There was no Weekly Update for the last two weeks, so there’s a lot of catch-up to do here.
There was no Weekly Update on (which would have covered —), because I had no power for most of the weekend. That was because of the derecho that killed 11 people, so I consider myself truly lucky that we only lost power. We also had part of a tree fall against our house, but, again, got lucky; it was the top third of a very large tree, and it fell against our house leaves-first, so, it mostly just brushed the dirt off our siding. (It was our neighbour’s tree and they were actually very lucky, because the top part fell against our house but did no damage, and most of the rest of the tree fell over into the parking lot of apartments behind… but just happened to fall between two parked with literally less than a meter on either side. So the tree was destroyed and fell into two other properties, but basically no damage was done.) Our household’s biggest concern was trying to keep all the food in the fridge and freezer from spoiling, so I don’t want to characterize what we dealt with as a “crisis”… but it did occupy quite a bit of our headspace that weekend, and for the following week. (Plus, I mean, no power means no Internet, so the only way I could post an Update is if I’d sought out somewhere with WiFi.)
Last weekend (the Update, which would have covered —) things were obviously not so extreme. But aside from the continuing clean-up from the storm, there was just a lot going on. I was doing extra hours to compensate for the extremely short work-week (already short before the storm, due to the holiday, but additionally shortened by so many people being unable to make it in due to post-storm issues), and I was doing volunteer work for the then-upcoming election. Plus, as I said, cleaning up the remains of that tree in the back. Plus, on top of all that, it was going to be a big Update anyway due to the fact that it was covering two weeks. Even without the storm and the doubled-up Update, it was going to be a rough week to do an Update. So, ultimately, I just couldn’t get it done (actually, I worked virtually all weekend, so there was just literally no time to do it, even if I’d wanted to).
But don’t panic! The lack of an Update for two weeks—which I believe is the first time in six years of Updates this has happened, save for those years where the winter holidays happened to fall in such a way that they straddled two Saturdays—is not a harbinger of dark, Update-less days ahead. Nah, it was just a freak weather catastrophe coincidentally falling adjacent to a week that was already going to be one of the craziest weeks of the year—due to a provincial election, a public holiday, and more. Weekly Update will return to its usual schedule (and I use the term “schedule” loosely, what with all the endemic tardiness).
This week’s items
A few months back I mentioned an absolutely idiotic resolution brewing in Ohio, calling for Canada to be added to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom’s Special Watch List, which is a list of countries
where the government engages in or tolerates “severe” violations of religious freedom (scare quotes around “severe” are in the original).
The resolution itself was batshit insane. It rambled on about random nonsense—including slavery, for some reason—but it’s primary bugbear was public health restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Which, notably, was the responsibility of the provinces… not the federal government that the resolution thinks it’s calling out.) It also mentions the conversion therapy ban… while very cautiously avoiding mentioning that it is a conversion therapy ban. It was riddled with errors and outright lies…
… and it actually passed.
I checked, and they didn’t even fix the spelling errors.
Every single Republican voted for it. Every single Democrat voted against it.
They didn’t invite even a single witness to speak against it. They only invited a parade of far-right, Christian wackaloons… including James Coates himself.
Amazing job there, Ohio.
Sometimes Conservatives just baffle me. That goes generally for all stripes of conservatives, though the focus here is on the Ontario Progressive Conservatives.
Like, what exactly is the political calculus here? I get that it’s generally in a party’s interests not to support the positions of its political opponents… but surely that doesn’t extend to positions like “randomly murdering Muslims is bad”.
There may be some things in the NDP bill that need to be discussed, and possibly even amended. But in that case, they should be discussed (and, then, after discussion, possibly amended). Simply pooh-poohing the whole endeavour with, “nah, we don’t need this bill; we got this covered,” helps nobody.
So we’re rolling into the anniversary of the random murder of a Muslim family simply taking a walk in Ontario, having done nothing toward preventing a repeat, and with the (newly-reelected) governing party offering nothing but vague reassurances while shooting down realistic, multi-party efforts to do something. This is not a good look.
Look, I get the objection that Conservatives (in general) aren’t necessarily islamophobic. I don’t seriously believe that Doug Ford or any of his caucus really want to see Muslims murdered. Nor do the federal Conservatives. (Y’know, at least not since they kicked Derek Sloan out.) But given that Muslims are actually being assaulted, and even murdered, in alarming numbers, anyone who claims to be Canadian leadership can no longer just… shrug and do nothing about it… and still expect not to be associated with islamophobia.
Conservatives may not be pushing islamophobia… but they sure are rolling with it.
