Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Guest post: Canadatheism: The Northern Perspective

This is a Guest Post by Jon, a reader from up North who wanted to shed some light on atheism in America's Hat. Er, I mean Canada. He writes over at his fiction blog, Our Man Jonesy. Take it away, Jon:

Canadatheism: The Northern Perspective
(Or: "Fundamentalism in Canada has been cancelled due to snow")

Greetings from the frozen wastelands of Canada! While Jen's away, I'd like to give you a general feel for atheism as it exists in the land of hockey and maple syrup. Those readers actually from Canada: feel free to sit back and talk amongst yourselves while I toss off pearls of Canadian stereotype to keep the Yanks entertained. If you're from elsewhere, just play along for now and you'll be able to tell your cocktail/hookah/opium den chums about how much you know about about foreign cultures.

If you're living in the 'States, you've probably heard of us before. We're the place that everyone threatens to move if the Republicans win another election. A lot of us speak French, we use the metric system, and if you ask us, it's not actually that cold out. And how's the religion like out there? Well, it's pretty mild, actually . Fiercely mild. If general polling is correct, up to a third of us acknowledge 'No Religion', and in a country with the population the size of the state of California, that's rather an accomplishment, if I may be so bold. It's at the point that the leader of the opposition party (Michael Ignatieff) can say things like:

“Some people will have no difficulty thinking human beings are sacred, because they happen to believe in the existence of God the Father and believe He created Mankind in His likeness … Far better, I would argue, to forego these kinds of foundational arguments altogether and seek to build support for human rights on the basis of what such rights actually do for human beings.”

Yeah, baby. That said, Canadian politics is a morass of apathy. Our parliament has been prorogued for the second year running, and our current head of government is a rather Christian individual. Nonetheless, we've really only got a few problems when it comes to openly displaying our ability to say 'Godless' in both official languages.

First, I'm going to blatantly appeal to stereotype here and point out the general level of pathological politesse present. We're rather polite about others' beliefs, and their prerogative to go on believing. We go so far as to apologize for how polite we are about it. One of the big reasons why religiosity is less of a visible factor in Canadian politics is that we're a mostly pluralistic nation. It's not just that we have the French Catholic crowd occupying Quebec, or the Spiritual traditions of our Aboriginals; Canada also has the largest immigration rate in the world. While a lot of it is from the East Asian countries- Vancouver, our Westernmost metropolis, has jokingly considered adopting Mandarin as its second official language- we also have a not-inconsiderable level of migration from the Middle East. The difficulty arises when the more hard-core religiosity they bring comes in conflict with our own "well, if you must, I suppose" social etiquette. We've shrugged off the attempts at Sharia law time and time again, but at the same time, we're far from making minarets illegal architecture. One of the central reasons why we're so at odds to talk against fundamentalist dogma in Canada is because we seldom talk about religion at all.
Another foot-hold for stronger theism in Canada is that our populace is scattered. We have a fraction-of-a-million people each in Montreal, Vancouver, and Calgary, as well as Ottawa and Quebec City; Toronto features an above-average population of 2.5 million. The rest is rural, and far from unreligious. Non-metropolitan religiosity is more notably strong in those populations living outside those few cities, to say nothing of the populated Maritime provinces. Even excluding that, only Vancouver might be said to be predominantly atheistic. Toronto's comparative migratory draw results in a higher population of transplants from religious areas, and Montreal has, as one of its prime attractions, a huge frigging cross on its namesake hill.

But what, then, supports the noticeable secularism in Canada? I would strongly implicate the disenfranchised Anglicans that made up a lot of Early Canada. Come on- we founded a church on divorce. Why carry on the tradition if we're on another continent entirely- though, in reality, we're still technically headed by the British monarchy, and have a person appointed to represent it. Perhaps more relevant is that level of politesse I keep harping out about (sorry if it's bothering you); perhaps one of the reason for the separation of church and state is precisely the 'I'm okay with it' pluralism that has such a hold on Canada; perhaps letting go of the gun-grabbing dogmatism that has infected other states just lets you see all the sides with equal fairness-- and in the end, you get the conclusion that theism is a rather silly idea from the get-go.

