Weekly Update: 19-Mar-2022 to 25-Mar-2022

by | March 27, 2022

Here’s your Canadian Atheist Weekly Update for to .

This week’s items

[] Charges laid against man after worshippers at Ontario mosque attacked with bear spray

Last week Saturday, a man walked into a Mississauga mosque with a hatchet in his hand, and started spraying some unknown substance at the worshippers.

Imagine the terror that must have triggered. There were only around 20 people at the mosque at the time, but still… put yourself in their shoes, knowing the history of islamophobic violence in Canada—and while I can’t recall any specific instances of violence in Mississauga, there have been numerous cases of threats and other incidents.

One of the worshippers—the youngest, only 19—noticed the attacker, jumped up, and knocked the hatchet out of his hand. That crazy, heroic action may have saved lives. With the deadlier of his two weapons lost, all the attacker had left was the spray… which was bear spray, it was later revealed. He ended up managing to spray one row of worshippers, which was enough that people were having coughing fits days later.

But the other worshippers followed the lead of the 19 year-old quickly, and managed to tackle and subdue the attacker, holding him until police came.

Again, imagine the terror of that moment, though. Atheists are among the most hated “religious” groups in Canada, usually jostling with Islam for the top spot, but I have never been to an atheist gathering where we looked up in in fear every time someone walked through the door, wondering, “is this person here to kill us all?”

There hasn’t been any new information since, but a police statement shortly after arrest suggested that hate was the motivation. I mean… seems like an obvious assumption… but there are other possibilities. So if the cops were willing to publicly name hate as the most likely motive even after holding the perpetrator for a few hours, then, yeah, hate was probably the motive.

[] Herald Pulls Canadian Pastor’s Books

Bruxy Cavey’s fall from grace continues.

It’s still maddeningly unclear exactly what the sexual misconduct allegations against Cavey consist of. The only thing that seems relatively concrete is that Cavey had a sexual relationship with one of his congregants, who may have initially come to Cavey for pastoral advice. That alone would imply an abuse of power, of course, but some of the public statements made by those in the know suggest that there may be more to this scandal than just that. At the very least, there is also the fact that Cavey is married. The victim may—I stress, may—have been in a particularly vulnerable position, making Cavey’s actions more sinister. There may—again I stress, may—have been an element of coercion, or possibly harassment involved. Everyone who knows is keeping the truth too close to the chest for me to be sure.

Cavey has issued a very cagey apology, admitting wrongdoing without actually being explicit. However, the only wrongdoing he’s admitted to is having an affair. He does give brief lip service to the concern about power dynamics, but passes over it pretty quickly. (Bear in mind this all came after Cavey spent weeks playing the martyr with “none of us are perfect, so no-one is fit to judge others” rhetoric.)

I doubt these books will be on the reading lists of any Canadian Atheist readers, and I doubt any of us will miss them when they finally go completely out of print.

[] Religion could make Calgarians care about climate change, says multi-faith group

It’s hard not to dismiss this with my initial reaction: a wince at the naïveté of anyone who buys into this. But there is a shadow of a point here.

People come to concern about the environment in different ways. There is obviously the very sensible concern that we live in said environment, and for the sake of our own survival, we have a responsibility to care for it, and keep it healthy. But others might come to it via a religious route, seeing the environment as God’s creation and gift to us, and thus our stewardship of it becomes a way to honour God.

And, as the article notes, the more “liberal” a Christian church is, the more likely it is to see environmental stewardship in that light, or something similar. Conversely, the more fundamentalist a Christian church is, the more likely it is they don’t give a shit about the environment, or—in the extreme case—actively endorse environmental destruction because the world is tainted and unholy to begin with, and in any case, God’s going to come along and rapture all the good folk up into heaven soon anyway, so who gives a fuck how much mercury is in the water?

Personally, I don’t think such environmental apathy is a direct consequence of fundamentalism, but rather of the fact that most fundamentalist Christian churches these days tend to share the politics of neoliberalism and the fetishization of capitalism so in vogue with the contemporary right wing.

But whatever the cause, it is true that liberal Christians will tend to be our allies in environmental matters. And thus, efforts to reach other Christians and get them on board with environmentalism by appealing to their faith are probably something we should be okay with, if not endorsing.

Mind you, it doesn’t seem to be working. But, hey, at least they’re trying, right?

[] Saint John pastor plans charter challenge over COVID-19 restrictions

Fourth time’s a charm?

Undeterred by embarrassing losses by other churches in BC, Manitoba, and Ontario, Hutchings is going to try his luck in New Brunswick.

You probably think I might be outraged by the gumption, but on the contrary, if churches want to spend all their money on ludicrous Charter challenges, I say, go for it. I have a lot of lawyer friends—my uncle’s husband is a lawyer—and I’m more than happy to see some cash sliding their way.

Also, each of these provincial decisions really only applies to the province in question; until the Supreme Court of the entire country weighs in, these precedents are geographically restricted. If we can get churches to lose in every province, that would be effectively equivalent to a SCC ruling, without having to waste Wagner’s time. (Okay, yes, that would leave out the territories, so it’s not a perfect solution.)

I like that the article’s author, Mia Urquhart, made a point of including that picture of Jamie Hutchings’s attempt to hock merch based on the “controversy”. Along with her summary of the background, it really serves to drive home the fact that these people are not truly concerned about their rights and freedoms, but are really just running a grift.

