Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Lowering the bar.....

Apparently, I'm only indifferently sinful:
The Dante's Inferno Test has sent you to the First Level of Hell - Limbo!
Here is how you matched up against all the levels:
Purgatory (Repenting Believers)Very Low
Level 1 - Limbo (Virtuous Non-Believers)Very High
Level 2 (Lustful)Low
Level 3 (Gluttonous)Low
Level 4 (Prodigal and Avaricious)Very Low
Level 5 (Wrathful and Gloomy)Moderate
Level 6 - The City of Dis (Heretics)Very High
Level 7 (Violent)Moderate
Level 8- the Malebolge (Fraudulent, Malicious, Panderers)Moderate
Level 9 - Cocytus (Treacherous)Low
Take the Dante's Inferno Hell Test
Unsurprisingly, I also scored high on heresy. But I'm not sure why I rated a "moderate" on circles 5, 7 and 8.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Expose Expelled!

The NCSE's central links page on the Expelled movie is now officially open for business. The sidebar widget will stay up....well, until the whole thing blows over. (Thanks to Greg Laden for putting it together).

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Ceremonial Prayer, Redux

As promised, Premier Dalton McGuinty has struck the all-party committee to review whether the Ontario Legislature should continue opening with the Lord's Prayer, or replace it with...well, something else TBD. Reactions from some quarters are predictable. Says Conservative MPP Garfield Dunlop:

"There is a lot more behind it than just the prayer," he said.

"Our whole British parliamentary system was based on Christianity. That goes right back to the Magna Carta. The first parliamentary sessions held in Great Britain were held in churches.… Removing one thing is just like chipping away at a foundation. There is no reason to do that."

I'm no historian, but I strongly suspect the claim that the whole Westminster system is "based on Christianity" contains more than a little, um, spin. Trying to link it to the fact that Parliament started out meeting in churches is just silly -- perhaps the fact that churches, then as now, contained conveniently large auditoriums with decent acoustics and lots of places to sit had something to do with it?

And then there's the usual Chicken Little alarmism about "chipping away at the foundation". Right: stop saying the Lord's Prayer before opening the session, before you know it we'll be repealing habeas corpus, cancelling elections and instituting rule by decree. Or something. You know: it'll be just like the Bad Old Days before the Magna Carta, when kings were absolute monarchs who ruled by Divine Ri.....hmm, maybe you'd better think that through again, Mr. Dunlop.

And BTW: the Lord's Prayer has only been in use at Queen's Park since 1969. So much for grandiose claims of "tradition".

The comments on the CBC article are the usual mix of reasonable folk, and others who Really. Don't. Get. It. Whiners who, with barely concealed racism, proclaim Canada a Christian country; all these newcomers have to respect our religion; we're sick of being pushed around etc, ad nauseum. This is the crowd for whom the definition of "persecution" is: "we're no longer allowed to push other people around".

Listen whiners: I'm a home-grown atheist, Ontario born. I've lived here all my life, I pay my taxes and obey the law. You can't dismiss me as some dirty furriner who talks funny; I'm as much a citizen as you lot are. And I say that consistently opening our common legislature with a prayer from one specific religion sends a message: that I am, in fact, not a full citizen; that a religion I do not share holds hegemony in this land, and I -- and every other non-Christian in Ontario -- live here by its sufferance.

Get rid of this meaningless ritual altogether, or replace it with a rotation of invocations more in keeping with the current diversity of the province (or perhaps better: replace it with something relevant to the business of government). But don't continue with the current travesty.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Trying to Live It Down

This week's tempest in the teapot that is frequently Canadian politics is the Lukiwski Affair. For non-Canadians, Tom Lukiwksi is the Conservative Member of Parliament who was caught on videotape making a slur against gays (the exchange starts around time 2:40):

On the tape, which was released by the provincial NDP on Thursday, the cameraman made a comment about Lukiwski being old.

"As we say on tour, I may be old, but I'm f---ing A," Lukiwski responded.

The cameraman retorted: "And who is this A person?"

"Well, let me put it to you this way. There's A's and there's B's. The A's are guys like me. The B's are homosexual faggots with dirt on their fingernails that transmit diseases," Lukiwski said.

The videotape was shot at a campaign office party -- in 1991. The NDP just happened to find it recently when, back on Lukiwski's home ground in Saskatchewan, they moved into offices recently vacated by the Conservatives. The opposition parties are making predictable hay out of it, including demands for the Prime Minister to fire Lukiwski from his post as parliamentary secretary to the government house leader, or even throw him out of caucus.

Before I go on, let me make a few things clear:
  • I am strongly pro-gay rights and anti-bigotry in any form.
  • I've never voted Tory in my life, and I have no plans to start any time soon (certainly not while Harper and the rest of the ex-Reform crew is in charge).
  • I'd never heard of Lukiwski before, and know nothing about him beyond what has been reported in connection with this incident. His political fortunes, for their own sake, interest me not at all.
Lukiwski's remark is a stupid-yahoo thing to say, reflective of a kind of casual macho bigotry that used to be more prevalent (or at least, more openly acceptable) than it is now. He has delivered what sounds to me like a fairly handsome apology for it, in the House.

