Longtime readers may remember that religion used to be a primary, rather than incidental focus of this blog. It may be the case that writing for Canadian Atheist and then moving to Freethought Blogs took some of the fun out of being a combative atheist. It could just be that I had more pressing questions rattling around in my brain. At any rate, I haven’t done a pure religious critique in a while, so pardon me if the rust shows through.
I read the Old Testament when I was in high school. Being a longtime fan (and voracious reader) of Greek mythology, I immediately recognized the stamp of myth on the stories of Jonah and the Giant Fish, Noah’s Ark, the Walls of Jericho, you name it. Stories are important cultural signifiers that transcend generations and give us some common ground. It didn’t strike me as particularly peculiar that a group of nomadic people whose written language arrived many generations after many serious events in their history would have kept their history alive in story form. It seems equally non-controversial to imagine that, as stories tend to do, the histories and the fables and legends became blended over multiple tellings. For someone who, even at the time, wasn’t a literalist believer, the idea that a literal super-strong Samson probably didn’t actually exist in the way he’s depicted didn’t matter much to me. What was important were the lessons of the Bible. It would take me a few more years to realize how monstrous many of those lessons actually are.
Similarly and non-coincidentally, I began to view the New Testament as a work of fictionalized history. At the time I thought Jesus was probably literally real, and that the writing in the Gospels needed to be viewed in context of the politics of the time. Understanding the tension that would have existed between, for example, the Pharisees and the Roman Empire at the time, helped put things like the Sermon on the Mount into a reasonable context – Jesus wasn’t speaking for eternal attribution, he was talking about the issues of the time. Judas wasn’t some evil conniver, he was a run-of-the-mill political zealot who sought to install new leadership by betraying the old one. And so on, in a most run-of-the-mill sort of way. … Continue Reading
By now the vast majority of you will have heard of the racist comments made by Donald Sterling, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, an NBA team. Sterling was taped during a phone conversation with his girlfriend V. Stiviano, asking her not to bring black people to games with her. This is, apparently, part of a long history of racist comments made by Sterling over the course of this conversation and over a number of incidents stretching back many years. The response has been quick and severe, with players, owners, sports fans, and team sponsors all moving to condemn the comments and the man who made them.
Is Donald Sterling a racist?
Whether or not Donald Sterling is “a racist” is a question that I find profoundly boring. As I have said many times before, I do not recognize the validity of the category “a racist”. There seems to be no behaviour or set of behaviours that we can agree on to define what “a racist” is. All we know about “racists” are that nobody who is ever accused of being one, nor anyone who supports or is otherwise allied with the accused, will accept the label. Then there is something about how many bones in that person’s body are racist. And then some jiu-jitsu about who is really “a racist”. The pattern is as predictable as it is tiresome.
I am similarly not interested in writing a personal condemnation of Donald Sterling. I doubt he (or anyone else) would care if I did, and that ground is pretty well trod already. If you heard what Sterling said, and you don’t already think he’s a total scumbag, then I doubt that any combination of consonants and vowels could possibly convince you.
What I do want to do, however, is unpack what I think is a really revelatory statement made by Sterling in his recorded conversation. When Stivilano presses Sterling on the blatant racist content of the comments he’s made, and how it stands at odds with the fact that the players of the team he owns are predominantly black, Sterling is recorded as angrily responding: … Continue Reading
Those of you who have either been reading this blog for several years or who regularly follow my Twitter feed and have caught one of my unhinged rants on the subject, I am decidedly not a fan of Canada’s Sun News Network. While (full disclosure) I would not be a fan of any ‘right wing’ news outlet, there are gradations of obnoxiousness and professionalism that allows me a wide level of tolerance for ideas that do not necessarily reflect my own (Margaret Wente, columnist for The Globe and Mail sits just on the periphery of what I can stand before I begin cursing at my computer monitor). I recognize (and laud) that a commitment to freedom of speech specifically licenses views that I disagree with, and I recognize the importance of heterodoxy in a modern democratic state.
The need for divergent views, however, must be balanced with a respect for truth and a commitment to scrupulous standards of fairness. There is no value in claiming validity for positions that are based in distortions of fact or outright lies. In news circles, this ethos is known as “journalistic integrity” – the idea that news outlets have a duty to provide readers with analysis that as closely approximates objective truth as possible. Now I am nowhere near so naive that I fail to recognize that different outlets have editorial biases – that’s media criticism 101. However, there are standards of good reporting that require all editors to suppress their own personal beliefs in service of giving their audience proper information. … Continue Reading
One of the weird facets of having male, able-bodied, and a great deal of middle-class privilege (that really does border on white privilege at times, my skin colour notwithstanding) is that there are a number of evidently-common phenomena that I have simply never witnessed. I have never known someone to be raped*, I have never seen harassment more obnoxious than cat-calls or a honked horn, and as near as I can tell I have never been on the receiving end of serious discrimination either at the hands of an employer or the police. Left with only my own personal experience as a yardstick for reality, it would be trivially easy for me to fall into the seductive trap of assuming that the world is a fair place and the concerns of anti-abuse groups are very occasional and dramatic exceptions to a general trend of figurative rainbows and puppies.
