Friday, April 2, 2010

Rantity rant rant rant

Today is Good Friday. I have a 1500 m time trial scheduled for today, but of course the pools are closed, and I'm much too cheap to go to Talisman. Besides, they're taking the roof off of it, and it's likely to be a gong show. A day of rest never hurts, and I'll have a go at the swim tomorrow. I was thinking about running today instead, since it's going to be so nice out, but I'm really not sure what my legs will think of that. The indications so far are not good.

And really besides, I really need to be working on my assignment from Mount Royal. It's due the middle of the month, and I want to essentially finish it this weekend. Since I do my writing in Open Office (much too cheap to buy MS Office), I'll need to head to the library to finish page numbers and table of contents and check formatting in Word, before printing and sending it in.

But first, a rant, to get me warmed up, and used to my keyboard again. The keyboards at work are squoogey long travel wonders that I hate. I love my Mac keyboard. You can tell which one I'm talking about from a recent blog that included a photo of my desk. Plus, one of my faithful readers begged for a rant. She needs her fix.

The rant starts with this story in the Globe and Mail. (Oh, and I should first warn you that this rant might well offend the religious sensibilities of some people. ) The essence of it is that a woman wearing a niqab showed up in French classes, and got all pissy about men in the class, being taught by a man, and even other women being able to look at her. The school makes the point that one needs to see the positioning of the mouth to ensure proper pronunciation. To say nothing of the equality issue. To say there was an uproar is putting it mildly. (That isn't the article that caught my attention, but at the moment I can't find the one I was thinking of.)

Background and preparatory remarks. (You know a rant is going to be good when there are background and preparatory remarks.) Canada is the most multi-cultural country in the world, bar none. We have immigrants from almost every country or culture, and we do not toss them into a melting pot. We, rightly or wrongly, assume that the best of the immigrant's culture is a valuable addition to our own. Over the generations people grow up, and into a Canadian culture that grew out of a Native, French, and English core into something that is almost indescribably rich and complex.

The complex part comes from the conflict in rights. Rights to freedom of religion, freedom of speech, rights to justice and personal security, property rights, and the general expectation that we are generally free to go about our business however we see fit, with the understanding that these aren't absolute rights. There are conflicts with the rights of other people, and society in general. Finding the balance is the hard part, and Canadian society has been struggling with that balance for our entire existence. There is nothing that indicates that struggle is going to end anytime soon; indeed, that struggle might well be considered part of the Canadian identity.

Back to the niqab. Canadian women were at the forefront of the equality movements. In Quebec they had to overcome the paternalism and misogyny of the Roman Catholic church in addition to wider societal prejudice. Now comes a woman who says she wants to wear the niqab, something many Muslim scholars say has no place in Islam. Something representing, in Western minds, a tool of misogyny and oppression. Many people are horrified at the prospect of someone being subject to such oppression, yet that person sees it as an expression of religious freedom. Therein lies the conflict.

It would be interesting to know where this woman came by her religious views. Someone has told her something that leads her to believe what she does. Who? Why? Some people have a simplistic view of Islam as a bunch of wild eyed terrorists, but my evidence is that most of them are peaceful and law abiding people who are a credit to Canada. Islamic society in general is at least as complex as western society, so one must be careful about drawing general conclusions.

Yet many people view this as the thin edge of the wedge, bringing unwelcome cultural practices here. First the niqab, then Sharia law with public stoning and beheading. Most Canadians think that immigrants have an obligation to learn one of the two official languages, and to "become a Canadian." Note, please, that even the most Canadian-ophile would probably not think this includes totally abandoning your original culture. Where is the line? So far the discussion is civil, and this is one of the hallmarks of Canadian society, is that such discussions are mostly civil. Sure, there are a few wingnuts on the extremes of debate, but everybody else (especially the wingnuts that disagree with them) recognizes them as wingnuts, and our halls of social discourse are not held hostage by the wingnuts. Generally speaking.

In other religious news, the Pope thinks that all the media attention about child-molesting priests is "petty gossip". As near as I can tell, in every time and place that the authorities have looked at allegations of child abuse by priests, they've found credible evidence of it. Along with credible evidence of cover-ups. For a while, the Catholic church would excommunicate anyone going to the secular authorities with such allegations. It isn't just the Catholics. Take a look at the Indian residential school system. The Anglicans, United, and Presbyterian churches got in on the action as well, admittedly with government sanction.

