Dear Horizon School Board, Public School Prayers

Here is the letter I sent to the Horizon School Board regarding school prayer in Taber AB. I also sent copies to David Eggen, the Minister of Education, Premier Rachel Notley, my MLA Shannon Phillips, and the MLA for Taber, Grant Hunter. My earlier op-ed and letters to newspapers about Taber and state prayers are here and  here.

Edited to add: And many thanks to Margaret Forgie, Tracy Hill, and Mrs. Dr. Jim for the proofreading, rhetorical advice and so on. Of course, I will lay the blame for any other typos, grammatical errors, or spelling mistakes on the absurdities of my native language.

Board of Trustees & School Superintendent
Horizon School Division
6302 56 Street
Taber, AB
T1G 1Z9

Dear Board Chair Marie Logan, Board Members, and Superintendent Tymensen,

I am writing to express my objections to the decision taken this spring to reinstate the recital of the Lord’s Prayer at Dr. Hamman School in Taber. I am deeply concerned with issues of freedom of religion and conscience. These matters affect our whole country and so I am motivated to write even though I do not have a child in your school division.

I fully understand that the new Prayer Policy of April 15, 2015, is permitted under the Alberta Act of 1905 and that you have attempted to make satisfactory exemptions for children whose parents prefer them not to take part. I also acknowledge your sincerity in wishing the school to be an inclusive and happy place for every student. However, there are three primary reasons I must object to the reinstatement of the prayer: 1) the obsolescence of the relevant section of the Alberta Act and its incompatibility with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms as interpreted in a number of Supreme Court cases 2) the inadequacy of alternate activities for non-Christian students 3) the discriminatory and contradictory nature of the prayer policy itself.

The Alberta Act is well over a century old. I am certain that you are aware that Canadian society was very different in 1905 from what it is today. For example, women could not vote and First Nations children could be all but kidnapped from their parents in a program of state sanctioned cultural and religious assimilation. As a province and a nation we are making great progress in addressing many forms of deeply entrenched cultural, racial, and gender discrimination. We are a far more tolerant and open society than the founders of our province could have imagined. The allowance in the Constitution for the Lord’s Prayer is a throwback to a bygone era and is not consistent with the values of this country as outlined in the Charter of Rights of Freedoms. In a number of decisions, most recently in April of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled that fundamental rights of freedom of religion and conscience—including the right to hold no religious views—are violated when the state does not fulfill its duty of religious neutrality. In ruling against Saguenay City Council’s prayer ritual the Supreme Court determined that, “Sponsorship of one religious tradition by the state in breach of its duty of neutrality amounts to discrimination against all other such traditions” (Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay [City], 2015, paragraph 64). Clearly, the Alberta Act is not in accord with the Court’s interpretation of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. In view of the contradiction between these two parts of the Canadian Constitution, it is particularly disappointing that the Horizon School Division has opted to assert Christocentric privilege over the fundamental rights of non-Christian persons it otherwise claims to respect and protect.

The provisions made for opting out of the prayer provide no solution to this discrimination. The prayer policy requires teachers to “ensure that non-participants are treated discreetly and with respect at all times.” The June 24th online edition of the Taber Times reported that non-praying students would be given the honoured task of delivering class attendance sheets to the office during the prayer. This hardly fulfills the requirement for discretion as it clearly identifies non-participants and strikes me as a weak attempt at patronizing opponents of the prayer. Indeed, if this task is as coveted as Mr. Tymensen alleges, Christian students may well feel disadvantaged and this could lead to increased animosity. The plan is also unfeasible if there is more than one non-conformist in a class. The other proposed solution, that the prayer would be recited while seated, also accomplishes nothing as it subjects non-Christian students and teachers to a religious ritual as a condition of their education or employment. Regardless of any devotional or spiritual content, communal rituals are exercises in social power, marking the “proper” way to belong to a group. In September, the school day at Dr. Hamman School will begin with the national anthem that celebrates Canadian identity. This is to be followed by the taking of attendance, something that marks participation in the classroom community. Following these actions, the Lord’s Prayer is to be recited. This symbolically construes Christianity as a normative marker of belonging in the class. For non-participants this hardly constitutes the basis for an inclusive school environment.

