Last night I was a panelist on the monthly FDA podcast (link to follow once it is on iTunes) discussing the question of whether or not political parties based on religious principles should be allowed to form in democratic countries. Besides me, there were a couple of representatives from the Party of Concerned Christians (Artur and Jim) that do indeed base their platform directly on the Bible, one very excitable member of FDA (Dan) and the moderator and founder of FDA (Stephen).
An interesting topic, but I think the question is ill-formed. I have no problem with the formation of any political party regardless of platform (within the limits set out on free speech). I think placing any unreasonable limitations on what a political party can stand for (again, with the same caveats) is fundamentally and fatally antidemocratic. Dan was the only dissenter on this, and I think he’s plain wrong. What he’s afraid of is theocracy. No argument there, particularly if one uses the Bible as the basis of political platforms. The two Christian members of the panel disagreed, of course, but offered absolutely no substance in rebuttal. Let’s face it – the Old Testament is strong evidence of a patently evil god and if that god were to exist there is no way I would possibly even consider worshiping it.
My position about the formation of parties being unfettered aside (which probably shocks a lot of those who know me), my problem is with policy. This applies to secular as much as it would to a sectarian party. But there’s a special problem with the latter. The party Artur and Jim represent takes their policy directly from the Bible (which to avoid hate crime laws necessarily involves cherry picking scripture – even these two street preachers have eschewed the nastier bits in the Bible). Let’s look at the example I gave right at the start of the podcast, the most important point I wanted to get across.
Let’s imagine a party based in orthodox Judaism wants to table legislating the abolishment of clothing made from mixed fibers (it’s in the OT, folks – look it up). No one, not even a rabbi can tell you why this prohibition exists. No one can tell me that there is at all a secular reason for this prohibition. I’m wearing cotton blends right now, folks, and I am not exactly in a moral quandary here. In other words, no one not an orthodox Jew could possibly understand such legislation. Since any party forming a government has to make at least a pretense at representing the whole of its citizenry, this is bad policy. It is imposing a prohibition on people that do not hold the value upheld by the legislation to be a valid one.
An absurd example? I suppose, but let’s take a look at where I went with this. There are no secular reasons to disallow same-sex marriage. None. It is discrimination based on sexual orientation and I believe that discrimination can not be justified. Not ever. Clear? Since there are no secular reasons for banning gay marriage and only sectarian edicts against it, I find this policy (part of Artur’s and Jim’s party platform) to be just as patently absurd as a prohibition against mixed-fiber clothing.
Thus, sectarian policy will only make sense to members of the sect. In discussing this after the podcast, Jim articulated to me that he would not try to explain it to me in those terms, but in terms secularists such as myself would understand.
Lovely. Is it just me, or is it intellectually dishonest in the extreme to give reasons to convince someone of your position that weren’t the ones that convinced you? I find it worthy of derision. And that’s exactly what Jim did when he tried to justify a policy of discrimination not because “It’s in the Bible”, but with ad hoc rationalizations that he thinks might convince me.
Let me make this perfectly clear. There is NO justification for discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religious belief or sexual orientation. NONE. The rationalizations included one that tries to elicit a “Oh, but who will think of the children?” response. Please. A quick perusal of the relevant literature shows that children in same-sex marriages do quite well. But let’s just accept for the moment that such children are statistically more likely to be depressed. Why would that be? Could it be that they experience bullying at school like overtly homosexual children do? “Look, homosexual children kill themselves! We need to make them straight!” This is called “blaming the victim”, and the solution is not in “correcting” something that is in no need of correction (either the sexual orientation of a child or restricting marriages to straight couples), but in correcting the poisonous atmosphere which prejudice and bigotry generate. As G. Pennigs writes in the journal Human Reproduction, “Children in same-sex families are generally doing well but their situation could be improved if their parents’ relationship were to be socially and legally recognized.” I’d be depressed too if someone constantly berated and bullied me in school wearing cotton blend clothing in an environment where it was not acceptable for no good reason. Jim would point to me and say, “See? Children that wear mixed-fiber clothing are unhappy! We need to ban wearing cotton blends!” That’s just nuts.
In fact, the only study on children raised in nontraditional versus nuclear families that supported Jim’s position was done by members of the Family Research Institute. Their stated purpose is “…one overriding mission: to generate empirical research on issues that threaten the traditional family, particularly homosexuality, AIDS, sexual social policy, and drug abuse”. [sarcasm]No, no conflict of interest there[\sarcasm]. It is neither scientific nor intellectually honest to start with one’s conclusions as the premises (which is the logical fallacy known as “begging the question”). The founder of the FRI, Paul Cameron, was struck from the rolls of the American Psychological Association for ethics violations. The Canadian Psychological Association disassociated itself from having anything to do with Cameron’s work on sexuality by stating he “consistently misinterpreted and misrepresented research on sexuality, homosexuality, and lesbianism”. Yeah, a really credible source this is. While I am someone who is likely to be swayed by empirical evidence (not in this case, since I don’t care what the stats are on the subject when it comes to using it as an excuse to oppress minorities), I will never be convinced by evidence form a body that has likely contrived it. Tainted doesn’t even begin to describe it, and why do I get the feeling that these and other ‘researchers’ with massive conflicts of interest and biases are Jim’s sources?