My view is that religious views are just another tool for certain people to hold and exert power and control over other people. Being a priest (pastor, minister, rabbi, cleric, preacher, imam, vicar, call it what you will) has, over the centuries, offered an easy living for those willing to do nothing harder than talking and counting their money. Anybody that disagreed with you could be accused of any number of crimes, and by golly, it's amazing how that trial turns out when you're the prosecutor and the judge. Ferocious punishments helped keep the others in line, lest they be next on the pyre.

Fortunately, times have changed. Anyone with their eyes open can see the Catholic church has been wrong about everything. Every single effing thing the church has spouted for nearly two millennia has been shown to be wrong. So much for Papal Infallibility. Why would it have any credibility now? Personally, I'd like to see the authorities in every political jurisdiction in the world simultaneously investigate every allegation of child abuse, sharing their knowledge, and working together to deal with priests fleeing to another jurisdiction. Then, when all the rats are cloistered in the Vatican, we smoke them out. Catholic apologists would call this a witch-hunt, and by golly they've got it exactly right. How does that line go? He that lives by the sword...

My view is that religion is an obsolete holdover from an ignorant and superstitious past. Anyone putting forward religious arguments is trying to exert control over others, most often for their own benefit. It doesn't matter if the subject at hand is gay rights, clothing choices, statutory holidays, voting rights, treatment of prisoners, abortion, the sabbath, water rights, citizenship rules, or anything else. Look at what they say. It's all about denying other people, but you don't see the leaders of religious flocks denying themselves. Oh no. They exhort their flock to give them money for "good works" of an unspecified nature, and siphon a little off for themselves. They *are* well dressed, well housed, and well fed, aren't they?

Let's get it straight, people. The analects, bible, koran, talmud, tao-te-ching, vedas, whatever, are all works of fiction. That's right, fiction. They were made up. Just because there is some true things said, does not make all of it true. Any work of fiction in the library has true statements in it. These works are certainly rich in cultural and literary value, but they are no basis for running a civilized country. Some parts of the bible, at least, would be prosecuted for hate crimes if published now.

There are any number of churches in Canada, and even a small town will have several. By and large, religion isn't a big deal here. People that go to church typically don't make a big deal of it, and those that don't go, don't make a big deal of it. Mostly.

The Jehovahs come around banging on our doors, parroting their bigoted filth about religion, just like colonial missionaries trying to convert the natives. There are a number of imaginative responses to them, and they deserve what they get.

Every now and then the bishop of Calgary rears up on his hind legs and threatens to excommunicate our political leaders for their views on abortion, leading me to suspect he wants a return to the Middle Ages. I don't know what his views on the child abuse allegations are, and haven't troubled to look. He's willing to speak up on other issues, so I'd be surprised if he was silent here.

The local Jews are subjected to having their graves defaced and other indignities. There is an active synagogue within walking distance, though I'm not sure which version. But I suspect it's fairly observant, since I've spoken with some of the members, and they have pretty firm views on what they can and can't do on the sabbath. I think some aspects of their faith are weird, but that's me. Still, defacing a grave is beyond the pale.

There are few sects practicing polygamy. I think they're nuts, myself. I can barely keep one wife happy, and the mere thought of trying to please several is enough to give me the shivers. Except these guys aren't about pleasing their wives. It's about displaying their social status, and exerting domination. Oh, and teenage nookie, that's probably the big attraction.

There's a mosque not far from where I work, and I chanced to drive by during worship one day. Other than at the airport, I've never seen so many taxi's in one place. It must have a considerable impact on your day to worship several times. I don't see the point. If your god (however you define god) is of the all-knowing variety, what's the point of prayer? He, she, it *already knows* and what's more, knows if you know, or are just going through the motions.

Which brings up the whole aspect of prayer. "God's will" is a common phrase used to try to explain why shit happened. God made people sick. God ordained that car accident that killed a family with young children. For every evil that happens, there is a reason, but only god knows it, and it is imagined it serves a greater purpose. So, lets assume for a moment that god gives people cancer. "I'll pray for you" is another, closely associated phrase. If god gave someone cancer, what good is praying about it? Or, is the cancer conditional? If x many prayers of a certain sincerity are offered up, god will take the cancer away? Wait a minute, god is all-knowing. He already knows if sufficient prayers would be offered up. Maybe that's why some people get it, that god knows they don't have sufficient prayer weight on their side? So then, isn't prayer futile, since the actual praying is irrelevant? Or does god do this just to trot people through the motions?

