Sunday, October 6, 2013

On Church and State

Epicurus: 'Why does evil exist?'

We don’t really have separation of Church and State in this country, even though the claim has been made that we do. 

There has never been a church that revolted against this state, and the state has never represssed a single religion. 

Well--maybe a few. Maybe just a little bit--but they came around in the end.

To the state, all religions are equally useful.

They keep the people placid, and that’s good if you want to exercise power over them. Once the truth has been revealed, it is unchangeable—an important element in any system of beliefs.

The truth is unchangeable. Truth comes from somewhere far above you.

Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, these are all state and religious holidays. People who haven’t seen the inside of a church in years for any reason other than the wedding of a friend or the funeral of a relative celebrate religious holidays with an inconsistency that to me seems schizophrenic.

Religion is an excuse to have festivities.

The state itself rests on some religious foundation. The Queen of England, the titular head of our constitutional monarchy, is also the titular head of the Anglican Church. We have Henry VIII to thank for that, when all he wanted was to appoint his own friends to benefices that were up for grabs, (and the income derived from them) which up until then were strictly Catholic. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen—Henry VIII was a Catholic. Some would argue that all he wanted was another divorce, and the pope at that time refused.

It was a power struggle, nothing more, and I don’t think Henry VIII had any great theological arguments to back him up. So in that sense, it really wasn’t about the Reformation or Protestantism per se.

No one wants to talk about this. We prefer to let sleeping dogs lie. I’m just supposed to accept things and keep my mouth shut—because you guys have given me freedom.

And you’re not going to give it up—or the power that goes with it, anytime soon.

What a ludicrous claim. You have given me my freedom.

No one can set you free, ladies and gentlemen.

You must free yourselves or be perpetual slaves in service to your corporate masters.

Personal freedom requires the individual to take full responsibilty for themselves—and responsibility is hard.

Before each session of the Legislative Assemby of Ontario, the proceedings are opened with a prayer.

It is true those dummies need all the help they can get, for surely one or two of them had some vision…before they got elected, and had hopes of making some sweeping social progress in the context of this century, a hope that will be quickly pounded out of them by ‘realities.’

I’ve never actually heard it, but it’s likely not the Roman Catholic version of the Lord’s Prayer that they use. 

They had to pick one, and only one, of several creeds.

In fact, when I switched from a public school to a Catholic school back in the 1960s, the words of the prayer were slightly different. The hair-splitting of theology is legendary.

One syllable, one wrong word, one wrong inflection or accent and the transgressor is immediately condemned to everlasting hellfire. Since I’ve uttered that prayer both ways, it’s difficult to see me as anything other than but one of the damned.

The trouble with atheism is of course morality.

Without a God, one socially-acceptable to my neighbours, where can morality possibly spring from?

What if I agreed that murder, theft, arson, violence of any sort was wrong?

Would you doubt my word, even though these things are first of all illegal, and secondly, they are impractical methods of conflict resolution?

Ah, but Ian, where are you getting all of this? Surely a man, a normal man, is incapable of figuring these things out without some miracle of divine intervention, a lightning bolt, a splitting of the Earth, or even just a stork leaving town in a hurry—a flock of birds behaving strangely, or perhaps the meteors of the air, showering the world with sparks and pestilence…but I digress, ladies and gentlemen.

Where do atheists go on Halloween? Because we don’t believe in the supernatural, it would be hypocritical to dress up as a ghost or a goblin; or to indulge in superstition such as reading the horoscope, crossing our fingers for luck, or throwing a penny into a wishing well.

Atheism, in order to be valid, must be supremely rational, and that is also its greatest weakness.

That’s because none of us are completely rational beings.

We cannot escape our upbringing. From our upbringing stems all prejudice, for we were born a clean slate with no rational thoughts at all.

Atheism takes power away from Church and State. No longer is there a fountainhead of morality, one that all can recognize and agree to, even if it is only as a legal fiction.

Atheism empowers the individual. It empowers them to be free.

I say the power to govern stems from the people, but in the maternalistic political world, the people can‘t be trusted and so we need a Queen. And in order to justify one person being Queen over some other choice, a person equally or perhaps even better qalified to be Queen, we must accept their ‘Divine Right of Kings.’ 

We must accept the prerogatives of birth and blood, their pedigree. We must accept not only history as it was written—mostly by educated males of the ruling class, but we must also accept that it can be no other way. We must accept the tyranny of past precedents without question.

Otherwise there is no legitimacy, and that includes the legitimacy of elections based on historical precedent, which is the only argument that you have when God is taken out of the equation.

