The Secular Battleground of British Columbia
Posted by Ethan Clow on February 6, 2013
The once comforting assertion that secularism was in no real danger because most people in BC held the “meh” opinion is quickly fading. What we’re seeing is that because so many people in BC held apathetic thoughts about secularism and religion, the sneaky power brokers with theocratic leanings have managed to quietly worm their way into policy making positions.
This puts us, the apathetic citizens of this province in an interesting position. Sure, we aren’t bombarded with pro-life billboards and pro-religious demonstrations and in-your-face proselytizing… but with our laissez faire attitude to religion, we have ceded the debate to those dedicated enough to work behind the scenes to advance their agenda.
This “meh” attitude does little to help us understand the issue of secularism because we’re basically extending the Vancouver feeling of apathy to the rest of the province, which is a mistake.
Recently we’ve seen the outcome of such thinking. News has been made over the question of distributing Gideon Bibles in Chilliwack. Additionally, the BC Humanists have started a petition to get the Chilliwack school board to stop distributing the bibles. (If you haven’t signed the petition yet, do so! Currently there are 252 signatures)
I was in Chilliwack not too long ago, a local MP was holding a town hall meeting on faith and secularism which was aptly titled “Beyond Secularism” We discussed this on the show in Episode 193. The panel was moderated by Gwen O’Mahony, and the panel itself featured three Christian apologists. I was there with some representatives of CFI Vancouver and we pointed out, you have a panel called “beyond secularism” with a poster that features five or six religious symbols, yet you have no one representing a secular point of view on the panel and the only religion you have represented is Christianity.
Going into that discussion, I was a little nervous, thinking that we would be in hostile territory and we would probably be run out of town. But I was surprised by the number of people who got up to provide strident defences of secularism. (Including an Arch Bishop for the Russian Orthodox Church, who gave a passionate statement about the importance of secular politics.)
Perhaps this is demonstrating that we are starting to wake the population up to the importance of secular activism. This is in no small part to the hard work of organizations like the BC Humanists, CFI Vancouver and the other skeptical activists across the province like CFI Okanagan and CFI Kamloops.
Our work is far from over.
Last night several of us from CFI Vancouver went to see the Premier of BC, Christy Clark discuss the role of faith and politics. (The event was live tweeted by CFI Vancouver here)
The event unfolded the way I thought it would, however; Clark managed to surprise me a few times. I’ve seen cartoonishly bad characterizations of secularism before, but Clark really upped the ante this time.
Starting off on a bad foot, the organizers announced they would only take written questions. A cowardly decision in my opinion. Clark had a audience of supporters, there’s no reason she should be afraid to talk unchallenged to them. This only made her constant repetition of how she’s a heroic maverick for talking about faith and politics all the more ludicrous. Clark responds to people criticizing her for speaking about faith and politics by presenting an event where she talks on these, so call forbidden topics, and shuts down an open Q and A.
And of course the event, which was supposed to start at 5pm didn’t get going until 5:30pm.
The event was put on by City in Focus, a faith based organization concerned with the “soul of the city” as they put it.
Clark started the evening off by remarking on the strangeness of faith and politics. Talking about the negative feedback she’s gotten for publically discussing her faith and religion. And how this is indicative of the change in society. She mentioned this specifically in reference to the number of atheists in British Columbia.
They key highlights (lowlights?) that are worth pointing out include the following:
Clark believes government should spend public money on faith based organizations because those groups are the ones doing the good work in society. Helping the poor etc. (Perhaps she’s not aware of the all the good work being done by secular groups like Insite, the Vancouver Food Bank, or Unicef)
Clark also stated that the most important part of her faith is practicing it. This means going to church to be reminded on why she needs to be a good person. Yes, the whole ‘religion makes people be good and not evil.’ Perhaps someone could inform Clark that atheists and non-believers learn to be good people without religion. It’s actually totally possible.
She also remarked that it’s tragic that more people don’t go to church.
One of the irritating assumptions she frequently made throughout the evening was assuming we were all God fearing people who attended church regularly. Oh and reality TV is bad. Damn meanies.
All of this is ironic because she admits that political discourse isn’t polite either. So it’s nice to know that we as a population are being held to higher standards than our politicians. (Who then draft policy to correct our so-called bad behavior)
When she got to question time, she remarked how she was surprised there was no open Q and A. (FAIL!)
Most of the questions were softballs lobed at her and she took her time knocking them around. A few interesting points that came out include:
Secularism is bad because some religious groups do nice things. (I’m paraphrasing there)
I was floored when she started talking about her plans for hospital proselytizing. She wants to make is so private information about patients in hospitals can be given to religious leaders so they can come into the hospital to preach to the patients. On the surface this sounds like a nice gesture but let’s deconstruct this for a moment. What she is saying is that if a patient is terminally ill, and stuck in a hospital bed, this persons condition should be given (how?) to local religious leaders (which ones? All of them?) Hospitals don’t do this because this is a huge invasion of privacy. Patients have rights, you see. So how does this work? Do hospitals have to ask permission first? Do they just tell churches? If someone is terminally ill do they just send out a newsletter to all the religious groups in the area “there’s another terminally ill patient in room 25”
What if the patient is a lifelong atheist who hates proselytizing? And now, in their final time on earth, they need to put with some priest coming to tell them about heaven and hell?
If a patient wants a religious person to come see them, they can tell hospital staff to call one up. Hospital staff should not be over stepping their authority and assuming a patient wants a theological lecture.
Think about the implications. What if you get some pushy religious person telling the patient to leave their estate to the church to get into heaven? No, this cannot be allowed. The current system of having the patient make the call (or requesting a call on their behalf) is the way this should work.
Just a terrible terrible idea by Clark.
Another question brought up the topic of bullying. Clark made the following statement “there are some things about bullying…you know…some things are hard to eliminate.”
Homelessness? It’s a complex problem she said. She also told a story about how she made a friend who was homeless.
When she was asked about making decisions based on the Bible she responded by acknowledging that the Bible contradicted itself. “It’s not static” She replied. “It’s a teaching document.” It’s a debateable thing.
I have to agree. I remember when I was trying to learn math in school. The formulas constantly changed, answers were never the same, sometimes 2 +2 was 5… it was fucking great.
No but seriously. The bible is a horrible teaching tool. It’s not ‘not static. It’s dogma. It hasn’t changed in a long time. What has changed is the mental gymnastics you go through to justify how in one part of the bible where it tells you to stone your son for disobeying you (Deuteronomy 13:5-10) what it really means is that families are nice.
To wrap things up, she did say a few good things. On the subject of genetically modified foods, she noted that humans have been doing this for 10000 years already. She’s right about that. She also said she supports same sex marriage (but doesn’t want to make religious people uncomfortable)