Category Archives: religion

Religious Freedom on trial again

Another church hit the news in Manitoba. This time it was the Springs Church. Though from Winnipeg, Steinbach has a lot of connections with the Springs Church. Many Steinbachers attend it and are members in it.

The church  felt it was unfairly treated by Manitoba Health orders requiring all church gatherings to be virtual. In my opinion, they actually had a stronger argument than the Church of God Restoration in Steinbach. All they wanted was permission to conduct church services in the church parking lot through a broadcast  and loudspeaker with promises that they would not allow participants to use the washroom facilities and would not permit socializing. So if anyone had to go they would have to go.

They even had some scientific evidence that the chance of the virus spreading if people remained in vehicles with windows up there was very low. The province though feared members would socialize and then the damage would be done and it could not be undone.

It was unusual, but the court agreed to hear arguments from lawyers for both sides on a Saturday so that a decision could be made before Sunday services.

The church argued the most recent Manitoba public health order, which required religious services to be only available online or via broadcasts, violates their members’ freedoms of religion and association under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The order also bans public gatherings of more than five people, whether religious or not.

Springs Church asked on behalf of its members for a temporary stay of enforcement of the order so that drive-in services could continue until a full hearing on the charter issue could be held. Their lawyer argued the drive-in services do not pose a threat to public health, since attendees are told to remain in the vehicles while a pastor speaks from the stage. I must admit this argument makes some sense.

The province’s lawyers argued the restrictions on in-person gatherings whether religious or not are required to slow the spread of COVID-19. Until recently, Manitoba had for a while the highest per-capita rates of new infections among provinces. And Steinbach was at the top of the list in Manitoba.

It should be remembered that this was a preliminary motion. That means it was a temporary order allowing parties to present more time and arguments later if they wished Sometimes courts like to act quickly. More often they like to meander towards the truth. Being a recovering lawyer, maybe that is where I get my meandering tendencies.

The Springs Church requested a stay of legislation. As a result the church had a high onus of proof. It is not enough to prove that they are right in their argument. They also have to prove they would suffer irreparable harm if the preliminary injunction against the government was not granted. That is hard to prove. And according to the Court of Queen’s Bench Judge they failed to prove it. I agree with that decision.

Justice Joyal decided that the Springs church failed to show sufficient evidence that being able to sit in a car while listening to a church is required to practice their religion while they could sit at home and participate remotely form there. Isn’t one as really good as the other? Are their religious freedoms really being significantly violated?

It must be remembered that because this is a preliminary motion, once the trial is held, if it is held, the church could still win the case.

It was also interesting that on Saturday Manitoba had the highest number of deaths in one day—19 in the history of this pandemic. I really think Manitoba health officials should not be wasting their time arguing with churches in court. Their energies could be better spent fighting the pandemic. I really think Christian churches should think more about others and demonstrate that they take seriously the words of their God to love others as they love themselves. I think so far members of this church have only demonstrated that they love themselves.

 

Where is the love?–Faith and public health collide near Steinbach

 

 

Steinbach was in the news again. Religion did it again. Last week, the police confronted more than a 100 vehicles at the Church of God Restoration south of Steinbach yesterday. The members of the church had been warned that if they tried again to flout Manitoba’s Health orders against religious gathering they would be ticketed. So the police warned them not to gather or they would be ticketed. The RCMP went one step farther and blocked off the driveway from the adjacent highway after the maximum 5 vehicles drove onto the parking lot of the church. Earlier, the same church was fined $5,000 and their pastor $1,296. It was the pastor’s second such fine. Under current Manitoba public health orders all faith-based services must be conducted virtually. The church is certainly taking what they perceive to be their rights seriously.

One of the congregants made an interesting argument:

“You can go back into Winnipeg and go to Walmart, and there’ll be 800 cars in the parking lot, just like there is in Costco, but we can’t go in this parking lot because it’s deadly? What if I put a Wal-Mart sign on that building, would that make it better?” Dube said.

Yet, are they really analogous? At Wal-Mart is there a danger that people will socialize as they wait in line to get their groceries?

