Weekly Update: to

by | May 29, 2021

Here’s your Canadian Atheist Weekly Update for to .

  • [] Toronto school launches Charter challenge arguing public health order to close schools breaches freedom of religion

    It’s hard for me to muster sympathy for this school’s situation. For starters, they were deliberately deceitful: when schools were closed due to the pandemic, they simply said they weren’t a school, they were a religious group. Now that the province is cracking down in religious groups flouting public health measures, suddenly they’re a school again. They refuse to use internet learning because they refuse to use the internet, but claim they totes want to comply with public health orders… if only the government will pay for the specialized telecommunications technology they would need (even though this is a private school that collects tuition). (Also, it’s seriously not that hard, or that expensive, to get a bunch of cheap tablets that only connect to specific sites, and won’t let you browse the general Internet. Like, we even use them at one of my workplaces. Or if you really don’t want to touch the Internet, the tablets could only use a specific dial-up BBS, which is like 1980s-level technology.) And their claims to being serious about following public health orders sound hollow when public health authorities stood outside and literally watched over a hundred maskless students walk in. Their legal arguments are all over the map, too, and mostly already adjudicated… and not in favour of their position, either. All-in-all, this sounds like yet another situation where a religious group has created their own problems, but doesn’t want to take responsibility for solving them, and instead expects the secular world to kowtow to them simply because they’re religious.

  • [] Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church of Canada St. Mary Cathedral v. Aga

    This decision went pretty much unnoticed in the mainstream press; only specifically-religious sites mentioned it at all. And that’s because, despite the breathless reporting by religious sites, there’s really not much to it. So, a year or so ago, the Supreme Court made a decision, Highwood Congregation of Jehovah’s Witnesses (Judicial Committee) v. Wall, about when, how, and why the secular courts can intervene in internal squabbles—like membership issues—of religious organizations. The decision, basically, is that religious groups are private clubs, and absent formal contracts or direct substantive damages (that is, the religious group did something that directly harmed you… rather than something that had indirect harm, as with, for example, losing business contacts due to shunning), private clubs can do whatever the fuck they please. Note also that formal contracts don’t necessarily need to be signed documents: a verbal agreement can be a formal contract, as can a clearly demonstrated “understanding” shared between two parties that hasn’t been explicitly verbalized or written down. All this decision does is clarify that not every shared “understanding” is a formal contract. In particular, if a private club (or religious group) has rules and bylaws, those don’t necessarily rise to the level of formal contracts between the club and its members. The five people who were kicked out of the Church for being intractable assholes may have filled out membership forms and followed all the group bylaws… but that doesn’t mean there was a formal membership contract between them and the Church; filling out a membership form and following the rules doesn’t mean a private club owes you membership. (It would be different if there was an actual membership contract, where the Church promises you A, B, and C so long as you do X, Y, and Z.) That’s it; that’s all there was to the decision. As with most court decisions, it doesn’t really relate to religion specifically; it applies to all private clubs.

  • [] Doug Ford ally’s Canada Christian College denied university status, name change

    Even for a politician as corrupt and shameless and Doug Ford, the whole Canada Christian College accreditation controversy was a bit much. For those who don’t remember: Ford quietly slipped some extra shit is a COVID-19 recovery bill… specifically university status to a handful of wildly conservative Christian colleges, most infamously Canada Christian College and School of Graduate Theological Studies, run by his friend, religious hatemonger Charles McVety. It would have changed the name of the “school” to Canada University and School of Graduate Theological Studies. It would also allow them to issue Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Arts degrees. Everyone immediately sessed this for what it is: corruption and cronyism. Doing damage control, the Ford government quickly claimed… a couple weeks after the scandal broke and did not appear to be dying down… that they really meant that the name change and accreditation would only happen after a review from the provincial educational quality assessment board… something that came as a complete surprise to the provincial educational quality assessment board. It was kinda hilarious actually… the assessment board was clearly caught flat-footed by the Ford government’s quick ass-cover, because they had previously been vocally opposed to the accreditation when everyone—including them—thought it was a done deal (the bill makes no mention whatsoever of any assessment requirement). You could almost see the shock and confusion in their faces when they suddenly learned that they were seriously going to be asked to assess the “school”. But they did their job and duly assessed the “school” and… well, the result is predictable. Denied, and denied hard. (Note that the other colleges whose accreditations were snuck into Bill 213 did get approval: hence Redeemer College is now Redeemer University, and Tyndale College is now Tyndale University. But in those cases, they had already applied for and been granted approval by the assessment board, so… meh.)

  • [] Should religious organizations maintain their charitable status?

    The real question of this article—beyond the headline—is whether religious organizations that violate the law should keep their charitable status… and I can’t imagine any sensible way of thinking that does not arrive at the same answer: no, they shouldn’t. Let’s even set aside the question of whether a religious organization should have charitable status merely for being a religious organization… the answer to that is obviously no, too, but that’s a discussion we can have another day. Here’s let’s assume that we’re talking about religious organizations that do legitimately deserve charitable status… and then go and break the law. There seems no sensible argument that a non-religious charity that breaks the law should lose its charitable status… so why should it be different for a religious charity? And yet, the article quotes multiple religious “thinkers” trying to make the argument that religious groups deserve charitable status regardless of anything else. Their position is stupid; I can’t put it any more charitably. You can see how dumb it is if you just take a moment to think through what they’re saying… something they’ve obviously failed to do themselves. Their argument is that religious groups should be granted charitable status because 1) religious groups do good stuff sometimes; and 2) it is impossible to separate their beliefs from their actions. Okay, I mean… 2 is obviously just stupid: of course we can separate their beliefs from their actions, because that’s what we do for literally every other kind of charitable organization—we don’t say, “oh, you’re pro-environment? then here’s your charitable status!”… we actually ask that they show that what they’re doing lines up with deserving charitable status. So if we accept 1, then all we need to do is grant charitable status on the basis of that good that is done… again, the same thing we do for literally every other kind of charitable organization. If it is true that all religious organizations actually do beneficial things for society, then it won’t be a problem; religious organizations will just end up with charitable status in the end, anyway… and at least now, they’ll be able to demonstrate why they deserve it. But if it’s true that not all religious organizations actually provide benefits to society, then requiring a public benefit test will weed out those religions that don’t provide the benefits that Bennings and Pellowe claim they do. Including those that are actually a net detriment to society… which probably includes those churches that are currently violating public health orders, and literally killing people.

