Friday, April 22, 2005

Large Families and Natural Selection

My wife and I have seven children. Some years ago, when we lived in Canada on a small island off the West Coast, we hosted numerous musical evenings in our home. After one of these, a person we did not know, approached me and said: “I hear you have seven children, how can you possibly justify that in this day and age?”

Those standing around went silent as much at the person’s brashness as at what was said. As the host I wondered what sort of response would be appropriate. The response came to me in a flash -- - two words.

“Natural Selection” I replied.

The questioner was silenced. Some guests smiled and returned to their conversation - - controversy avoided because the questioner was a firm believer in natural selection but had never applied it to him or to those, like us, who are propagating.

The questioner, it turned out, has no children. His genes, great though they may be, will not be passed on. He is the last of a line, the end of the road, and the conclusion to a minor symphony of being.

Our genes? Well, according to the theory our guest (but not we) endorse, we appear to have been chosen by the blind forces of natural selection and favoured to continue as humble victors in the lottery of genetic chance. This is simply a fact, just as our sterile guest’s non-production was a fact.

We incline to the more poetic viewpoint touching upon such non-empirical concepts as “love” and “trust” but, again, these are subjects for another day.

CENTREBLOG: Volume 78
Iain T. Benson ©

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Choosing a New Pope

Well, today we heard that there had been white smoke from the small smokestack on the Sistine Chapel roof - - “we have a Pope” said the Catholics and the bells pealed.

While we waited to hear (on the BBC World Service) we had to endure the following commentary.

First, the questions: “Will we see a “compromise candidate,” another “global papacy” another “conservative” Pope?

Second, there were the usual “will any new Pope be as young or be as long?” “Is under 65 too young?” The 26 year Papacy of John Paul II was considered too long by some Cardinals or so it was suggested, on the other hand they did not want an old Pope who would get sick too soon so somewhere between 65 and 75.

No one had much of an idea, and it seemed to be taking a long time for things to happen behind the large velvet curtains, so they tried another tack. Let’s interview an African to see whether he will support our own views about the Catholic Church’s absurd views on condoms and HIV/Aids. Here is how that went.

Commentator: “Birth control, condoms and Aids are a big issue for the Developing world, with us we have Father Couka from Nigeria. “Father Couka, who do you hope it will be?” The African priest replied: “God has already chosen him, and we will embrace whom ever is chosen.” Silence from the BBC.

“We can have a Pope from Africa but not an African Pope as such” says Father Couka the Nigerian. “We are financially indebted to the rest of the world but with a Pope from here the rest of the world would, in a sense be indebted to us.”

The BBC correspondent, longing for some other kind of rope with which to beat the dead horse of her line of questioning, continued….“But what about condoms and HIV?” Father Couka responded; “Oh, that issue has been flogged to death, people in Africa are more concerned with morality than people in the West sometimes think.” Oops. Wrong response…..

Fortunately this painful interview concluded when our computer cut out and we frantically had to re-engage the BBC web service. There are downsides to rural French country life when it comes to the complete lack (in our area) of fast lines…

Over to the (poor) television coverage (the children holding a coat hanger as an antennae)…..still nothing except large crowds coming into the square.

Then, the aged Cardinal, introducing the new Pope. He read the name: “Joseph…”……and the crowd cheered, knowing that it must be Cardinal Ratzinger.

So, back to the first interviewers’ comments above. Is he, Cardinal Ratzinger, now Benedict XVI (named, no doubt for the St. Benedict, so key to the history of the Church and monasticism, prayer and European renewal) “progressive”, “conservative” or what? Well, if you think that the Catholic Church can be labelled in these terms you must not be a serious Catholic or haven’t been paying much attention over the last many years.

For to a Catholic, the Church is in dialogue with each age - - that makes it progressive, no? It may not accept the things each age likes - -that makes it “conservative”, no?

Well, “no” and “no.” The Church doesn’t fit these pre-packaged terms.

The Catholic Church will, despite the hopes of those who disagree, remain against artificial birth control, abortion, women priests and several other things the age thinks it likes. Worse, it always will remain against them and, as children say “double worse” it wouldn’t have mattered which Cardinal had been chosen since all these things will remain anathema for Catholics for hundreds of years to come.

If you are waiting for women priests in the Catholic Church, take up a new hobby, same with abortion. Catholics for a Free Choice on Abortion might as well be called “Vegetarians for Meat” or “Cannibals for Vegetarianism.”