The Minster of the church, Tobias Tissen, was not backing down. He said he was going to continue to have Sunday church services. This is what he said:

“Really, these police officers that are here blocking our entrance, they’re not blocking us, they are blocking God … by laying fines upon us, handing out tickets — mister officers, do you realize you are doing that to God?” he said.

Can anyone block God? Is that possible? According to Manitoba’s top public health official Dr. Brent Roussin who is charged with the responsibility of making these public health orders,  “faith-based gatherings had been identified as proven resources of Covid-19 transmission.” As well as saying that, Dr. Roussin added this by way of justification:

“We know that from the literature, from our own experience, that prolonged, indoor gathering such as faith-based gatherings are high risk for super-spreading events.’

Dr.) Roussin why we can’t be here?” Allard, one of those in attendance asked.

The province’s top doctor reiterated on Friday that faith-based gatherings have been identified as proven sources of COVID-19 transmission:

“We know that from the literature, from our own experience, that prolonged, indoor gathering such as faith-based gatherings are high risk for super-spreading events.”

Another visitor who asked not to be identified and who it seems was not a member of the church at all, made perhaps the most interesting argument of all when he said,

“The gym provides essential services for me. It helps me to boost my immune system. The church provides essential services for those who believe in God — it’s essential to them … some would say it’s more important to them than food and water.”

This argument is analogous to those who argue that schools should be kept open even though they do pose a health risk, because schools are essential for the health of young people. Is it not reasonable to suggest that for some people religious services including a communal or even social aspect, are essential to maintaining mental health?

One of the attendants took the actions of the province as a challenge saying,

“I hope they try to make an example out of me. I hope the Crown attorney keeps this ticket alive. Don’t drop the ticket, come at me — we’re going to set a precedent.”

One thing that disturbs me about all these arguments made by self-proclaimed Christians. What about love thy neighbour as thyself?  I always thought that was the most important part of religion. I did not see any concern for others among these conservative Christians. That makes me distrust their assertion that their claim is based on religion.

Where is the love?

This was the Day the Lord had made

 

This was a magnificent autumn day at Buffalo Point. It was Thanksgiving Weekend and we had a lot to be thankful for. We got together with our two sons Nick and Pat who live in Manitoba and one daughter in law, Debbi, and 2 grandchildren, Nolan and Stella. They were all healthy and fully employed.

 

We interpreted Manitoba laws to allow a small gathering. We figured 7 was small, but had tinges of guilt and fear. Just a little.

 

 

 

The blue skies were extravagant and the yellows were sharp. In Manitoba we had few reds. That is a pity, but the colours were still sensational. I  went walk to take photos of the autumn leaves.

 

Astonishingly when I went for a walk I strolled toward the golf course to admire autumn leaves in brilliant foliage. Much to my surprise I met some of my old golfing buddies who I used to golf with regularly before I became a recovering golfer.

Can you imagine that they would waste the time golfing on such a beautiful day? It seems absurd but it was true. What cretans. I must search for a better class of friends. Some who might appreciate truth and beauty.

My mother used to always quote to me a passage from the Bible. “This is the day the lord has made.” She wanted us to read it at her funeral. And we did. This was such a day.

 

Conspiracy in Southern Manitoba

 

Hundreds of Manitoba gathered in Steinbach recently to protest the imposition of government restrictions on their personal freedom in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. It is interesting that they chose Steinbach, because at the time it had the highest per capita rate of active Covid-19 cases in all of Canada. At the same time our hospital was completely filled. Basically people brought to the hospital could not be taken in because there was no room for them until someone died. Some patients were sent  to a major hospital in Winnipeg. Others  had to helicoptered to Brandon a city about 3 &1/2 hours by car.

Yet, in violation of Manitoba Heath orders, a large crowd gathered at Steinbach’s A.D. Penner Park and most of them, by a wide majority, did not wear masks nor maintain social distance from each other. As a result some of them were ticketed for violating provincial health orders. Meanwhile loudspeakers played hymns and Christian songs, proving once again that you don’t need science or health orders if you are on the side of the angels and can read conspiracy theories on the Internet. The event was covered by national media.

