Here’s your Canadian Atheist Weekly Update for to .
This was the biggest story this past week… which is not saying much because it was a very slow news week. Frankly, it’s really not much of a story: “Religious ‘think tank’ does ‘math’ to ‘prove’ that religion is awesome”. That’s… pretty much it. To their credit, it looks like most respectable journalism sources didn’t fall for this Cardus publicity stunt. I mean, the National Post swallowed it hook, line, and sinker, of course… but you’ll note I explicitly said “respectable journalism sources”, so… yeah. Okay, so the report itself (which, naturally, the Post doesn’t link to)… what’s its shtick? Well, it’s stupidly simple, a comically transparent exercise in motivated “reasoning”. There are three estimates in the report, ranging from 30 gigadollars – the “most conservative” estimate – to… I shit you not… 690 gigadollars. I’ll get to the higher estimates in a sec, but let’s start with the “conservative” estimate. Turns out about half of that $30 billion comes from… publicly-funded Catholic schools. Right off the bat, that raises a bunch of questions. Let’s set aside the question of whether counting government subsidies as “adding” to the economy makes sense – economics is mostly bullshit (especially non-academic, “pop” economics like this), so there’s no point in thinking too hard about any of it. Instead, let’s ask whether this really counts as a contribution by “religion”… which is the central claim of the report. If we imagine a world where religion simply doesn’t exist… does this line item magically disappear? Well, no, not really. I mean, yes, in the sense that separate school systems would probably be merged with secular school systems, but, no, in the sense that kids still gotta go to school; they ain’t goin’ just because of faith. And that is the game the report plays all the way through. For example, the third biggest line item in the “conservative” estimate is… religious health care systems (the largest being the Catholic Health Association of Ontario). Again, people need health care irrespective of faith; people don’t go to the hospital because of their religion, and hospitals don’t exist merely because of religious belief. Saying this is a contribution because of religion seems questionable at best, flat-out dishonest at worst. It gets even more ludicrous with the less conservative estimates. They count halal and kosher food revenues to the tune of $5b, for example… but are people really eating only because they’re religious? Clearly not; they’re going to eat the same chicken regardless of whether it was blessed before death or not, so how is this a “contribution of religion”? The report reaches peak absurdity when it… brace yourself, I swear I’m not making this up… when it literally just counts the household income of every religious household in Canada as an economic contribution of religion. Yes. Seriously. If you work at a completely secular job and haven’t set foot in a church since you were a child, but you said you were Christian on the census, then Cardus thinks your entire income is all thanks to religion. With “logic” this brilliantly stupid, I seriously have to wonder if Cardus is secretly a poe. The cherry on top? The report straight up admits in its conclusion that one of its “limitations” is that it didn’t bother to calculate the negative economic effects of religion. Mm-hm.
It boggles the mind that anyone can still take seriously the idea that the Catholic Church has any kind of moral authority. Now, while the Vatican’s letter doesn’t explicitly mention Canada, it’s hard not to feel that we’re directly in their cross-hairs, given that we’re one of only 5 countries that allows assisted dying (along with Belgium, Colombia, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands), the most recent to legalize it, and currently working toward making it even more legally available. (Plus we have a Catholic Prime Minister.) Val Wilde at Friendly Atheist does a good job of calling out the ethical and empathetic bankruptcy of the Vatican’s position, as well as their fetishization of suffering, and hypocritical newspeak in claiming to care about self-determination.
So, this is going to require a bit of context because there’s a lot going on here. A couple years back, we had the Supreme Court case of Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Judicial Committee) v. Wall, where a disfellowshipped JW lost his business because all his clients had been JWs, and they all shunned him after he was booted from the congregation. Now, in Canada, the courts have no jurisdiction over the internal decisions of private organizations unless there are property or civil rights at stake – this isn’t just about religious groups, it’s about all non-public (that is, non-governmental) groups. Wall believed the Church’s decision-making process was bullshit and unfair (I mean, it kinda was), and wanted the courts to review it because it ended up causing him financial losses. He lost the case for two reasons. First, the Church never promised in any sense that his real-estate business would benefit from his being a member. Yes, they certainly caused it to fail, but only in the same sense that they could cause any business to fail by telling their congregation to boycott the business. The actually promised membership benefits were all spiritual… not financial; it’s not a business group, it’s a religion. Secondly, the reason the Church gave for booting Wall was a religious reason… and there’s nothing the secular courts can do to review that. If you’re booted from a club for not paying enough dues… well, the Court can review what dues were requested, how much was paid, whether any of these amounts are reasonable, and so on. If you’re booted from a club because God hates your guts… well, I don’t know what you expect the Court to say about that. “Nuh-uh, God is pissed at him right now but still loves him!”? But buried in the Wall decision was another important qualification – one that was irrelevant to the Wall decision, but turns out to be very relevant here. The Highwood Congregation didn’t actually have any written constitution, by-laws, or rules… they just did whatever they thought God was telling the leaders to do. That was part of why the Court couldn’t review the decision: there was simply nothing to base a review on, besides “what God wants”. Which brings us to this case. This case is different in two ways. First, there are no property or civil rights at stake; these guys – Aga et al. – aren’t claiming they lost business after being kicked out of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Canada or anything like that. Second, there are actually written rules and by-laws involved here. The appellants are saying that those rules are basically equivalent to a contract, and when the Church kicked out them without following them, that was a violation of that contract. The Ontario Court of Appeal agreed with this. This is all technically not just a religious thing: the basic idea is that if you join a club, and that club has written rules, then those rules constitute a contract that both you and the club are required to follow. It doesn’t matter whether the club is a religious club or not. It’ll be interesting to see whether the Supreme Court upholds the appeal.
And this is where Indi gets to say “I told you so”. You see, every time a story about an alleged terrorist comes up, our comment spaces fill up with weirdly enraged bozos barking bullshit about stripping them of their civil rights. “Lock ’em up and throw away the key”, “strip ’em of their citizenship”, “just execute ’em”, are just a few examples of the kind of wackadoodle screeching we get (almost all of it on Facebook, I should note, where the most intolerant and ignorant people seem to reside). But of course, we have legal procedure for a reason. It would be bonkers to simply slap punishment down on someone we merely suspect of terrorist involvement… even if they themselves are claiming it, because false confessions are a very real thing, and surprisingly common. And lo, look what we have here. A jackass who wasn’t really a terrorist, but merely claiming so to get famous. Instead of acting like angry apes and actually following legal procedure – including doing an investigation to get actual evidence before convicting someone with a crime – the authorities have unmasked this charlatan. This is not just about making sure we charge him with the right crime – in this case, hoaxing rather than terrorism. This is also about making sure our understanding of reality (and the actual frequency of real terrorists) is based on reality.
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