5 Things About Canada’s Motion M-103

How should we be thinking about M-103?

Here in Canada, the private member’s motion by Liberal backbencher Iqra Khalid has been causing some consternation. As with most things political and legal, the result has been a great deal of misunderstanding about what is actually said, and where the arguments really lie in the debate over the motion. Unfortunately, this has become a bit of a political Rorschach test (with people seeing their own political boogeymen in the issue regardless of the facts), meaning that fair-minded people can get easily confused as to the issues. So here are some points that we Christians should be considering when thinking and discussing this topic.

1) This is a motion, not a bill. There is a very big difference in parliamentary procedure between a bill (which if passed becomes law), and a motion of Parliament (which if passed can only change the rules in parliament at most, and usually simply records the will of parliament). You can see this in the text of the motion, which instructs a Parliamentary committee to do research on a defined set of terms. You can check out this short backgrounder for more information.

2) Religious Discrimination really is a problem. It’s hard to argue that there aren’t people who have hatreds of Muslims in Canada (even evidenced in the pushback the member bringing the motion has faced). In at least one (possibly deranged) case, it has led to violence. As people who are in favour of religious tolerance (i.e. religious people being allowed to be openly religious in our society), Christians generally should be ready to oppose unjustified religious discrimination, whether it is focussed on us as Christians, or on any other religious group. In this way, the motion makes some good statements about dealing with religious discrimination.

3) There really is racism in Canada, and some of it expresses through the hatred of perceived “foreign” religions. Again, this is not particularly a controversial point. Some people (both in support of Muslims, and those opposed to Muslims) mischaracterize their feelings in terms of race. As we will see in a moment, part of the discussion does have to be about language, and so this is more of a complicating factor than it would first appear. That said, as a people purchased by Christ from every tribe and tongue and nation, and who affirm that all humans carry the image of God, we cannot support racial discrimination either, and indeed need to be openly opposing it. Here again, the motion has much Christians can applaud.

4) The issue is language. Contrary to public opinion at present, Islam is not a race any more than Christianity is. Thus, while we need to oppose unjust religious discrimination, and racism, we need to be careful not to conflate the two. The Muslim teacher I have had the best conversations with happened to be a redhead from Newfoundland, who has a whiter complexion than I do, and I have spent more time in the Middle East than he has. Similarly, as Mark Noll has pointed out, the average Christian globally is a woman living in sub-Saharan Africa. Thus I would point out that the juxtaposition of systematic racism with what is termed “Islamophobia” is going to cause confusion. To oppose the teachings of any religion is not in itself racist. While Christians need to oppose unjust racial and religious discrimination, we need to be careful to keep open the possibility of disagreeing over religious beliefs.

5) The Term Islamophobia is (a large) part of the issue Here the issue is going to depend largely on how you read the word. If Islamophobia refers to the irrational fear and hatred of Muslim people, there is valid reason to oppose it. As with any fear and hatred of people made in the image of God (regardless of what they believe), Christians must be at the forefront of opposing it. However, recent cultural movements have tended to mobilize the term “phobia” as a means of discrediting all criticism of the thing ostensibly feared. While the applicability of the terms in those cases can be debated elsewhere, when it comes to a creed or religion, applying the phobia moniker may chill free discussion of those creeds or religions.Where this may work against free speech, Christians need to be vigilant, since evangelism, and even internal religious debate within Christianity (as well as within Islam) may be chilled.

Online Reading (Feb. 12, 2017)

The articles I’m reading this morning (and some of what I’m thinking about them).

Music: Ajith Fernando on the benefits of music to our Christian devotions (I go acapella since I can’t play the piano)

Prayer: Scotty Smith prays through the difference between condemnation and conviction

Politics: Should we be building a wall on our southern border, and getting the Americans to pay for it?

Law: American border agents with the authority to detain Canadians on Canadian soil? This was probably a bad idea before Trump.

A Quick Case for Christian Civility

It’s a difficult time to be an online conservative Christian with a strong interest in the law and politics (and a strong aversion to populism). Since the ascent of Donald Trump to the presidency, my conservative Evangelical leanings have been considered tacit support of a populist political leader who I see as acting in both immoral and foolish ways. It even leads some to accuse me of the most heinous beliefs and ideas, and attack me as evil, or stupid because I happen to be an evangelical Christian (a demographic that overwhelmingly voted for Donald Trump). Of course, I’m Canadian, so I didn’t vote for Trump, and was frankly thankful for not having to vote in the American election, but it seems most of my American friends on both sides of the electoral divide have decided that an Evangelical faith in Jesus Christ is somehow closely tied with American politics of the Republican brand, making those who are Christian obviously trump supporters, and those who question Trump obviously unChristian.

This is even true for conservative Christians who supported Donald Trump in the previous election. They assume that I am also in support of Trump, and are likely to accuse me of Apostasy for my daring to point out that torture is evil, and refugees should not be limited based on religious background (though to be fair, Trumps executive order doesn’t technically limit Muslim refugees, any more than Obama’s record on accepting Christian refugees from Syria was technically anti-Christian bias). Much less for the fact that a president shouldn’t be running the country via executive orders (something I also opposed when Obama did it).

