Sunday, July 27, 2014

Confusing Freedom With Imposition

Canada's "Association For Reformed Political Action" came to my attention this past week.  Just from the name, you can tell that this is one of the groups that is seeking to turn Canada into a theocracy much like the far right is currently doing in the United States.

I decided to spend a little time sniffing through their website, and found a fair bit of interest.

First is an explicit and clear sense of just how deeply these groups are connected with the Harper Government.
... a speech to the ARPA groups from cabinet minister Jason Kenney
Do you think you would find Jason Kenney speaking to a feminist group, or an LGBT group?  Come to think of it, how many conferences have you heard about being held on Parliament Hill in recent years ... besides those which are connected to the religious lobby?  Kenney is well known as a speaker on the "pro-life" circuit, but he is very careful to make sure that no public records of his speaking engagements are readily available.
Parliament Hill was abuzz with close to 70 representatives of ARPA chapters from across the nation who gathered last week and sat down with approximately 50 Members of Parliament and Senators to discuss issues close to our hearts.
In itself, there isn't anything particularly wrong with this group lobbying the government.  In fact, all groups should be able to lobby the government.  The real question is what does an organization lobbying the government actually represent?

Well, in this case, one doesn't have to go too far to start building a picture, and it is one which all Canadians who respect what is good and decent in this land should be concerned by.

Let's start with the following "public policy submittal" from ARPA's website:
Canada is a nation in search of an identity. We don’t publicly recognize any god as supreme, let alone the Christian God. We follow leaders and ideas for a time, only to move on to the next person or thing that stirs us. But hockey, donuts, and beer aren’t exactly symbols on which to build a nation.

Over the decades Canada has divorced the Christian God from our public institutions and replaced Him with self- worship, state-worship, and earth-worship, among other things. Yet we continue to lay claim to, and benefit from, many of the political and legal by-products of the Christian faith, including fundamental human rights, much of the Criminal Code, and the concept of rule of law.
Ah ... this would be the plea for their particular faith to be granted supremacy over all others in the nation.  After all, we were all "Christian" at one time, weren't we?  Ah, here we are:

In a nutshell, civil governments are called by God to be his servant for good, to bear the sword to punish criminal wrongdoing and to promote justice and righteousness (see Romans 13:3-4). The goal for civil government is to allow for citizens to enjoy a peaceful and quiet life (1 Timothy 2:1-2), not to convert souls or eradicate false religions.  
One reason for this limited role of the civil government is because there are other governments instituted by God and described in the Bible. Each of these governments has their own roles and responsibilities. For example, the family is a governing institution that is accountable directly to God, not to the State. It is entrusted with the duty of raising and educating children, among other things. The State has no business telling parents what their children must be taught. The family unit is not subservient to the State. Both are accountable directly to God. 
Ah yes.  The classic arguments that "God" has all the authority, and therefore the state has no reason to intervene in such trivial matters as education.  (after all, there's nothing like teaching your children fables like creationism instead of actual, objective science)

Now, in large part, this looks like the usual religious freedom claims.  More or less, the state has no right to dictate what religious doctrines are taught to children, and that people should be free to do as they please in such matters.
This suggestion that the God of the Bible is the authority from which all human authority is derived sounds radical. But the status-quo is not all that different. Much of what is guiding public policy in the provinces and our nation today is also religious – it’s just hidden under a superficial veneer of neutrality.
Religion is “an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group.”2 Every official is guided by his or her own beliefs or worldview – it is why you entered public office. As historian Link Byfield noted “All laws – not just laws concerning sexual behaviour – are based upon some moral principle. The entire Criminal Code, for starters, is an anthology of morality. Thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not lie, thou shalt not murder, all these rules are moral principles.”3 In many regards Feminist MP Niki Ashton is no less religious than self- described evangelical Christian Stephen Harper. As a result, the policies coming out of our Parliament and Legislatures are also religiously based, though some are more explicit than others (see the example on the right). For example, the belief that health care should be distributed “freely and fairly” is a religious conviction based on a view of human worth and the role of the state.
Frankly, this is a sloppy attempt to say that "everything is religion" - a rather ludicrous reductio ad absurdum claim.  To make such a claim, one has to presuppose that morality is only informed by religion.  A more clear-headed view of the world would realize that someone can arrive at various "moral" positions through paths other than religious teaching.  For example, an atheist whose worldview is informed by empirical evidence and observation may arrive at the proscription against theft on the basis that stealing something harms the other person by depriving them of the fruits of their labour.  This is not a religious position, but rather one which can reasonably be arrived at without even so much as opening a religious text of any sort.  Is this a "religious" position?  Not in the least.