...I mean, SURELY it can't just be the [amazingly] good Canadian beer keeping everyone in a state of paralytic drunkenness, preventing extremism of any kind. The comparative poor quality of American beer might well be keeping you folks in the 'boisterous' stages of intoxication, thus giving rise to Megachurches, rednecks, and the frank need to satiate one's pastorly urges with some crystal meth and pay-per-screw man-love. Just a theory. Get better beer, America.

For other Canadian Atheist Resources:
Center for Inquiry: http://www.cficanada.ca/
http://www.skepticnorth.com/

Nota Bene: The author will not, contrary to stereotype, apologize for a belief in the general superiority of Canadian beers. There are, however, some notable American beers.

(American) Ed.: And there are some terrible
Canadian ones.

20 comments:

  1. Methinks I like this post. Absolutely right in everything, though if I may say so, I’d reckon that Québec may be the least religious province in Canada (well, okay, second least – I shake my fist at you, B.C.!). Considering our heavily religious past (hell, only 50 years ago we had priests and nuns teaching in public schools), it’s natural that the place is full of churches and other religious buildings and insignia – though, the difference is, 99% of them are abandoned. Most of our towns (especially rural ones) and lots of our streets are named after saints and other religious icons, but it means nothing, and the only reason we don’t change is to avoid the stupid hassle.

    Great post; it’s fun to share perspectives. (And to let Americans stew in jealousy. I guess.)

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  2. WOOOOO! As the editor, all I could offer as my own contribution was a certain easter-egg link, heh. The writing was untouchable, as per the norm. Well done, babe.

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  3. Filthy Canadians lol

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  4. Only -some- good american beers? Bah! America can outbrew canada any day of the week. Also, commenting is acting funny in firefox. I finally had to give up and open *gag* IE.

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  5. Well said, sir!
    As a semi-proud Saskatchewanian, I can add that the hillbillier part of the country is still an pleasingly secular place, although we still spend tax money on catholic schools. And we only just recently punished the priests who ran those schools for the horrible crimes they committed to the children in their care. Progress is slow but sure.

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  6. You've a lot in common with the Brits, although there seems to be more intolerance on this side of the watta.

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  7. Sounds like a nice place -- I've always thought so -- and you seem to have gotten socialized medicine and gay marriage done pretty smoothly, both of which are occasioning an enormous fuss down here.

    You might want to be a bit more selective about the immigrants, though -- you're a sovereign country and you don't have to take anyone you don't want, whether it's yelling-and-screaming religious nutjobs from the Middle East or Americans who don't know how to stand and fight.

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  8. You might also mention that Canada had "hate talk" laws in place that prevent any sort of public criticism of any religioius group for any reason.

    When a rowdy crowd from a mosque chooses to stand in the street and shout epithets and throw rocks at a Jewish household, the members of that household are powerless to complain to authorities.

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  9. I agree with your point that we do not talk about religion much. I get the impression that many religious Yanks like to wear their religion on their sleeve while here it is more of an informal "don't ask, don't tell" type policy. Which I think works for most people. There is nothing worse than pushy religious people.

    I am very proud of our record on gay marrige, hate speach and tasty beer. I tried a Bud Light once and almost barfed.

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  10. I sympathize deeply with your horror stories about having tried Bud Light products. A care package of Quebecois beer is on its way to your local Beer Store/Depanneur.

    Speaking of Quebec (I'm too lazy to find out how to do the accent on my laptop): I know that it tends to be a division between those who are (rather) religious, and those who aren't. That my mother's boyfriend is a 'Quebecois Bilingue' with little to no respect for the separatists; it tends to circulate a lot of 'le non-theisme' (or is it 'la non-theisme'?). Maybe I'm just sceptical about any province that uses words like 'tabernacle' and 'chalice' as its swear words of choice.

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  11. @our.man.jonesy:
    That would be “le non-theisme” (as it’s a masculine noun). As for our swearwords, those are another byproduct of our heavily religious past. They just stuck around – and, quite frankly, I’d rather use “crisse d’estie de cave!” than “putain d’enfoiré!”[*] anyday. The latter just gives me an uncontrollable urge to laugh.