The leak of the US Supreme Court decision to overturn their abortion access law triggered a frenzy of political talk in Canada, and even some action, as the Liberals pledged $3½ million to improve abortion access. But, as usual, politicians studiously avoided mentioning the main impediment to abortion access in Canada: Catholicism.
Because, while its true that Catholic hospitals make up only a minority of hospitals, it is also true that there are several places where they are the only hospital in the area. And while the Executive Director of the Canadian Catholic Bioethics Institute just shrugs and says “you can’t blame the Catholic Church”… we can. She’s correct insofar that we can’t blame the Catholic Church for causing the problem… but we can blame them for being the problem. Because while Catholic hospitals exist in locations where there are no other hospitals, it doesn’t really make any sense to make new hospitals. I mean… that’s assuming Catholic hospitals are actually legitimate hospitals… which is the crux (pun intended) of the issue here.
I think the key thing lurking in the article is the admission that the only reason the status quo is as is, is because no one has yet challenged it. Kathleen Mahoney, the law expert cited, seems convinced that the institutional bans on abortion that Catholic hospitals have simply won’t stand, and I’m inclined to agree. But until someone actually challenges one of those institutional bans… they exist in a legal void.
What I’m less sure of, though, is that even if a case is made, and won, whether that will actually help. A Catholic hospital might still be able to block abortions on its premises, even if it is illegal to actually ban them, simply by not providing the resources necessary. I know nothing about medicine, but I assume that a safe abortion requires at least some specialized equipment. Catholic hospitals could easily say: “Sure, our doctors are allowed to perform abortions if it doesn’t offend their ethical sensibilities… but we are not required to purchase abortion equipment, or provide spaces where abortions can be done, and so on.” So while I would be all for a ruling banning religious hospitals from imposing “institutional moral standards” on individual doctors… I think more would be needed to actually improve abortion access. But I’d be happy to hear an expert weigh in.
There’s actually a fairly recent fad in philosophical circles—at least in online atheist philosophical circles—that involves taking classic “proofs” for the existence of a god, and flipping them on their head.
The most (in?)famous example is probably the evil god challenge, developed primarily by Stephen Law in the early 2010s. That basically takes the classical problem of evil, flips it on its moral head, and says: if you can explain why the existence of good conclusively proves that there is no omnipotent, omniscient, evil god… then you’ve shown that the existence of evil conclusively proves there is no omnipotent, omniscient, good god. And of course, most religious philosophers can’t resist the bait; they have to disprove the existence of an evil god… but in doing so they can’t help also disproving, by symmetry, the existence of a good god. (Or, at least, coming up with gibberish, like that “good is associated with God, but evil is not, so the two cases aren’t actually symmetrical; an ‘evil god’ would not be a god”.)
These inversions of classic theodicies aren’t meant to be serious, but they’re pretty funny.
This is not the first time we’ve had this conversation, and it will not be the last. Because the meaning of symbols is not absolute; it varies from person-to-person, group-to-group, and culture-to-culture, and even over time.
The swastika is a particularly extreme case, and also a particularly nasty one. The problem is not only the fact that one of the more common and close association with the swastika is the literal fucking Nazis… it’s also that the Nazis stole the symbol from ancient traditions, making it manifestly unfair to tar those ancient traditions with the evil associations of Nazism.
Another factor making this case extreme is that the swastika is really such a simple and even obvious geometric pattern. It has been “reinvented” by cultures as widely separated as Persia, the Celts, and even North American indigenous peoples. Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan even argued that there was an ancient, spinning comet that would have looked like a swastika, and that may have inspired several ancient cultures. And indeed, “卐” is simply a “letter” in the Chinese “alphabet”.
(I don’t know much Chinese, but “卍” is a Japanese kanji—note also it spins the opposite way of the Nazi swastika—which is pronounced as “man”, “ban”, or “manji” depending on context. The only common usage I’m aware of (other than describing a swastika shape) is in the slang term “卍” (“manji”) or “まじ卍” (“maji-manji”)… which just means “cool/awesome”. If you’re familiar with the manga/anime Bleach, the “斬魄刀” (“zanpakutō”) weapons used by the characters have multiple forms of increasing power, and the final form is “卍解” (“bankai”), which can be loosely translated as “cool/awesome solution” (but is usually translated as “final form”). And as another 卍 side note, there’s also a ninja weapon called the “卍刀” (“mantō” or sometimes “manji-tō”).)