Here is what CTV News reported one of those in attendance saying,

“Each person here in this country is so incredibly important, and I have nothing but compassion for everybody here, regardless of what side you are on, regardless of your beliefs,” said Kayla, one of the attendees at the rally.

“What we’re seeing here is people gathering from all different races, nationalities, backgrounds, careers and they all just want one thing, and that is freedom.”

 

For some reason the protesters believe being required to wear a mask so that other people are protected is a horrendous infringement on their freedom. Why do they not oppose the law that prevents them from driving 90km in a School zone? Don’t they have a God-given right to drive any speed they want? How about the law that prevents them from walking into other people’s homes and stealing their money? How about the law that requires food to be checked for safety before it is sold to the public? These are all laws that prevent us from doing whatever we want. No one in Canada has the right to do whatever they want.

Some of the protesters heaped abuse on Health officials trying to enforce health orders. Some suggested the officials go to the devil. Conservative Christians were photographed holding up signs demanding religious freedom.

Lewis Weiss the Reeve from the nearby Rural Municipality of Labroquerie made another comment that demonstrated he has learned about conspiracies  when he commented,

“It seems very strange that our loved ones are being allowed to die when there are medicines available that very quickly and easily can cure this.”

 Clearly, he is another political leader who is closely tethered to conspiracy theories rather than science or just plain truth. I guess we are just as good at this as our American neighbours.

No Lives Matter When God is on your side

 

Things have been going crazy in Steinbach. By that I mean more crazy than normal. Steinbach has been recently  hitting the national news for two reasons. First, Steinbach apparently has the highest per capita covid-19 rate in Canada. At least it did.

As reported by CBC, according to research epidemiologist Cynthia Carr, “Steinbach has around 1,000 active COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people. She says that number is twice as high as Winnipeg and ten times the national average.

Now comes the crazy part. What do you think Steinbach is doing in response? Battening down the hatch right? Wrong answer! Steinbach is going into denial in high definition. That may seem incomprehensible but it’s not.

Ian Froese reported for CBC News, that local Steinbach restaurateur, Brigitte Turner, said that some people don’t believe there’s anything to worry about. The ones that don’t find anything to worry about, worry me. They think that because God is on their side there is nothing to fear. As Bob Dylan said long ago, “Don’t count the dead with God on your side.”

According to Ian Froese of the CBC, “Over the past week, a daily average of 31.2 out of every 100,000 residents of the Southern Health region (which includes Steinbach) were diagnosed with COVID-19. No other health region in Canada, aside from Winnipeg, comes close.”

As Froese reported, Brigitte Turner overheard “a patron trying to explain to a friend that a death rate of one to two percent from an illness is actually devastating.” Think about. How does that need explaining? Canada has a population of about 37 million people. If 2% die that would mean 740,000 deaths! The United States which so far has more deaths than any other country in the world and has about 10 times Canada’s population, has less than 1/3rd of that! Yet some people here think 1 to 2% is acceptable?

As if that is not enough,  in Steinbach we have even more crazies. Take Evangeline Loewen owner of a local florist shop. She was also interviewed by the CBC. She says 99% of her customers think the government imposed restrictions are too extreme. That number is absurd by the way. There are many people who object to those restrictions but many people in Steinbach realize they are necessary to save lives. I don’t know which camp has more people. Yet as Steinbach has the highest rates in Canada many want restrictions loosened.

As Ian Froese reported,

“Instead, she advocates for measures separating the most vulnerable in society from everybody else. Another near-lockdown may have disastrous effects on economic, physical and social well-being, she worries. “We’re not happy with the whole fear being pumped into the people.”

Think about that solution for a moment. I have heard that people “at risk” represent about 30% of Manitoba’s population. Manitoba has a population of about 1, 400,000. That means we need to find a place for about 420,000 people. Where would they all go? Currently most of those people are sprinkled throughout the population in every town and city. Many live with their families. Some live alone. How are we going to keep them separate? Send them all to some town up north? How practical is that?

Loewen says she cares deeply for old people who are mainly at risk. That is why she wants them kept separate? But have no fear she has a solution to that too. She says we should not be afraid. “That’s because part of why a lot of us aren’t as afraid, either, is because we do know there’s a God. He made us, He’s the one that can actually heal us.”