But because I have made the decision to not only listen to those who have experienced those things, but to engage with their ideas and compare them to the few occasions where I have had to deal with being subjected to discrimination, I have learned to let the weight of my skepticism rest more heavily on those who say there’s no problem than those who say there is one. One recent example of a major transition I have made is my attitude toward police. I have seen too many stories of egregious and unpunished crimes committed by police all over the world to believe that these are isolated incidents that are not reflective of a larger and more disturbing trend. Despite my universally positive personal interactions with Vancouver Police (I have repeatedly noted the positive way they handled both the Occupy Vancouver presence and the post-hockey riots), in the absence of robust and meaningful civilian oversight I am obligated to view all officers with suspicion. … Continue Reading
One of the things that blogging has moved me to do more often is to learn about history. I am somewhat ashamed to say that between, let’s say, grade 10 history class (which was in 2000) and the founding of this blog (in 2010), I was not exactly what you might call ‘a student of history’. Sure, I picked up things in fits and snatches from newspaper articles and what I gleaned from just generally being a person who was paying attention to the world, but it would be a rare occurrence indeed for you to catch me studying history for its own sake. I have since learned the critical role that understanding history should play in our daily lives.
I think history is kinder to liberals than it is to conservatives (although these labels break down once you reach more than 30 years back). While there have been, and technically continue to be good conservative arguments to make about things, the political ‘left’ has moved to more or less occupy what was once the centre, while the right (particularly in America) has steadily moved to the extreme. As a result, American conservatives lionize Ronald Reagan – a man who was a terrible President and a terrible influence on the world – a man whose policies they would demonize as Satanic socialism were he living today. They don’t really have many other icons to boast about, nor major policy positions they can hang their hats on. They have become the less-clever Statler and Waldorf of policy – having nothing substantive to contribute, but always lobbing criticisms.
I am not one easily given to conspiracy theories. I usually assume that any major injustice or monumental political shift is due to an accumulation of human stupidity, rather than the genius machinations of a secret cabal. After all, as Karl Rove has taught us, most of the people who are rumoured to be political ‘geniuses’ are usually just lucky and have good PR. It’s usually safer to assume that the snake has no head, given how spectacularly bad human beings are at keeping secrets.
I do make two pet exceptions though. The first is for H1N1, which I think was seen as an opportunity to test our public health readiness infrastructure. We knew pretty early on that the disease wasn’t particularly fatal, but it was a good chance for us to see what would happen when a serious flu (like H5N1, for example) breaks out, in a natural experiment. This isn’t a nefarious conspiracy – I don’t think government labs ‘cooked up’ a fake disease or any nonsense like that – but I think they held back on telling the public that there really wasn’t anything to worry about.
The second conspiracy theory that’s been cooking in the back of my mind is that conservatives are secretly brilliant. That they’ve been playing at being buffoons as part of a trans-generational practical joke on liberals, who are just too slow/outraged to get the joke. How else do you explain the fact that Michelle Bachmann is sitting on the House Intelligence Committee? That kind of irony doesn’t just happen by accident – that’s satire on a grand scale.
If you follow Canadian politics news, you may have noticed that a copy of a third-party forensic audit of Attawapiskat First Nation was leaked to the press yesterday. The news wasn’t exactly good* – a large majority of expenses had no supporting documentation, which is certainly a suspicious state of affairs. The fact that the band has been under co-management and that the number of un-documented expenses dropped after 2010 (when Theresa Spence took over as chief) has not stopped the crowing of the critics of Chief Spence’s attempts to elicit federal assistance from a government that seems more interested in sending accountants than resources. They see this as further evidence of their central thesis: that the problems experienced by First Nations are the result of their own incompetence as opposed to anything that the Government of Canada has to step in and address (because fuck the Auditor General, right?)
To their credit, the only response from the Harper team so far has been to say that they agree with the findings of the audit (they’ve had a copy of it for months now), but their supporters have been bleating their triumph to the skies. Which makes me wonder: is fiscal responsibility really the moral high ground you want to stand on? The whole argument right now is whether or not the incompetence and shady practices of Chief Spence and her clique have resulted in a situation where her people are suffering, and she is to blame by virtue of her lack of fiscal responsibility.
49% of GOP voters nationally say they think that ACORN stole the election for President Obama. Wefound that 52% of Republicans thought that ACORN stole the 2008 election for Obama, so this is a modest decline, but perhaps smaller than might have been expected given that ACORN doesn’t exist anymore [emphasis mine].
Give in to your anger, PPP. Come join us on the snark side.
If you talk to conservatives about racism, one of their most common rhetorical positions is that liberals are “the real racists” because they (we) can’t seem to shut up about race. We’re obsessed with race – we see racism everywhere! But not conservatives. Conservatives treat everyone identically and don’t even notice race, or if they do notice it they certainly don’t let it affect their decision-making. Why, conservatives think that all of the races are born equal, and deserve equal treatment with equal opportunities for success.
It is because of this rhetorical position that conservatives are deeply offended by the idea of affirmative action programs. By giving one race an “advantage” in hiring or acceptance, liberals are discriminating against white people by saying that simply being born white makes you undeserving of a job or a placement in a school. That only non-whites should get into those jobs and schools, even if they’re not qualified, because liberals think white people are evil, or they feel guilty because some white people had slaves, like 100 years ago.