Friday, July 30, 2004

New Game of Law Without Morality or Philosophy

Our Ottawa office sent out a notice indicating that a recent National Post Editorial had adopted our argument on "civil unions". Well. You would have thought we had advocated the ritual murder and consumption of infants! We received a host of emails, many positive but a few that were angry with us.

Most interesting were those that indicated that our position on "civil unions" was somehow weakening a strategy that "pro-family" groups were advocating. This was news.

One of the defining features of the contemporary discussions about "same-sex marriage" is that those who oppose the State adopting "same-sex marriage" have no realistic strategy. They believe that male/female marriage is the only good model on which to base society. They are not having much success in convincing the powers that be of this.

Of course, they have argued before the courts that children need two parents - - one of each sex, but the courts have not been convinced. Neither have the courts been convinced that reproduction (necessitating a male and a female) can be considered central to marriage. So much for the courts.

Before some politicians, however, the argument has been even more fruitless. These politicians, you see, like to hide behind judges on any issue that requires a moral or philosophical analysis. "I am a great respecter of the Charter," says Mr. Worldly Wiseman, "and the Judges tell us thus and so..."

The courts, for their part, also dislike moral and philosophical issues unless, that is, they can deal with them (the moral and philosophical dimensions) under the cover of "equality" which means focusing, not on philosophy per se, but on "feelings" or "historic disadvantage" etc. which can all be measured, supposedly, by affidavits, facts and figures without the necessity of determining between competing conceptions of the right and the true.

In other words, both politics and law are now thoroughly morally phobic and it is up to the courts to smuggle philosophy into "equality" so that politicians can smuggle politics into their slavish obeisance to law. That is how the new game of governing is played.

Back to the strategy of those who have to deal with this new world of politics and law. Faced with judges and politicians who will go along with same-sex marriage because they are not convinced that the arguments in favour of heterosexual marriage make a strong case, the pro-heterosexual marriage lobby thinks that making the same arguments again and again will somehow succeed.

It is as if, having bashed their heads fruitlessly against a wall for one hour, an extension of a further hour is viewed as an opportunity for yet more head bashing. Not the most fruitful way in which to use ones' time.

A new strategy is called for. One based upon the realities of contemporary law and politics. That is what we at the Centre are pursuing; a strategy that does not fantasize about what we wish contemporary politics and law were like but that is based on what they have proven themselves over and over again to actually be like.

Faced with the reality of imperfection and lack of vision, we seek to urge for a better way to see society in light of the strange views of law and politics that are currently on offer.

We are not "turncoats" against some better vision. On the contrary, there is no better vision realistically on offer. There is no "past glory" to be reclaimed realistically. The brave new world of contemporary law and politics needs to be trimmed in the direction of a genuine respect for diversity against a cookie-cutter vision that would see religious conceptions pressed into a sieve until its distinctives are bled out of them.

What really must be maintained is the maximum scope for religious diversity and expression because it is there- - in that elemental conception of freedom in relation to goodness, that loving productive marriage between a man and a woman can be best described.

That is what the current debates are all about and why only a "civil unions" approach will protect religions over time.

The law is the law of course and we should all respect and be grateful for constitutional rights. What is worrying, as so many have noted, is when judges and lawyers (and politicians) come to view law as the means of social development.

The judiciary is not meant to be a kind of social sciences laboratory with judges who seem on occasion to be like Gary Larson cartoon figures in white lab coats waving gavels. No, judging is about that narrow role in society that works within what the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, in its Preamble, calls "the rule of law."

That is maintained, that rule of law, by a careful balance between the legislative and the judicial arms. It is the replacement of the rule of law by a kind of judicial ad hoc-ery that is worrying to those of us with a sense of history that began before 1982 (or, 1985 if we are dealing with the Equality Provisions where most of the ad hoc-ery has found a happy home).

When law becomes politics and judges become non-elected politicians who determine what is going to happen to society, then it is time for citizens to put up a series of large "closed" signs on the front doors of the Parliament Buildings and Legislatures of the land.

CENTREBLOG: Volume 38
Iain T. Benson ©

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Ethics of “Choice” Thirty Years On:

Summer winding down, I suppose it was unfortunate that we have had to kill our animals. Two cats, a dog (actually a puppy), a miniature donkey “Roncevalles” and our beloved pet chimp “Washoe”, before we moved homes. But truth be told, we just didn’t want them anymore. “Washoe” and “Roncie” will be particularly missed, as they were great favourites of children in the neighbourhood; but we could no longer afford the expensive exotic vets bills and we were moving homes (across the country) and couldn’t afford the time (or hassle) to find them new owners that would care for them.

