Sunday, September 28, 2008

Does God believe in free speech? And why not discuss religion during elections?

Michael Coren is a Toronto-based broadcaster and journalist. He writes a column in the Toronto Sun and has a talk show about public interest matters on the Christian channel. He claims to be a Roman Catholic.

Last week he had a show on faith and politics. His guests included a Catholic theologian, an Imam and the head of an atheist organization, Justin Trottier. He had another guest, but I did not turn the show on in time to catch his reason for being there. But, clearly they were all religious except for Trottier.

One of the many things I find annoying about Coren is that he is a whiner. According to the last Canadian census on the subject of religion (2001), 72% of Canadians claim to be Christian. They are the majority in this country. Yet time and again Coren tries to paint them as if they were a persecuted minority.

He targets the MSM as being hostile to religion generally and dismissive of Christians particularly. I think it is fair to say that a great majority of Canadians are reluctant to bring matters of faith into the public sphere and I don’t see any conspiracy in that regard from the MSM other than reflecting the perceived will of the marketplace.

Coren brought up the abandonment by Random House of The Jewel of Medina book project in the face of perceived hostility from Muslims and moaned that publishers seem to have no problem publishing anti-Christian material. Trottier responded by reminding him that Catholics engage in book banning, as for example, in the case of the Golden Compass being banned by the Halton Catholic District School Board.

Naturally, Coren took exception to this trying to make a case that the author was an atheist who pointedly said he was attacking the Catholic Church and the church was entitled to eschew the book. Lost in his thoughts were the logical relationship between seller and market. If Catholics can successfully convince the marketplace not buy a book, then that amounts to the same thing as stopping publishers from publishing anti-Catholic books.

I am not clear what Coren’s world view might be. Does he want to stop publishers from publishing anti-Christian literature, or does he want publishers to voluntarily not do this? Fortunately, the Imam brought some religious sanity to the discussion. He said the answer was not to try to stop publishers publishing whatever literature they thought might have a market, but to counter the anti-religious messages with religiously positive literature – to fight ideas and arguments with other ideas and arguments. He gets it.

Later, Trottier brought up an incident that occurred at the University of Calgary where an atheist student organization’s banner was defaced with Christian messages. Coren tried to fluff this off as a flash in the pan, but Trottier’s point was well-taken: had this occurred to a Jewish organization or a Muslim organization, it would have been a front page news story about discrimination against minorities. But because the minority in this case is a bunch of atheists, nobody cares. It will not be recorded by the police as a hate crime and will not show up on hate crime statistics.

At one point Trottier reminded Coren that Coren held free speech to be above all. To which Coren responded that he held God to be above all. This raises an interesting dilemma for our Mr. Coren. He has claimed to believe in free speech, which is why I have difficulty understanding his complaint about the publication of anti-Christian literature, yet he believes in God and, more particularly, a God defined by the Catholic Church.

Question: does God believe in free speech? As a Catholic you would have to say no. After all, why would Protestants be cast into the everlasting fires of hell if free speech reigned in heaven?

Another thing about religion and politics. It is often said that Americans bring politics into their election campaigns and Canadians don't. I don't really think Americans do as much of that as they think they do and Canadians should do it.

For example, if a Catholic political candidate were asked questions about his or her stand on abortion, fornication, adultery, birth control, the death penality, homosexuals, the dispostion of the immortal soul of those who are not Catholics and other matters that are the subject Catholic teaching, there would be one of two answers, or no answer. We would hear that the candidate fully believes in the teachings of the church or that he/she doesn't fully believe. Or the candidate may refuse to answer. All of these would be quite telling on what sort of a person is running for pubic office, and whether we should feel comfortable casting a vote in his/her direction.

Similarly, it would be interesting to hear somebody who claimed to believe Jesus Christ was coming back any day now, that only the virtuous would saved and raptured into heaven before the final conflict, that Israel must be preserved at all costs to fulfill this prophecy and that the Earth is only 6,000 years old, finish all of this off with, "Please vote for me."