So the Christian solution is to send old people and others at risk some place where they can be separate from the rest of the people but as long as they trust God they have nothing to fear.

Is that the Christian solution?

Inventing America: Dreamers and Doers

 

As I write this during the American election campaign you may notice things are getting crazier and crazier in the good old USA. Why is that? That is the issue I have been trying to explore.

 

The Puritans started to call themselves Pilgrims. According to Kurt Andersen, they saw themselves as “extremists of a better social station—talked themselves into leaving England and creating their own American religious utopia.

The Puritan were interesting fanatics. Of course which fanatics are not interesting? For one thing they did not cross the ocean to improve their economic well being. They had dreams of ideas! When you think about it that was amazing. Remember all the hardships they had to endure for their ideas! They wanted to create a New World. What did that New World entail? They wanted a theocracy where they could banish those evil Catholics that had persecuted them in England. They also wanted to banish Church of England clergy, for they were not better than the Papists in their eyes. They wanted religious freedom where everybody could be just like them.

John Winthrop was their first leader and he created a great myth that was constantly revived by leaders like Saint Ronald Reagan. He said in his famous sermon, “We are as a city upon a hill endlessly happy.” Saint Ronald Reagan used this mythology to enhance his claim to Sainthood. It worked. Yet, many Americans have forgotten that this means they must be better than everyone else, not that they are better than everyone else.

As Andersen said about the Puritans,

“If one has enough belief in the supernatural plan, if one’s personal faith is strong enough, false prophecies are just unfortunate miscalculations that don’t falsify anything. If you’re fanatical enough about enacting and enforcing your fiction, it becomes indistinguishable from nonfiction.”

FantasyLand was born and America is living the dream. Or is it the nightmare? The Puritans wanted a place where no one would knock them for their crazy ideas. That was America. They created America—a place where crazy ideas came home to thrive. Anderson called them “the most literal-minded fantasists ever.” The world they created was truly FantasyLand for adults. For both good and ill.

Now its time to look to see what  they created.

Puritans: The First Extremists

 

Many of us who know and love America as I do, have been perplexed by the all out mania of their extremism. Americans do nothing halfway. It is all in or all out. No medium in between. That may be a product of their birth.

The first settlers to the New World found fertile ground for their extreme beliefs and ultimately for the imposition of those beliefs on others. Many were fleeing religious persecution in Europe so that they could impose religious persecution on others in that new world. Kurt Andersen in his book FantasyLand described early American religiosity this way:

“Yet unlike Roman Catholicism, with its old global hierarchy and supreme leader, the new Protestant Christianity was by its nature fractious and unstable, invented almost within living memory by uncompromising rebels who couldn’t abide interpretations and rules issued by expert super clergy. It was an innovative new religion successful at a time when innovations were transforming the rest of Europe’s cultures and economies. Protestantism was thus part of an exciting tide of novelty, along with the printing press, global trade, the Renaissance, the beginnings of modern science, and the Enlightenment. It’s unique selling proposition was radical. When official leaders lose their way, pious anybodies can and must decide the new improved truth on their own—that is, by reading Scripture, each individual determines the correct meaning of Christian fantasies. The Protestants’ founding commitment to fierce, decentralized, do-it-yourself truth-finding and spiritual purity led to the continuous generation of self-righteous sectarian spin-offs.”

I was born and raised in Steinbach. We had Mennonites and even more radical Pentecostals. Wild and whacky beliefs were in the air we breathed. In America the first extremists were the Puritans who built a society in the New World in their own image. They were given that name by the established Christians. It was not a complement. Many of them were Calvinists. They were nothing if not true believers. They came to establish a world of true believers. They wanted to be separate from the established Church of England. Soon they wanted to separate from England itself. First they tried the Netherlands but there was too much heresy there too so they sailed to the New World.  As Anderson said, “Ferociously believing every miracle and myth wasn’t enough.”

Steinbach was not that different. The Mennonites wanted to keep themselves separate and apart “from the world.”

