to be of a certain religion, and can declare portions of its population Muslim by legislative fiat. Any place where there is a constitutional requirement to profess religion to hold high office is likely a place where bizarre Biblical (or, as the case may be, Qu’ranic) statutes are enforced by the power of the state. As CLS has noted before: “The church is pretty much a toothless dog when it doesn’t have access to state power.”

Luckily for the church in Malaysia, it’s a crime to have sex with another man, and they can drag the leader of the opposition through the mud whenever they see fit. Interestingly, this isn’t the first time these charges have been laid against him (pun fully intended).

What strikes me about this story isn’t that Malaysia is backwards because it’s a crime to be gay. Don’t get me wrong – trying to legislate sexuality is about as productive as passing a law requiring you to be at least 6′ tall, and all countries with ridiculous and untenable “morality” laws should be ashamed of themselves. What’s fascinating about these charges is that the people of Malaysia and the government seem to have no problem with Ibrahim having been convicted on corruption charges; they’re just interested in where his penis has been.

Judeo-Christian heritage? Hardly

I’m really tired of hearing people say “we are founded on Judeo-Christian beliefs” or “we have to remember that this country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles.” It is a phrase that often comes out of the mouth of Sarah Palin, that ridiculous walking ball of Silly Putty (who is so loved because she has no personality of her own and simply imprints the image of whatever is around her). Knowing at least a smattering of history, philosophy and theology, I know this not to be the case. While the country was originally founded by people who were Christian (that fact is not in dispute here, although many argue that many of the founding fathers of the United States were deist or agnostic), the principles that make Canada the country it is have at best coincidental resemblance to Judeo-Christian principles. At worst, they are in direct violation of biblical commandments.

The first thing I want to say is that this idea of Judeo-Christian anything is a complete farce. Jesus was a Jew who preached Jewish principles – nothing he said (including his famous “love your neighbour” bit) was a unique moral philosophy. Where Jesus diverged from the Jewish tradition is in man’s relationship with Yahweh, not in a person’s relationship with other people. Most of the rest of what we would call “Christian ethics” were written by either (the Apostle) Paul of Tarsus who had never met Jesus, or by Christian biblical scholars like Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas several centuries after the time of the gospels. The later Christian philosophers were influenced heavily by Greek philosophy (which predates Jesus by several centuries), which was in turn influenced heavily by the Egyptians, and so on back through the ages. The point is that so-called “Judeo-Christian” philosophy, at least when it comes to matters of ethics, does not come from Jesus at all, but from either the Torah or from non-religious, non-divine sources. Anything that Christianity has to say about ethics is either Jewish or Greek/Egyptian in origin.

The second thing I need to say as a pre-amble is that it is impossible to talk about the foundations of Canada without talking about the foundations of the United States. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is, for the most part, cribbed from the US Bill of Rights, which is in itself part of the Constitution of the United States. Say what you will about the Americans, but if ever there was a group of people who figured out a system of secular justice and a stable society without appeal to religion, it was those guys. You may compare for yourself, or you can take it from me that any discussion of the founding principles of modern Canada can be seen as comparable to the founding principles of the US.

It is also important to note that Canada was a part of Britain until 1867, and didn’t establish its own internal constitution until the 1980s. It is necessary then to distinguish between “modern Canada”, with its codified system of rights, and “historical Canada”, which is essentially England. There is a fair argument to be made that if England was founded on Christian principles, then Canada was as well. However, this argument falls apart in two important places. First, England’s system of rights was drastically influenced by the US constitution, and as such it bears little resemblance to the monarchist state it once was. Second, the argument can equally be made that the Constitution Act of 1982 was a codification of the founding principles of “the nation of Canada” – a recognition of those principles already held dear to Canadians; a retroactive “foundation”. Thus, whatever is in the Constitution, despite the fact that it came later than the British North America Act of 1867, can be reasonably called the founding principles of the country of Canada.

