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Trinity Western University Graduates in Law.    May 16, 2014

One man's deeply held conviction is another man's bigotry. (Observation #164)


We have been meaning to comment of the great debate about the decision of the Ontario Law Society to refuse accreditation to graduates of the law school at Trinity Western University. The vote was 28 to 21 against accreditation.

The difficulty arises from the fact that students at Trinity Western are required to sign a community covenant:

The covenant includes, among other things, a pledge not to engage in sex outside of marriage — defined in the document as between a man and a woman. Students can face discipline for violating the covenant, either on or off campus, according to the school's student handbook.

(The Calgary Herald, May 6)

Such a pledge runs counter to the notion -- accepted and part of the legal framework in Ontario -- that homosexuality, so long suffering from the taint of religious sin, is acceptable, and that gay marriage is legitimate.

We note that Mr. Ezra Levant, with whom we normally agree, has expressed outrage at the decision, and set up a website -- the realbigots.com – at which those similarly appalled may sign a petition. Mr. Levant compares the bigotry involved to racial discrimination in the United States decades ago. We think the comparison is somewhat stretched: discriminating against people because of the colour of their skin is quite different from discriminating against people because of their ideas. Skin colour is not subject to remedy; ideas are chosen.

The atheist in us, of course, approves of the decision. We think that religious ideas, being without evidentiary foundation, should not supersede secular ideas. This does not mean that secular ideas are always right; man’s capacity for stupidity, as Mr. Einstein noted, is virtually infinite. But at least secular ideas – at least those whose aim is the greatest happiness of the greatest number – are untainted by beliefs of antiquity which arose when understanding of how the world actually works was primitive and flawed.

We should say, in passing, that we do admit to some usefulness in religion. It may well have a function as a bogeyman with which to influence the civilizing process in children. If Jimmy wishes to throw stones at passing automobiles, the current approved secular response is to grimace slightly, and use a restrained tone of mild reproach. The additional threat of hellfire may have some practical function.

Nor would we deny the benefit of a sense of community. We have no objection to large groups of people singing praises to an imagined creator, and enjoying the fellowship of those who share their entirely mistaken conceptions of a kindly transcendent benevolence. We ourselves harbour certain irrational beliefs – the chief of which is that large amounts of money can be made by investing in tiny resource companies. As long as we do not attempt to coerce others into belief in our private follies, we feel no guilt. Indeed, we think that irrational beliefs are quite possibly a necessity for the human psyche.

Nor would we condemn those who, aware of their own mortality, and the apparently vast indifference of the universe to human concerns, harbour the notion that an afterlife exists in which the manifest injustices of existence are to be made right.

However, we would like to make a distinction between casual and committed religious beliefs.

Most of those claiming to be Christian, Muslim, or Zoroastrian – we think – are casual in their beliefs. As with the examples noted above, their beliefs affect the private sphere, and do not impinge on public policy, or attempt to proclaim a public morality.



Those who are committed, who truly believe in some precepts of their religion, make us nervous.

When the rubber hits the road, when push comes to shove, the buck has to find a final resting place. Does the earth circle the sun, or does the sun circle the earth?* Should evolution or creationism be taught in the schools? Is abortion murder, or not? Are contraception and homosexuality sins, or not? Is stoning for adultery a legitimate punishment? Is death appropriate for apostates? Should unbelievers be killed?

At some point, one must take a stand. Are such religious precepts valid and desirable, or should they be condemned?

We recently upheld the proposed Quebec Charter of Values on exactly this point: Governments should proclaim secular, not religious values. Those who wear prominent symbols of their faith are making public proclamation of their commitment. While such proclamations may be their choice in the private sphere, they have no place while the proclaimers are acting as agents of the government.

No doubt there are many lawyers and judges who hold religious beliefs. As long as those beliefs are casual, and subservient to the secular values of a society which has evolved and superseded a more religious and primitive era, we can rest assured that there is indeed a separation of church and state.

We would be significantly alarmed were we to appear before a judge wearing a Christian cross, a Muslim robe, a Sikh turban, or any other symbol of religion. Our question would be: are we being judged by a representative of the secular legal system, or by one committed to religious precepts which we might consider flawed, erroneous, or perverse?

Judges – like police officers – wear a uniform which suggests that they represent not their individual preferences, but the values of the jurisdiction in which they operate. Of course, it is understood that uniforms do not eradicate personal idiosyncrasies – but at least they express an intention which should serve as a check on personal whim.

We note that Trinity Western University is launching a lawsuit against the Ontario Law Society.

We suspect that they will win, and that Mr. Levant will proclaim victory.

We see this probable result, however, as a significant error – an error based on the mistaken concept of "freedom of religion." For "freedom of religion" – like religion itself – is accorded an unsupportable reverence.

No one would deny the right to worship the God of one’s choice – but the right to engage in religious practice is not the same thing at all. Those who wish to wear the niqab while being photographed for a driver’s license, should be refused. Those who wish to wear turbans while employed as police officers should be denied. Those who sign covenants proclaiming their refusal to accept secular views of homosexuality and marriage are perfectly free to do so. But they should be aware that their views are antithetical to those expressed in laws that were enacted as an attempt to limit oppressive discrimination. If they become lawyers in a secular state, we question whether they have made an appropriate choice of careers.

