Weekly Update: 7-May-2022 to 13-May-2022

by | May 14, 2022

Here’s your Canadian Atheist Weekly Update for to .

This week’s items

[] Crisis pregnancy centres criticized for ‘deceptive’ practices

It was inevitable in the fallout from the leak that abortion will probably become illegal in large chunks of the US, that Crisis Pregnancy Centres would come into the spotlight again.

For those who don’t know CPCs are fake abortion clinics, run by anti-abortion groups—often faith groups—that pretend to be legitimate health providers in order to lure women in, and scare or shame them out of getting an abortion. They have been caught on many, many occasions giving out fake “facts” about abortion, and performing non-medically-necessary procedures in the hopes of making women uncomfortable about the prospect of getting an abortion. And sometimes they go even further than that, deliberately impeding or slowing down access to real abortion providers until it’s too late for the patient.

Joyce Arthur notes that these CPCs have become insidiously good at hiding their true intentions, and masquerading as legitimate abortion clinics. It’s important not to be fooled by their presentation and their PR.

What I didn’t know was that they are a Canadian invention! The first one was apparently set up in Toronto. That’s something to feel a little less proud about.

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

Wait, he gave his soul away? He didn’t sell it? But I’ve heard it has market value! You should at least try to get something for it!

[] Members of a Controversial and Secretive Religious Sect Funded Third-Party Group Behind Anti-Trudeau Ads

The web of deplorables in this story is interesting, and enlightening.

Obviously one of the key group of deplorables is the one named in the headline: the “not-a-cult” Plymouth Brethren Christian Church, more widely known as the “Exclusive Brethren”. They are notoriously shady, and they’ve come up on Canadian Atheist before for their efforts to ingratiate themselves with police forces.

The other key groups of deplorables are prairie conservatives, as named in the first paragraph of the story: Scott Moe’s Saskatchewan Party, and Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party.

Deeper down we discover that the federal Conservatives are also entangled in the web, most notably in the person of the Conservative Party of Canada’s former lawyer.

And if that weren’t an unpleasant enough tea party, they are also joined by “oil industry players”.

And what brought this collection of rogues together? Mainly efforts to undermine the Liberals in the last federal election. But what I find really interesting about this effort is that while it is claimed to be based on the compatibility of legislation and policy with the teachings of the Holy Bible… their actual primary concern seems to be the promotion of capitalism, and particularly laissez fair capitalism in the interests of the oil and gas industry.

This isn’t a pairing you normally see quite so closely intertwined in Canadian politics. It’s far more commonplace in American politics, where “God, guns, country, and capitalism” is basically the whole of right-wing political “thinking”. I can’t help but wonder which teachings of the Holy Bible led to an alliance with the oil industry.

Mirth aside, one of the main reasons I feel compelled to feature these kinds of stories is because they really highlight how Canadian conservativism is really a very, very small, tight-knit club… and how that club’s membership includes really heinous people and groups.

[] The Brains of Believers and Non-Believers Work Differently

Oh, it’s so tempting to change the headline from something like “brains of nonbelievers just work differently to those of believers” to just “brains of nonbelievers just work”. But, okay, let’s investigate the claim.

Now, I am very much not an expert in this field, but I skimmed the paper (it’s open access), and the crux of it seems to be an intention to show that a lack of religious belief isn’t simply… a lack… of religious belief. Rather, non-belief is something entirely different. In this study, it is (apparently) shown that the brains of non-believers simply work differently (yes, I was tempted to end that sentence with “simply work). Believers’ brains more frequently default to “intuitive”, or “emotional” processing. In other words, they don’t really think about what they’re experiencing; they simply… experience it. They are passive experiencers of reality; they feel it. Nonbelievers’ brains, on the other hand, more actively process stimuli, analytically and deliberately. We are active experiencers of reality; we are constantly thinking about what we’re experiencing.

That on its own is extremely interesting. But the future research directions that are suggested are even more so.

You see, the study notes that the activation patterns observed are also connected to anxiety. The state that nonbelievers prefer to switch to is also a state that gets triggered more often when taking anti-anxiety drugs. There is already a connection between increased religiosity and increased anxiety… but what if it is literally true that medicating anxiety away may also increase atheism?

I’ve featured studies before that suggested that religious belief—while not actually a mental disorder—may nevertheless be “treatable”. In other words, we may be close to developing technologies that could decrease… or increase… religious faith in individuals. I hope I don’t need to point out the ethical quagmire that would lead to. But… just as a fascinating hypothetical: Imagine there was a pill you could take that would make you religious… that would make it possible for you to believe—to truly believe, to feel the “truth” in your bones, and to derive comfort and peace from that belief—the same things the rest of your family and community does.