That is why the terms “progressive” or “liberal” in relation to these kinds of subjects just show that the people who push them don’t understand the Catholic Church.

“Ever ancient, ever new.” That is what the Catholic Church is.

The Cardinals of the Catholic Church, fully aware of the reputation of Cardinal Ratzinger (great within the Church, unpopular outside it) and his age (78) have chosen a person that the Western media liberals detest and someone who is very old.

The Catholics have elected a very new, very old, Pope - - how paradoxical and how very Catholic! Some in the media will be furious about this which just shows how little they understand or how little their opinions matter - - all the more reason for them to be enraged!

CENTREBLOG: Volume 77
Iain T. Benson©

Monday, April 18, 2005

The pope, Terri Schiavo, and moral consistency

By Jim Wallis
Source: Sojourners (c) 2005, http://www.sojo.net/.

It's sadly rare for a church leader, or for the leaders of most of our dominant institutions, to demonstrate a spirituality that attracts millions of people around the world - particularly so many young people. But the scene of millions lining up to simply pass by the body of John Paul II in Rome this week is remarkable indeed. The enormous attraction to this pope goes far beyond agreement with all the positions of the Catholic Church or even all of the decisions of his papacy. Indeed the "ecumenical" and even "interfaith" attraction to John Paul II reflects his own practice of reaching out to more people in more faith traditions than any other pope ever has.

One of the great attractions of Pope John Paul II's spirituality was his consistency. At the core of Catholic social teaching is the idea of a "consistent ethic of life," an ethic that seeks to protect and defend human life and dignity wherever and whenever they are threatened, and which challenges the selective moralities of both the political left and right.

As I've been watching the non-stop coverage of the pope's death, I have been struck by how many people - especially political leaders - would like to claim the pontiff as their own, as someone who affirmed their causes and commitments. At the same time, they tend to ignore the other things this pope said and did that directly challenge their own political decisions.

Many conservatives are pointing to the pope's clear teachings on abortion, euthanasia, and sexual morality, which are often contrary to the positions of many liberals. But they seem to forget the strong and passionate opposition of this pope to the war in Iraq, capital punishment, and the operations of a global economy that neglect the poor and deny human rights for millions. This pope helped bring down communism, but also was no capitalist and constantly lifted up a vision of economic justice. Promoting a "culture of life" was the language of John Paul's papacy before it became the rhetoric of President Bush, and its meaning goes far beyond the narrow interpretations of the Republican Party. Yes, Pope John Paul II certainly opposed John Kerry's views on abortion, but the White House did not get the photo op they wanted when the president visited the Vatican and the pope shook his finger disapprovingly at George W. Bush over the American war in Iraq.

Consistency is deeply attractive to people who long for public integrity - particularly to a new generation. The same lack of consistency in the politically selective eulogies of the pope also characterized the highly politicized responses to the sad story and death of Terri Schiavo.

Personally, I cannot understand why parents willing to take care of their disabled daughter were not allowed to by a husband who had moved on to another life and family. Terri Schiavo was severely mentally disabled but was not dying, and we don't decide to end the lives of many similarly disabled people, even children, whose mental capacities greatly diminish their quality of life. As my wife, Joy Carroll, put it, "the issue is not their quality of life, but the ethical quality of our society." And in situations of medical, scientific, or legal complexity, the morally safer course is always to err on the side of life. However, it became painfully clear that for many political partisans the issue wasn't so much the life of this young woman but other related political issues and agendas. And a leaked Republican memo about firing up the conservative base of the party and even defeating Democratic opponents in Florida were way out of line.

Again, the issue is consistency. Will Schiavo's defenders now also care more about the loss of civilian lives in Iraq or prisoners (even innocent ones) put to death on death row? Will they refuse to accept the silent tsunami that takes the lives of 30,000 children every day due to hunger and disease, or even support the Medicaid funding for vulnerable people that helped sustain Schiavo's life for many years? Somehow I doubt it.

Consistency is spiritually and morally attractive. We didn't see much of it in the tragic drama of Schiavo. But the life of John Paul II is a lesson of its truth and power for all of us.

CENTREBLOG: Volume 76

Friday, April 15, 2005

The Next Pope May Well Not be Black OR White:

Many are descending on Rome hoping to see who will ascend to the throne of Peter or even to try and influence the decision. The Press is buzzing about whom it might be when the decision goes up in smoke. The Cardinals are not talking.

