In Winning Some Minor Victories for Human Rights, Atheist’s Have Managed to Reveal the Prejudices of the Religious and of the Media
It seemed to have started with President Obama’s Inaugural address. The newly elected President actually recognized ‘non-believers’.
For we know our patchwork heritage is a strength, not a weakness. We are a nation of Christians, and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers.
Wow! It may not seem like much but given it was only a decade ago the US President opined that atheists should not be allowed citizenship or allowed to vote in American elections, this is a huge step forward.
Kevin Brooker, a Calgary Herald columnist who considers himself to be, well I am not sure what, wasn’t completely pleased. As he wrote: Non-believers? That’s hardly a flattering term when it follows up a grocery list of superstar faiths. Really, just the one catch-all for the Buddhists, atheists and pagans among us? To differentiate himself, Kevin had this to say about his spirituality: I for one believe in the existence of karma, though I conceive of it as a possibly physical or perhaps energetic life force. I thus believe intuition somehow involves the flow of electrons in ways we’ve yet to fully grasp. I believe animals can know earthquakes are about to happen, just as humans can have a sense of who is in the next room.
This is useful to know if only because it begins to explain Kevin’s silly ideas about the cause of HIV/AIDS (failing to vibrate at your original light code, poor quality water). See ASkepticRTN Are We Being Bamboozled?. Knowing this is what Kevin believes might be useful for readers to know next time Kevin decides to provide his dumb medical advice to Herald readers.
Meanwhile Local Humanist Organizations Pursue Bus Ad’s
Meanwhile, local humanist groups launched a bus advertising campaign in Toronto and noted that Calgary could be next. Modelled after a campaign initiated in England, the campaign slogan reads:
“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”
The word ‘probably’ was a concession to British transit authorities. Skeptics felt they could live with it because it is consistent with skeptical/scientific principles that acknowledge the conditional nature of scientific truth. The decision is nonetheless revealing of the prejudice of British officials who would never dream of insisting that religious ads make similar concessions. In my neighborhood, there was a sign that read Jesus Lives. Can you imagine the storm of protest that would have resulted if City of Calgary officials insisted on rewording the sign to Jesus Probably Lives?
Of course that is reason enough to plead with The Freethought Association of Canada to revise the slogan, if only to reveal these biases. Personally, I am in favour of:
There is no god. Now get off your knees and get a life!
Speaking of the need to get a life, the Herald decided to get a reaction of the proposed bus campaign from Bishop Henry of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Calgary. Now the Calgary Herald would never dream of running to atheists to get a reaction to a religous promotional campaign, but evidently feels obliged to run to father Henry whenever evil atheists want to have their say. One thing about Bishop Henry, he always has plenty to say and here is what he had to say about the proposed bus campaign:
I don’t know what the norms Calgary Transit uses to accept advertising, but if the benchmark is that it should be non offensive, I’m offended.”
Bishop Henry is offended? This is the guy most responsible for the Calgary Catholic School Board deciding not to offer Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) Vaccine at school. Vaccination rates for Catholic girls is now running at less than 50% of that of other girls in Calgary. It is highly likely that some Catholic girls will get cancer and some will die as a result of this decision, made for no other reason than HPV involves girl’s naughty parts.
And Bishop Henry is offended by an advertisement? I am offended by silly old men that would rather risk the lives of girls from a preventable disease than admit that girls will, at some point in their lives, have sex. I think we really need to review this whole people getting offended business.
And Over at the University of Alberta . . .
Meanwhile my Alma Matter, The University of Alberta decided to revise the convocation charge (see The Holiday Season and Mr. Jefferson’s Wall. ) The phrase “for the glory of God” will be replaced with the phrase: for all who believe, to serve your God.
The change was due, at least in part, to the hard work of the University of Alberta’s Atheists and Agnostics (A &A) Society. I suspect they see it is a partial victory as they had been seeking to remove any reference to God, which of course, would have been the appropriate decision. (Congratulations anyway. Keep fighting the good fight.)