When we keep a person's religion off limits for discussion and debate we never really know what they truly think. For an interesting view on this, read Sam Harris's take on Sarah Palin in Newsweek.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

America's ridiculous obsession with qualifications

I am quite amused by the commentary in the media about Sarah Palin being unsuited for the job of Vice-President because she has no international experience (in the context that she might become President if McCain kicked the bucket mid-term).

Not to sound like a smug, know-it-all, knee-jerk anti-American bashing Canadian, but frankly, other than Ike Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, and George Bush Senior, I would be hard put to name any President since Theodore Roosevelt who brought any international experience into the White House. By and large, they all learned on the job, notwithstanding Palin’s attempt to poke a hole in Obama’s campaign by suggesting that the Presidency is not a learning experience.

She would become the President of a country where 20% of the young people aged 18 to 24 cannot pick out the United States on a map of the world where the names of the countries are disguised; where only 13% of Americans know where Iran and Iraq are located, but 34% knew that on the first season of the TV reality show Survivor the contestants were on an island somewhere in the South Pacific (whether they knew where the South Pacific is located is not known.); where two-thirds of the people who were sent to administer the government of Iraq after the invasion applied for the first time for a passport.

One of the more effective U.S. Presidents was a guy that everybody thought was a big nobody, Harry S. Truman. He had approval ratings that rivaled those of the current President, George W. Bush. And he inherited the same world that George W. Bush has occupied – the United States really was unchallenged as a superpower in post-war period of 1945-48. But what he did with that is a very different story.

He had been a failed farmer (not his fault, the Depression) and a failed small retail businessman (not his fault, the Depression, plus changing fashion). He got elected to the U.S. Senate and basically laboured away for 10 years in obscurity. His only claim to fame was that he chaired a panel that looked at corruption in government war contracts and saved some money.

He was picked to be FDR’s VP running mate in FDR’s last hurrah specifically because he had not made a name for himself and had created fewer enemies than other more high profile picks. But strangely, when he was selected, everybody knew that it would be only a matter of months before he became the President (it turned out to be about 4 months).

He had virtually no international experience (other than as an artillery captain in the U.S. army in France in the closing months of WWI).

Yet Truman presided over some of the most crucial decisions of any President since Abraham Lincoln: ending the war in Europe and the Pacific, including dropping the first A-bomb; settling up the post-war world with the allied democracies and the Soviet Union; creating the United Nations; creating the new nation of Israel; committing America to the Korean War; firing the most popular general in American history; refusing to use the A-bomb on China; drafting the communist containment strategy that eventually led to the downfall of the Soviet Union.

Domestically, he was the first President to call for civil rights for blacks, which led to the disruption of the Democratic Party by alienating the southern Democrats.

He was re-elected against all predictions to the contrary by the MSM.

If Truman could do it with flying colours, I see no reason why Palin couldn’t step up to the mark.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

On being carded

When I was 24 years of age, I betook me one Saturday morning to the beer store to buy some brew. I did not have a car at the time and it was quite a walk. It was also pouring rain. I must have had a powerful thirst to persevere. To my dismay, when I got to the checkout counter the clerk challenged me on my age (they call it "being carded" now, inasmuch as the government provides young people with proof of age cards).

I flustered and blustered to no avail. The clerk was unmoved. I had forgotten my wallet with my ID, bringing only cash in my pocket. I walked all the way home, empty-handed, drenched to the skin, thirsty to boot and reflected on whether I was pleased that I looked so young or angry that the myopic clerk couldn't tell I was well past the age of consent.

Those were the good old days.

Now I am at that age where signs that say "Seniors discount" begin to appeal to me. The problem is that I always have to ask the establishment what age qualifies you for this perquisite. I get various answers: 55, no problem, 60, no problem, 65, no dice. But more than the bother of having to ask (why can't they post the age), is the fact that whenever I say that I am eligible I am never carded. My word, apparently, is my bond.

I have not yet lied about the 65 limit. I am tempted to try it, but, like my ambivalent feelings about being carded at age 24, I think the pleasure of scamming the discount would be deflated by the fact the the clerk would accept at face value that I look like I am 65, or worse, older.

These are not the good old days, they're just the old days.