Posts Tagged ‘Muslims’

Showdown: Law of the Land vs. God’s Law

April 24, 2008

The arrest of Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints leader Warren Jeffs in the U.S. for forcing an underage girl to marry an older man, and recent removal of young women and children from the sect’s temple compound in the belief there may be more underage girls who have been married off, have again raised the question of when the British Columbia and federal governments will finally act against a similar sect in Bountiful, BC, led by Winston Blackmore.  It’s no secret that the Bountiful sect practices polygamy and that polygamy is illegal in Canada.  Vancouver Sun columnist Daphne Bramham has written extensively about the goings on in Bountiful.  It’s featured on local TV news in Vancouver from time to time and, occasionally, there’s a story about it on national news broadcasts.

So, why doesn’t anyone do anything about it?  They’re afraid.  They’re afraid any prosecution will fail because it will violate the Charter of Rights.  They may, by extension, be afraid of being sued for violating someone’s rights.  You see, whoever drafted the Charter included some stuff about freedom of religion, as opposed to freedom of views on the subject of religion, that could be construed as meaning there is no higher principle than one’s religious values.  The result is that BC’s Solicitor General, Wally Oppal, has been waiting for months – although it seems years – for advice as to whether or not prosecution would be constitutional.  I hope he gets it soon and, if it wouldn’t be, that changes will be made to the Charter.

The core conflict was summed up by one of the American sect members in a televised interview with the CBC a couple nights ago.  He said it doesn’t matter if the girls are underage.  He pointed out that the Book of Mormon instructs him to take many young women.  He then made the definitive statement, “When it comes to an issue of whether I choose to obey the law of god or the law of the land, I choose to obey the law of god.”  That is the situation in a nutshell.  Do religious rights supercede secular laws or are they subject to secular laws?  Do secular laws supercede religious rights or are there different laws for different people?

If we allow different laws for different people, how will we decide who gets special treatment and who doesn’t?  There have already been some special, and controversial, exemptions on religious grounds upheld by the courts.  Sikhs in the RCMP can wear turbans instead of hats, for instance.  On the other hand, a request some years ago by a muslim group to allow the use of Shar’ia law within their own community was denied.  That would seem to represent a precedent.  The underlying principle was that you can’t have a group of people enforcing a different set of laws.  There has to be one set of laws for all the people.  I like underlying principles.  They are something you can build on.  They are a solid foundation.

There is nothing stopping the BC government from laying charges under the current laws of the land.  Polygamy is illegal.  If the members of this particular religion want to challenge the charges under the Charter of Rights, let them.  Let it be decided by the courts.  One of two things will happen.  Either the principle that secular laws supercede religious rights will be firmly established, or the opposite will be.  If it’s the latter, I’m sure enough people will be sufficiently reviled by their Charter of Rights upholding polygamy and the partnering of young girls with old men that some changes to the Charter may actually be possible.  The changes would have to make it clear secular laws come before religious codes, that there are principles that outrank religious belief.  Those changes could even accommodate atheists and agnostics, recognizing their equal rights.  If things go really well, maybe we could even lose those opening words recognizing that there is a god.  They only serve to snub non-believers, after all.

What is the BC government afraid of?  Is it the legal costs?  Are they really going to allow some religious nuts to flout the law to save a few million dollars in legal fees?  Is it the constitutional issues?  Are politicians really so afraid of constitutional talks that they’d allow archaic traditions that exploit young girls to go on in a country that prides itself on, and, in many ways takes its identity from, being progressive?

Once again, the issue appears to be leadership.  No doubt the BC and federal governments will adopt a wait and see attitude.  Wait for the Americans to do something and see what happens.  I say go after them.  If they challenge under the Charter, fight them.  Dare to establish a precedent and a principle.  If the Charter is flawed, change it.  Bring it on.

Pork on Friday

January 25, 2008

I like to eat pork on Fridays.  Not just because I like pork – which I do – but because it’s a simple way to defy the ridiculous dogma of four major religions at once.

Christians are supposed to eat fish on Fridays.  Jews and Muslims, when not trying to kill each other, actually agree that pork shouldn’t be eaten at all, let alone on their holy day.  Hindus are supposed to be vegetarian, a position I can understand when individuals freely take it but I don’t like any religion telling me what I have to do or eat.