What a waste of time such speculation is! Recall that, last time around, all the pundits failed to pick a young Cardinal from Poland. Oops!

Why do we assume that, this time around, it will be any different? Martini, anyone?

Will the next Pope be black or white they ask? Here is a tip: it might be someone who is neither black nor white and, were I a betting man (which you can bet I am not) it would be on someone from Africa and not, by the way, Cardinal Arinze (who is black).

Don’t misunderstand me here. Anyone who has heard that Cardinal speak and deal with a hostile audience, as I was privileged to do when he spoke at Westminster Abbey near Vancouver a few years ago, knows what a gifted man he is. His age, however, is against him.

No. Having said it is pointless to guess and that only fools would speculate upon it, my speculative guess is that the next Pope will be neither black nor white but coloured and will be, like the last one, young and like the last one on nobody’s list (except this one, and it isn’t even a list).

I think he comes from Durban and his name is Wilfred Napier. We met there a week before the Pope died and I found him charming, intelligent and courageously holy. I think he’d make a great Pope.

You heard it here first.

Of course I could be wrong, so let’s keep this to ourselves just in case.

CENTREBLOG: Volume 75(a)
Iain T. Benson ©

Why Courts Should not be Limiting “Sacred Spaces”

For some time now those concerned with increasing challenges to religious institutions have predicted that same-sex activists would eventually attack the basic right of religious people to determine and practice in accordance with their beliefs as to what conduct is moral or not according to their religious tenets.

These attacks have been underway now in Canada for some years and recent events suggest that they are increasing in aggressiveness.

According to the decision in Big M Drug Mart [1985] 18 D.L.R. (4th) 321, the freedom of religion is a set of public rights to “manifest” “teach” and “disseminate” ones’ beliefs not simply a right (as the Ontario Human Rights Commission lawyers and counsel for EGALE argued in the Brockie case for example) to hold the beliefs in private or in Church.

That Scott Brockie succeeded on this point in his appeal to the Ontario Divisional Court (religious freedom is not simply private) is often overlooked. It should not be.

In general the same-sex activists view their own moral positions as the only right moral positions and their various campaigns and strategies have been to attack those who disagree with them. That is the essence of the debate and why the limitation to the scope of “sacred space” is so important.

In general it is fair to say that many homosexual and lesbians (not to mention bi-sexuals, transsexuals, two-spirited and whatever other categories have been recently added) believe that their own conceptions of morality ought to govern everyone else. For this reason they seek “recognition”, “visibility” and the righting of “historical disadvantage” and “stereotyping.” Nobody ought to criticize any attempt to right genuine cases of injustice against anyone else; gays and lesbians and other citizens included.

It is the way that the sexual revolutionaries seek such things as “recognition” however that makes their claims the enemy of fairness, equality, proper tolerance, freedom and proper democracy. This is because they seek dominance rather than equality. That the claims to achieve inequality use the language of “equality” is just another irony of the times.

That is why, rather than support a genuinely neutral “non-marital civil unions” category that gets the State out of marriage, the mainstream gay and lesbian movement wants to play “king of the castle” and obtain the main definition. Religions can then be “exceptions”, they can be “tolerated” to be discriminators but the grounds of their discriminatory viewpoints will be carefully monitored and relentlessly challenged to ensure that they become increasingly irrelevant.

Sadly, now that it is clear (it is isn’t it?) that maintaining a heterosexual only conception of marriage in the public realm is impossible in Canada (for reasons we have written about elsewhere) many religious people still think they can win a game of “king of the castle.” They cannot. They cannot get a constitutional exemption (the numbers aren’t there) and they cannot get a Section 33 declaration (the political will is not there).

The tactics of the “save marriage” movements have failed and unless they have some new strategy, will continue to fail. Now that the new constitutional norm has, by hook or by crook (mostly by crook) become a “gay marriage inclusive norm” it is simply a question now of staying tuned for the challenge to religious tax exempt status, religiously favourable (traditional religion that is) charitable groups and so on.

I suppose one cannot blame them given that the religious conception dominated the hill for so long but then, the religious conceptions formed most aspects of the culture in which all of us have been raised (healthcare, education and so on were all religiously formed originally). Religions did, eventually, have to learn the proper role for religions in a pluralistic society. There is no sign that the new same-sex fundamentalists have learned the same lessons.