Since at this point in our lives our time is limited and we wanted to give proper attention to our children and house move, having the pets killed was the most humane thing we could do in the circumstances, regrettable though that might have been. It was a wrenching experience for us all.

Some would judge us to be callous and immoral for doing this. The killing of the chimp, Peter Singer the leading ethicist at Princeton, would find truly appalling since chimps can sort of think like us and its all about the brain for Peter and his sort of ethics.

Barbara Ehrenreich, however, would find our justification for pet trimming to be based on exactly the kind of reasoning she used to justify her decision to have two abortions “during her all too fertile years.” A decision she is proud to write about.

In her interesting guest column in the New York Times (“Owning up to Abortion” July 22, 2004) Ms. Ehrenreich pooh-pooh’s a distinction between abortions for “medical reasons” and those for reasons of “convenience.” She says that basically they are all the same and that they are all completely justifiable and correct.

She then says that while the exercise of choice for reproductive freedom can be “agonizing” it is time for women to “take [their] thumbs out of [their] mouths and speak out for your rights.” Get over your scruples. Be strong, be valiant! Aborters of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your shame! It all sounds strangely and eerily familiar of other times and places where the natural human sentiments of distaste and disgust were systematically suppressed in order to “get on with the job.”

For some years now this “necessary killing” line has been developed. In the early days of the “pro-choice” movement, back in the 1960’s and early 1970’s it was denied that what was occurring was killing in a relevant sense at all. It was “developing” or “potential life” and not a morally relevant life that was being killed. It was “not a human being” but something else that was being killed and so on. In fact, that was why it was called a “pro-choice” movement in the first place - - pro-abortion would have sounded too harsh, too extreme. We weren’t in favour of abortion in any case, but its gentler sister - - choice.

What sort of person could oppose “choice”? It was like, well, “motherhood and apple-pie” but a weird sort of “motherhood” that wished to kill its progeny, like some Greek goddess gone mad, devouring the very products of its own womb.

Then a shift began to occur. Pragmatic “every child a wanted child” rhetoric shifted the focus from the what was being killed to the why it was being killed. It was, so the logic went, better to be “terminated” than to be born unwanted. What was key was the private choice of the woman over that of the life within her. Biology was not destiny and so “choice” guaranteed the right of one person to kill another just as we had the right to kill our inconvenient pets rather than give them to a loving home.

But now all the rhetorical half-way stations have been bypassed and articles such as Ehrenrich’s and one a few years ago by Naomi Wolf, make it clear that “yeah, we killed our babies, and, yeah, those babies were human beings, so what? It was necessary.” Blunt as that.

One wonders where the so-called “pro-choice” movement would have got had it not obfuscated so successfully in the early years; so softened up the thinking of a generation of people who thought abortions were nasty, dirty, unacceptable and degrading things performed only by drunken doctors in back alleys.

Now it too can “come out of the closet” as the “pro-abortion” movement if it wants to. There is no reason any longer to pretend that what we are doing is something other than the selective killing of some humans by others. That is what Ehrenrich’s position is. That is where the “movement” has been moving. That is what it has achieved for the world. The blunt power of some over the lives of others - - “regime change” in microcosm.

We didn’t kill our cats, dog, donkey and chimp as a matter of fact. We don’t even have a dog, donkey or chimp and are expending considerable time on finding new homes for two aged cats who would not adapt well to the French rural setting to which we are re-locating. But for those who were shocked by our callousness in regards to pets, isn’t it a bit horrifying how we as the richest nations in the world accept the destruction of the babies of our own generations just for reasons of convenience and money?

The power-based individualistic “ethics” nurtured by the women’s movement are a disaster and the sooner they are seen as such the closer we shall all be to actually saving our planet from the harsh and killing “ethics” of selfish pragmatism. How can we complain of the ethics of “regime change” motivated by violence and aggression on the international scale when we practice such violence and aggression on those to whom we owe the even closer connection of love and nurture in our own homes?

The microcosm of “regime change” within abortion prepares and nurtures the larger scale regime-changes when such are not justifiable on a sound ethical basis. Ethics are connected and a whole set of metastasized wrongs emerge from erroneous claims of rights.

The ecology of the planet demands a rejection of such selfish “choices” and a movement away from the disasters this twisted thinking has given and continues to give us on issues well beyond that of abortion.