This is why, despite eagerly supporting the fight against hate, I don’t support the banning of specific “hate symbols”. It’s a sucker’s game, because what one group sees as a symbol of hate, another may see as a symbol of something else entirely. There is no doubt that Nazism is a hateful ideology, and that the swastika is a symbol of Nazism, and that when the swastika is used as a symbol of Nazism, it is a symbol of hate… but not all uses are a symbol of Nazism. I do not believe we should legislate specific symbols, but should instead create laws against hate generally, and allow the courts to decide whether a specific statement, expression, or usage of a symbol is hate.
This is, incidentally, almost exactly the same conversation we should have had regarding the banning of religious symbols. A lot of supporters of religious symbols bans wanted them because they claimed they were “symbols of hate”. But of course, as the swastika case illustrates, that’s specious nonsense. Just like the swastika, veils and headscarves were worn by ancient cultures long before Islam (or even Judaism for that matter) came around, but were claimed by evil, misogynist assholes, and are now tainted by association. But, just like the swastika, the problem isn’t the veils or headscarves themselves, and banning those simply smears a lot of innocent and unrelated beliefs and cultures unjustly.
 More federal government workers were exempt from COVID-19 vaccinations for religious reasons than medical concerns, data shows
Don’t blow a fuse at the article title. It’s true, yes, that more federal public servants got vaccination exemptions for religious reasons than for other reasons. But… read deeper.
Because, you see, there were only 183 more religious exemptions than non-religious medical exemptions. That’s 540 for religious reasons, 357 for medical. (There don’t seem to have been any exemptions for reasons that were both non-medical and non-religious. Or at least, there aren’t any mentioned.) That still might look bad… but go deeper still.
Because there are more than 319,000 people in the federal public service. In total, only around 1% of them applied for an exemption… and only less than 0.3% were granted one. And those who requested religious exemptions were less likely to get one.
And given that the requirements for a medical exemption were so stringent, and those were more likely to be granted than religious exemptions… that puts it into perspective how hard it was to get a religious exemption. That’s as it should be. It shouldn’t be impossible to get a religious exemption—that would be going too far—but it also shouldn’t be easy. If you really do have a truly sincere, truly deeply-held conviction—regardless of how you came to it (and it doesn’t need to be religious; even the staunchest, most anti-religious atheist also has sincere and deeply-held convictions)—then that conviction should be respected. Especially by the government.
Oof, this is a messy situation.
The backstory is that the official Western University Instagram account quoted a post in support of the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia, which included a poster showing four diverse couples showing affection for each other (kissing and hugging, basically). The issue is that one of those couples is two women wearing headscarves.
Not surprisingly, most people have interpreted those headscarf-wearing women to be hijabis—that is, they presumed those headscarves to be hijabs, or specifically Muslim headscarves—and, thus, concluded those two women are supposed to be gay Muslims. And, let’s be honest, that was probably the intent of the illustration.
And cue the religious freak out.
Now, if this were the kind of religious freak out we’re used to—a Christian religious freak out—we already know how to deal with those: call them out for the bigots they are, viciously mock and humiliate them, and throw our full support behind the people they hate. But this is a rare Canadian Muslim homophobic freak out. And that means we have to tread carefully.
That’s because, as Shawn Ahmed observes, we’re dealing with two groups of bigots here: homophobes on the inside of the Muslim community… which is the kind of thing we’re used to… but also islamophobes on the outside.
And the islamophobes cannot be underestimated. They hold vast amounts of power in Canada, and have considerable hold over public opinion. And they’re killing people. Muslim homophobes are not.
So, as much as it grates, I understand Western’s decision. Either option will embolden a loathsome group: defending the image will embolden islamophobes, deleting the image will embolden (Muslim) homophobes (and maybe homophobes in general, too). But, right now, the more dangerous group to embolden is the homophobes.
Add to that the fact that London’s Muslim groups betrayed their own, and instead of defending gay Muslims, chose to validate the hatred of homophobes. How could anyone condemn Western University for not going above and beyond to defend gay Muslims, when Muslims themselves—via their organizations—were aligning against them?
What we have here is a situation where there are two vilified minorities that we have to stand up for… but we cannot stand up for the overlap of those two groups, because doing so betrays both. Indiscriminately supporting Muslims betrays the LGBTQ2S+ people that Islam, generally, abhors. Indiscriminately supporting LGBTQ2S+ people requires condemning religious homophobia… including Islamic homophobia. But we can’t abandon any of those groups; we can’t abandon LGBTQ2S+ people to the homophobes, we can’t abandon Muslims to the islamophobes, and we can’t abandon gay Muslims either.