There are also some shocking statements in your policy, one of which reads, “Students exempt from partaking in recitation of the Lord’s Prayer are still expected to adhere to behavior expectations during the regular school day.” This wording implies that the behavior of children who don’t pray is likely to be worse than those who do; this is clearly discriminatory. The policy’s preamble says that the Board of Trustees not only believes in religious tolerance, diversity, and inclusiveness, but also in “the provision of appropriate opportunities for students to give expression to their religious beliefs”. I am curious about what opportunities would be given to students of non-Christian religions and whether such expressions would receive the same acknowledgement in the school’s daily schedule as the Lord’s Prayer receives.

I understand that the vast majority of parents polled by the Horizon School District wanted the prayer reinstated. Your decision, however, surrenders the rights of the minority to the privilege of the majority. This is diametrically opposed to both your stated goal of producing a welcoming school environment for all and to the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, the basis for Canadian law. Continuing with the plan to reinstate prayer at Dr. Hamman School is purely an exercise in discriminatory privilege and irresponsible power that marginalizes and stigmatizes children you have the responsibility to protect. We do not have a free society at all if the rights of those in the minority are ignored by the powerful. Proper leadership in this matter would be to fulfill the School Division’s obligation of religious neutrality by abandoning the reinstatement of prayer and affirming to both students and their parents that sectarian privilege has no place in a public school or a free democracy.

Sincerely,

James Linville

/jl cc: Minister of Education D. Eggen, Premier R. Notley, MLA S. Phillips, MLA G. Hunter

On State Sanctioned Prayers in School

A big brouhaha has been brewing in southern Alberta for a while over the return of the Lord’s Prayer to Dr Hamman School in Taber (East of Lethbridge). I’ve blogged about this earlier, posting my April 25 letter to the Lethbridge Herald.  Since then, I’ve been spoken on the issue at a meeting of the Southern Alberta Committee on Public Affairs (not a great turnout, but it was fun), written another letter (to the Taber Times) and published an op-ed piece in the Herald. Recently, the two newspapers both published an article in which   explained the school division’s policy and it looks like I’m going to jump into the fray again. First, because of what the official did and didn’t say, and second because the reporter never spoke to any of the opponents for the move, thus turning news into a soapbox. In any case, I thought I would post my earlier scribblings.

First, my Op Ed from the Herald (June 13).

State should be religiously neutral

Controversy has surrounded the Horizon School Division’s plan to reintroduce the Lord’s Prayer at Dr. Hamman School in Taber after a great majority of affected families voted in favour of the practice. The Alberta Act of 1905 (an amendment to the Canadian Constitution that established Alberta as a province), allows school boards to direct a school to recite the Lord’s Prayer. In April, 2015, however, the Supreme Court of Canada ended the recitation of prayer before city council meetings in Saguenay, Quebec as it violated the freedom of conscience of non-religious attendees and the duty of the state to remain religiously neutral (Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay [City], 2015). The provision in the Alberta Act, therefore, appears at odds with the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and there has been considerable discussion in southern Alberta media about the wisdom of the Horizon School Division’s plans.

Some proponents of the prayer at Dr. Hamman School have asserted that majority rights must not be curtailed as this amounts to discrimination against Christians that is typical of the secular era we now live in. Lost in such claims, however, is the distinction between the neutrality the Court demands and the anti-religious rhetoric of some atheists and agnostics who seek an end to religious privilege in society. The Saguenay decision declares that “sponsorship of one religious tradition by the state in breach of its duty of neutrality amounts to discrimination against all other such traditions”. This neutrality requires the state to abstain from religious questions and to “neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non-belief”. A little later, the ruling reads,

“When all is said and done, the state’s duty to protect every person’s freedom of conscience and religion means that it may not use its powers in such a way as to promote the participation of certain believers or non-believers in public life to the detriment of others.”

The Supreme Court recognizes that the Charter of Rights protects minorities from the “tyranny of the majority”, the suspending the rights of the few to accommodate the wishes of the many. In April of this year a Calgary private school, the Webber Academy, was fined $26,000 by the Alberta Human Rights Commission for discriminating against two Muslim students by forbidding them to pray on school property. Some observers considered this as an example of tyranny of non-Christian minority and others saw it as a failure of secular values. It was neither. It is a great example how Canadian law protects the rights of the religious in an inclusive secular environment. The ruling does not require the school to lead prayers but merely to permit believers to pray on their own accord. Likewise, if Dr. Hamman School does not make the Lord’s Prayer a scheduled part of the school day, Christian students would still have the right to pray on their own before classes, during recess, or at lunchtime, and the School should take reasonable steps to accommodate them.

