This isn’t the first time CBC has done a report wondering why Canadians are flocking away from religion. And as bad as it is, it isn’t even the worst. In fact, on the surface, this is one of the less offensively biased reports CBC has done about nonbelief. On the surface.
The report starts and ends with a mass Easter Sunday baptism of Evangelicals at Kitsilano Beach in Vancouver (the attendees take pains to note that braving the cold water means they’re really into Jesus), but it actually does a fair run across the Canadian religious landscape – both geographically and religiously. Brown opens with his thesis, which starts off okay:
Canada’s religious landscape is changing, with more people than ever either inclined to reject religion or say it’s not relevant. But…
And then there’s a “but”:
But dig a bit deeper, and you’ll find there are some striking exceptions.
At that point, he bizarrely segues to a Humanist officiant, with a comment about “death prompting deep soul-searching and spirituality”. I can’t figure the logic of that segue, but, there it is. Even stranger, the setting is a funeral – or rather a Humanist memorial service – in Wakefield, Québec.
At first, the coverage of Humanist belief looks like it’s going to come out pretty well, with the wife in mourning talking about how she struggled to keep her husband alive for as long as possible. Brown takes pains to explain that the Humanist officiant is an atheist, and that the service doesn’t have any talk about God or an afterlife. Even the Humanist officiant doesn’t come off badly, though I wonder why of all the things he likely said, they chose to cut it down to:
Prayer doesn’t work because there’s nobody listening. There’s nobody there. So we have to fix things if they’re broken; we have to make things better.
After the officiant’s comments, Brown starts talking about the statistics showing that Canadians are taking the nonreligious option in droves these days, citing the recent Angus Reid survey… but then comes the punchline. It’s not really that religion is on the way out… it’s that we’re all turning to
spiritual concepts that provide comfort, but don’t require any buy-in to religious teachings. In fact, as if to undermine everything Humanist about the whole Humanist ceremony, he cuts back to the wife saying she believes her husband and mother are
looking over her.
From there, Brown points out that
being spiritual doesn’t put money in the collection plate, and it’s off to St. John, New Brunswick, where the oldest church in the oldest city is sporting a “For Sale” sign. Turns out there are so few Anglicans now, they can’t afford the upkeep – especially the heat in the winter. The place has been up for sale for three or four months, but the Anglican lady is nonetheless upbeat and optimistic.
We could have church right on this street corner, she says, with a smile.
So! So far, this appears to be Brown’s message: Lots of people are ditching religion, but they’re not really ditching religion because whenever something real happens – like Death comes a-calling – they fall back on religious stuff anyway. Oh, but when you do that, you cause historical churches to be hawked off, and force cheerful Anglicans to hold services packed into what looks like someone’s living room.
But we’re not done yet!
Now it’s on to the Catholics. They, too, have a cash flow problem (no, seriously, stop laughing). Their massive Gothic church needs almost $10 million for repairs. The bishop is asked why people are leaving religion, and he offers this “wisdom”:
People are distracted by so many things that they’re not paying too much attention to the God within.
Presumably then he returned to the 12 year-old altar-boy he had waiting in his back room.
What’s that? You thought I was implying the bishop was a paedophile? Goodness, why would you ever make that connection at the mere mention of a Catholic bishop? It must be because you are distracted by Things, and not paying too much attention to the God within.
Anyway, now we come to the “happy news” part of Brown’s report. Don’t panic, Canada! Religion isn’t really withering away under the weight of its own bigotry, intransigence, and hypocrisy! Immigrants are here to save the day! And not just Christian groups – immigrants are also fattening up the tallies of other religious: Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs. Because we all know it really doesn’t matter what religion you have, so long as you have one.
We’re shown Sikhs (mostly Sikhs) celebrating Vaisakhi day in Surrey, where the woman being interviewed cheerfully tells us lots of good things about generosity. Then we’re at an Evangelical megachurch (by Canadian standards) in a converted theatre in Vancouver, enjoying a (Christian) rock performance while holding lattes they got from the Starbucks in the lobby. And finally back to Kits Beach to talk to an enthusiastic 13 year-old about to be dunked in the Pacific waters to make Jesus happy… or to symbolize something or other, I dunno.
And then Brown’s closing words:
Religion in Canada clearly has its challenges. But it’s also evident that the decline of faith in this country may not be as sharp or as universal as a lot of people believe, either.
Okay, it was the usual CBC take on atheism – and non-religion in general – which usually boils down to: “Atheism is growing in Canada, but don’t worry, there’s still hope that religion can hold on.” Nothing surprising, given their track record.