So, by the simple act of eating pork on Friday I can thumb my nose at those who impose themselves on us.  It’s my little protest, and no one gets hurt – except the pig, I suppose.

It surprises me that these rules persist, but they do.  A few years ago, when my brothers visited Vancouver, we went for Japanese food.  It was Friday.  One brother had recently gone vegetarian for religious reasons.  The other brother and his future wife had sushi, but he seemed a bit surprised and slightly offended when I ordered katsu don.  I guess he adhered to the old rules and expected that I would, too.

But the rules are more deeply ingrained in other places.  Years ago, in the cafeteria of an organization I worked for in London, I was looking over the lunch ‘options’.  There was nothing but fish.  Not being in the mood for seafood, I mentioned it to the middle aged woman behind the counter.  When I asked if there was anything else, she replied in an Irish accent, “No, it’s Friday”.  When I furled my brow, trying to find the logic, she added, “Fish Friday”, in a tone suggesting I’m supposed to know this.  After more facial contortion I replied, “Why, because they both begin with ‘F’?”.  I had successfully forgotten fishy rules, having liberated myself from my upbringing.  Now they were being imposed on me again.

It ended moments later with her saying that if I wanted something other than fish she wasn’t going to make or serve it.  She absolutely refused to consider the possibility that someone else might not share her belief.  She felt she had every right to impose her beliefs on everyone else.  It was all about her, not the diverse collection of customers.

My peaceful protest may seem silly, but so are the rules the little act of defiance is aimed at.  That’s the point.  And where does anyone get off actually being offended by what someone else chooses to eat?  If that’s not a sure sign that religions and the religious take themselves too seriously, what is?

How to End a Movie – With Conviction

January 8, 2008

I watched ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ last night.  This is a movie I ignored on its release, dismissing it as an attempt to glorify religion.  Sometimes, first impressions are accurate.  Sometimes, they’re off the mark.

To my pleasant surprise, it turned out to be the kind of movie I would like to make about the crusades.  My only complaint is that it didn’t go far enough.  Like some other films framed by a religious context, it pulls back from the brink of the logical, sensible conclusion.  The slaughter in the name of one god or another, carried out by fanatics obsessed with the idea of owning ‘heaven’, should be enough to put anyone off the idea of religion.  There are a couple lines in the film that drive home the fact that we’d be better off without it altogether.  “You have taught me a lot about religion…”, comes to mind.

But then, near the end, the main character’s Muslim counterpart, another one of the few ‘decent’ people able to see past the different brands of chicanery and superstition and that how one person treats another is a better judge of how good he is, says something like, “Why do you think god does not love you, with all you have achieved?”  Why reassert faith in god at this point?  It seems obvious to me that there were no gods willing this carnage – that we, and we alone, decide on a course of action, choose to take life or not, and achieve things.  Faith in oneself and one another seemed to be the message throughout the movie.  Maybe the producers were afraid of a backlash if they appeared to be advocating atheism.

A couple of Canadian films are guilty of the same thing.  ‘Water’ is an excellent movie set in a Hindu ashram, or widows’ home, in which one young woman is reduced to prostitution and a child, widowed before reaching puberty, is raped.  Yet, even this story of institutionalised abuse and confinement has a character saying “Never lose your faith”.  All I could think was, “For your own good, that child’s good, and the good of humanity, please lose your faith”.

‘The Black Robe’ is another Canadian movie about a 17th century Jesuit missionary who travels with Indian guides to a mission far from anything he recognizes as civilization.  It’s clear throughout the story that he is in the wrong and yet, at the end, when he seems to realize this and that his faith has been misplaced, the Indians, who have been ravaged by disease brought by the other missionaries and now have a choice of killing him or accepting baptism, choose baptism.  The closing shot is a cross with the sun shining behind it, which seems to assert the very religion which has been presented as inadequate and misguided.

Are we really so afraid of offending religious interests that we don’t even have the courage of our convictions to reach a logical conclusion?  Could it be that we have taken respect for religion too far?