So we have to be strategic. We have to choose our battles carefully, and we have to chose how we fight very carefully. I don’t think Western University was wrong to promote the image of two Muslim women kissing. And if they had to acknowledge and respond to the petition and the outrage, I think they did the right thing; it would have been unwise to oppose the London Council of Imams once it was clear where they stood. What I think they did wrong was responding to the petition and outrage at all.
Here’s my suggestion: In addition to supporting Muslims against islamophobes and LGBTQ2S+ people against homophobes, you should try to show support for gay Muslims whenever possible… but you should always be subtle about it. (The image in the poster was very subtle, so that was good; as I said, the problem wasn’t the poster, it was Western’s response.) Don’t draw attention to the fact that you’re supporting gay Muslims… just do it, as if it were the most normal and obvious thing in the world. Slip it in to anything you think you can get away with slipping it into; make gay Muslims a subliminal hum beneath the roar of civilization. And if the bigots notice and kick up a fuss… just pretend you don’t even notice. Like, literally, if anyone pins you down and asks you about the outrage, feign shock: “Outrage? 🤨 What outrage? We just got tons of supportive messages. I didn’t even realize there was outrage. Must’ve been drowned out by the support. 🤷🏼 I’ll look into it.” And then… don’t. And if they pin you down again: “Oh, yeah, I do remember someone saying there was some outrage. Yeah, I didn’t really notice any. But, sure, yeah, I’ll check again.” And repeat.
Doing this deprives the outrage of oxygen; it makes them feel small and irrelevant. And it generally contributes to the idea that such hate is marginal; it’s the fringe. But at the same time, by not actively condemning it, you’re also not giving oxygen to the other side. You’re effectively saying: “Of course we listen to the concerns of Muslims (so, fuck you, islamophobes)… it’s just that we don’t really hear much concern from Muslims (so, fuck you, homophobes).”
It’s a tight rope to walk, sure. But, in my opinion, this is the best way to help both sides… and the middle as well… while pushing the haters out to the margins.
 Religion in Canada isn’t declining quite the way it’s believed to be, Cardus, Angus Reid research finds
Please excuse the weird tone of this piece. I couldn’t find many sources that covered this survey (for reasons that will soon be apparent), so with slim pickings, The B.C. Catholic was the least bizarre.
The underlying research is a long-term joint project of the Angus Reid Institute and Cardus… both of which are extremely Catholic in their leanings. That doesn’t necessarily mean the research is bad—in fact, usually the case is quite the opposite, for ARI at least—but it does mean that the opinions usually are.
The research seems to have been prompted in the first place by panic over
the prevailing narrative of declining religiosity in Western countries, and in Canada specifically. What the research conclusions and article studiously avoid mentioning is: the prevailing narrative is correct. By every measure, religiosity is declining in “Western countries”, and in Canada specifically. Unable to refute that fact, the goal instead is to
complicate [the] narrative.
In other words, this research, ultimately, is intended to be comfort food for Catholics: “Catholicism is not completely dead yet!” By constructing a couple of straw men, they manage to carve out a couple of asterisks in Catholicism’s dire prognosis, and serve those up as a way to assuage the apprehensions of Canada’s remaining Catholics.
But, let me clear, they’re not lying, or even being deceptive (except in their pretense that their straw men are the actual claims of demographers of religion). It is true that Canadians are still mostly religious, and that most of the people who leave the established religions (like Catholicism) still remain at least nominally “Christian”, or, at the very least, “spiritual by not religious” in name but Christian-lite in practice. And it is also true that religious demographics are heavily buttressed by immigration.
It’s also true that the youngest cohort—the 18–35 age group—is… weird. Well… let’s say different. There’s really nothing like them, historically. They are both way more religious, and way more accepting of religion, than any other cohort… and way, way less. I generally write approvingly of them because even the most religious in the group are still exceptionally tolerant of others… something completely unprecedented in their elder cohorts.
There is a need for a lot more research to be done in what religion and religiosity will be like for future Canadians… but this research, with its backward-looking goal of soothing the old guard, this ain’t it.
 Yes, Muslims are portrayed negatively in American media — 2 political scientists reviewed over 250,000 articles to find conclusive evidence
Is anyone really surprised by this finding?
There has been a lot of evidence before about negative portrayals of Muslims and Islam, but the continuing objection has been that: news media is always negative. News media, in general, prints far more stories about bad stuff than they do about happy stuff, so it’s inevitable that most news stories involving Muslims or Islam would be negative. Most stories about any religion will be negative.
But… is that true?
This study finds: no. In fact, the other religious groups checked—Catholics, Hindus, and Jews—had only ~50% negative articles. That is, roughly half the articles were positive about those faiths, the other half negative.
Islam? 80% negative.