Like any fundamentalists who with their own beliefs to be the norm, same-sex activists have to learn the kind of proper tolerance that must replace the pseudo-tolerance of dominance.

It has long been recognized, for example, that most traditional religions think same-sex conduct anathema (the word in Greek means “a thing accursed”). This does not mean that people who do the thing that is anathema are themselves accursed. Most religions leave judgment up to God in any ultimate sense. The idea of “hating the sin but loving the sinner” is a vast development from burning the sinner at the stake.

Stake lovers are, alas, still with us, even in these vegetarian times, and it is always the task of those who understand the scope of proper rather than pseudo diversity, to educate the less enlightened. What is interesting now is that with the shoe on the other foot, it appears as if the new fundamentalists will be quite ruthless in trying to kick the door shut on the public sphere so as to shut down the places of dissent.

Needless to say, people do not like to think that something they like very much could be considered “accursed.” But we are adults. We do not have to have everyone agree with us since we know that when things hurt our feelings, this is all part of life.

Only infants scream and kick up a fuss about things that hurt their feelings. Sadly, there are many adults masquerading as infants these days. One sign of infancy is to try and force everyone else agree with you when it is clear they do not. The way this works for infants is, when they fail to make another agree, to go and get big brother or Mummy or Daddy to force the other person (usually another infant) to agree.

Nowadays the courts have taken on the role of big brother, Mom and Dad.

For this reason traditional religions have intervened in many court cases - - most recently the same-sex marriage cases, seeking to ensure that they would not be forced to do what they considered “against their religion” by the uber parent that sees itself charged with protecting everybody’s feelings.

In the recent Marriage Reference decision, for example, many religious groups were represented and the Supreme Court addressed their concerns directly. The court, in a very short and unanimous decision (the really difficult cases in Canada get this kind of treatment - - see the Tremblay v. Daigle case which was also unanimous and “by the court” when the Supreme Court of Canada decided that a viable foetus had no status in Canadian law).

After dismissing the concerns of religious communities about the effects a new constitutional norm could have on civil society as merely speculative the Court said this about religious officials refusing to marry same-sex couples:

The right to freedom of religion enshrined in s. 2(a) of the Charter encompasses the right to believe and entertain the religious beliefs of one's choice, the right to declare one's religious beliefs openly and the right to manifest religious belief by worship, teaching, dissemination and religious practice: Big M Drug Mart, supra, at pp. 336- 337. The performance of religious rites is a fundamental aspect of religious practice. It therefore seems clear that state compulsion on religious officials to perform same-sex marriages contrary to their religious beliefs would violate the guarantee of freedom of religion under s. 2(a) of the Charter. It also seems apparent that, absent exceptional circumstances which we cannot at present foresee, such a violation could not be justified under s. 1 of the Charter.

Reference re Same Sex Marriage, [2004] S.C.J. No. 75 para 57 and 58 (underlining added).

An important fact needs to be considered here however. As the Supreme Court noted, the Federal Government has no constitutional authority to regulate the solemnization of marriage, this is a provincial jurisdiction. Therefore it would be up to the provincial governments to pass legislation that would protect the rights of religious officials to not perform same sex marriages should this be contrary to their beliefs.

The Supreme Court also noted that the provincial human rights commissions should interpret their human rights codes in such a way as to provide protection for religious freedom in this regard. Various religious groups have expressed concern that provincial legislation either does not protect religious communities sufficiently or that such human rights legislation needs to make express recognition of religious freedom in relation to marriage. Recent developments in British Columbia and Alberta suggest that these concerns are warranted.

Recently in BC, a lesbian couple, that were refused use of a Knights of Columbus (Catholic) Hall for their wedding reception, have decided to take the K of C to the Human Rights Commission in that province. In light with what is discussed above, this is an infantile reaction. Instead of realizing that they were, in effect, requiring Jews to eat pork, they should simply have got another hall. They want to treat this refusal like the refusal to serve black people at a diner. Not a good analogy. For the Knights of Columbus, as for any serious Catholics (those who follow the teaching authority of the Catholic Church), a gay marriage is an impossibility and the concept anathema.

What the challenge, and all such challenges, show, however, is that gay and lesbian activists want all citizens and all places to acknowledge their own sex practices.

It is as if Roman Catholics demanded that everyone acknowledge their own teachings about contraception in all places in society. “But their prescribing contraceptives hurts my FEELINGS they would wail…. wah, wah, wah.”

