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.

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