Thursday, May 15, 2008

Religious Intolerance By Any Other Name

Is still religious intolerance

Let it never be said that Canadian Cynic doesn't have his uses. They're few and far between, but he does have them.

Coming to us via the perennially-crazed Lulu at Canadian Cynic today is the Atheist Conservative, who has an imaginary bone to pick with Stephane Dion over whether or not Dion is a Scientologist:

"I don’t want to assert to [sic] heavily here, as I don’t have any evidence besides Stéphane’s own writings.

What concerns me is his recent "Bridge to the Future" plan. It smells like Scientology. It stinks like Scientology, I should say. The Scientology belief is that people progress along a "Bridge" to unlock their personal inner power.

I ravaged the internet and could only find cursory hints that Stéphane might have links to Scientology, but nothing definite.

We need to hammer this quickly. If Stéphane Dion is a Scientologist, he needs to be resign from public life for the betterment of the entire country.

I know I’ve got a bit of tinfoil-hattery going on here, but I think, in this case, it’s healthy. It’s possible, and it would be nice to see politico’s distance themselves from this dangerous, murderous cult.

What "Loreweaver" seems to be taking issue with is an essay Dion published in Policy Options Magazine. Ironically, the opening paragraph casts a long shadow over Loreweaver's post. For once, Stephane Dion -- allegedly a very poor communicator -- has said something I couldn't say better myself:

"As the party of the centre in Canada, the Liberal Party
of Canada spent much of its history building an
inclusive country.

While I contend that the Liberal party certainly hasn't built our "inclusive country" all on its own (consider that the alleged centrepiece of the Liberal party's accomplishments is the Charter of Rights and Freedoms originally written as the Bill of Rights by John Diefenbaker), the ultimate premise of Loreweaver's post -- that Scientologists are somehow unfit to hold public office by simple virtue of being Scientologists -- flies directly in the face of the inclusive country that Canadians have built together.

In the long and short of it, Loreweaver takes exception to the very gall of Dion to use a bridge metaphor in the article. (Apparently, Scientology uses a lot of bridge metaphors as well.) He then uses this as an opportunity to jump to the conclusion that Dion is a Scientologist, and thus unfit for public office.

For its own part, Dion's article is often a historical revisionist flight of fancy -- imagining that the Liberals built programs such as Universal Health Care because they believed in them, not leveraging the survival of their minority government because it was demanded by Tommy Douglas and the NDP -- but it's really just a regular recounting of Dion's policy beliefs. None of it seems terribly religious in any regard.

But Loreweaver's attitude really underlies what is all too often a rash streak of religious intolerance underlying the beliefs of the most devout fundamentalist atheists.

The argument put forth is that Scientology is inherently menacing to public policy, and that any Scientologist should be immediately disqualified from holding public office because of their religious beliefs.

Such attitudes have been seen before. In the United States, hostility to Catholicism became the basis for discrimination against Irish immigrants, who were viewed as potential traitors to the United States (it was assumed their first loyalties would always be to the Pope).

This hostility was so deeply rooted that John F Kennedy became the first Catholic President of the United States in 1961 -- nearly two hundred years after the United States was established.

The hysteria that took root then is ultimately the same as the hysteria that takes root now: particular candidates should be considered unfit for public office because they can't be trusted not to govern according to their religious views. The argument raised by Loreweaver against Dion is ironically the same argument raised by countless other "concerned parties" (who often also identify themselves as atheists) against Mike Huckabee, who reportedly believes in creationism.

Yet both the United States and Canada have both been governed by religious people beliefs ever since the establishment of either country. The "imminent disaster" that so many critics, like Loreweaver, site when insisting that individuals with unsavory (or, as is the case with Scientology, kooky) religious beliefs be considered unfit for public office has yet to materialize.

There are, of course, scenarios in which an individual has embraced religions refined into political ideologies -- this is the case with the most militant Muslims and Christians -- who, one hopes, the public at large will reject if they can't be trusted not to govern according to religious dogma.

But such is hardly the case with Dion. In the short run, Loreweaver's entire argument becomes more than a little pointless, as it turns out that Stephane Dion is a non-practicing Catholic. Not a Scientologist.

But even if Dion were a Scientologist, his worthiness for public office should be assessed according to his political beliefs, not his religious beliefs.

To declare him unqualified by simple virtue of his religion is the height of religious intolerance -- bigotry that, unfortunately, the most extreme fundamentalist atheists are more than willing to promote as "sensible" and "rational".

But never in the history of the world has bigotry -- flat-out bigotry -- been "sensible" or "rational". Mostly because bigotry is born in the most insensible and irrational places the human heart has to offer.

Ironically, this is a lesson that Cynic and his ilk have to learn as well -- but that's another story for another day.

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