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.


Anonymous said...

EK said "This [Christian whiners] is the crowd for whom the definition of "persecution" is: "we're no longer allowed to push other people around"."

Brilliant! I'll have to remember that one. I don't remember ever seeing it phrased that way, and it deserves wider exposure than your little blog. Next time the issue comes up on Pharyngula or some such place, please repeat it - they'll love it, I'm sure.

I'm with you on this issue. Well said. I think Prof. Elmasry's oath needs some pruning and polishing, but I'd love to see it as an daily obligation for every MPP. Actually, make that for MP's too.


AJM said...

The Magna carta thing comes up now and then in Canada, and is entirely BS, by my lights. There's some ceremonial references to gods in it, like in a lot of political documents, but that gets you nowhere, really.

From an earlier comment on it I made quite some time ago in a letter to the Winnipeg Sun, when one of their writers made a similar claim (yes, I'm quoting myself)...

'It's a complex political treaty, born of a complex political conflict. It's probably largely chance it wound up as the first actual written codification of the evolving body of traditional rights of the king's subjects, and the limitations to his power over them. Those traditional rights are also well known to predate the charter, and, to my knowledge, also are nowhere in law explicitly linked to any justifying document. They seem to have evolved out of society, as does much law and custom, well after the Christian canon was codified, and, again, really get little support from those earlier documents. The Bible also has rather little to say about the right to petition for a writ of habeas corpus, nor the right to public trial, the last time I checked.'

(Longer comment here, in case anyone's curious)