As Andersen said,

“What really distinguished the Puritans from the mainstream were matters of personality, demeanor. To be a Puritan was to embody uncompromising zeal. (They were analogous to certain American political zealots today, who more than disagreeing with their Establishment’s ideas just can’t stand their reasonable-seeming manner. Moreover, a good Christian life, the Puritans believed, was one consumed by Christianity…In other words, America was founded by a nutty religious cult.”

They were sort of like Mennonites on steroids.

The natives the Puritans found in the New World did not matter. Those people were just not civilized. The people who mattered were the religious zealots. As Andersen described it, “The myth we’ve constructed says that the first nonnative new Americans who mattered were the idealists, the hyper-religious people seeking freedom to believe and act out their passionate, elaborate, all-consuming fantasies.”

And America has been hyper-religious ever since. And it shows. Welcome to FantasyLand.

 

Searching for gold or God

 

Not all of the first visitors to the New World were searching for Gold. Some of them searched for God or souls. Many of them were devout and fervid in pursuit of their targets. As Kurt Andersen said in his book FantasyLand, “For the imminent next wave of English would-be Americans, however, propagating a particular set of Christian superstitions, omens and divine judgments were more than just lip-service cover for dreams of easy wealth. For them, the prospect of colonization was all about the export of their supernatural fantasies to the New World.”

Like Martin Luther King Jr. 5 centuries later the newcomers had a dream. As Andersen said,

“America began as a fever dream, a myth, a happy delusion, a fantasy. In fact, it began as multiple fantasies, each embraced around 1600 by people so convinced of their thrilling, wishful fictions that most of them abandoned everything—friends, families, jobs, good sense, England, the known world—to enact their dreams or die trying. A lot of them died trying.

The first English people in the New World imagined themselves as heroic can-do characters in exciting adventures. They were self-fictionalizing extremists who abandoned everything familiar because of their blazing beliefs, their long-shot hopes and dreams, their please-be-true fantasies.”

 

Is it any wonder that America has been the most hospital place on earth for crazy beliefs? Is it any surprise that the country currently is laced with delusional thinking? This is the home of fantasyland.

Why is belief is all-important?

 

Kurt Andersen in his book FantasyLand argued that it was necessary to go back 500 years to explain the New World. He started with the new religion that was born—Protestantism. It was of course just a version of the old Catholicism, but it had some important innovations that had important long term consequences. Martin Luther was particularly vexed by,

the regional archbishop, in order to cover the costs of celebrating his elevation to cardinal, has encouraged local Christians to pay money to be forgiven their sins (and the sins of deceased loved ones), thereby reducing or eliminating the posthumous wait in purgatory.”

 

After all it really didn’t make sense that paying money for prayers would put us in front of the line in heaven.

Luther was also upset by the holy relics found in his local church. Most of them of course were fake. The relics included:

 “a piece of straw from baby Jesus’s manger, threads from His swaddling clothes, a bit of Mary’s breast milk, a hair from adult Jesus’s beard, a piece of bread from the Last Supper, and a thorn from His crucifixion crown. The young theologian, appalled by the church’s merchandising, writes an impassioned three-thousand-word critique in proto-PowerPoint form, nails it to the door of the church on All Saints’ Eve, Halloween, and for good measure sends a copy of his screed to the archbishop himself.”

 

The church had been selling fake news. It’s not popular now; it wasn’t popular then.

The manifesto that Luther published in 1517 also had a profound effect. Andersen described its genesis this way:

“Luther’s main complaint had been about the church’s sale of phoney VIP passes to Heaven. “There is no divine authority,” one of his theses pointed out, “for preaching that the soul flies out of the purgatory immediately [when] the money clinks in the bottom of the chest.”

That didn’t have much to say for itself either. But Martin Luther had 2 extremely important ideas that actually had some long-term pernicious effects. The first of those ideas was that,

clergymen have no special access to God or Jesus or truth. Everything a Christian needed to know was in the Bible. So every individual Christian believer could and should read and interpret Scripture for him- or herself. Every believer, Protestants said, was now a priest.”

 

This allowed everyone to create his or her own truth. While I am no advocate for relying on authority, this idea had some dangerous consequences. Some people in time abandoned the notion of truth entirely, or at least substituted the idea that anyone could claim truth for any idea, no matter how hair-brained.