In order to evaluate whether or not Canada was founded on a Judeo-Christian ethical system (which is more accurately described simply as ‘Jewish’, since uniquely Christian teachings are theological rather than moral), it is necessary to establish a codification of these principles. It simply will not do to merely assert ‘these are the principles’ – they must be written down somewhere that we can all agree on. Luckily, Canada has the aforementioned Constitution (I will also, for illustrative purposes, refer to the US Constitution on occasion) as its codified principles. The Torah is the source of Jewish moral tradition, and there are hundreds of regulations and legal exhortations in that document. I think it is fair to use the oft-invoked passages from Exodus, colloquially known as the Ten Commandments, as a codification of Jewish principles. Sure there are other rules and regulations (almost the entire books of Leviticus and Laws, for example), but the Ten Commandments are the founding ethical document of the tradition, so presumably all others are reflections or developments of that document. Uniquely Christian ethics, which I have argued are adaptations of Jewish principles, are generally taken from Jesus of Nazareth’s Sermon on the Mount, which I will use as the “founding document” of Christianity.

The Constitution of Canada or, The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

The part of the Constitution we really care about for the purpose of this discussion is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Sadly, the document starts with the following phrase:

Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law…

Religious Christian groups lobbied to get it in there, and Muslim groups were happy about it too since it doesn’t specify which God it’s referring to. I will assume they mean the Flying Spaghetti Monster and let it go. Clearly I’m about as wild about the inclusion of this passage as dogs are about the vacuum cleaner, but it doesn’t really matter. The listed rights are the important “meat” of the constitution, not the language of the preamble.

There are many legal issues in the Constitution (the role of parliament, the rights of the PMO, judicial stuff, mobility rights, language rights, etc.) that speak more to making the country run under the rule of law rather than a reflection of moral principles. While these have literally nothing to do with the Bible (and thus I could score cheap points by saying “look! No Jewish anything here!”), that’s an apples and oranges comparison. What we’re after is the ethics and morals bits of the constitution, not the legal errata.

The Constitution lists these as fundamental freedoms:

  • freedom of conscience,
  • freedom of religion,
  • freedom of thought,
  • freedom of belief,
  • freedom of expression (my personal favourite),
  • freedom of the press and of other media of communication,
  • freedom of peaceful assembly, and
  • freedom of association.
  • As you can see, there is a great deal of overlap between this document and the US Bill of Rights. Many of the other ones that I haven’t listed here (unreasonable search and seizure, habeas corpus, etc.) are clearly direct rip-offs. Canada’s legal code, which would take about 50 posts of this length to explore sufficiently, is subject to the Constitution such that any law that violates this document are untenable. For interest, the main difference between the Canadian Constitution and the US Constitution is what is known as the “general limitation clause”, which abridges all of the rights if such violations are demonstrably justifiable in a free and democratic society. This is why we can prosecute hate speech here – a position that I do not agree with.

    The Ten Commandments

    So what do the Ten Commandments say about the Charter? Are the Commandment principles reflected in the founding document of Canada? Let’s first look at the (paraphrased) list:

    1. I (Yahweh) am the Lord thy God (violation of freedom of religion, belief)
    2. You shall have no other gods before me; you will not make and/or worship religious idols (violation of freedom of religion, belief)
    3. You will not blaspheme against the name of God (violation of freedom of expression)
    4. Keep the Sabbath holy (no violation, no endorsement)
    5. Honour your parents (no violation, no endorsement)
    6. Do not murder (or kill, depending on who you ask) (in accordance with the legal code, albeit with caveats)
    7. Do not have sex with someone you are not married to (no violation, no endorsement)
    8. Do not steal (in accordance with the legal code)
    9. Do not bear false witness against someone else (in accordance with the legal code)
    10. Do not desire or wish for anything that belongs to someone else in such a way that disregards the rights of others (violation of freedom of conscience)

    By my count, the Charter violates four of the Ten Commandments, is in accordance with three, and is completely indifferent to the remaining three.