And that trend seems to be global, at least across the English-speaking world. There was no real difference in the rate of negativity about Islam across the US, the UK, Australia, and Canada. I mean, 80% was the US number; the Canadian number was 79%. So… yay us?
So the upshot is this. Do you have a negative opinion of Islam (or Muslims)? Do you have a more negative opinion of Islam than you do of Catholicism, Hinduism, or Judaism? This is why.
Despite what several bigoted ideologues claim, there is nothing uniquely bad about Islam—Islam is not the “mother lode of bad ideas”. It’s just another religion. (Which, sure, isn’t great… but is hardly justification for treating it as a uniquely dangerous problem to be solved.)
I’m completely unsurprised that Hamilton is doing nothing to stop this kind of harassment and intimidation by anti-abortion proponents. That the Hamilton city council just couldn’t even be arsed to respond to Joyce Arthur or even the freakin’ CBC is pretty much SOP.
What is interesting, though, is that apparently there is even contention within the anti-abortion world about the use of disturbing images.
The London law—which doesn’t actually ban such images, but rather requires them to be in a sealed envelope that warns people of the contents—seems like a reasonable compromise to me. The article mentions a potential Ontario law that would have worked that way, but since it is an NDP bill, the Ford government is unlikely to support it. It seems dead on the floor.
Oh, how I love the title of this piece.
There’s nothing really new in this long-form journalism piece; everything it covers, we’ve already covered on Canadian Atheist many times before. But it’s nice to see it all brought together, and I like the focus on the people, rather than on the institutions.
I even feel sorry for the Catholics, who are facing the loss of their religious spaces. But only a little bit. Because, on one level, they were betrayed by their church leadership. But… on another… they are guilty too. There’s a wonderful comment by “John Doe No. 26”:
[The court said] that the church is responsible. So are the parishioners. When this started coming out, oh, the denial from everyone. I think every single church in Newfoundland, when they heard this, when there was proof, they should have gone to their church, they should have thrown the priests out.
It’s not just the denial, either. So many Catholics act like the sins of the Catholic Church aren’t their problem. But so long as they intend to carry the Church’s banner… they are. That doesn’t mean they are personally guilty of beating or raping children. But it does mean they have a moral responsibility to help the victims, whether by treatment, or compensation, or, better, both.
The fact that these Catholics care only now… and care only about the buildings, and not about the children who were destroyed by the Church and its associated operators… that’s what makes it impossible for me to muster all that much sympathy for them.
You know, I never thought of this point before, but now that I’ve heard it, I can’t not think about how inane most of the “messages” that “come from the dead” are.
Longtime readers may recall the controversy in Ontario’s publicly-funded Catholic schools about flying the rainbow flag during Pride month. The controversy flared up and became particularly heated in the last two years.
In each district, the conflict generally took the same form: The board of trustees would take a position against flying the flag, usually after a vote. And then there was a roar of outrage from the students, the teachers, the community, and the general public, forcing the trustees to fall over themselves rushing to make a “correction”. Sometimes they immediately reversed their original decision, but more often they hemmed and hawed and made empty statements “we care about diversity!!!” to try and avoid the criticism… but eventually they all lost. Because of course they did. They are ignorant, regressive bigots. They will always lose. Even if they win a temporary, short-term victory once in a while, they… will… always… lose… in the long term.
But what’s really interesting lies in what this article has chosen to focus on.
You see, it’s neither surprising nor praiseworthy that these districts eventually relented and allowed the flag to fly. As I said above, that victory was inevitable. What’s interesting here, though, is how it happened. A small group of regressive bigots tried to impose their stupidity and their hate on thousands upon thousands of people, on entire communities… and those people got mad.
The students in particular were furious at being party to the trustees’ bigotry. When they turned on the boards, they did so en masse, rally on social media, sending thousands of letters, organizing community groups and working with provincial and national organizations. They got the media stirred up, and directed scrutiny at the trustees… scrutiny the trustees were not ready to handle.
It can’t be overstated that the reason Pride flags are flying over Catholic schools in Ontario is absolutely not because Catholic school boards wanted it. Quite the opposite. It is entirely due to the students, and the support that rallied for and because of them, that Ontario Catholic schools are now even making a superficial gesture of tolerance toward LGBTQ2S+ people.
And it looks like the students are not going to forget it.
It will be interesting to see how well-organized and sustained the student anger will be, and whether it will actually result in changes in Ontario’s Catholic boards.
Canadian Atheist’s Weekly Update depends on the submissions of readers like you. If you see anything on the Internet that you think might be of interest to CA readers, please take a minute to make a submission.