There were a couple things that struck me, though. A whole report on the fact that Canadians are running away from religion in droves, and there was not… one… fucking… word… about the countless atrocities and other horrors committed either in the name of religion, or actively covered up by religious groups, or the boundless bigotry and ignorance most religions barf into the public sphere. Not even a hint of opposition to LGBT or abortion rights was raised – and these are things virtually synonymous with religion. Not a word about silly and nonsensical beliefs like creationism – not to mention the many absurdities found in various religious myths. Sex scandals, residential schools? Not a peep. Nope, if all you had to go on was Brown’s report, you’d believe that the reason Canadians are running away from religion is because they can’t be bothered to stop playing fucking Candy Crush long enough to think deeply about anything.
I dunno, maybe that Catholic bishop was right – maybe we are too distracted by “things” to take religion seriously. Assuming, of course, those “things” we’re being distracted by are properly conducted journalism reporting on what religions actually do in Canada and the broader world. Not CBC journalism, in other words. Real journalism.
The other thing that bugged me was the blatantly skewed editing of the piece. Consider this. There were 5½ religious groups represented in the piece (6 groups, but there are two different Evangelical groups); 5½ groups in the process of actually carrying out an activity related to their religious beliefs and talking about it. We had Evangelicals basically having a beach party that they’re all totally stoked about. We had Anglicans holding a cozy service in a small room, represented by a cheerful and upbeat spokeswoman talking about making the best of what little they’ve got. We had Catholics having one of their dour ceremonies, but the bishop speaking for them is very optimistic about how immigration is bolstering the faith. Then we had Sikhs basically having a street festival and parade, with their spokeswoman saying lovely things about generosity. We had other Evangelicals basically attending a rock concert in a theatre. And they we had the nonbelievers… having a memorial service and criticizing the efficacy of prayer.
Beach party. Cozy service, finding happiness in hard times. Stoic service, but optimism about growing with diversity. Street festival. Rock concert. … … … Memorial service.
One of these things is not like the others.
Could they seriously not find a fucking Sunday Assembly? Was a Humanist memorial service really the first thing that leaped to their minds when they considered “how do we show how Canadians who have abandoned religion are getting along?” Why didn’t they show a Humanist officiating a gay wedding? That would have made the fucking point about why Canadians are abandoning religion, and then some!
Even worse, the whole point was deflated by the fact that while it was a Humanist memorial service, the attendees were quoted flatly contradicting the whole point of it. Why would you do that? If you were doing a piece, and you wanted to show a Christian service to demonstrate why so many people are converting to that religion, why would you pick one that was being done for nonebelievers and then actually quote them saying something like, “eh, we don’t really believe any of this shit; we just like the music”? What is the point of doing that?
And you can’t seriously tell me that out of what was more than likely a 5–10 minute interview with the Humanist officiant, that the best quote he made – to sum up the philosophy of Humanist services, and ultimately the point of why more people are using them rather than religious services – is a quote about how useless prayer is. Give me a fucking break. I will bet big money that over the course of the interview, he probably made dozens of wonderfully positive statements about Humanism and Humanist beliefs – statements that more than likely not only explained Humanist philosophy, but also why people are ditching religion for it in droves. So why were all those positive comments cut, and a negative comment about prayer (which is utterly irrelevant to the whole report) chosen instead?
And the same is true for the quote from the service itself – surely there had to be dozens of good lines about the value of life and how people rely on each other, etc.… why pick the one about “life exists between birth and death, and only has significance there”? I didn’t attend the service, and even I can see that that line was probably just setting up a larger point about how one should celebrate the times shared with the deceased… which would have been a far better quote to serve as representative of Humanism.
Seriously, every religious group got an overwhelmingly positive portrayal, even when what they were saying was utterly irrelevant (such as the Sikh’s rambling about generosity) or complete horseshit (such as the Catholic’s speculation on why people are running away from his Nazi-supporting rape gang; I mean, religion). Only Humanism was saddled with negative quotes and a downer setting – and no religious group featured an interview with anyone saying “yeah, the whole ‘cracker is Jesus’ thing is stupid, but otherwise I like the message”.
As I’ve said repeatedly now, I’m not surprised by the obviously biased reporting by CBC against nonbelievers, and in comparison to some of the other crap they’ve done, this kind of subtly negative editing is comparatively mild. But that doesn’t make it any less insidious.
With biased reporting like this, it’s only a matter of time before CBC has to do a report wondering why Canadians are flocking away from traditional mainstream journalism media.
I wonder how they’ll fuck that one up.