Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Religion "In The Public Square"

Preston Manning's column in today's Globe and Mail attempts to make the case that we should somehow preserve our "Judeo-Christian heritage" - especially in the public square.

He could have made a very interesting argument about the relevance of Christian ethics or something, but instead, he goes rambling off about how we would have to demolish this building and that in order to erase all traces of it:

Moving to Ottawa, the first target for the wrecking ball would obviously be the Peace Tower, the most prominent feature of our Parliament buildings. If displaying religious material on public property at the centre of the universe is “inappropriate” because it goes against Toronto's “general policy of inclusiveness,” surely it would be utterly intolerable to allow the Peace Tower with its prominent scriptural inscriptions to remain standing.

It's really quite a ridiculous argument that he is making, and it is one that skirts around the real issues. Mr. Manning is quietly ignoring the way that religion is often used in the public square to justify marginalizing those who do not subscribe to the same moral or ethical credo.

Consider some of the screeching from the likes of Stephen Boissoin and his friends over at No Apologies over the Buterman case for a moment. (Or Boissoin's 2002 letter for that matter) Here are cases where someone is using religion "in the public square" as a means to justify limiting the rights of others, or to justify blatant discrimination against someone they find "morally repugnant" - on largely religious grounds.

In answer to this, Manning points out that the Charter acknowledges the supremacy of God:

And the Charter could not escape unscathed since its preamble acknowledges the supremacy of God, while its opening clauses seek to guarantee the freedoms of religion and expression, which the wielders of the wrecking ball seek to restrict.

What he blithely ignores is that while the charter does make such an acknowledgement, it never sets out what specific notion of God it refers to. In fact, the very existence of explicit freedom of religion clauses makes it quite clear that no particular god - and therefore, no particular religion - is recognized. It could be the Baptist notion of God, or the Hindu concept of Shiva ... or nothing at all if you are an atheist.

In short, the Canadian Constitution is deliberately vague in this area for good reason.

Contrary to Manning's wild imaginings, there isn't a coherent campaign to erase all traces of religion from the public square. What is really happening is that the assumptions of Christianity are being questioned and challenged publicly - ironically using precisely the same Charter that guarantees freedom of religion.

The really sad part is that for the most part, religions can be a source of enormous social good, and it is only a small, exceedingly vocal, handful who use their religion as an excuse to marginalize others and justify acts of discrimination.


Steve said...

Jan Butterman (or is it Larry) should seek to find a job where her beliefs and radical choices are accepted. The Christian church (Catholic & Protestant) has a right to maintain and protect the values/doctrines that have been part of our institution for centuries. Clearly, the Christian church does not support gender change. It is ethically and morally wrong. I believe that a movement has just started and that Christians will begin to fight for OUR EQUAL RIGHTS in Canada. Instead of respecting our beliefs, our institution and our rights, people like you appear to support attempts to force us to accept things that we have opposed for years. The church at large simply wants to maintain our place and to have our rights protected LIKE everyone else. The Christian church is the one who is the victim here, not Butterman. Butterman can go work elsewhere as I am sure there will be a lot of open doors for her in other circles. In a nutshell, the church is waking up, beginning to show signs of unity and we have a historical fact on our side....when you persecute us for our beliefs, we become more faithful and more resilient. Simply let us be us in our circles and we will let you be you in yours. Hate our view if you choose, you have that right but you are a fool if you think that we can be forced to accept that which God tells us is wrong.

MgS said...


I'm sorry, but I don't accept the "church as the victim" routine here - particularly not where issues of transsexuality are concerned.

First off, I would argue that scripture is remarkably silent on the matter of cross gender identity, much less on the subject of transsexualism itself. Simply put, the common understanding in the era in which scripture was written had no language to describe transsexuality that is meaningful.

At most, there are some references to cross-dressing, and a few references to eunuchs that one might twist in interpretation as talking about transsexuality, but any such inference depends on some pretty broad interpretations in order to fit together. But to reduce the notion of transsexuality to cross-dressing is like saying that 'all cars are the same'.