All of Jim’s arguments from a Trojan horse, very seductive on their face until you realize that they are specifically designed get you to agree to justifying discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation (as if the basis matters) I categorically reject them and don’t even have to get to the issue of the veracity of the claims he makes. And the arguments in and of themselves are simply false or blaming the victim. Another of his arguments was similar. According to Jim, children growing up with same-sex parents generally do not do as well as children in a nuclear family, and he falls into a great big trap of his own making. All one has to is to look for other situations where this might be so and ask the question “Do we ban that too?” Divorce immediately comes to mind. I didn’t get a straight answer from him on this apart from “I would ban the frivolous forms of divorce.”
Artur (and this is on the podcast) claims that he has asked people on the street (he’s been arrested for harassment by Calgary City Police for his street preaching, and I am very suspicious that we are not getting the whole story from him concerning these incidents and his claims that his right to free speech is being violated (yet strangely no judge has agreed that this is the case), but I let that go) and that most people he encounters think same-sex marriage is a bad idea (an Ipsus-Reid poll this is not…). He wants a referendum on the issue. (Artur also claimed that separation of church and state is only there to protect religion. I set that fucking nonsense straight right quick. At least Jim gets it.)
What Artur is suggesting is to use a majority as a blunt instrument to violate the rights of a minority. Honestly, I don’t give a rat’s ass at how big a majority one has. No majority has the right to violate the rights of a minority. This is ABSOLUTE, and why democracies must have a good constitution with a bill of rights (in the case of this country, a Charter of Rights and Freedoms) embedded within it. Majorities can not always be trusted to do the right thing, let alone always protect the rights of those that don’t share their views, and so must act within a framework set out in a constitution. As an atheist I am acutely aware of this.
Both Jim and Artur I’m sure think their reasons are sound. It’s just that no one else does. Jim thinks there are secular reasons for banning same-sex marriage when there can be no reason to discriminate against gay couples. Artur thinks that if enough voters agree that that is sufficient to use as a blunt instrument to violate the rights of a minority. Fuck that. Does anyone really think that if Stephen Harper, the current Prime Minister of this country, thought he could repeal the legislation permitting same-sex unions that he would not already have done so? That is beyond reasonable thought. He’d have done it in a heartbeat. The reason he hasn’t done so is very simple – because he knows that because of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms in the Constitution Act of 1981 any constitutional challenge will result in striking down such legislation.
As for me, the idea of prohibiting two people who are in a committed relationship from enjoying the benefits society bestows on those who are allowed to marry a despicable platform is worth actively opposing. As an atheist, I am sometimes accused of not having anything to be thankful for (especially around Thanksgiving…). Well, I’m thankful for living in a country that respects individual rights (which, by the way, can not be arrived at through sectarian principles…).
Another statement that I found rather dishonest (by ‘dishonest’, I do not mean out-and-out lying) that you will hear in the podcast and afterwards gained a pretty good understanding of the mechanism of this form of dishonesty, is when Jim claimed that Christianity hasn’t changed since its beginning. Well anyone familiar with the history of Christianity knows that is a pile of bullshit. The gospels themselves demonstrate a clear evolution of theology and its heterogeneity in the first two centuries. The situation gets worse when one considers that there were Christians who believed in one, two or many gods, that Jesus was a god, a man adopted by god, etc. Some of these theological differences are clear in the NT canon, others are in various other written works deemed not orthodox. Jim claimed Paul wrote more than half the NT, but he was clearly not aware that scholars have deemed six of the thirteen epistles as forgeries (and I informed him of this). But when I informed him post-podcast about the huge variations is Christianity he just said “those aren’t Christianity”. What he means is those aren’t his Christianity, committing the “No True Scottsman” fallacy. And that’s where I understood everything. He’s deluded himself into thinking there is only one Christianity and all else isn’t. That’s nonsense. I guess “denial” isn’t just a river in Egypt. But that mode of thinking pervades his whole thought process, including his views on same-sex marriage. At some level I’m sure Jim knows that he’s being discriminatory and that discrimination is wrong, but because his holy books tell him otherwise, he has to remain in denial to prevent his whole world from crashing down. He’s not dumb. Quite the contrary. He’s just very, very deluded about his views being inherently self-contradictory. The cognitive dissonance has GOT to hurt…
I’ve said that I have no problems with sectarian parties forming. My problem is always policy. Policies based on sectarian grounds are by their nature exclude anyone outside the sect. Not only that, sectarian policies are all about limiting choice (the abortion issue comes to mind, and was discussed in the podcast), and I can not in any way see how this is a good thing. Worse, no matter how much sectarian parties try to frame their policies in a secular manner, it is still the thin edge of the wedge in creating a theocratic form of governance, and I say “Fuck that.”
I’ve been invited back for part deux in several weeks (December 6), when the panel will (hopefully) include an Islamic scholar and imam. I will have to ask Richard Dawkins’ question: “What is the penalty for apostasy in Islam?” Talk about the ultimate violation of the right to free speech. People are killed for expressing disbelief in some places, folks. And Christians, don’t get too smug about that. It wasn’t all that long ago when you were doing the same. (The Enlightenment was a reaction to that, so I guess in one way Christianity WAS responsible for Enlightenment values, but there is no way to them through a chain of logic from scripture…). I also want to bring up the blasphemy laws and the attempt by Islamic nations to make blasphemy illegal globally by hijacking the United Nations. How democratic is that? For those who listen to the podcast I ask, “Will Dan blow up?” Stay tuned….