    Let’s look at where the two documents agree (murder, theft, perjury/slander). These are regulations that are present and discussed at length in Plato’s Repulic, which is completely separate from the Jewish tradition. Without knowing in depth the moral codes of all of the world’s cultures, it is at least sufficient to say that rules against murder, theft and lying are not exclusively Jewish and do not require appeals to divine command to make them work.

    As far as the indifferent commandments go, Canadian law (with the Constitution as its ostensible source) does not expressly forbid adultery, nor does it require citizens to honour the Sabbath or honour their parents (to the contrary, the Canadian legal system allows for the courts to supersede the wishes of the parents for the best interest of the child). These are not equivocal “if you feel like it” rules in Biblical law, they must be followed and carry as much authority as rules about murder and theft. Canada chooses to completely ignore them.

    “Christian” Ethics

    The foundation of Christian ethics is the Sermon on the Mount, and includes the Beatitudes and other uniquely Christan moral exhortations (turning the other cheek, not resisting evil, etc.). The Beatitudes promise recompense to those that mourn, the meek, those who are persecuted, the pure of heart, and those who hunger for righteousness. It is more difficult to equate these vague prophecies with “rules” as such, but they can be seen as moral guidelines. There are other tenets of Christianity such as charity, care for the sick, and self-denial that are held up as moral guidelines. Like murder and theft, these are principles that are seen in other cultural and religious traditions that pre-date Christianity. It is entirely false to call them “Christian principles”; they are better identified as “merciful principles” that do not require a deity to be practical.

    Even allowing for those moral guidelines that are uniquely Christian, the Charter and the legal code of Canada is largely indifferent. There are no laws either rewarding adherence to or punishing divergence from ‘turning the other cheek’. Assault is punished, but the law allows for punishment to be mitigated by considering who initiates the offense. That’s not turning the other cheek; in fact it directly contradicts the idea of turning the other cheek. However, it is not a violation of common ethical principles nor is it a violation of the Constitution.

    Concluding Thoughts

    These “think pieces” are getting longer and longer each week, and perhaps I should be apologetic for that. It is my hope to generate thought and consideration with these essays, rather than accepting bold statements like “We are founded on a Christian ethic” as fact – it could not be further from the truth. Most of our laws either defy or are completely indifferent to any kind of Biblical prescripts. But none of that is important, the most important part of these Biblical exhortations is the question of why they are right or wrong. Religious regulations are built upon the foundation that they are the will of God. Even those rules and laws that agree with the Jewish and Christian moral exhortations do so coincidentally, not because the country recognizes a deity – in fact these coincidental agreements are seen in other societies and cultures that have no Jewish or Christian heritage. We don’t have rights and freedoms because God says so, we have it to preserve a lawful, just and democratic society. The good of the society (and, by extension, of the people) is the source of right and wrong, not YahwAlladdha.

    Of course, all of this is to say nothing of the fact that many things in the Bible are contradictions of its own rules: murder is wrong but there is capital punishment (stoning) for blasphemy or adultery; we must turn the other cheek but Jesus destroyed the money-changers’ tables at the temple. The fact is that any number of Biblical passages can be used to justify any number of acts. Taken in its full context the Bible reads like a book of fables coupled with the oral history of a nomadic tribe. Considering the number of minor things that are capital offenses, I’m really glad we aren’t founded on Judeo-Christian principles.

    Even the most pious amongst us don’t bother to follow all religious rules. It’s wildly impractical to do so, and anachronistic in many cases (if you’ve ever had a cheeseburger or a taco you’ve broken Biblical law, and how many of you still plant or plow fields?). We all make judgments of right and wrong that are entirely external to scripture on a daily basis. To assert that religious text or tradition are the source of these judgments is simply not supported by any evidence. Our standards of right and wrong are references to secular and not religious values. Our codified laws recognize this fact and not only don’t force us to obey Biblical laws, but allow us to directly violate them with no repercussions. Canada was founded on rational thought and consequentialist ethical deliberation, not the ancient words of an invisible being in the sky.