CENTREBLOG: Volume 37
Iain T. Benson ©

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

National Post Article Endorses Centre's Argument on Civil Unions

For many Canadians, the U.S. Senate's rejection on Wednesday of a
constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage was just one more reminder of
the debate here at home. In recent years, courts in Quebec, Ontario, British
Columbia and Yukon have all struck down laws that restrict marriage to the
union of a man and a woman. Over the objections of social conservatives --
who point out that gay marriage hasn't been sanctioned by elected
lawmakers -- gay couples are now receiving marriage licences as a matter of
routine.

Should Parliament formalize this arrangement nationally by explicitly
granting gays and lesbians the right to marry? To us, this seems a moot
point. The debate over gay marriage has forced our society to re-evaluate
the purpose of marriage. The more we reflect on the issue, the more we doubt
that this is an issue that should concern government at all.

The debate over gay marriage is complex because marriage is several things
wrapped into one. On one hand, it is a contract -- which implies a sharing
of income and parental responsibilities, a granting of inheritance rights,
adoption privileges, joint tax filing and other mundane benefits. But it
also has a symbolic function: It stands for a union of love between two
people that is ratified by their community.

That government should have some role in enforcing the utilitarian aspects
of unions is unavoidable: To the extent unions create rights and duties, the
powers of the state must be brought to bear to define and enforce them.

But it is not clear to us, however, that such a role should necessarily
implicate the institution of marriage as opposed to, say, civil unions.
Indeed, with the advent of common-law rules that automatically apply to
long-term cohabitants, legislators have already made the legal status
conferred by a formal marriage virtually irrelevant.

This leaves marriage's symbolic function. And it is here where the state has
no useful role whatsoever. The reason people invite their friends, family
and religious officiates to their wedding is that these are the people whose
blessings they seek in sealing their union. Few care what legislators in
Ottawa or provincial capitals think of our mate.

That is not to say that laws have no symbolic importance whatsoever:
Homosexuals complain that a ban on gay marriage acts as a public rejection
of the worth of their relationships. We have sympathy with that view. But to
our mind, the best approach is not to extend Ottawa's blessing to a new
class of spouses, but rather to recognize that this is a blessing not worth
having. Government should be in the business of regulating the contractual
elements now associated with marriage -- whether such a contract is struck
implicitly through cohabitation or explicitly by a couple (gay or straight)
that goes to city hall. In the latter case, the government should provide
civil unions that confer marriage-like economic and legal rights. But
marriage in and of itself -- as well as all the moral baggage it carries --
should be no more in Ottawa's ambit than bar mitzvahs and baptisms.

This is not a recipe for the death of marriage: It is a plan to put it in
the hands of people whose moral imprimatur matters to those involved. A
couple that seeks to be wed -- and we expect the vast majority will want
just that -- should apply to their church, synagogue, mosque, secular
humanist association or Wicca circle. And if that body refuses to confer its
blessing -- say, in the case of a gay couple and the Roman Catholic Church;
or an interfaith couple and a Chassidic synagogue -- then the couple would
have to decide whether that community shares their values. Such situations
may pose wrenching dilemmas. But at least they would be mediated by
individual actors and the moral authorities whose dogmas they freely
embrace, rather than the state and its one-size-fits-all powers.

Some may argue that for government to bow out of marriage now would be to
permanently deny gay couples the acceptance and approval they've been
seeking for years. There is some merit in this point. But as we see it, this
move would also be a way to prevent a backlash against homosexuality.

The fact is, bald-faced anti-gay bigotry has become gratifyingly rare in
Canada. What is more common, rather, is the sense among traditionalists that
important cultural changes are being shoved down their throats by a liberal
urban elite that controls the media, courts and activist community.
Certainly, this is what motivated recent congressional initiatives in the
United States.

It is on this basis that social conservatives rattle their sabres against
what they term "the gay agenda." If gay marriage were instead to be accepted
or rejected by faith groups according to their own beliefs, the divisive,
all-or-nothing aspect of the debate would be defused, much to this country's
benefit.

CENTREBLOG: Volume 36
(First published in the National Post, July 16, 2004, 'Get Ottawa out of the marriage business' )
(Click here CENTREBLOG: Volume 35 for Centre's argument)

Friday, July 23, 2004

Civil Unions vs Same-sex Civil Marriages

What is the difference between “civil marriages” and “civil unions?” A great deal. Someone recently sent me a newspaper article that says that “civil marriages” are just shorthand for “same-sex marriages” and that nobody should accept “civil marriages” for this reason. They argued that a split between “civil marriages” and “religious marriages,” the one same-sex inclusive and the other not, is a bad idea.

This argument is partly correct and partly wrong.

It is partly right because same-sex civil marriages are exactly what same-sex advocates want - - the attainment of such a category in law would give them everything they have sought except one thing. What is wrong about the argument, as far as it went, is that it failed to see how the argument is essentially anti-religious - - the exclusion of religion from society being the second thing that some same-sex advocates seek.