As lawyers, they may, perhaps, do little damage.

But the thought that they might become judges is troubling indeed.

In the end, we think that the Law Societies of Ontario and Nova Scotia (which has also refused accreditation to Trinity Western graduates) are simply ahead of their time. A hundred years from now, we hope that primitive religious values will be held in less esteem. We hope that it will be considered inappropriate for those in government and in the legal system to express commitment to religious precepts which are clearly at odds with the secular values which the state claims to uphold.

*We do not intend the question to be taken literally, as it might have been in the time of Gallileo. But we have always found it odd that the hypothetical creator should have, as his chief focus, one of millions of species on a small planet circling one of billions of stars in one of billions of galaxies. Is mankind more likely to be central, or peripheral?



Some Reflections on Tribalism           (March 9, 2014)


We have been surprised at the ferocity with which Quebec’s Charter of Values has been attacked by virtually all those whom we would normally characterize as calm reasonable, and judicious in their opinions.

The idea that government employees should proclaim their irrational beliefs with prominent symbols during working hours would appear to be the very essence of compassionate humanity, and the prohibition of such proclamation the epitome of cruel repression.

Indeed we have observed expressions of high dudgeon and holier-than-thou-itude, a quivering of the very jowls of indignation. It would appear that freedom of religion is under attack by godless unbelievers, the underpinnings of a tolerant society are threatened by the sharp sword of secularism, and the holy grail of multiculturalism is a cup doctored with the dripping poison of uniformity.

We have been led to reflect on the extent to which religion is merely an element of tribalism, and is a kind of measure of commitment to the tribe.

Tribes, of course, are very useful: many acting together with a unity of purpose can overcome obstacles which an individual may not. But the tribe can only function with the sacrifice of some measure of individuality by most. There can be few leaders, but there must be many followers. Collective thinking is more important than individual thinking.

We recall Duncan Campbell Scott’s poem The Forsaken as an example of the requirements of the tribe under threat. An old Chippewa woman, who has become like a paddle "broken and warped" is left to die on a remote island as winter approaches.

The devotion to the tribe may be measured by the sacrifice which is necessary to sustain it.

We suspect religion has long been intertwined with collective thinking. One can imagine early man, vulnerable in a mysterious and threatening universe, seeking to find and understand some useful pattern of cause and effect. Since most events are the result of intent of human beings or other animals, it is easy to see how all events might have come to be personified. If there is drought, or flooding, or volcanic eruption, the invisible but mysterious and controlling gods must be placated with prayer and sacrifice.

Nor should we overlook certain realities of human psychology. Human beings may be conditioned by fear and confusion into a Pavlovian response. Consider the efficacy of hazing, ‘boot camps’ and shared hardships as bonding mechanisms. These are all elements of tribalism -- and of religion. Consider also how easily the mindset of appeasement may be transferred from generation to generation through the vulnerability of children -- too young to be rational -- to established fears and taboos.


Today, there is less tribalism, and more individual thinking. We have discovered more about how the universe actually operates, and have less need to appease those gods who become more elusive as time passes.

But it is likely that tribalism is, and will remain, a considerable element in the human psyche.

We heard recently, a program about the popularity of team sports, and the unusual devotion of fans to the particular team of their choice. The fact that the chosen team lost, continued to lose, and, indeed, became known chiefly for losing, seemed to have little effect on devotedness. This does not suggest rational behaviour. Surely what this suggests is a kind of tribal devotion; the greater the sacrifice – in terms of disappointment – the greater the measure of commitment. The more sacrifice that the tribe can successfully demand, the greater the reverence it commands. The more irrational the devotion of the fan – in the face of contrary evidence – the more self-congratulation is in order. The greater my devotion and sacrifice – the more worthy I am in the eyes of others.

My folly is the fountain of my self-esteem. My folly is shared, and hence justifiable.

We think religion plays into exactly the same sort of psychology. It should come as no surprise that Islam, which calls for death of apostates, is partial to cruelty of punishment, and promises 72 virgins in heaven for the chosen few, requires the sacrifice of very large amounts of common sense. Losses for the team have been accrued in the past – the track record for freedom and comfort is relatively poor for societies which have put religion at the forefront of governance. And the prospect for wins in the future is not encouraging.

But devotion is more important than winning.

Christianity, also, is hardly sensible. Christians -- we must suppose -- believe in virgin birth, the casting out of devils, resurrection, and the second coming. Eternal hellfire is promised for those unfortunate enough to be skeptical or to have been born in the wrong place at the wrong time. (We have often been amused that no provision is made in the religion for the souls of those human beings born before the advent of the glad tidings of two thousand years ago.)

But Christianity seems to have passed through its militant crusading and inquisitorial stages.

We hear less of hellfire and more of collecting toys for the needy at Christmas. We can attest from personal experience that the influence of Christianity has declined significantly over recent decades. And indeed, over a much longer period, the relegation of Christianity to an inferior role in matters of governance has allowed the rise of science and the secularism which has resulted in the convenience and freedom enjoyed in many western countries today.