    What you missed this week: May 17th-21st

    In case you missed it this week, I:

    Make sure to tune in this week for:

    • A refutation of the idea that we’re founded on Judeo-Christan principles;
    • An exposition of what’s (apparently) really important in politics;
    • The Pope getting tantalizingly close to the truth;
    • A blitz on free speech; and
    • More comedy… kind of

    All this next week!

    Movie Friday: Never been kissed

    I’ve talked before about religion’s bizarre obsession with sex. This video made me laugh, but it’s not really funny.

    It’s about the most thinly-veiled abstinence advocacy I’ve ever seen. It goes beyond sexual celibacy and says that even kissing is off limits. I’ve seen little kids smooch each other. It’s about as small a deal as can possibly be. Kissing is a expression of affection that seems to be universal. If you’re lucky enough to receive a kiss from someone you care about, it’s an amazing thing. Why anyone would want to deny people such a simple pleasure baffles the rational mind.

    There’s also a very telling moment, where the dad says:

    What kind of man do you want your husband to be? Do you want a man who saved all his love just for you? One who never even kissed another woman, so he could share that just with you?

    Seems like you got some of the words wrong there, dad. Let me fix that for you:

    What kind of man do you want your husband to be? Do you want a man who has no clue what the hell he’s doing? One who’s never even kissed another woman, so he has essentially zero shot of being able to gratify you sexually?

    There, much more accurate. They of course don’t show the kiss between the husband and wife, since the sight of Johnny Haircut slobbering all over her face as he tries to wrap his lips around hers would be a bit too much to handle. I’ve seen bad kissers; I’ve been kissed by bad kissers. Some people need all the practice they can get.

    The guy who asks Pamela out and tries to kiss her is right to smirk – she straight out runs away from him. And it wouldn’t be a heavy-handed awkward Christian morality play unless there was some girl who kissed her boyfriend… with disastrous consequences (note: consequences not shown, just vaguely alluded to). Let’s assume she had sex with her boyfriend out of a sense of obligation. The problem isn’t kissing in this case, it’s that her friend is a spineless moron. If you’re not ready to have sex, you’ve got to learn to say so. When we don’t have honest discussions about sex with our children, this is the kind of shit that happens. It’s not because we didn’t tie their chastity belts on tight enough; it’s because we didn’t give them the wherewithal to say “I’m in charge of my sexuality.”

    Some guys I know are still wowie-zowie about virgins. I’m 25 years old – if I meet a girl my age who’s a virgin, I’m wondering what happened in her past to make her that way. There’s nothing inherently wrong with not having sex, but it’s definitely unusual. “Saving yourself” for marriage is basically condemning your would-be spouse to having to teach you how to fuck. Sex is fun, and when done properly, is safe. Fetishizing sex and constructing elaborate taboos about what is essentially a biological function only serves to make us more obsessed, and more likely to do something stupid and dangerous.

    John Legend gets it EXACTLY right

    I’ve said this before, it’s REALLY nice to hear my ideas coming out of the mouths of other people:

    John Legend says its okay to see race (sorry, embed code was refusing to work and I don’t know enough HTML to troubleshoot it).

    John Legend is a singer/songwriter who has collaborated often with the likes of Common, Mos Def and Kanye West. He’s also a really smart guy, apparently.

    “…I’m black and I love being black, and I don’t want somebody to love me despite the fact that I’m black or be blind to the fact that I’m black and love me; I just want them to love me for whoever I am individually. But it’s okay that you see me as a black guy too.”

    He’s absolutely right, incidentally, about how to get racist ideologies out of the public narrative: tear down the stereotypes. Not simply by saying the stereotypes are wrong, but by surrounding people with examples of how they’re wrong.