There is a growing body of evidence that transsexuality has significant biological underpinnings which cannot be ignored. I find it hard to believe that any reasonably compassionate understanding of the human experience would proscribe someone for addressing such a distressing issue constructively.

Second, the argument that gender transition is "ethically and morally wrong" is fundamentally empty. Show me the violation of either ethical or moral principles that someone who transitions makes. Asserting it is one thing, I'm asking that you substantiate the claim.

Ask yourself this regarding the Buterman situation: If Buterman was post-transition and hired by the school board as a substitute, this whole issue would likely be a non-issue short of someone dredging up some private parts of Buterman's past. So...why is it an issue when he transitions in the workplace? (especially in the context of being a substitute teacher, where there is not a great deal of continuity with any single class)

Lastly, when the evidence goes beyond the dogma of the church (as it already has done), do you continue to deny it? It wasn't so long ago that the church argued that the earth was the center of the universe; or that mental illness was actually demonic possession. Surely you don't cleave to those ideas too?

Steve said...

I have no idea where you stand on your beliefs in the Bible or for that matter, how much of it you have truly studied (not simply read). Me, I did not grow up with an understanding of the Bible but began to study it years ago and have grown in relationship with Christ since. What I often find frustrating is how those who I do not hear professing a faith in Christ or validity of the Bible want to tell me how I should understand my faith (Bible) and practice it. Often this is laughable as their attempt to use our own scripture to reason with us is so misinformed.

I have read the Bible more times than I can remember. I have studied theology for years and I am clear on the fact that the Bible teaches that God created mankind in His image both male and female. It goes on to explain that mans fall into sin(separation from God) has caused many problems with the human condition.

Some problems are harder than others to understand and to deal with but in each case, a Christian will look to what the Bible tells us was Gods intent. In doing this we can better understand our own conditions and intentions. There are many that claim "God made me this way or that way." No God did not. The sin condition, which will all have, made us so. In this life a Christian comes to the reality that we can't have everything the way we desire and that we should not attempt to shape God around our desires as they are often corrupt.

In Butermans case, I completely understand that there are valid issues. I also understand that the science that many assume is concrete, is far from the case. Even if Jan sincerely feels like a man trapped in a womans body, the Christian (biblically based)view does not condone a sex change operation.

Everything that I have stated about I can confidently present a scriptural basis for. I do not often do so when posting on blogs because in most cases, those that read my comments have very little understanding of the Bible and Bible based moral philosophy as a whole.

Again, Jan Buterman can have her desire met, just not in the Catholic or mainstream Protestant Churches. We have a right to refuse relationship with her based on our beliefs and her choices.

If someone had a sex change operation and then became a Christian who eventually understood the error or their ways, they would be welcomeed with open arms....but....that does not mean that there would not be consequece for their past choices which may (depending on the circumstances) mean living celibate for the rest of their life devoted to God.

Many are trying to live life without consequence. They act like they are entitled to do whatever they please and that God and Christians should just accept them regardless of their choices or behaviour. According to the vast majority of Christians this is unacceptable and will remain so.

This is Stephen Boissoin by the way. Let me make it clear, I believe that God loves Jan Buterman with a deep love that I could never articulate. God is love but the Bible (His teachings passed on to us) make it clear that His love exists in direct relation to truth and justice.

I do not want Jan in a school that teaches Christian children and I wholeheartedly accept and applaud the Catholic boards decision. It is clearly biblically based and in line with Christian values.

We are not trying to stop Jan from having a sex change nor the lifestyle she desire. We are simply trying to protect what we believe which people like you are attempting to forcefully change about us. See, this is where we are the victim here whether you accept that or not. We simply want our right to be us. Disagree with us, hate us that is fine BUT grant us the same rights that you expect instead of trying to create a society where all moral opinion is the same. This is an impossibly quest and wherever we see it implemented in the past, millions have lost their lives. We must live together and leave room for each other.