As we have said many times before, we see the Quebec Charter of Values as upholding secularism, and as a symbol of the discouraging of irrational belief. We suppose it may be seen as a kind of tribalism too – but a greater tribalism which requires only the sacrifice of devotion to irrational losing teams, in favour of a tribe which, on the evidence, has produced significant wins.

Those who oppose it seem, to us, to be committed to tribalism of an unhelpful sort.


February 17, 2014

Climate Change again. (More than anyone really wants to read.)

We are occasionally moved to contribute to the National Post comment threads. It is sometimes an interesting experience. If one had any doubt that men are inherently combative, and quick to pick a fight, making such a contribution will erase all such uncertainty.

The article we chose yesterday concerned John Kerry, who made a speech mocking climate change skeptics, comparing them to those who believe in a flat earth. He said:

The science is unequivocal, and those who refuse to believe are simply burying their heads in the sand.

We confess that we have always had a soft spot in our heart for the notion of a flat earth; beyond that, we find an enclosing bed of sand for our head to be quite soothing.

We should be clear. We have no certain knowledge of the future. All we can say is that the theory of global warming seems to have run into a significant roadblock, since atmospheric carbon dioxide has increased over the past sixteen years, while the temperature has not. It may well be that the warming will continue at a later date, but the record of the climate alarmists in their predictions is, so far, less than compelling.

We posted this comment:

The case for global warming alarmism.

1. We have one helluva fine idea! Man, this idea is so fine, it’s ineffable. If this idea were a thread, instead of a theory, it could be used to fashion clothes for an emperor!

2. In brief, the idea is that as atmospheric carbon dioxide increases, Climageddon will eventually result.

3. This theory is infinitely malleable and applicable to every circumstance. If there should be an increase in tsunamis, it is a result of global warming. If there should be a decrease in hurricanes, it’s because of global warming. If the Danube should freeze, and Cairo receive snow, one should look no farther for an explanation than that of global warming. If there should be an unusual series of cold wet days, or an exceptional string of fine dry days, global warming is clearly at work. If there should be unusual periods of fog, or a decrease in winds, global warming is the sure and certain culprit.

4. True, there have been a few glitches in the mechanism, and bumps on the road.

There was a graph of temperatures that looked like a hockey stick, that proved to be erroneous.

Predictions of the loss of Antarctic ice, millions of climate refugees, the disappearance of Manhattan, exceptional heat, and a continuing relationship between atmospheric carbon dioxide and temperatures –all these have all failed to materialize. So far.

Unlike most scientists, who welcome scrutiny of their data and conclusions in the pursuit of truth, we climate alarmists have vilified our opponents and attempted to prevent the publication of contrary views. Some of the impious have claimed to be offended – but heretics, as always, will reap their dire reward.


5. Ours is a truly fine idea, and will eventually be proved correct. Al Gore, John Kerry, and President Obama cannot all be wrong at the same time on the same issue.

6. Increased carbon dioxide will lead to higher temperatures, a rise in sea levels, disastrous flooding, and the destruction of the civilized industrial world as we now understand it.

7. The only hope to prevent the destruction of the civilized industrial world is to reduce carbon emissions to the point that the civilized industrial world is destroyed. As Maurice Strong, one of our chief proponents has said:

Isn’t the only hope for this planet that the industrial civilization collapse? Isn’t it our responsibility to bring that about?

8. Thus the collapse of industrial civilization, one way or another, is inevitable. Surely it is better to destroy it ourselves, under the careful controlled guidance of the United Nations, than leave the matter to the terrible uncertainty of global warming?

In Reply, C.S. said:

Ignorance of reality.

More than 90% of the world scientific community has explained every aspect of your nonsense post.

Denier means to be ignorant of the answers provided.

We responded: Pleased to see you have a finely developed sense of humour.

Another reply from M.S.: Lot of effort for such a poor post.

We responded: Gratified by your appreciation of my diligence.

For the record, we made another post on the same thread:

Climate Change -- including violent and dramatic change -- has been a constant throughout the millennia.

However, there has been no global warming for about the last sixteen years, despite an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. Since the theory of anthropogenic global warming depends upon a direct relationship between the two, it is clear that the theory – in scientific terms -- is gasping for breath, if not brain dead and completely unresponsive to the anxious cajolings of committed alarmists.

In the world of magical-- or political -- thinking, that may not be the case. Perhaps Mr. Kerry is relying on the Bellman theory: "What I tell you three times is true." Or possibly he derives comfort from the evangelical preacher’s credo: when the argument is weak, yell like hell.

Mr. Kerry’s certainty that the science is "unequivocal" is belied by the confession of James Lovelock, creator of the Gaia theory and an early alarmist, who has recently stated: "The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing."

And Judith Curry, Chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Science at the Georgia Institute of Technology has said "I’ve been trying to understand how there can be such a strong consensus given these uncertainties."

In 2012, 125 scientists wrote to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon complaining that there was no scientific basis for his statements linking hurricane Sandy to anthropogenic climate change.

Francis Bacon proposed the scientific method some 400 years ago; it appears that forming conclusions based on evidence has never really caught on.