  • [] Winnipeg’s Springs Church faces backlash for maskless graduation photos, pastor says they followed rules

    Ugh, what entitled idiots. To be clear, it sounds like the actual graduation ceremony was not done in-person… or, at least, if it was, it was done only in people cycled through only in small groups at a time (which is not great, and kinda defeats the whole purpose of limiting the size of in-person events). The pictures are of a smaller event that was filmed for the purpose of being shown at the actual graduation ceremony… which clearly, as seen in the incriminating pictures, violated in-person gathering restrictions. So the Pastor is technically not lying when he says the graduation ceremony itself followed public health orders… but he is being dishonest. And it strains credulity to think that these violations were accidental; the Pastor and the church have a history of defying public health orders, after all.

  • [] How to better integrate religion into Alberta’s draft curriculum

    This is actually not a bad article. The problem it’s addressing is that the curriculum changes proposed by Alberta’s United Conservative Party were way too pro-Christian, giving very little substantive mention to other religions (and non-religion), and either excusing or simply not mentioning the evils done by religion (in particular Christianity). It was so bad, that here we have an associate professor at a private Christian university and an actual pastor saying… yeah, it went way too far with the Christian propaganda. Interestingly, they actually offer some very good suggestions for how to improve the curriculum… which explicitly includes talking about non-religion. Yeah, I’m down with that. I think teaching about religion—the history of religion, the social context, the diversity of faiths and how they change over time—is a very important part of a well-rounded education, and I like the suggestions that Nicolai-deKoning and Patrick offer. What do you think?

  • [] Good news for nihilists? Life is meaningless after all, say philosophers

    I’m not really a nihilist—I prefer to think of myself as an existentialist—but nihilism in its many forms is quite often the starting point for atheist thinking. It’s usually not the end point… but for some atheists it is. Because nihilism is the starting point for most atheistic thought, it’s frustrating when religious people misunderstand it or—more often—deliberately misrepresent it. We’ve all heard the stupid tropes: “atheists believe in nothing, therefore their morals have no basis, therefore they don’t have any way to justify not randomly murdering people.” It’s nice to see that there’s actually a movement that’s working toward rehabilitating the public perception of nihilism.

  • [] A religious symbol, not a knife: at the heart of the NSW kirpan ban is a battle to define secularism

    A few weeks ago, a Sikh kid in New South Wales, Australia, stabbed another student with his kirpan. It sounds like he was responding to racist bullying (the boy he stabbed was two years older than him), but the key point is that—up to that incident—carrying knives to school in NSW was legal if the knife was either used for food, or a religious symbol. Right now, the panicky response to the incident is creating all sorts of problems for the Aussies. Canada solved all this back in 2006, but there are still racists and other idiots that like to pretend it’s a problem. The solution is a classic example of reasonable accommodation: secular educational authorities and Sikh representatives sat down and hashed out exactly what was required, and where compromises could be made. Yes, it needs to be a blade, and sharp enough to cut… but it doesn’t necessarily (in most branches of Sikhism) need to be a long blade: a 2 cm long blade is a blade, after all. Yes, the Sikh needs to carry it at all times… but they don’t need to be able to draw it at all times, so it can be sealed in its sheath (and encased in a pouch, buried under clothes). At this point—when you’ve got a blade less lethal than a pair of divider calipersand it’s practically impossible to draw anyway—there are no more reasonable objections to allowing students to carry them; digging in and insisting that it’s still “technically a weapon” is just being childish. I fail to see how the alternative—which is that Sikh kids can’t attend public schools—would be better for anyone, especially the Sikh kids themselves. I would rather allow an accommodation that allows Sikh kids—and only Sikh kids, or any other kids who have a strong religious or conscientious belief that they need to carry something like a kirpan—to carry neutered “knives” that pose no believable threat to anyone else, than to deny them a secular education in our public school systems.

  • [] New Study: Is it Worth it to Argue on Twitter?

    Yeah, yeah, I know, obviously it’s not worth it to argue on Twitter. But this is still an interesting study because of its methodology. As Watson explains, previous studies mostly relied on self-reporting: they would attempt to debunk some bullshit someone believed, then ask the person if they now believed it more or less. This study was different, because rather than simply asking the person to describe their thoughts, they instead observed the person’s actions after the debunking attempt to see what they actually did. And… not good news, people. Because when someone was told that the thing they believed was bullshit… they not only doubled down, they became increasingly toxic in their behaviour.

  • [] Cash, COVID-19 and church: How pandemic skepticism is affecting religious communities

    Ouch, this is a damning article. It digs into the causes of religious pandemic skepticism and denialism… and it quickly zeroes in on the fact that it’s not actually about theology. Instead, it’s mostly about political ideology and… yes… money. Willey notes that we will get to see the bigger financial picture soon enough, when we start seeing the past two years’ financial data becoming public. He also notes that it’s ironic that churches are using the language of government persecution, when the government has been doing quite the opposite, and turning a blind eye to religious groups defying public health orders, while cracking down on secular activities.

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