Sensationalist anti-religious rhetoric by some non-religious and anti-religious activists certainly exists in the world today as evidenced by numerous best-selling books and popular websites. It is understandable that many religious people are wary of virtually all secularist movements and are led to interpret state neutrality as a threat. But we should not let the anti-religious voices dominate discourse about an inclusive, but neutral public square. Many secularists find such rhetoric objectionable and divisive and Canadian courts recognize that excluding religion entirely from public life compromises the neutrality the Charter of Rights and Freedoms demands of the state. A balance needs to be struck between religion as a private matter and a social phenomenon. Courts rule against religious practices by the state, they allow individual’s expression of religious values in political decision-making. Chief Justice Beverly McLachlan, in a case over the acknowledgement of same-sex parented families in schoolbooks, writes that school boards have an obligation to consider the religious viewpoints of the students’ parents, saying that religion “cannot be left at the boardroom door”. She adds, however, that “Religious views that deny equal recognition and respect to the members of a minority group cannot be used to exclude the concerns of the minority group” (Chamberlain vs. Surrey School District, 2002).

So what is the way forward? Clearly, reducing the situation to a “Pro” vs. “Anti-“ religious dichotomy is counter-productive. There can be no winner in a struggle like that, and especially not children who will inherit a more polarized and distrustful world. Through the ideal of a religiously neutral but inclusive state, a number of routes to a compromise that respects the rights and dignity of the various sides may be found. Hopefully, the Horizon School district will explore these before the start of the new school year.

Here is my Taber Times letter of June 17.

Majority rule does not overrule Charter of Rights

I am not sure what subjects Ray Sheen taught or still teaches that he gets so much wrong about the nature of a free democracy, but I would like to point out that there is a fundamental difference between a bunch of school kids voting whether to play soccer or football and which of those children will have their fundamental rights suspended by a choice made by their classmates’ parents. Mr. Sheen says in his letter of June 10 that he never saw any social cost being paid by pupils who declined participation in their school’s religious rituals. This may be due to his very presence that kept the majority in line, or to his not actually looking hard enough.

The Supreme Court, which is charged with protecting the fundamental rights of everyone in this country, has determined in a number of cases that stigmatization from non-participation in state-sponsored prayer is harmful. Allowing non-believers to sit out the prayers forces them to self-identify and thereby open themselves up to hurtful stigmatization. This can occur without violence or harsh words. In February of this year, a mildly autistic Florida boy invited all of his kindergarten classmates to his sixth birthday party. There were no responses. The boy’s pain was not the result of bullying but exclusion. Had his parents not complained through social media the teacher might have remained oblivious.

What Mr. Sheen is affirming is not the democratic principle of majority rules but the willful abuse of children’s rights through the “tyranny of the majority”, something the Supreme Court rightly finds contrary to the fundamental rights as guaranteed in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

 

Ark Park Update

Work is proceeding on Ken Ham’s Ark in Kentucky according to WSLS 10 News that posted a brief report and a video of work in progress.

From WSLS 10 News.

The report says,

According to the project’s website, “additional future phases for the attraction include a Walled City, the Tower of Babel, a first-century Middle Eastern village, a journey in history from Abraham to the parting of the Red Sea, a walk-through aviary, an expanded large petting zoo, and so on.”

It is supposed to open next summer. Hopefully I will have enough of my grant left to check it out!

Yesterday, I couldn’t spell Unofficial. Now I are one!

Waldorff

The June 25 revolution is over and the Society of Biblical Literature (Unofficial) Facebook Group has transmogrified into the

 Annual Meeting Hotel Lobby: An Unofficial SBL/AAR Member Group .

deescalatae

Remnants of the to-do remain on the site but a lot of the *ahem* “colourful” language got deleted.

Take turns

It is now under new management. Rob Cargill has taken the lead (at least temporarily) and reformed the group’s identity thusly:

The Annual Meeting Hotel Lobby is an Unofficial Discussion Group for SBL/AAR Members

THIS SITE IS NOT RUN BY SBL OR AAR, SO DON’T GO CRYING TO THEM!

There is a minimal policing of content: only the removal of spam, pornography, over-the-top inappropriate language, and trolls. So if you have a complaint, please contact one of the administrators.