What strikes me as most damaging of all of this is not the fact that it shows disagreement between people in the free world, but that both sides seem intent on simply demonizing their opposition, even when the person speaking claims to trust in Jesus Christ.

This is very likely to increase strife, not limit it…

Sadly, at least in my reading, my concern has most clearly been expressed by a legal scholar I generally disagree with:

Because if America is to avoid slipping into civil war, the people we need to keep in focus are the people who elected Donald Trump. I get that the easy way to think and talk about those Americans is to call them racists, or sexists or idiots. No doubt there are some who are those (as there are some on the other side who are each of those things too). But it is neither true nor helpful to simplify this story into good versus evil. The citizens who elected Trump are not evil. And if America is going to survive this crisis, we need to convince them first that their President should not be President. We need to show them that their own values are consistent with ours, in this respect at least.

This is good advice from a practical perspective, but much more so for Christians, whether we like Donald Trump as president or not. We are called by our Lord and Saviour to love others as we love ourselves (quoting laws from God in the Old Testament, recorded in Leviticus, no less), and very few people go out of their way to assume that their own motives are impure, so it is pointedly unChristian to assume evil on behalf of others, even when we vehemently disagree with the conclusions they’ve drawn.

Instead, we need to be the kinds of people who lovingly, but truthfully make our cases, assuming that the other person is open to reason.

When explaining what love looks like, the Apostle Paul goes out of his way to explain how love is patient and kind, and how it rejoices in truth (see 1 Corinthians 13). All of this means that it doesn’t behoove Christians of either side of this particular debate to assume the worst of people who disagree with you politically.

I would also say, given my own opinions on how the Trump presidency is shaping up so far, it might be possible for left leaning people to find allies on the other side of the political divide on the issue of this president, if only the case can be made without demonizing your perceived opponents.

Online Reading (Dec. 23, 2016)

Technerdiness: Apparently some people have turned to body modification to keep apple airpods in their ears.

Grieving: Remember that Christmas can actually be a harder time for some. Desiring God gives some thoughts as we pray for friends and family that may be grieving in a time of great joy.

Politics: Some think the religious right is monolithic. Even in a year that saw evangelicals overwhelmingly rally around a candidate, get religion points to a story of deep division among evangelicals over president Donald Trump.

Charity: As we think about giving this Christmas season, remember that loving our fellows can mean thinking about needs that don’t necessarily tug at our heart strings as much, CBC reports.

Thoughts on Intelligence from watching Election Results.

“If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.” Proverbs 29:9

“A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool.” – Proverbs 17:10

One of the advantages of living in east Asia is that election results I’d have to stay up late to hear when I was back in Canada, come in at pretty regular intervals during my waking hours in Korea. It’s even better when it’s during a US election, which tends to have interesting commentaries, and honestly has very little to do with me, a Canadian expatriate.

That said, it also gives me an opportunity to see the opinions of friends of mine as they express their own understanding of the situation in the US. To be blunt, very few wind up agreeing with me on much of anything when it comes to politics, which is honestly okay, because I’m not too worried about being silenced for my difference of opinion quite yet.

That said, I have been noticing a very troubling trend in public discourse over the last little while. I don’t think it’s a new thing, just something I’ve only noticed recently.

Political satire can cause us to question cherished beliefs, but it can also harden prejudice. The ability to laugh at something does not mean you are more correct than those you laugh at.

It has become common to make moral judgements about people who come to different conclusions than you do. I noticed this first when I expressed my right wing proclivities to a friend of a friend, who said that the only person who could be right wing was either evil or stupid, and I was forced to ask which he thought me to be. Of course, he stammered for a while, since previous to this, he had had no reason to doubt either my love for my fellow man, or my intellect. I never really got an answer.

The reason he had made his statement, however, seems to me a rather common set of assumptions in modern western dialogue, and I think stems from a mixture of pride and a misunderstanding about intelligence. Quite simply, people want to be seen as smart, because in the modern technological age, it’s seen as very important to be intelligent, and to be seen as intelligent. You can see this most readily in the way people denigrate opposing positions (as my friend did) as “stupid”. Note that the problem isn’t that the opposing position is incorrect or dangerous or immoral, rather, the opposing position is seen as lacking in intellect, meaning that the person holding the position is also seen as stupid.

The problem is that this shows a fundamental failure to understand the nature of intellect. While it is true that smart people often know a lot of details about things, it is not the knowledge of details that makes one intelligent. Even less is intelligence marked by holding “correct” opinions about given subjects. The simple fact is that there  are many very intelligent people, who for very good reasons, have held incorrect opinions; most commonly due to a lack of pertinent information (or a lack of seeing information that is pertinent as pertinent).