What used to be private (sexuality) is now a matter of public “pride.” Didn’t people realize this with the “Gay Pride Parades?” They will see it in future.

More recently, EGALE, the most sophisticated gay rights activist group in Canada (a look at their website shows how extensive is their work), filed a complaint against the Roman Catholic Bishop of Calgary for suggesting, in a Pastoral letter, that homosexuality posed a threat to marriage (along with, divorce and adultery by the way).

The question is: will Human Rights Commissions and Tribunals and the courts give a broad or narrow reading to “sacred spaces”? This depends on whether Human Rights and Courts view society as a nursery school playground or a place for adults.

Are we free to disagree respectfully as adults or are we going to have a tantrum and kick up a fuss at every disagreement? Time will tell but it does not look promising.

CENTREBLOG: Volume 75
Iain T. Benson©

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Why the Church Should not Necessarily (or at all) “Change with the Times.”

~ "This talk about the Church modernizing is silly. The Church's role is to guide society, not be led by it." Iain Benson, (quoted on the BBC News Website, April 13, 2005) ~


These words were posted recently by the BBC on its website. Of course they were in response to a whole lot of comments from people themselves responding to the rather vague question “Should the Catholic Church change with the times?”

Many said that it “must modernize” or “move with the times.” There is rather more to say on the subject than my brief comment, above, however, so in what follows I would like to expand a little upon the brief point made to explain why it is correct.

It was Chesterton who said “only dead things go with the stream…live things swim against it” and with respect to the role of religions and the times this can be absolutely true but it is not the whole story.

The role of the Christian faith (or any religious faith in some respects) and certainly of the Catholic Church as it conceives itself, is to guide the world around it on matters relating to faith and morals. More generally, Christians of all sorts believe that they are inheritors of a great tradition of truth expressed in the Word and its interpretations over time. Neither Catholics nor Protestants believe that the times lead necessary to a requirement to adapt to what “the world” is doing just because what “the world” is doing is, in a sense, “newer.”

I’d like to consider this use of “the world” or “the times” later but, first, I’d like to consider what we mean when we imply that new things are necessarily better than old things.

C.S. Lewis, following a similar observation by Chesterton, called this stance “chronological snobbery” in which people think that what is more recent is necessarily better. Air pollution is more recent; it is not, as a result, better. The Bic pens of my youth could be fired through wooden planks (as an advertisement of the day showed) the new and cheaper plastic ones cannot. Of course, firing pens through boards is not, perhaps, the best example of why newer is not necessarily better but you get the point (so to speak).

It is the same with ideas. Bad ideas can be recently concocted and good ideas can be very old ones - - such as the inherent dignity of the human person - - a very good and a rather old idea. Some contemporaries are calling for the abolition of that idea, by the way, saying that it is nonsense.

Professor Ruth Macklin, of the Department of Epidemiology and Population Health, Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York, for example, writing an editorial in the December 2003 issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ 2003; 327:1419-1420 (20 December), doi: 10.1136/bmj.327.7429.1419) wrote, “dignity is a useless concept” and said that it meant simply “autonomy.” She says it is “vague” and an “empty slogan.” In fact, she sees that it has roots in religious conceptions and ponders the roots of the concept. What she writes is intriguing:

"Why, then, do so many articles and reports appeal to human dignity, as if it means something over and above respect for persons or for their autonomy? A possible explanation is the many religious sources that refer to human dignity, especially but not exclusively in Roman Catholic writings. However, this religious source cannot explain how and why dignity has crept into the secular literature in medical ethics. Nor can the prominence of the concept in human rights documents, since only a small portion of the literature in medical ethics addresses the links between health and human rights.

Although the aetiology may remain a mystery, the diagnosis is clear. Dignity is a useless concept in medical ethics and can be eliminated without any loss of content."

Well, no. When we eliminate “dignity” and “inherency” we end up with such things as the very “modernly dignified”, medicalized and supposedly “ethical” ending of Terry Schiavo who was recently starved and dehydrated to death in Florida rather than (and it is an either/or) the genuinely dignified death of Pope John Paul II. Both deaths involved the removal of feeding tubes but the conception of inherent dignity guiding the ethics around the Pope produced genuine “dignity” of treatment; the so-called “ethics” operating around Mrs. Schiavo produced a grotesque public execution.

