Here’s your Canadian Atheist Weekly Update for to .
This week’s items
This is actually a series being done by Global. This item is the first in the series, and it created a bit of a stir when it was released last week. Part 2 is already out, and, at the moment, it seems like that’s the entirety of the series.
It’s actually a pretty good series, despite the criticism it got in atheist circles. Most of the criticism was about how it falls into the trope you usually see when Canadian media reports on religious demographics, where 2⁄3–3⁄4 of the article is decent, straight-up reporting of facts about how religious affiliation, belief, and engagement is declining, churches are closing, etc.… but then the author has to include a “But don’t panic! It’s alright! Religion is still alive and kicking!” section to stave off the horror middle Canadiana is supposed to feeling at the idea of creeping non-religion. And it’s a fair cop; the series is trying to be “balanced” between pointing out that religion is in steep decline, and not wanting to startle the normies.
But if you just accept that that’s the norm for Canadian reporting of religion, and shrug it off, the rest of the series is very good.
There is a lot of very good information and very insightful observation buried in the articles. The broad facts, of course, are well known, and certainly won’t be surprising to regular readers. Religion is in decline in Canada. The youth are particularly disinclined to get into organized religion. Minority religions are growing, but only because they’re being propped up by immigration. These facts are not news.
But if you look deeper, there’s a lot of complex stuff going on. In particular, there’s a lot that atheists need to listen to, if we’re going to understand our place in the future of Canadian religious/nonreligious demography. For example, there’s quite a bit of insight into what’s going on with young Canadians. We know that young Canadians are generally disinterested in religion… but are they actually done with it? It seems… not quite. Instead, what seems to be happening is that without social pressure forcing them to take part in religion, young people are looking into other options… but they are looking at religion as an option. With nothing else giving even the promise of spiritual fulfillment, it’s pretty much inevitably that many of them will ultimately return to religion, in some form. If we don’t want a resurgence of faith, we should be offering meaning, and fulfillment… not just saying that those things are compatible with nonbelief, but actively providing paths that might lead to them… guiding people toward fulfillment without faith. That’s something we’re just not doing very well right now.
There’s a similar issue with minority faiths. It’s not that immigrants are particularly religious; the reason newly arrived immigrants gravitate toward religious communities is because those communities are familiar, welcoming, and, well, there. What are we doing? I see atheists all the time ranting about how theocratically repressive certain other countries are, and how much new immigrants love their new Canadian “freedom”, and abhor the rigour of the old country. I don’t see them doing a single thing to actually welcome those immigrants. Quite the contrary; what new immigrants are expected to endure is the mockery of their previous identity, and the things that many of their loved ones still believe. They’re expected to immediately and unequivocally shed the trappings of their former life—sometimes quite literally—in order to be allowed to participate in Canadian society, and even accept uncritically that their former cultural practices were barbaric and oppressive while Canadian society is enlightened. The second part even illustrates how such attitudes actually drive people deeper into the faith.
This is an opinion piece, by a Rabbi, who wants schools to have a “moment of silence” at the start of each school day. I present it here because I’m curious about what our readers think.
I’ll put my position out there: I think “moments of silence” for things like political meetings—including the opening of legislatures, or even municipal council meetings—are rank bullshit. They’re just a time-waster, and a subtle way for theocrats to get away with squeezing just a little bit of prayer into what should be a secular event. And of course, “moments of silence” at things like sporting events are even more bullshit.
There is a qualitative difference between an event, like a meeting, between a bunch of grown-ass adults, and the opening of a school day.
For starters, adults are presumed to be self-sufficient in ways that children are not. An adult should be able to “get head their in the game” on their own before a serious meeting, like a meeting of a legislature. Let’s assume that taking a moment to settle/centre oneself spiritually—whether by prayer or simply quite contemplation on the weight one’s moral duties in the context of the upcoming task—is absolutely required before beginning the event. If an adult shows up unprepared to take part in some event… that adult is a fucking idiot, and should be scorned as such. The meeting should not be held up a few minutes while they get their shit together, spiritually or otherwise. I mean, if the situation comes up, then sure, everyone can be asked to be patient and wait a few minutes while Bill sorts themselves out… but in such a situation, it should be understood that Bill is being a pain the ass, and inconveniencing everyone who, quite maturely, prepared beforehand, and just wants to get to work.
Not only are kids different, school itself is different. The purpose of school is not only to cater to students, it’s also to teach them how to be (good) students. So including a moment of silence as a way to teach kids that they should take a moment to settle/centre themselves… and illustrating how to do it… kinda makes sense. By contrast, we should presume we shouldn’t have to illustrate to legislators how to do their fucking jobs at the start of each sitting of a legislature. (And being prepared to legislate, spiritually and morally, is part of their fucking jobs, obvs.)
So… it does kinda make sense to schools to have a moment for the kids to settle themselves, think about the upcoming school day, and whatever else they need to do before diving into the books.
And note, I’m not even taking truck with the claims how beneficial meditation—or prayer—is supposed to be. If it’s true that meditating for a couple minutes before classes actually leads to real improved outcomes on test scores or whatever… great. But even if not, taking a moment just to zen out, as a demarcation between school versus “not-school” time… seems like a good idea to me.