The claim is made (frequently) that our entire system of laws is rooted in religious codes that have been around for centuries.  This is partially true, but to claim that Christian religion uniquely informs our legal traditions is to ignore the fact that human society has had a social contract for millennia, and through many different religious traditions.  In many respects, one might view religion as having evolved from the abstract social contract as a means of ensuring a degree of consistency over time.  In terms of law, we traditionally credit the Babylonian king Hammurabi with creating the first known written legal code.  One might imagine that prior to this, there were laws that encompassed the likely violations of the social contract in various societies, but they were maintained orally.  Further, we know that the Greco-Roman concept of religion was highly legalistic, with various rituals forming a "contractual bond" between humans and the various Gods.  The Romans would claim that their authority was derived from the contractual endorsement between the Gods and man, just as Christianity claims authority from "the eternal God".  It is in fact this reality that causes me to assert that religion is a reflection of the society from which it emerged.

Now, things get interesting.  To this point, what we have is a group running about lobbying politicians to enable their religious freedoms.  Not entirely invalid, and per se, I have no real objection to this.  They should be perfectly free to believe as they wish and practice their faith in peace.

Then we come to some of the other campaigns that ARPA is connected to:

We Need A Law :  A "Fetal Rights" anti-abortion lobby effort.  Headed up by Mike Schouten.

The Truth Is:  An anti-abortion campaign of ARPA, with an associated "Pregnancy Help Line" (a la the misleading "Pregnancy Crisis Center" model the far right in the US has adopted to undermine Planned Parenthood.

Human Rights Commissions:  Part of a far right campaign to dismantle human rights codes and commissions that are enacted both federally and provincially in Canada.  The claim is largely that these bodies unreasonably constrain religious freedoms (which mostly turns out to be it constrains a religious "freedom" to discriminate against people who the religion doesn't like very much - like the LGBT communities).

Here is where the problem arises.  It is not that ARPA wants religious freedom at all.  It is the desire to impose their worldview on others by restricting what others who may not share their worldview are able to do.

For example, the arguments against abortion are largely based on a religious claim that life "begins at conception".  Of course, the definition of "life" is left open, allowing for much shifting of goalposts in debate.  However, making such restrictions effectively deny women's agency in setting up their lives and managing them.  While someone who happens to have the same religious philosophy as ARPA professes to may well not pursue an abortion to end an unwanted pregnancy, someone whose worldview is informed through a different set of drivers may well wish to do so for their own reasons.  In this situation, we have a problem.  The ARPA group is demanding that the agency of others in their own lives somehow unreasonably impinges upon their religious sensibilities and therefore must be limited.

Likewise, the complaints about the human rights laws (which are subservient to the Constitution and Charter - and to my knowledge have never been overturned by challenge before the courts), basically boil down to a complaint that their ability to bully and abuse others who they disapprove of is being restrained by these laws.

So, on one hand they are demanding that nobody, especially the state, impose itself upon their religious freedoms and on the other hand they are demanding that our legislators write laws which reflect their worldview and as such impose that same worldview upon all Canadians regardless of their own individual world views.

Apparently, they have not understood the distinction between individual rights and freedoms and the much broader social contract of cooperation that is needed in a diverse country in order for all members of society to be able to participate fully and freely.

More concerning is that groups like this seem to have far greater access to our current government than those who do not share these beliefs.  

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