Dignity means rather more than “autonomy” and any good book on ethics framed within a Judeo-Christian understanding spells this out. The Professor, however, rejects the religious understanding of a dignity that is not simply founded on “autonomy.” That is her choice but she shouldn’t claim that this is a “secular” view so much as an anti-religious one.

Note well how her attempt to “modernize” the notion of “dignity”, in the passage cited above, claims ownership of what she calls the “secular.” In her thinking she has divided the world into a “secular” stripped of religions and the one that she and those who agree with her own – which is to say the one that she believes produces the “secular literature in medical ethics” and the world religious conceptions occupy.

This failure to view the “secular” as religiously inclusive is common (by both religious and non-religious people) but that does not make the error correct.

As we have spelled out in many articles before (and the Supreme Court in the Chamberlain decision made law in Canada in December 2002) the secular includes religion and religious conceptions so you don’t own such a thing as “the secular literature in medical ethics.” What people like the Professor really mean when they use the word “secular” is “the non-religious literature in medical ethics.” Fine, but this is how they should speak rather than try and force their secularistic (i.e. anti-religious) biases on the rest of us through a misuse of how they use the term “secular.”

With Horatio, in Hamlet (I, v, 166) however, it may be said to the good Professor, that: “there are more things in heaven and earth [and medical ethics and the secular]…than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

To have the Church dictated to by “the times”, or by one set of preconceptions in the times, is a very bad idea. This is not to say, of course, that there can be no “dialogue” between the Church and those who disbelieve what the Church (or religions generally) propose. On the contrary, there should always be dialogue.

Note, however, another issue packed within our usage of terms such as “the modern age” or “the times.” These phrases, like the term “secular” are abstractions or ambiguities that can hide the anti-religious conceptions within them. The Church is, necessarily, in the times just as much as “non-religion” or “anti-religion” are in the times.

To say, then, as many fellow commentators in the BBC did, that “the Church should change with the times” is just sloppy since it doesn’t mean anything particular at all. If the times we speak of is Germany under the Third Reich, for example, should the Church change with those times? Hardly. Moreover the Church is in the times. She cannot help it. Like a fish in the ocean, we are all in the times. It is a question of what we believe in the times we are in not a question of some implied content attaching to mere chronology that is at issue.

Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote a marvelous book called The Development of Christian Doctrine (10th ed. 1897) about just this relationship between continuity and change. It shows that doctrine develops, in fact, in response to changes in the times. So doctrine has nothing to fear from the times or from change. It does have to fear those who embrace change for changes sake alone.

Change for changes sake is a really silly idea when it comes to matters of truth and if you don’t believe, as some modernists and post-modernists do, that there is any truth, well then, you cannot believe in progress or have any meaningful standard for judgment itself that makes ethics nonsensical. It also makes nonsense of dignity.

These, however, are subjects for another day.

CENTREBLOG: Volume 74
Iain T. Benson ©

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Some Thoughts on The Nature of Religion:

One of the wiser minds around in the area of law and the relationship between law and religion in Canada is Toronto lawyer David Brown.

We have had the pleasure of being in various courtrooms over the years when each of us was acting for different clients. He has also attended various Centre events at which we have had a variety of Canadian constitutional lawyers. I have benefited a great deal from his writing and friendship.

Recently, we have had occasion to consider afresh some of the recent Supreme Court of Canada decisions dealing with the nature and scope of religious freedom.

A recent exchange has prompted these thoughts that I think should be more widely shared.

1) Religious Beliefs are Not Simply Individual:

There is a tendency to view religious freedom in individualistic terms. By this I mean that it is all too easy to view the freedom of religion as if it is something that attaches merely to individuals. It ought not to be so circumscribed. Religions matter to society as much in their social and community dimensions as they do on an individual basis. Religions offer something to society that “bind” individuals through conscience and beliefs in a way that the merely individual convictions of citizens likely do not. Religions are, par excellence, the framework of communities whether viewed on an ethnic or belief basis.

2) Religious Beliefs are Different from Other Beliefs:

There is another tendency, that of viewing religious belief as “no different” from other beliefs. This, too, is an oversimplification and an inaccurate one at that. Religious beliefs are different from other conscientiously held beliefs because they draw from different sources and those sources have societal and cultural implications of their own. Religious beliefs of the Judeo-Christian variety recognize that human beings are contingent beings. They do not make themselves, but are made within a moral order. This moral order is a given reality, not simply one created by the individual. This approach to meaning has vast implications for society at a time when so many theorists are concerned about the devaluation of our “horizons of significance.”