And I agree with the Rabbi that this would be a truly secular thing… unlike the moment of silence at adult events, which is very clearly just a way to sneak some prayin’ in, because if it’s not about prayer, if it’s just about “being in the right mindset”, then you should have been that before walking into the meeting. If a religious person needs to pray before an event, they can do so… before the event. Doing so at the event just about public displays of piety.
So yeah, I’m kinda on board with the idea of opening school days with a moment of silence… despite being against opening most events with one. What do you think?
Mm, this particular write-up of this ongoing story is… problematic.
The article is trying very hard to spin the underlying dispute as a fundamental disconnect between our Christian-centric laws, and non-Christian religious practices. And it’s certainly true that much of our law is heavily biased toward a Christianity-centric view of what is and what is not a religion, what are and what are not “religious practices”, and so on. And yes, that’s absolutely been a problem for minority faiths—and for humanism and atheism—many, many, many times. It really is a serious problem.
But… this time? Mm, not really.
You see, the headline’s misleading. It was never a temple—a physical building—whose tax-free status was in question. The “temple” referred to in the headline is a metaphorical temple; it’s literally the Fung Loy Kok Institute of Taoism. The article haphazardly conflates the metaphorical “temple”—the Institute—with the physical temples the “temple” operates. Really, the whole article is pretty fucking terrible; I’m almost tempted to believe the writer was deliberately trying to be obtuse and misleading.
I’m going to avoid the confusion by referring to the organization as the FLK, their physical temples as “temples”, and the third thing as… well, bear with me.
So this is what the dispute is actually about. The FLK applied to get all their properties tax-free status, due to being a religion. The issue is that… not all of their properties are temples. Some of them are simply… “satellite sites”, to use the Court’s terminology. They’re, like, strip mall locations, where they primarily do two things:
- provide tai chi classes; and
- hand out FLK literature, promoting the religion.
Now, the tai chi classes are religious… ish. They are based in the FLK Taoist faith. And doing tai chi is one of the religious practices of the FLK.
The tai chi classes were not free. (The first one is, but you pay from then on.) And they weren’t really being done—or promoted—as a religious practice; they were health classes that nonbelievers were taking part in (and paying for) for promised health benefits.
So the Court looked at this setup and said: “Okay, your actual temples, where you actually do your prayers and religious ceremonies… no problem, tax exempt.” (I mean, that’s not a good thing; places of worship should not automatically get tax exemptions, but let’s put that aside for now… it is what it is, at least for the time being.) “However… these ‘satellite sites’ aren’t really ‘places of worship’. There’s not really much ‘worship’ being done there, and doesn’t really matter how you define ‘worship’. Even if doing tai chi counts as ‘worship’ in your faith… you can’t seriously claim that the suburban soccer moms there paying for a class for the promised health benefits—not spiritual benefits—are ‘worshipping’ in your Taoist faith. That’s straight-up bullshit.”
And the only other thing that was happening at those “satellite sites” was evangelizing: basically, trying to “sell” Taoism to anyone who came in curious about getting some health benefits from tai chi. That, also, is not worship; or at least, not the kind of “worship” that we allow to be tax free.
Now, the FLK legal strategy was to cry discrimination and claim the decision is a mistake based on Christian-centric law… and the journalist here seems to have swallowed that hook, line, and sinker. But this same reasoning would be applied to a Christian sect. In fact, it happens all the time. Christian groups routinely try to claim tax exemptions for their churches—no problem—but also for any other random property they own, like cemeteries, playgrounds, and even businesses like Christian book stores that happen to be next to a church. They don’t get it; not for those satellite properties.
So there’s really no story here, certainly no story of religious discrimination or Christian domination of our law. A religious group was running a side hustle, and tried to get it tax-exempt under the umbrella of their actual religious shit… but the court wasn’t fooled. Must be a day that ends in ‘y’.
I don’t even know what to say here. I mean, even a broken clock, right?
Except this particular broken clock is why we have Ford in the first place. So it’s less like a broken clock being inevitably right twice a day, and more like a clock that somehow broke time itself, then in the ensuing collapse of reality flashed an error: “well, this is fucked”.
This is pretty much the cycle of social conservative support. When you cozy up to the monster in hopes of using its power for your own political ends, you are naturally required to promise that when you do achieve power, you will give them what they want. But you can’t, because they’re a fucking monster, and the things they want are horrifying, when not literally illegal and impossible to provide in a liberal democracy. So… all you can do is put a show of trying to give them what they want… predictably failing… and then trying shrug it off as being everybody else’s fault. That’s not going to work if it is obvious enough that never really intended to succeed… and it’s usually pretty obvious, because as much as you need to appease the monster, you can’t completely alienate the much larger demographic of actually decent human beings, so you can’t try too hard to placate the beast. And, the result is obvious, the monster gets frustrated with you, feels betrayed, and moves on to the next soulless grifter willing to fellate them for a chance at power.
You’d think the social conservatives would be wise to the game now; any politician that courts them is probably going to swing to the centre the moment it’s politically expedient. But if you think that, you would be underestimating how tragically stupid social conservatives are.
Mind you, now that Ford actually has power, the useful idiots have probably outlived their usefulness. He might be able to win a second term just on the reluctance of Ontarians to try something new. So maybe using then discarding the so-cons is a cagey move after all.