Would you?

[] How God was wedged into secular Canada’s constitution

I think most Canadian atheists know that the insertion of God into the preamble of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms was one of the many compromises that Pierre Trudeau’s Liberals had to make to actually make it happen in the early 1980s. I’d bet most know of Pierre’s famous comment: “I don’t think God gives a damn whether he’s in the constitution or not.”

But of course, the constitutional drafting process was neither simple nor linear, and God popped in and out of our constitution several times before the dust finally settled in 1982. Nathan Alexander gives us a really nice summary of how it came to be.

[] Duelling protests over abortion debate take over downtown Ottawa

I’m surprised that the March for Life actually happened this year. It was cancelled the last couple of years, and it sure seems that, giving the timing, they had a very good reason to cancel it this year, too.

On the other hand, while most Canadians would probably feel embarrassed to be protesting legal abortion right now, given the situation down south, most Canadians are not the kind of person who thinks controlling women’s bodies and sexuality is a good thing. That kind of person probably feels emboldened and energized by what’s happening in the US. (Plus, this was apparently the 25th anniversary of the March for Life. Cancelling it was probably unthinkable.)

The whole affair turned out to be a big nothingburger, though. Jagmeet Singh showed up, but other than that, nothing of note happened, as far as I’ve heard.

[] B.C. drops 24 tickets against pastors issued for violating COVID-19 orders

Another set of charges against pastors for holding services in defiance of public health orders has been dropped. But there’s no reason to be upset about it, really. I mean, it’s annoying to see the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms get to crow about it, but do bear in mind none of these charges were dropped thanks to the JCCF’s “competence”.

From what I’ve heard, the truth is that there are dozens of nearly identical cases before the courts, all of which are going to cost large amounts of time and money to prosecute. These cases are not like, for example, traffic violations, which have been streamlined to almost rubber-stamping. Instead, each and every one of these cases is going to be a long, drawn-out, legal nuisance, with the churches’ lawyers trying one absurd Charter challenge after another, each of which requires individual consideration. Given enough time, the churches will almost certainly lose every one… but the Crown prosecutors’ resources are very limited. They simply can’t afford to waste time dealing with them all.

Because of that, prosecutors are throwing out the minor nuisances, and the ones that will probably never be able to pay their fines anyway, and instead concentrating on the big fish.

And that’s probably the best idea in the long run. You see, if the Crown starts half-assing the inevitable flurry of Charter challenges… they may bungle, and lose one. That would be bad… that could set a very, very dangerous precedent. Better to focus all efforts on a smaller number of cases, than try to spread oneself too thin and lose a key precedent… which would be a terrible long-term loss.

[] Canada’s government rejects motion to end daily prayer in House of Commons

This is one of those stories, that broke, burned brightly, then fizzled out, all in a matter of days. Like, 3 days, to be exact.

I’ve chosen to link to Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta’s recap of the story, because unlike most news articles he covers the whole story in a single shot, with lots of explanatory context and links.

So, the story began when Bloc Québécois MP Martin Champoux announced on Monday he was going to use the Bloc’s opposition day to table a motion calling for the end of the prayer that opens parliament, replacing it with a moment of silence.

Now, of course, there’s a very, very big context here that Mehta misses entirely, and that’s Québec’s Bill 21. While not actually about secularism, Québécois politicians have, for years, been trying to use secularism as a wedge issue to attack the federal government. After all, neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives have a stellar record on secularism. Even if Bill 21 itself is more about islamophobic bigotry than secularism, the calling cry of secularism still works quite well as a shibboleth.

In any case, Champoux followed through… and on Wednesday the motion was voted down 56–266.

Who voted against? Who do you think? Every Conservative MP voted against it. And so did every Liberal MP… except one: Nathaniel Erskine-Smith, who has been a longtime friend of the nonreligious.

In fact, I think it’s important to see exactly who voted for and against this motion, so I’ll link to the results.

What really deserves special mention, though, is the doublespeak that politicians—especially Liberals—used to justify voting against.

The most common talking point was that there are more important issues to discuss… which is transparently disingenuous, not least because this day was specifically for the purpose of Bloc MPs deciding which issues are the ones they want to discuss. That was the tactic Justin Trudeau went with.