3) The Religiously Inclusive “Secular” Means that Religious Beliefs Have a Distinct Role Within Society:

These two factors above mean that those who consider religion are considering something that is a social good and not something to be viewed in merely individualistic terms. As William Galston and others have noted (see my article in 33 UBC Law Review (2000) “Notes Towards a (Re)Definition of the “Secular”” - - available on the Centre’s website), liberalism needs religion and if it loses sight of what unites religion into the liberal scheme, then it threatens its own existence.

This is something that the courts will, sooner or later, have to come to grips with. The Statistical support for the importance of religions (as distinct from other belief systems) is overwhelming and that is something the Centre hope to work on in the future.

CENTREBLOG: Volume 73
Iain T. Benson©

Chipping away at freedom of religion

Like everyone else, members of Canada's political establishment are making a great show of respect for the passing of Pope John Paul II. But even as they are doing so, the forced ecularization of Canadian society is continuing apace.

Consider, for instance, the plight of Fred Henry, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Calgary, who is being hauled before the Alberta Human Rights Commission for arguing against same-sex marriage in a letter he sent to his flock in January.

Bishop Henry's case is being pursued under Alberta's Human Rights Code. But it is not hard to imagine religious speech being chilled across the country.


Last year, when Parliament was debating former MP Svend Robinson's private
member's bill -- C-250 -- to add sexual orientation to the list of traits protected against hate speech, many religious organizations warned such a law would limit the right of priests, rabbis and imams to recite their faiths' teachings that homosexuality is a sin.

They were scoffed at, and their concerns dismissed as paranoia -- especially since the legislation was drafted in a way that appeared to protect religious speech.

Even though the law clearly makes it a criminal offence to "communicate statements in any public place" -- presumably including houses of worship -- that would "wilfully promote hatred against any identifiable group," the faithful were reassured the bill would never impinge their right to believe or pontificate as they wished.

Calgary Herald columnist Naomi Lakritz scoffed at the "Christian fundamentalists" she saw pushing opposition to the legislation. "Nobody will be prosecuted for expressing disapproval of homosexual behaviour," she wrote. "People are free to say that they find such behaviour repulsive. They are free to cite the Bible as much as they like."

More telling was her contradictory caveat in the next paragraph, warning that "one's right to freedom of speech ends where another person's right not to be treated as inferior and undesirable because of race, religion or sexual orientation begins."

Svend Robinson himself chimed in: "It has been suggested that this bill might in some way threaten freedom of speech or lead to the banning of the Bible or other religious texts. Nothing could be further from the truth."

His bill's purpose? Only to "save lives" threatened by gay-bashing attacks.

Similar assurances have been made to quiet concerns that the current same-sex marriage bill will compel churches to marry gay and lesbian couples.

At House of Commons justice committee hearings in February, John Fisher, executive director of the gay-rights group EGALE, insisted religious Canadians had nothing to fear. "The rules set by particular faiths are protected by freedom of religion."

More ominously, Ontario's Human Rights Commissioner told the committee "it would still be discrimination" for churches and other religious institutions to refuse to marry gays. "But it would be lawful discrimination."

How is that ominous?

Can you imagine a human rights commission or federal court tolerating for long even "lawful" discrimination? The prohibition against same-sex marriage itself has been lawful for 100 years. Has that stopped Mr. Norton or judges from persistently chipping away at it?

Admittedly, in its opinion on Ottawa's recent gay marriage reference, the Supreme Court ruled that "state compulsion on religious officials to perform same-sex marriages contrary to their religious beliefs would violate the guarantee of freedom of religion." But would that protect Bishop Henry in speaking out against homosexuality, or merely keep Ottawa from forcing him
to perform gay marriages?

Besides, this was an opinion in a reference. The SCC might well decide differently when an actual case comes before it. And in any case, the court has been known to change its mind on gay rights. In the mid-1990s, it ruled that Parliament had the right to award benefits unevenly to different family groupings -- including heterosexual couples versus gay ones -- depending on
the legislative goals it was trying to achieve. Less than five years later, it ruled its own earlier distinction was anathema to an equal, democratic society.

Yes, I know, our very own Prime Minister, Paul Martin, has insisted that if a court were "going to force ... churches, synagogues, mosques or temples to redefine marriage in a way that that particular religion did not want to, then I would use the notwithstanding clause" to protect freedom of religion.