Our ancestors fought for those rights for sound personal reasons.

Personal reasons, and today we can only speculate as to what they may have been.


You could try speaking to me in purely practical terms, but I think you incapable of actually doing it, without quickly running out of arguments and falling back on tradition.

Genetically, we are asked to accept that the blue-bloods are not just morally superior in that they have the right to govern, it seems we must also accept their genetic superiority! Something that has not been scientifically proven seems to be an unwritten law.

Otherwise, the only other possible argument is that they are rich—or that they have a monopoly on truth, one which stems from somewhere far, far up above the common man.

Objectively speaking, if we did away with Queen Elizabeth II, would the country collapse of its own internal moral inconsistencies?

(But of course you don’t see that we have any moral inconsistencies.)

Of course not. Someone would find the justification to continue with our present system, with absolutely no changes (or disruption,) at all. Anyhow, they always have another king or queen waiting in the wings to take over, don’t they? If you follow the genealogy of the Royal Family, it goes all the way back to Wotan—the god of war, whose effigy was placed on a wagon and drawn through the camp of the barbarians before battle in order to remind those savage warriors that the gods were on their side and that Valhalla awaited the heroes who gave their life for their king and country.

It would seem that either they were wrong or now, in the present day, we must be wrong. For now all religions are equally valid before the law.

We have changed religions many times over the last two thousand years, and in fact Christianity itself would be almost unrecognizable to Jesus in the unlikely event he should be ressurected and return to Earth for a quick look to see how things were going.

Our ‘belief system’ is irrational, and even more so, it is perpetuated by an unwritten code of bigotry and prejudice, a system of checks and balances to keep us from asking all the wrong questions.

It must be based on a system of unconscious assumptions.

It has to be unconcsious, it has to be unwritten, and it has to be accepted by all, just like the emperor’s new set of clothes, for to question it is to unravel the whole fabric of our society, very quickly, and in the interest of order, we prefer not to do that.

We simply must have order.

To an atheist, the whole basis of Canadian law and government is irrational—because it is based on assumptions of the divine, the revelation of religion, which oddly enough always seems to favour the predominance of the rich—and the well-born—and it is really nothing more than a way of squelching dissent from ordinary people, most of whom do not have time for great philosophical debates.

They’re too busy struggling to put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.

I have no doubt most of them have an opinion, one which no matter how loudly shouted, bears little evidence of actual thought, any real practicality, or any real usefulness at all.

I don’t really have the right to say this. Freedom of expression is in the Constitution? Yes it is, but then the neighbours also have pitchforks and unlit torches in the back closet, just in case something goes terribly wrong and another belief system comes along to threaten their comfortable assumptions.

You see, since atheism is not a religion, my belief system is not protected by the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion. It most definitely does not guarantee ‘freedom from religion,’ because Canadians ‘don’t want that.’

They want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be left alone and not to have to think too much. 

They want some nice Christmas gifts, they want to eat turkey and give thanks for not being Americans—how many times have we watched Canadian journalists on TV, who report on the U.S. with such smug and self-righteous glee.

“Thank God we aren’t Americans.” How many times have we heard it?

To an objective observer half a world away, Canadians and Americans are almost indistinguishable.

But it means so very, very, much, to a Canadian, not to be an American.

Because Americans are unwashed. They are loud, boisterous, obnoxious people with a little too much power around the globe and a little too much money to spend at home…unless they’re here as tourists, in which case, ‘Bienvenue.’

Welcome to Canada, eh. The home of peace, order and good, rational government, a government of the people and by the people—well, two out of three ain’t so bad, eh?

And it is the home of an irrational system of beliefs which justifies much.

I hate justification. I think justification would suck a basketball through a garden hose if you gave it half a chance. In that sense, justification is much like assumption.

I hate assumptions, for they are a form of limiting beliefs.

If this nation really has a moral system of beliefs, a moral system of government, one which takes into account more than just the ignorances and prejudices of the loudest mouths, would someone please tell me why the disabled must live thirty or forty percent below the poverty line; a situation which has persisted for decades, and which will go on for the forseeable future?

But you can’t do it, can you?

Religion, morality, tradition, none of that can help the true hypocrite explain a situation that is intolerable to any thinking person.

Maybe that’s why I became an atheist.

You simply couldn’t satisfy my inquiries. And now I have become like the state—I see all religions as equally valid, or perhaps vapid would be a better word.

The state sees them as useful, a fundamental difference of philosophy.

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