Many of those arguing about changing marriage would like to see religions driven out of the public sphere by “getting hold of the secular conceptions”, such as marriage, and calling them “civil” and religious ones, the ones that would (for a time) exclude acceptance of same-sex marriages - - “religious.”

Mind you, the confusion about what marriage actually is, began some time ago when we created the notion of a “civil marriage” for those who didn’t want a religious marriage and got the State to do it rather than, as we ought to have, had non-religious groups and not the State perform such marriages.

Then, to compound the confusion, we decided, sometime in the early 1970’s to “create” marriages for those who didn’t want marriage at all. It was decided to call these deemed marriages “common-law” marriages. Live together for a certain period of time “as husband and wife” and, voila (!) you are to be considered married.

Of course, the statistics of such “deemed marriages” (the Law Commission of Canada Report Beyond Conjugality, 2001 calls such non-marriages “ascriptive marriages”) show that they are very different from real marriages, last much less time and produce far greater poverty. No matter. In a world where many of the radical elites seek to take us precisely “Beyond Conjugality” we just dissolve and dissolve and ignore the stats when they suggest that there is any real difference between committed intentional marriages and what used to be called “shacking up.”

The important problem with splitting marriage into a “civil” concept and a “religious” one is that we are all (religious and non) members of “civil society” so one ought not to split it into two different conceptions.

Recent court cases show that to do so will give a “trump rights” upper-hand to those who claim the constitutional stamp of approval - - and that is those who want “same-sex inclusive” marriages.

See what happens here? By thinking of the “civil” this way - - as an alternative, stripped of religions, religion is culturally marginalized. This is exactly what those who detest religion want.

Religions are part of the secular. Religions are part of the civil.

The proper thing for the State to do, faced with disagreement about the nature of marriage that go to the very core of what marriage is, is to get out of marriage as the relevant factor for the determination of State benefits. There should be no marriages (civil or religious) that the State should care about. Leave “marriage” to those who have some kind of theory about it. The non-religious marriages will be tiny in number in comparison with traditional marriages in any case.

What the State should concern itself with is a genuinely “civil” registration procedure open to any two people who wish to register for benefits. Gays and lesbians, like heterosexuals, could register their “unions” and no one cares whether such unions are or are not sexual.
We have all heard about “Aunt Agatha and her niece” and the argument has always been (with respect to Registered Domestic Partnerships) “why can’t Aunt Agatha get benefits if she is supporting her niece?” Why indeed?

This is the way that the State can regulate benefits to people it deems needy or in dependent relationships.

Why should a State that is supposedly not concerned with what goes on in people’s bedrooms, concerned that their relationships be sexual as a condition of benefits? After all, haven’t the Courts ruled recently that “procreation” is not a necessary aspect of marriage anyway? No two lesbians and no two gay people can ever have children without involving someone of the opposite sex and all kinds of people can adopt whether or not their relationships are sexual.

The State should get out of “marriage” and if atheists and agnostics wish to have a “marriage” ceremony, let them have one in a non-governmental social club that will give them one. I understand that the Canadian Humanist Association has been, for some years, of the view that it should be able to perform marriages as well as religious institutions.

Fine then.

What the same-sex marriage challenges should not result in is another attempt to define the “secular” as “non-religious” so as to exclude religions from our common social life. We should recall that back in 2002 same-sex advocates tried to get the Canadian Supreme Court to adopt a religiously exclusive idea of the “secular” and failed to do so. They wanted the use of the term “secular” to mean that in “secular” society, nothing religious could be significant. They wanted dominance. They were, as an old philosopher once said, simply “atheistic theocrats.”

In Chamberlain v. Surrey School Board No. 36 (the case involving “gay books” in the kindergarten to Grade two classes back in 2002) all nine judges of the Supreme Court of Canada refused to define “secular principles” in such a way that religious people were, by definition, outside it. They did this because to find otherwise would have meant that religious believers were second-class citizens over against atheistic believers and agnostic believers who would dominate the “secular.”

Now they are trying to have a second bite at the cherry by gaining control of a supposedly neutral “same-sex inclusive civil marriage category.”

Religions are here to stay. They are in the secular. For this reason there should not be a conception of “civil/gay marriage” that dominates the state and leaves religious conceptions of marriage as second-rate “non-state” options.

In the current state of disagreement, all that can be fairly done is to get the government (to which we all have an equal right of participation) out of marriage entirely, leave different groups to have their own conceptions of marriage (or not) and have a sexually conduct blind category that allows any two persons to register for benefits as long as they satisfy whatever the society deems necessary for a benefits regime. The category isn’t about children or so many same-sex couples wouldn’t now (as they are) be getting benefits for their same-sex partners.