Luther had a second important concept to bring forth. This was the idea that belief or faith was all-important. It did not matter what one did, if one had the right faith or belief. You could not buy your way into heaven but why were beliefs or faith so important? I have never quite understood that. Maybe someone can explain.

 

Andersen describes the new attitude of Protestantism this way:

“…out of the new Protestant religion, a new proto-American attitude emerged during the 1500s. Millions of ordinary people decided that they, each of them, had the right to decide what was true or untrue, regardless of what fancy experts said. And furthermore, they believed, passionate fantastical belief was the key to everything. The footings for Fantasyland had been cast.”

 

Good ideas are not often enough to launch a revolution in thought on their own. In Luther’s case he took advantage of an astounding new technology—the printing press. As Andersen said,

“No new technology, during the thousand years between gunpowder and the steam engine, was as disruptive as the printing press, and Protestantism was its first viral cultural phenomenon.”

 

Reminds me of the disruptive effect modern technologies like social media have had. Are we on the brink of another revolution in thought? What will it’s long term consequences be?

Promiscuous Devotion to the Untrue

Kurt Andersen in his book FantasyLand diagnosed the problem as an attitude. This is how he described it:

“What’s problematic is going overboard, letting the subjective entirely override the objective, people thinking and acting as if opinions and feelings were just as true as facts. The American experiment, the original embodiment of the great Enlightenment idea of intellectual freedom, every individual free to believe anything she wishes, has metastasized out of control. From the start, our ultra-individualism was attached to epic dreams, sometimes epic fantasies—every American one of God’s chosen people building a custom-made utopia, each of us free to reinvent himself by imagination and will. In America those more exciting parts of the Enlightenment idea have swamped the sober, rational, empirical parts.”

 

Andersen believes, as I believe, that the roots of fantasy are deep and it is important for us to understand them if we want to understand where we are at in the modern world. As he said,

“Little by little for centuries, then more and more and faster and faster during the last half-century, Americans have given ourselves over to all kinds of magical thinking, anything-goes relativism, and belief in fanciful explanation, small and large fantasies that console or thrill or terrify us. And most of us haven’t realized how far-reaching our strange new normal has become. The cliché would be the frog in the gradually warming pot, oblivious to its doom until too late.”

And the consequences of giving ourselves over to fanciful thinking are not innocent. They are very dangerous and we are paying the price now. We are paying it bigly. As Andersen explains:

“Much more than the other billion or two people in the rich world, we Americans believe—really believe—in the supernatural and miraculous, in Satan on Earth now, reports of recent trips to and from Heaven, and a several-thousand-year-old story of life’s instantaneous creation several thousand years ago.

We believe the government and its co-conspirators are hiding all sorts of monstrous truths from us—concerning assassinations, extraterrestrials, the genesis of AIDS, the 9/11 attacks, the dangers of vaccines, and so much more.

We stockpile guns because we fantasize about our pioneer past, or in anticipation of imaginary shootouts with thugs and terrorists. We acquire military costumes and props in order to pretend we’re soldiers—or elves or zombies—fighting battles in which nobody dies, and enter fabulously realistic virtual worlds to do the same

And that was all before we became familiar with the terms post-factual and post-truth, before we elected a president with an astoundingly open mind about conspiracy theories, what’s true and what’s false, the nature of reality.

We have passed through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole.

America has mutated into Fantasyland.”

As a result of this attitude, 500 years in the making Americans, and to a lesser extent their little cousins, Canadians, have come to believe in a large host of wildly extravagant  beliefs, when you really think about it. About 2 out 3 Americans believe that angels and demons are active in the world. About a half believe that a personal god is looking after them no matter how much evidence there is to the contrary. At the same time about a third of Americans reject the science of climate change even though 97% or more of scientists assure them it is real. In fact many Americans believe climate change is a hoax or an evil communist plot against them. About 25% believe that vaccines cause autism. These are just a few of their wild beliefs. We will look at lot more. About 20% believe that the government adds secret mind controlling technology to television broadcasts. None of these beliefs are benign. They all have consequences. The problem is that Americans and Canadians too, have what Andersen called a “promiscuous devotion to the untrue.”