This space should be a place for cleverness, fun, genuine questions about the Bible, religious literature, and the SBL/AAR. You will be free to say what you want, just know that among the members of the SBL and AAR are the best critical scholars in the land, and they tend to challenge claims as they are made. This should be a place to hang out, ask questions, discuss topics, coordinate the annual meeting and meetups, etc.

Thanks to all that found a way to turn this into a positive resource!

poo poo heads

Sorry little puppy! We’ve gone and gotten ourselves civilized!

Besides Bob, the group has Sarah Rollens, Eva Mroczek, and Joel Watts, and, surprise, surprise, yours truly as admins. And now, to get ready for ATLANTA 2015!

Professional

Officially Unofficial SBL Faciabook (Un)officialdom

Summer is here, I have tons to do so I will jump into another fray that will take up considerable time and make me even further behind schedule. All is normal.

Something of a flap happened on Facebook and the blogosphere pertaining to the use of the name Society of Biblical Literature in “unofficial” FB groups. The initial SBL FB group, just called “Society of Biblical Literature” was apparently not organized by SBL at all but, oddly enough, an SBL statement on June 12 noted that because of the spamming and trolling of the site reflected badly on the image of the society, they had shut the FB group down. Presumably this involved consultation with the people who actually had control over it (the announcement never specifies this). In any case, a new group formed, the Society of Biblical Literature (Unofficial) just a few days ago. The site exploded today with hundreds of comments dealing with the administration of the group, censorship of bad language and images.

Atheist kitty

The censorship was especially noticeable when one female member was banned for writing “Fuck”, a word many men were using quite frequently (this in connection with the attempted gang rape at Sodom scene in Genesis–). This, of course, led to attempts to legitimize “fuck”.

Screen Shot 2015-06-25 at 7.20.54 PM

 

Behind this was the ever-present and ever-problematic “Big Tent” of the guild of biblical scholars that merges secular scholarship with the religious approaches to the text, including very evangelical and conservative Christian perspectives. Things are calming down on the page now, but I doubt they will ever really resolve themselves.

The exchange was the most fun I’ve had on Facebook EVER! As Robert Cargill noted, it was pure comedic gold. There were a number of comments deleted, alas, including this picture, posted by yours truly,

 

invisiblebuttsecks

with a caption indicating what it must feel like for anyone coming to the site to actually learn anything about the Bible. In any case, the ostracized member was reinstated, some apologies were apologied, but I suspect the site is pretty much irredeemable. I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. The site was not necessarily a bad idea, but it should not have used SBL’s name without permission and ANY kind of forum that just assumes that scholars have to be bound by conservative religious restrictions and sensibilities is doomed to fail. The blowup earlier today only highlighted the big elephant in the room for the whole guild of biblical studies. The study of the Bible as a cultural artifact is not the same as the study of the bible as one’s own scripture.

For the record, the SBL Atlanta meeting in November will see a joint session of the SBL’s Metacriticism of Biblical Scholarship Section and North American Association for the Study of Religion on the question of the Big Tent, hosted by yours truly. Here is all the info from the SBL program Book

SUNDAY Nov. 22, 2015, 
4:00 PM to 6:30 PM
Room: Room TBD – Hotel TBD

Theme: When Is the Big Tent Too Big?

Sarah E. Rollens, University of Alabama
Tents and Canopies: When the “Big Tent” Becomes a “Sacred Canopy” in Biblical Studies (30 min)

The extensive scholarship and the number of university-level courses devoted to the New Testament and the Hebrew Bible are relics of the theological study of religion. Though these texts are cultural artifacts in their own right, the dominance they enjoy in many professional organizations and university departments (as opposed to other ‘sacred’ texts) is well known. For instance, while ‘Introduction to the New Testament’  or ‘Introduction to the Bible’ courses are to be found in almost all department of religious studies, introductory courses on the Tao Te Ching, or even the Qur’an, are far less common. Even so, ‘the Bible’ is arguably what attracts many students to our field, whether their interest is due to their curiosity, their personal religious affiliation, or just simply their cultural familiarity with these texts. Critical biblical scholars are often asked to justify their ‘secular’ approaches to these texts, especially when they frame their research as participating in the academic study of religion instead of confessional study. One strategy for denaturalizing a confessional approach (and thus authorizing other approaches) is to contextualize the approach among other methods of analysis (historical, sociological, anthropological, literary, etc.)‹an admittedly post-modern tactic in which all theoretical frameworks are acknowledged to be perspectival and to have something distinctive to offer. But how much does this so-called ‘Big Tent’ approach simply reinscribe theological assumptions about the self-evident importance of ‘the Bible’ and its significance as a unique object of study in the secular study of religion? And how much does it sanction a brand of scholarship that simply reproduces the insider’s confessional perspective on these texts? This paper explores the consequences for critical studies of biblical texts when the ‘Big Tent’ philosophy is given unexamined primacy in our field.