What purpose could possibly be served by killing thousands of people trapped in a pair of large burning buildings, then collapsing it in a grinding cloud of glass and concrete? What possible purpose is served by causing untold millions of children to be born who's only achievement in life is to starve to death? Tens of millions starved in Ukraine, or slaughtered in Cambodia, or executed in China? The millions of people that died in the Black Plague, or Spanish Flu?

Let's take another view, that god listens to prayer, and perhaps occasionally, acts on it. If there is one prayer that has been consistent for centuries, widely agreed to by people of all faiths, and is likely to be included, it's for peace on earth. Whatever form that takes. Is there any? Peace, I mean. I think we all know the answer to that.

Which leads me to the spectacle of various sporting teams praying in public for victory. Oh, they don't say it like that, they ask for the strength to do their best, and all. But really, they're praying for victory. Let me see, god hasn't chosen to answer the prayers for peace on earth (and that's assuming he could bring about such a condition) and these putzes are petitioning for victory in a sporting event. That qualifies as chutzpah in my books.

Soon the current pope will die. He's in his 80's after all. Then the cardinals will gather to choose a new pope. What beats me is that if the pope is truly god's representative on earth, you'd think he'd care about who was chosen. The cardinals, being the ones voting, and praying (there's that word again) for insight, are presumably being told how to vote. Yet, they go vote after vote. Somebody isn't getting the message.  If things were working the way the church says they should be, there ought to be one unanimous vote.

I believe in a free an open society people should be free to believe any fruit loop thing they choose to believe. Dye your skin blue? Have at it, but don't be surprised if you have a tough time getting a job. Want to sacrifice a bull to Zues, or anyone else? Observe some basic hygienic procedures, all it a barbeque, invite the neighbours, and have at it. Want to open a halal butcher shop in your garage? Wait a minute. Spare the rod and spoil the child? That's child abuse. Taking small children to church and filling their heads with nonsense? More child abuse. (I have my issues with the public school system too, but that's another rant.) The line comes when what you believe starts to affect other people. Then they start getting a say in how your beliefs are practiced.

As for the woman with the niqab issue, she is wrong. Inside your house, wear what you please. Outside the house, Canadian society expects to see the face of the people we're dealing with. So does Egypt. She has no right to insist that the teacher of a class be female.

Am I rant-gay? No. I am also an equal opportunity stalker. Hi TG.


  1. I was drumming my fingers on the table all morning in anticipation for a rant.

    Where to begin?

    Mount Royal?! Is this code for the Royal Mounted Police? This is NOT what you led me to believe you did on a day to day basis. Are you writing about the poor treatment of horses on the job?

    And by code, I mean, reversed words.

  2. Holy comments! Think I tried enough times before blogger actually allowed me to leave said comments?


  3. Hey Keith, I was at the Talisman today and was amazed that it was DEAD. I can't afford to skip any swim workouts, lol. But I am pleased that my swimming is coming along nicely. And wow, that is quite the rant! I do think that sometimes in an attempt to uphold the "rights" of some we impede on the "rights" others.

  4. Don't you think religion gives people hope and purpose? It makes them feel that what they do every day is for a greater good. That it isn't just about themselves.

  5. i visited. but i was far too tired to read. just wanted you to know i care :)

  6. Hi Keith - I've thought about what you wrote, and I agree with pretty much everything.

    Personally I have a particular beef about missionaries heading out into other countries attempting to convert to their faith - they're still at it all over the world.

    Maybe we should all become Jedi masters...

  7. heya - thanks for the tip on the one leg bike thingy. still havnt done it - seemed a bit tricky on the road, next indoor ride i will try it. and ouch on the hard workouts, might need a few days off. :-)

  8. ... and... being an atheist myself i agree with your rant on religion. i see it from a different perspective than many people being both born and raised atheist. sadly its completely obvious to me why god works "mysteriously" sorta the same way the weather works "mysteriously".

    until the entire world grows up and takes responsibility for their own actions the place is going to pretty much suck. i am guessing at our current rate it will be only few hundred years. 600-1000 is my guess. not too long on a big time scale. sadly, as ALL people i was born too soon. ;-)

    but it sure is a good life if you let it be.

    my only advice about the world would be like gordon liddy ( the evil guy ) once said about things: the trick, is to not care.

    kinda sad.


  9. and, not to pile on here. but you need to remember, you can have Freedom of Religion, just not freedom FROM religion.

  10. I like to see my name in lights, so I always publish comments twice. Or, ten.


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