But does anyone really believe he has that kind of courage?

Besides, prime ministers change. The one who replaces Mr. Martin could well be less willing even to promise to protect freedom of conscience.

Nor is Bishop Henry the only religious figure who has been put upon for his stance against gay marriage.

St. Simon's Anglican parish, in the lush little North Shore community of Deep Cove, across Burrard Inlet from Vancouver, has been evicted from its church building by the Diocese of New Westminster for opposing the diocese's decree that Vancouver-area Anglican churches must bless same-sex unions.

The Catholic service club, the Knights of Columbus, in Port Coquitlam, B.C., is being hauled before provincial human rights inquisitors for refusing to rent their hall to a lesbian wedding reception.

Nor does the list stop there.

I am not opposed to same-sex marriage. I am also not naive enough to believe official reassurances that those of faith who oppose same-sex marriage will have their right to dissent protected by lawmakers and the courts.

CENTREBLOG: Volume 72
Lorne Gunter©
(This editorial first ran in the National Post, April 4, 2005, p. A18.)
Reprinted by permission.

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Pope John Paul II the Great

There are few times across the span of living generations when a person comes into the world and influences it to such an extent that it is changed forever in some way. Of course it could be said of everyone that his or her actions, for good or evil, have such effects unseen. That is not the kind of influence that Pope John Paul II has exercised over the last, nearly thirty years since he became Pope in 1978. Much of his influence has been visible as well as invisible and to a marked degree.

In the next weeks and months millions upon millions of words will be expended to describe the influences of this extraordinary man.

His role in the collapse of Communism, his efforts to bridge divides between religions, between Christian communities, between rich and poor, between men and women, between a technology that reduces and destroys and a technology that can be the tool of justice for all, have been monumental. His world travels, making him the most recognized person on earth, have brought him in actual sight of more people than any human who has ever lived. The list of achievements could go on and on.

Over many years he gave of the world his love of the arts (he was a poet and dramatist), his philosophical insights and his deep love of nature and of God as the author of being. But he has given something else in last years.

In the last years he has given his suffering to the world as well, as a sacrifice in line with his great Exemplar - - as a witness to unstinting care for others even out of great personal weakness.

Soon he will be generally regarded, as have few in the tradition of the Catholic Church have, as John Paul the Great. In due course, no doubt, this shall be followed by beatification and Sainthood itself when he becomes St. John Paul the Great. His influence has been that profound.
As this is being written he is dying inside that complex of ancient and new, of beauty and grace, called the Vatican. He is no prisoner there as some Popes have been in the past. He stays there of his own will to die as one should at a certain point in life. He will use no “extraordinary means” in the bringing about of the end of his extraordinary life.

He shall die as he lived - - in obedience.

He is taking his last breaths and will pass beyond all our understanding into what can only be known by faith and experienced after death. A way that all of us, one way or another, must go. But his is a hopeful passing for, if his and the beliefs of so many are true, he shall not die but step from this life to an eternal one that has been prepared for him since before he was born. That is the audacious claim of his Faith.

Whether he dies today, the Saturday after Easter or tomorrow, the second Sunday of Easter and now called Divine Mercy Sunday, which he himself instituted one year after the Canonization of a Polish nun, Sr. Faustina Kowalska, whom he called a “witness and messenger of the Lord's merciful love” (died 1938), remains to be seen.

There is a wonderful and awesome symmetry, however, in the fact that tomorrow he shall be recalled at Masses around the world by one billion of the people who called him their Holy Father on this Feast that he himself first proclaimed a few short years ago.

In his Homily given for that Feast - - the Feast of Divine Mercy, on the first Sunday after Easter in 2001, he said the following, and it might stand as a summation of his own life and work:

Let us thank the Lord for His love, which is stronger than death and sin. It is revealed and put into practice as mercy in our daily lives, and prompts every person in turn to have "mercy" towards the Crucified One. Is not loving God and loving one's neighbor and even one's "enemies," after Jesus' example, the program of life of every baptized person and of the whole Church?

John Paul II, Divine Mercy Sunday, 2001. (the full homily may be found at http://www.divinemercysunday.com/popes-homily.htm)
Now that he has reached the end of all his worldly travels and sufferings may flights of angels sing him to his rest.

CENTREBLOG:Volume 71
Iain T. Benson ©
First Saturday after Easter
April 2, 2005