And that is where I think the matter should rest. However, others are not so ready to forgive and forget. Across the board, there seem to be three main reasons given for sanctioning Lukiwski:

The Unforgivable Sin
On this view, no apology can be an adequate atonement: Lukiwski has committed an unforgivable sin, and should be made a pariah for life. I don't know what to say about this one: you either believe that, or you don't. And I don't. A single off-the-cuff remark does not merit that level of punishment.

The Closet Bigot
Others believe that Lukiwski still holds anti-gay views -- that he hasn't changed in 17 years (somehow, the fact that he was 40 at the time also figures into this). As one commenter put it: "These are core beliefs, and they don't change".

Rubbish. I've changed my mind about lots of things (including homosexuality) in the last 17 years. Some of them were important things too -- easily as much "core beliefs" as any attitude Lukiwski has expressed about gays. And I expect that 17 years hence, I will have changed my mind some more. It's called "growing and learning", and I intend to continue until the day they put me in a box and nail down the lid.

While I can't prove Lukiwski's apology is sincere, I think the onus is on those who disbelieve him to argue for that claim, not just assert it. He deserves the benefit of the doubt.

So: shame on Lukiwski for saying something bigoted in 1991 -- and good on him for growing out of it.

The Larry Spencer Affair
Five years ago while in Opposition, Harper fired another MP, Larry Spencer, as family issues critic for anti-gay remarks. The argument then goes that, to be consistent he should also fire Lukiwski. However, the two cases are not really parallel. According to news stories at the time, Spencer said:
In late November 2003, Spencer caused controversy in Canada by Vancouver Sun reporter Peter O'Neil when he said that he would support any initiative to outlaw homosexuality. He stated that in the 1960s, a "well-orchestrated" conspiracy began and led to recent successes in the gay rights movement. This conspiracy, he further said, included seducing and recruiting young boys in playgrounds and locker rooms, and deliberately infiltrating North America's schools, judiciaries, entertainment industries, and religious communities.
He said this conspiracy has led to successes in the gay-rights movement. "It's so sad that we have to take an issue like this and be asked to put the Good Housekeeping seal of approval on it without being allowed to tell the truth and talk about facts," said Spencer, a U.S.-born former Baptist pastor.

He said homosexuals, due to AIDS and other health problems, have a far lower life expectancy than straight men.

"Let's just say if ... anybody that used Colgate toothpaste, their life expectancy was lowered by 10, 15 years. What do you think would happen to Colgate toothpaste? It would be outlawed. Well, we know that's what happens to men living a gay lifestyle."

He also said homosexuals can transform themselves into heterosexuals.
This, I submit, goes well beyond anything Lukiwski said. In the Spencer case, we have a sitting member openly and deliberately talking about outlawing homosexuality, and repeating several of the standard calumnies against gays -- that they want to recruit young boys, that there is a "gay agenda" (a label applied any time LGBTs ask to be treated like human beings and full citizens), and that gays are sick and have poor life expectancy due to their lifestyle. On this last point, Spencer seems to be repeating the claims of discredited anti-gay activist Paul Cameron. There is no question that this is the kind of wingnut one does not want anywhere near the legislative process. Moreover, there seems to be little doubt that Spencer continues to hold such views: having lost his seat in the 2004 election (after being ejected from caucus, he ran as an independent, and lost -- ironically to Tom Lukiwski), he joined the Christian Heritage Party, which advocates government based on "Biblical principles".

It is in no way inconsistent for Harper to let Lukiwski off with an apology -- it simply and rightly recognizes the relative magnitudes of the two offenses.

In conclusion, my take on it is that, in an unguarded (and possibly tipsy) moment 17 years ago, Tom Lukiwski stuck his foot badly in his mouth. Hopefully, his apology is sincere and he now regrets what he said, for its own sake. Going forward: keep an eye on the guy, but otherwise let the matter drop.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

We apologize for the inconvenience

For reasons that some of you will understand, I have turned on word verification for comments. Hopefully, this will discourage our trollish friend, and he will go bother someone else -- like a qualified mental health professional.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Free-associating Follies

So at work today, I check the mailstop to see if there's anything for me. There isn't, but among the stuff in the inbox is an envelope for someone I don't know, that says on the outside, "Want to Serve God Better?".

And the first thing that pops into my head is: "You mean like: in a pesto sauce, with a glass of cabernet?"


I think this means I'm completely cured of religion. The sense of humour, however, is beyond any possible therapy....

Just so reading this post wasn't a complete waste of your time, here's a blog carnival that looks interesting: Humanist Symposium #17.

Hat tip to Tangled Up In Blue Guy.