MgS said...

There are many that claim "God made me this way or that way." No God did not. The sin condition, which will all have, made us so.

I fail to see where the "original sin" argument addresses conditions which exist from birth.

In essence, the argument under such circumstances becomes one of obliging someone to suffer the indignities of whatever that condition are without treatment as a punishment for some "sin" they are presumed to have committed.

Unless you can demonstrate to me conclusively that transsexuals are unequivocally NOT dealing with a birth condition, your argument is essentially that her seeking treatment for an existing condition is immoral, and yet someone seeking treatment for another condition is just fine. There seems to be a double standard at play here.

I do not want Jan in a school that teaches Christian children and I wholeheartedly accept and applaud the Catholic boards decision.

Why not? Is Mr. Buterman a threat to those children in any way? If he is, on what basis do you make that claim?

It is clearly biblically based and in line with Christian values.

Nice assertion. It aligns with your idea of Christian values perhaps, but that is far from the only opinion out there. It is "in line" only if those values include telling someone they should not seek treatment for a medical condition - nowhere in the scripture that I'm familiar with does it say that someone should not take steps to deal with their suffering while on this world - which is precisely what Mr. Buterman has done.

What you are denying Mr. Buterman - and by implication - other transsexuals - is not the ability to transition, but rather you would reserve for yourself the right to marginalize those people and deny them gainful employment (or the continuation thereof) solely on the basis of your perception of their "immorality" - a perception which deliberately ignores or denies not just the individual narratives, but also a growing body of clinical evidence that speaks quite the contrary.

I do not "hate" you - or other Christians for that matter. I do not run about demanding that you be fired from your jobs because of your beliefs; nor do I attempt to marginalize your life based on my own beliefs. Yet, you demand precisely the right to do that to people like Jan Buterman.

There's the difference - I'm challenging your assumptions, not trying to make it difficult for someone to live their life in relative peace.

Steve said...

I will post a reply to your comments later. Obviously I disagree with many of your views as you do with mine.

I find the following interesting in the meantime:

"[Dr. Paul] Mc Hugh [chairman of the Psychiatry Department at John's Hopkins] has always reserved special scorn for the practice of sex-change surgery on adult transsexuals. Classifying transsexualism as merely one symptom in a larger complex of personality disorders, Mc Hugh had long believed that psychiatrists should treat such patients with the talking cure--not radical, irreversible surgeries. In a 1992 article in the American Scholar, McHugh lambasted transsexual surgery as 'the most radical therapy ever encouraged by twentieth century psychiatrists,' and likened its popularity to the once widespread practice of frontal lobotomy."

"Dr. Jon Meyer, a Hopkins psychiatrist and former director of the Gender Identity Clinic, produced a long-term follow-up of fifty postoperative and preoperative adult transsexuals treated at Johns Hopkins since the clinic was founded in 1966. Meyer reported that none showed any measurable improvement in their lives, and concluded that 'sex reassignment surgery confers no objective advantage in terms of social rehabilitation'."

Steve said...

Here is something interesting too:

MgS said...

McHugh and Meyer's work is deeply flawed work. Pfaefflin et. al. (1992) point out some of the problems with Meyer's study and McHugh's conclusions drawn from that work.

I have quoted from Pfaefflin extensively here. (There used to be full text of Pfaefflin's study online at, but a recent reorganization seems to have removed the full text)

I've read other material by Byrd on NARTH's website, I'm afraid I'd have to actually read that book myself to draw any meaningful conclusions. Based on Byrd's commentary, it sounds like a political screed rather than a reasoned assessment of problems and issues in psychology.

Lastly, NARTH has grossly misrepresented the science and reality around transsexualism repeatedly. (and, like you have done, keeps equating transsexuality with homosexuality even though the two subjects are quite unrelated to each other)