There will likely be a need for Federal and Provincial co-operation as to what sorts of benefits and obligations attach to civil registration in the future but lets not confuse marriage with things that are not marriage.

Why should benefits turn on what people do with their genitals? Why indeed. The claim by same-sex advocates for recognition of their sexual preferences should end, where Trudeau once said it should, at the bedroom door. If same-sex advocates insist on public recognition of what they do with their private parts, too bad.

I for one don’t want to know whether someone is heterosexual or homosexual as a condition of them getting benefits. It is time to move the public dimension of human sexuality back where it belongs - - not in the closet, but the room leading off of it in some other, and private, part of the house.

CENTREBLOG: Volume 35
Iain T. Benson ©

(Note: Click on CENTREBLOG: Volume 36 - to view the National Post's article endorsing the Centre's argument on civil unions)



Wednesday, July 21, 2004

New Bible Translations

A few years ago, there was an item circulated on conservative Christian email lists regarding a supposed interview with the author of the Harry Potter books. It purported to be an interview that showed that the author, J.K. Rowling, was in league with Satan.

It was circulated by all sorts of well-meaning but rather gullible people who seized upon this hoax as evidence that the Harry Potter books were evil and should not be read by Christians.

It was as though these people could not spot a satire or a hoax if they tripped over a flashing neon sign at night that said “SATIRE” next to another equally flashing sign saying “HOAX.” They were rather red faced with embarrassment when it turned out to be the production by a satirical on-line site called “the Onion.”

Now, in the last few weeks, stories surface regarding a “new” biblical translation - - the Good as New Bible, that has been “supposedly” endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams.

When I first read about this “translation” I thought, “aha, another Harry Potter satire taking in gullible Christians.”
Even the title sounded spurious and a play on that bible we used to call “the Beano Bible” - - the Good News Bible, when I was studying in the UK. The Beano is a popular children’s cartoon book and the Good News Bible had line drawings that looked liked cartoons - - hence the name. Good News Bible - - but here was the Good as New Bible? It had to be a joke! Wrong.

Imagine my surprise and disgust when a learned theological friend of mine teaching in England told me that it was all true! Apparently the Archbishop of Canterbury gave his blessing to this translation before he was “elevated” but, amazingly, he gave it. Not only that, but some numbskulls have decided, in the name of “relevance” to actually take liberties with the biblical text to the extent of making the whole thing ridiculous.

Even if such a modern bad taste “translation” (calling Mary “Maggie”, St. Peter “Rocky” and St. John the Baptist “the Dipper”and urging, apparently, pre-marital sex) didn’t exist, someone, with a weird sense of humour, or even weirder concept of theology would have to have invented it. The bizarre thing here, however, is that the line between satire and what has actually happened seems almost impossible to determine and that someone was actually serious in producing such a thing.

But wait, in an age where books like The Da Vinci Code can be best sellers what passes for common sense is no longer sensible. The problem with this new biblical “translation” is not the fact that it is trying to be humourous for, as everyone should know, one can be funny and serious at the same time and it can be very effective to be both.

The Christian religion, like the Jewish, as a matter of fact, has a high place for humour. Dame Helen Gardner, in a brilliant Darwin Lecture at Cambridge University in the early 1980’s for example (“Happy Endings”) noted that the Christian faith structures all of the cosmos as ultimately a comedy because we know that it ends well.

There are some excellent treatments of the role of humour in Christ’s own teachings. For example, Dr. Elton Trueblood, years ago, wrote a book called The Humour of Christ: A Significant But Often Unrecognized Aspect of Christ’s Teaching (1964). Earlier, that greatest of 20th Century apologists for Christianity, G.K. Chesterton, ends one of his greatest works, Orthodoxy (1908) by observing that:

'There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.'

But is serious humour - - humour with a purpose, the kind of thing that is going on in this new translation? Hardly.
The pathetic attempt to be “relevant” to the times ends up, more often than not, making rich things poorer. The trivial stands in, often, for the beautiful and what was done yesterday, seen through the blinders of “progressivism”, is judged better just because it is more recent.

But such a chronological method of evaluation has lost the ability to judge by quality, which is why “schlock” sells. Its endorsement by supposedly gifted leadership, however, is another, sadder and more worrying aspect of the times.

In yucking it up we miss the real humour and the real story and in the quest for this kind of relevance become increasingly irrelevant.


CENTREBLOG Volume 34
Iain T. Benson ©