[] ‘I don’t need this job’: Kenney says he has to stay to keep ‘lunatics’ from ‘trying to take over the asylum’

I’m not nearly masochistic enough to follow Alberta politics, but it’s hard to ignore the dumpster fire that is the United Conservative Party. By all accounts, things are going not great for them in the lead-up to a review of Jason Kenney’s leadership of the party. The NDP is actually 10–15 points ahead in the polls, with some polls suggesting more than a 20 point lead. (Just to be clear, there is no election upcoming; probably not until next year.) And Kenney himself has faced a stream of criticism for his very partisan, very ideological decisions, and the predictably bad fallout from them.

What happened here is that in a closed meeting with Kenney and his staffers about his upcoming party leadership review, Kenney basically said: Look, he would love to quit. This job sucks, and he knows damn well he’d make a mint in the private sector, slumming for right-wing think tanks. But, you see, he has to stay on as party leader. Because, you see, he’s all that stands between the very sane, very moderate United Conservative Party we have to day, and a mob of… his word… lunatics.

I’m trying hard not to chuckle at the irony here—also trying very hard not to point out the irony of the party’s name—but he’s not wrong. While it would never occur to me in a million years to think of Jason Kenney as the bulwark against religious bigotry, the hard fact is that there are much more extreme flavours of Christian nationalism scratching at the doors of power in Alberta. Granted, most of them are only a threat because they were emboldened by Kenney and his decisions as premier, but the point is that as bad as Kenney is… Alberta could do a lot worse.

It’s probably too late to save the UCP now; the crazies have already organized and—very likely—brigaded the leadership vote. Kenney might still win; in fact, that’s quite likely. But the loonies have a beachhead. Unless and until they’re expunged, the trajectory of the UCP seems most likely to be similar to that of the US Republican Party; a slow descent into religiously-informed madness.

Seriously, when Jason Kenney can plausibly claim to be the voice of reason in the party, you have a serious problem.

[] “Dunno” by Zach Weinersmith (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)

So true. So very true.

[] “All-knowing” by Zach Weinersmith (Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal)

As happens so often in Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, there is a brilliant point hidden within this joke. All the threats in the Bible by God to coerce humans to behave this way or that are technically admissions that God can’t be omniscient and omnipotent, because if he were, such coercion would be superfluous.

On the other hand, the contrary argument is that such threats are how God flexes his power to make us do what he wants. He could use any of a number of ways to make us comply; this way was just the one he preferred. And his omniscience tells him it will work.

I do really like the idea the God is just really, really lazy. It explains so much of theology.

[] Why a 400-year relationship between Mi’kmaq and Catholic Church is under pressure

The atom of news I really wanted to get across is that a delegation of indigenous representatives is on their way to Vatican City, with the goal of getting the Pope to issue an official, formal apology, for the role of the Catholic Church in running residential schools.

But this article that I stumbled across in my search for one that would serve the above need gives a much more interesting perspective on the issue.

The history of the relationship between the Mi’kmaw people and the Catholic Church is long, complicated, and fascinating. There is an argument to made that the Mi’kmaq only embraced Catholicism out of political motives. It allied them to the French in the many, many conflicts with the British that occurred over the years. It also had other beneficial side effects for the Mi’kmaq.

(For example, the British claimed Mi’kmaw territory, on the grounds that it had been French territory, and ceded to them when the French lost Queen Anne’s War. The Mi’kmaq objected, bewildered, wondering how it had ever become French territory; they’d never ceded it to the French, after all. They were told that according to (European) law, only Christians could own land… thus, Mi’kmaw land had been French land from the moment the French decided they wanted it. But, wait, the Mi’kmaq argued: they were Christians. They’d been baptized and all. That meant the French couldn’t simply claim it out from under them, and that meant it was never the French’s to cede… thus, it couldn’t be British land. I don’t think the argument ever worked, in practice, because the whole thing was bullshit to begin with, and the Europeans never intended to take the natives seriously in any case… but it sure does sound like a legitimate argument to me.)

However, there is an even stronger argument that the Mi’kmaq’s embrace of Catholicism is a legimate instance of religious syncretism. There are Mi’kmaq who are Catholic, and there are Mi’kmaq who still practise the traditional faith… but most* Mi’kmaq follow a blend of the two.

* (I have been told “most” by people who know a lot more about the Mi’kmaq than I, but I’m not aware of any hard data that could confirm it. Even if it’s not actually, literally “most”, it’s certainly a large chunk of the population, and very likely a plurality at least.)

And this connection between Roman Catholicism and the Mi’kmaq is neither subtle or irrelevant. Google for the Mi’kmaw flag, for example (here’s an article showing it). See? Not subtle.

I can’t imagine being a Mi’kmaw who is either Catholic, or believes in the syncretic Catholic/Mi’kmaw faith, and not only knowing the history of the Catholic involvement in the residential schools genocide, but witnessing the shameful behaviour of the Church in the reconciliation era. I can’t speak for how they would feel, but if it were me, the sense of betrayal would be absolutely devastating. This is the indigenous context for the request for some sort of apology from the Pope. (Part of it, anyway.) This is why an apology would mean so much… and why the lack of it is so disgusting.

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One thought on “Weekly Update: 19-Mar-2022 to 25-Mar-2022

  1. rj

    I see parallels in the Mi’kmaq story and the one where slavers continued to hold their captives after they had converted to Christianity. Also ones to Apartheid in South Africa where the English and the Dutch made an agreement at the exclusion of the natives. Like the English and the French here in Canada. If I were a native Canadian and wanted to remain converted I’d start a church for themselves.


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