Intelligence is not marked by the ability to hold correct opinions, but rather by the ability to come to correct conclusions. This is NOT the same thing. Anybody can learn correct opinions and not know the reasons behind those opinions (which means they cannot adequately critique their own opinions). An intelligent person is one who, once given the necessary information, will be able to synthesize that data into valid conclusions based on the data.

Unfortunately, finding out about that takes a great deal of work. To know if a person’s opinions are intelligent based on that kind of synthesizing of information, you need to look at the information, and the person’s reasoning, not just the conclusion. It is far easier to simply look at the concluding opinion and make a judgement on that. Unfortunately, the result is that people who do that often then label conclusions that are different from their own as stupid without actually looking at the evidence and reasoning, meaning that the opposing position cannot do any work to correct errors in our own thinking.

This is compounded by a level of pride in society that wishes for us to see ourselves as intelligent. Being corrected is hard, and often not comfortable. It can lead to the questioning of cherished beliefs, or to isolation from a majority position, and is almost always a blow to pride. Thus it is often much easier to insulate our own opinions from critique, by grading opposing positions based on the conclusions rather than on the reasoning that got there.

This is why it is important to know, not just correct opinions, but the reasons behind correct opinion.

I think that is also why in the recent political movements in the United States, denigration of the opposition as unthinking or stupid became the norm, with statements themselves seen as being stupid without looking at the reasoning behind them (why do Keynsean economists think that government spending can stimulate an economy, why did a failed senate candidate think that the first amendment did not contain “the separation of Church and state”, etc.).

The question then is simple. Will we take the easy road of acceptable opinion, or the much harder road of humility and examination? Will we do the work of finding out why an opinion is correct or incorrect, or simply rest on the perceived intelligence of our own conclusions?

I fear in my own heart, I often do not answer that question well.

Can government funded media be impartial?

I ask the question because when I debate funding with my Canadian family for the Canadian public broadcasting service (the CBC), it’s often asserted that the government should fund public broadcasting so that it can give the people impartial information.

Now, for the moment we’ll assume that it is possible to have impartial information. Even with that, however, I’m not sure how the government funded broadcaster can be impartial when dealing with the parties to political disputes in Canada, when at least one of the parties to political disputes has as its basis, a belief that public broadcasting should have lesser (or in the case of radical conservatives like myself, eliminated) public funding. Will the publicly funded media be able to treat impartially those who advocate against their existence as an entity? It seems that in such an instance, they become a party to the political disagreement.

Of course it is possible to be impartial in that instance, but not very likely. This is especially true when one realizes that the majority of those working in Public broadcasting believe strongly in public broadcasting… that’s one of the reasons they work there.

Public broadcasting, in the sense of a broadcaster funded by the government, it seems, cannot be impartial to political disputes because they are themselves a party. They may not be officially part of a given political party, but they are an entity with a large vested interest in whatever decisions are made by Canada’s general public, and a vested interest that lies directly with the fact that they are (about 75%) taxpayer funded.

To me, this means that public broadcasting cannot meet its stated goal of providing impartial information to inform an electorate, not because the public broadcaster is evil, but just because they are a public broadcaster.

At this point, my opponents usually switch gears and tell me that the corporate media are no better. To be honest, I agree. Corporations are also biased and will not usually provide impartial information. That said, there is one benefit that the private news media has over the public one from my perspective.

Canadians aren’t forced to pay for the private media.

Humility and the Triumph of (Over)Confidence

So this morning I again ran into the issue of fan death in Korea through a facebook comment, and I had a chance to reflect on my experience…

A quick explanation: Fan death is the belief that if a person on a hot day closes off their room and falls asleep with a fan pointed at him, there is a chance that he will die.

Sounds kinda strange, especially coming from a country with an extremely high level of scientific education. There is no shortage of people who think this is a very stupid belief, and to be honest, I used to be one of them. But then, I actually got past my immediate dismissiveness and looked into it a bit. Now, I’m still not sure I’m fully convinced of the need for timers on fans (which are standard in Korea), but I do have to agree with some climatologists and the American EPA (see appendix B)  that there is at least something to this.

So what happened here? Why was I so convinced that people who believed something that was easily checkable were wrong simply because their belief did not fit into my preconceived ideas. I had forgotten the fact that it is best to not just know THAT something is incorrect, but do the work of finding out why it is incorrect. I think this is one of the reasons

behind the Biblical statement that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. (Ps 111:10, Pr 1:7; 9:10) That is to say, you will be strikingly unable to learn if you believe yourself to be the apex of knowledge and truth (thus have no fear of God).

I think this is common in society at large as well. Reading opinion pieces in the world’s newspapers, you will often find them full of confident assertions (some true, some less so) with little basis in either argumentation or reference to some place where I can go check myself. It seems to be part of almost all debates (climate change, capitalism/socialism, religion, politics, and on and on).

The upshot is that I wonder if the dominant culture has trained people to be so confident of their own beliefs, that very few people are even listening to opposing positions anymore, and even fewer are learning anything.