Nevertheless the Herald got itself all offended. In an editorial entitled Of God, country and cowardice (Sunday February 1, 2009), asked:
“Why do public institutions so often cede traditions representing wide consensus, to accommodate a few who complain? To defend a custom for the sake of what has been done in the name is not automatically minority oppression: Sometimes, its just saying continuity with the past has value – and dissenters should also show grace to a majority.”
Of course, this is precisely the same argument the southern states made in defense of slavery and later of segregation. Why were all these civil rights activists trying to upset our southern way of life just to accommodate the few blacks that complained? There is value in the southern way of life. It’s not prejudice or bigotry, its just saying our way of life has value, its maintaining continuity with the way things have been and they way they will always be.
A better question for the Herald to ask itself would be: Why haven’t we figured out yet that citing majority will is no argument for anything? The word God has no business in a convocation because it suggests The University of Alberta has a preferred religous belief system and that violates the principle of seperation of church and state.
All this is simply too much for Licia Corbella
All this talk of rights and atheists is apparently too much for Licia Corbella who I discovered is currently Editorial Page Editor of the Calgary Herald. Boy, that’s a lot of editing. It sounds as though she is responsible for what appears on the editorial page. So at least I know now, why editorials at the Herald, at least concerning matters of religion and science, have been as dumb as they have been (including the one above).
In an separate article she lets loose. How loose? Well more than just a few screws. The article is entitled (and I am not making this up) Christianity is the root of our freedoms. Her starting point is Kevin Brooker’s article concerning President Obama’s inauguration speech mentioned earlier, but her column, as the title suggests, is really an over the top attempt to rewrite history.
In this version of the past, Jesus invents modern liberal democracy. No, I am not making that up either. Here is what Ms. Corbella had to say:
Brooker displays his ignorance about what separation of church and state means. It is actually a Christian idea that comes from Christ Himself, wherein He said: “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s”.
This is as dumb as it gets. It’s like saying Jesus’s command to: Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” is responsible for all those Eddie Murphy remakes of Dr. Doolittle. Oh wait, it gets dumber. Try this argument from Ms. Corbella:
It’s no coincidence the freest, most prosperous nations in the world are virtually all Christian-based, not atheist or even Muslim, Buddhist or Hindu. As the Bible says: “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty”.
So Jesus created the principle of the separation of church and state and Western prosperity and freedom was built by Christianity. My, wouldn’t Thomas Jefferson and the authors of the scientific and industrial revolutions be surprised. I have to admit, I found the idea that people in the media hold such simple minded prejudicial beliefs, scary and a little depressing.
When that happens, I usually delve into the writings of some truly remarkable people. I came across the words of Thomas Jefferson, who actually developed the principle of separation between church and state, Licia’s claims to the contrary notwithstanding:
Our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions…therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to the offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow citizens he has a natural right
And in a related correspondence,
History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance, of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes.
So much for the ‘we owe it all to Christianity’ nonsense of Licia Corbella. Our liberties, including freedom of religion, requires a wall of separation between church and state. Nothing the state does should so much as hint as to a preference for one set of religious beliefs.
As Jefferson noted, that won’t stop religious or political leaders from trying to impose their beliefs upon society for their own purposes. But the principle gives reassurance to those who would fight the good fight and challenge those that would have us repeat obligations to theirgod. That’s why the University of Alberta’s Atheists and Agnostics Society is right and the University of Alberta is wrong. That is why Obama’s speech gave those who don’t believe, a little hope. And that is why Licia Corbella should try rewriting history less and try reading some more.
Closing with Jefferon again (I just couldn’t help myself):
Our laws have applied the only antidote to [religious intolerance], protecting our religious, as they do our civil, rights by putting all on equal footing. But more remains to be done, for although we are free by the law, we are not so in practice. Public opinion erects itself into an inquisition, and exercises its office with as much fanaticism as fans the flames of an Auto-da-fé.