Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Random Irrationality

It appears that the Pope is still considering how to punish Paul Martin for having the audacity to permit gays to get married in Canada.

In the referenced article, the author suggests stripping the Roman Catholic Church of its tax exempt status. Needless to say that has spawned a minor flurry of inane idiocy among religious conservatives. A random troll through the blogosphere turns up the following reactions:

1. They're promoting hatred against Roman Catholics
2. Freedom of Religion for anyone who isn't a Christian
3. The Church is doing the State a favour by accepting tax-exempt status

Needless to say, these are decidedly nutty reactions at best.

1. They're promoting hatred against Roman Catholics

This one is straight out of left field - I have no idea what kind of logic derives that from the notion of stripping a church's tax-exempt status. If a church becomes a political lobby, then they should have to obey the same rules as every other political lobby group - period. (And living in Calgary, where I have front-row seats to watch Bishop Fred Henry's ham-handed attempts to lobby the government this way and that, I think there's possibly some merit to stripping _his_ diocese of its tax-exempt status...)

2. Freedom of Religion is only applied to those who aren't a Christian

Here's an old saw. It really boils down to "freedom of religion - as long as its my religion". Basically the twits that argue this way are all upset because they aren't succeeding in imposing their divinely inspired will upon the rest of us. Like the term "activist judge", it basically means that something isn't going "their way", so they are going go sulk about the unfairness of the system. (As opposed to actually producing intelligible arguments as to why things should go their way)

3. The Church is doing the State a favour by accepting tax-exempt status

I really had to scratch my head when I ran into this bit of irrational reasoning. Basically, the argument goes something like this: "Because the Church is tax-exempt, it is apart from the regular political constituency. Therefore, the Church doesn't interfere directly in the affairs of state. If it is a tax paying institution, then it suddenly demands more rights and time from our politicians".

The obvious reply to that is - "Bishop Fred Henry". The man's a one-man-lobby group if I've ever seen it. Worse, he uses his position as a member of the clergy to fund his activities, and give him a platform from which to spew his particular view of things.

Don't get me wrong - I have no problem with Bishop Henry (or any other cleric) expressing his opinions. However, that doesn't mean I can't object to his attempts (however clumsy) to use church resources to promulgate those opinions, and in particular to influence our politicians. I would remind readers that Bishop Henry has variously threatened Paul Martin, Jean Chretien and Joe Clark with excommunication, damnation or whatever when the public policy is at odds with his unique form of dogma.

If that isn't engaging in political lobby, I don't know what is. The worst part of it is that Bishop Henry - and other clergy - do so in their capacity as clergy, not as private citizens. (This would be equivalent to me writing to my MP as my Employer's Representative - as opposed to writing as a private citizen "on behalf of my employer's interests".)

Realisitically, I'm not actually in favour of stripping Churches of their charitable status "carte-blanche" - there are far too many Churches that do legitimately "good works" in the community, and it would seem silly to punish them for the idiocy of politically-oriented clergy. However, recent lobby activity undertaken by some churches leads me to suggest that these bodies may have to be held to closer scrutiny - and taxed on those funds/resources that are used for political lobby/engagement. (Little different than the small business owner that keeps an office in the house - they can declare a portion of the mortgage and expenses for the house as being "business expenses", but not the whole enchilada)

The world has changed, and so has Canada. The days of the Churches being "unique focal points" in our lives are long gone, and with senior clergy like Bishop Henry becoming more politically active, it is time for our system of taxation and law to recognize that reality.

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