Another ploy was to say “this isn’t the time” to discuss changing Parliamentary procedures… because there is a day set aside next month for that purpose. This is a slightly better argument in that while Champoux’s motion was nonbinding in any case, he could have worded it in a less aggressive manner. (For example, instead of voting on “we will change the procedures to this”, it could have been voting on “the procedures should be changed to this”, making it a vote on intentions and desires rather than an immediate change; the actual change could then be debated on the day that’s already been set aside for procedural review.)

The bottom line, though, is that Champoux did what he set out to do, which is expose the cowardice and hypocrisy of most of our federal lawmakers when it comes to standing up for secularism.

[] Basilica bidders hope to preserve culture, faith amid church bankruptcy

I don’t really object to a group of Catholics buying the Basilica in St. John’s in order to keep it as a functioning church in the faith. But two things do concern me about the effort.

The first is whether these Catholics have really thought this purchase through. Let’s assume they can actually put together the cash to make the winning bid and buy the place. Cool, cool… but now… what next?

As the article itself mentions, the cost of buying the Basilica, while no doubt quite substantial, likely pales in comparison to the maintenance and upkeep costs. Let’s face reality—granted, not a Catholic strong suit—the ranks of Canadian Catholics aren’t likely to grow any in the near future. Or the far future. And if churches across the country are struggling today to afford their properties, it seems unlikely that there will be an great reversal of fortune that will make the giant, crumbling Basilica suddenly self-supporting. Fiscally, or physically, for that matter.

Which means that the most likely outcome here is these Catholics will just end up flushing dump truck loads of money down the tubes for a few years, possibly bankrupting themselves in the process, and then have to put the building back up for sale again.

Let’s put a pin in that, and move on to my second concern, which involves the reason this whole thing is happening in the first place.

The reason the Basilica is up for sale is because the Archdiocese of St. John’s is being bankrupted by the settlements and fines in the many, many rape cases the Church is facing… a number which is apparently still growing. A fire sale of increasingly useless Church properties is how they’re raising the scratch needed to make the payments in those cases.

So, let’s say you’re a Catholic, and you really want to keep the Basilica in the faith as a Catholic church… rather than fundraising to buy the building, wouldn’t it make more sense to raise funds instead to compensate the victims of the Church’s misdeeds directly, and avoid all the costs and drama associated with a real estate purchase of this scale?

It just baffles me that Catholics—who claim to be the epitome of human morality—continually and repeatedly demonstrate that they care more about buildings than people… and especially, people whom their own Church hurt. I mean, their morality is witnessed by their priorities.

There’s one more thing about this story that absolutely horrifies me, and it’s oddly buried deep, deep in the article, in this paragraph.

The Archdiocese of St. John’s landed in financial crisis after it was found liable for physical and sexual abuse at the Mount Cashel Orphanage from the 1940s to the 1960s. The total amount owed to survivors has yet to be determined, but lawyers on the case say more victims continue to come forward.

“More victims continue to come forward”! The story isn’t even over yet! The Mount Cashel case is one of the largest and most horrific instances of clergy sexual abuse in Canadian history, and involves massive cover-ups by police and media, shady attempts by Catholic religious orders and the Vatican to spirit Church money out of Canada rather than pay it to victims, over 400 sex abuse claims that almost went unresolved when the operators of the orphanage claimed bankruptcy and tried to disappear, and a precedent-setting decision by the highest court in the provinces that transferred responsibility up the Church hierarchy… and the story is still growing!

[] Mixed reaction from Indigenous leaders on Manitoba’s exclusion from Pope’s visit

Pope Francis has finally announced he will be coming to Canada to formally apologize for the Catholic Church’s role in the residential schools genocide, and the response is… meh. 🤷🏼

Sure, there are some people who are stoked about Pappy Frankie’s upcoming Canada tour in July. And there is a lot of hope that a real, proper apology will be forthcoming.

But coming only now, so many years late, it’s not hard to understand the lack of interest in any apology, assuming a real one even happens… which, frankly, seems unlikely. I mean, any apology would be something, I guess. After decades of nothing—no, worse than nothing, decades of actively sabotaging any attempt at reconciliation—if nothing else, this will be a change of pace.

Another reason for the lack of excitement is that, due to the Pope’s failing health, it won’t really be much of a tour. The current agenda has only three stops: Québec City, Edmonton, and Iqaluit. Dude’s currently trucking around in a wheelchair, so that’s understandable, if disappointing.

Generally, though, it seems like younger indigenous people simply have no more fucks to give about the Pope, or the Catholic Church. They’ll take an apology, if one’s forthcoming. And I’m sure they’d love to hear what concrete steps the Church will actually take to finally take some real responsibility for its actions. But it doesn’t look like many indigenous people care all that much about the Pope or the Church, and those that do tend to be older.

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