    (And, if you wanna be a true Québecer, you gotta spell them swears right! It’s “tabarnac” and “calisse”. ;-P)

    [*] Or, for those not blessed (or cursed) with an understanding of slang Qc French: it’s the difference between, say, “fucking asshole!” and “barmy git!”, or something. Doesn’t really have the same impact. Or effect, when the insulted just breaks down in laughter at you.

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  12. So, with religious influence being minimal in Canadian government (relative to the shoes of Canada...I mean, the USA), does Canada see a lot of "New Atheism"? It seems that in this kind of "you're okay, I'm okay" environment, the aggressive, in-your-face style of atheism wouldn't evolve. Or does it exist, but with a focus on foreign religious controversy, or on maintaining the separation of church and state in Canada?

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  13. @biodork:
    Actually, maybe it’s just me, but I’ve never even heard of any sort of conflicts between atheism/atheists and religion/religious folks. Ever. There’s a bit of social and political tension (particularly between Québec and the rest of English Canada), and a fair bit of squabble over the endlessly ridiculous “reasonable accommodations” pseudo-scandal, but nothing in terms of religion-vs.-non-religion conflicts. There could very well be some “New Atheists” around – some Googling does reveal atheist and freethought organizations in the area – but they certainly aren’t making any waves. At least, not like in the US.

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  14. I'll be sure to tell that to Frank Turek. He's visiting my campus for an informative "Why I don't have enough faith to be an atheist" lecture, via the support of one of the many Christian organizations. Going to see if my CFI lapel pin will protect me against the frustrations of a pulpit puissant with a New Jersey accent.

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  15. Biodork, I agree with Joe McKen. While athiests certainly have strong opinions, there is not the same imparitive in Canada to "fight the power" as the religious side is similarly muted. While, our Prime Minister Harper is a known right wing religious individual, he is relatively covert and generally not outwardly religious during Government business. I think if he was seen to conduct Govt. business "under the influence" he would not be voted back in. Although, he recently ended a speech with "God Bless Canada", which personally I have never before heard one our our politicians say and hope to never hear repeated. I am speaking from a British Columbia perspective here, I am not sure maybe he comes accross as more outwardly religious in Quebec, but I doubt it.

    Quatguy

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  16. I would love to try a Quebec beer but have not yet had the opportunity. I will have a look for some in our B.C. Liquour stores but I do not specifically recall seeing any in the past. Our beer stores are mostly filled with local BC micro-brews, as well as the usual Canadian, US and European mega-brew brands. Do Quebec beers have both French and English on the label or only French? Maybe if only French, that would hinder their ability to "export" to the western provinces?

    Quatguy

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  17. Thanks for the replies from Joe McKen and Anonymous. *sighs* It sounds so wonderful! Ya know...Winnipeg really isn't that far from Minneapolis...I could still visit friends and family...

    I actually met an evolution-denier in line at Barnes and Noble the other day. I was buying a copy of Daniel Loxton's children's book "Evolution", and this young woman behind me says. "You know, God would be very disappointed that you're buying that...it's all lies." (FYI, I chickened out and didn't engage, lol...just nodded and turned away). I couldn't believe it...who does that? And why does it always hurts more when I meet a fundie who's my age?

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  18. @ Anonymous: You can usually find some Quebec beer here in BC. The most common ones on the left coast are from a brewery called Unibroue. They make a bunch of excellent Belgian-style ales. They're flavourful and strong as hell (most around 8-9%). My personal favourite is Fin Du Monde. They're bottle conditioned, so make sure you don't drink the yeast at the bottom of the bottle!

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  19. Bud Light doesn't count as American Beer, since it isn't beer. However, there's more good breweries in the states than I can count. Anything produced by Stone, Lagunitas, Rogue, Drake's, Dogfish Head, or Dechutes is okay in my book. In fact, I have a friend who liked Dechutes' Black Butte Porter so much, they named their kid Porter in the beer's honor. I've tried Maudite from Unibroue and enjoyed it, but haven't tried anything else from them as a bomber of any of their beers costs $10, and there's so many good American beers in my local booze emporium's microbrew section I haven't gotten back to them yet.

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  20. I love Black Butte! We did a camping trip down to Oregon last summer and found BB. Awsome. There are definately some good US beers.

    Quatguy

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