Stephen L. Young, Brown University
Is the Tent So Big that it Hides Ideology? (30 min)

A defining aspect of many “critical academic” approaches is analysis of any approach and its practitioners themselves. This paper uses the frequent discussion/debate about the presence of “Evangelical” scholars at SBL/AAR as an opportunity to argue that “the Big Tent” hinders, and even stifles, basic critical analysis of others within the Tent. By constructing the idea of one large field in which all who participate are most basically colleagues engaging in the same endeavor, legitimate criticism is often limited to debate about the content of others’ ideas. Conversely, social or ideological analysis of others’ positions, interests, and practices is often delegitimized, sometimes with the rhetoric of professional courtesy or tolerance since, so the logic goes, “we are all in the same field.” In this way the ideological aspect of producing and consuming “scholarly” discourse is occluded. By identifying and comparing the interests animating certain “Evangelical” scholarly practices with those of other selections of critical scholars, this paper will provide a concrete example of how the Big Tent can impoverish our analyses of the work others inside the tent.

Patrick McCullough, University of California-Los Angeles
On Not Letting Confessions Tell Us What to Do: Reading New Testament Texts without “Origins” (30 min)

As we know, the group of texts that we call the “New Testament” has only survived through a process of privileging certain theological interests over others. By studying these texts, and especially studying these texts together, we risk reifying the narratives that gave birth to their historical significance. Those scholars who seek to avoid the trappings of canonical prioritization, and its accompanying nostalgia, by claiming the study of “earliest Christianity” or “Christian origins” do not solve this problem. While theymay expand beyond canonical boundaries in their studies, and allow for multiple (lost) “Christianities,” the anchor of essentialized “religion” still tethers these approaches to the same theological claims that gave birth to the canon. Thus, if we include the study of Christian origins in our “big tent,” does it always remain inseparably chained to confession, try as we might to deconstruct and secularize the canon? Russell McCutcheon argues as much, suggesting that we should not study the texts of the New Testament, but rather the interests that preserved these texts for us and the reason we remain enamored by their significance. For McCutcheon, even a critical approach to New Testament texts participates in their theological enshrinement. I argue in this paper that, indeed, we cannot escape the shadow of the big tent, which seeks to protect the meaning(s) of New Testament texts. However, these texts remain data that playfully balance—as perhaps all texts do—between the roles of cultural product and cultural producer, artifact and interpretation. Ultimately, a decision to ignore New Testament texts as data, to allow the canon to determine which cultural products are worthy of our critique, allows theological interests to govern our analytical choices. Thus, this paper plots the certain perils of studying texts intimately tied to the origins narratives that dominate our guild, while also offering a cautious way forward that does not discard data just because others have enshrined it. Such an approach requires that we abandon exceptionalist narratives about “earliest Christianity” and the instinct to allow canonical boundaries dictate the contours of our comparative study. By way of example, I deconstruct the interests with which scholars approach the Book of Revelation, particularly those approaches that offer putatively progressive readings of the text, and I suggest a critical way forward in resituating the text’s discursive features.

Ipsita Chatterjea, Independent Scholar
Big Tent, Smaller Tents, Blue Tent, and the Specter of the Red Tent: What Do We Do and Does Anyone Outside of the Tent Know We Are Doing It? (30 min)

To address the impact of the “big tent” on secular studies of religion and sacred texts, we want to consider evidence regarding the status of the field in Howard’s “Citation by Citation, New Maps Chart Hot Research and Scholarship’s Hidden Terrain.” In the first graphic, http://chronicle.com/article/Maps-of-Citations-Uncover-New/128938/, Biblical Studies cites Classics and does so enough to map, Religion, or the Big Tent does not. While the data can be contested for various reasons, we do identify as interdisciplinary and should discuss our subfield’s “brand.” Beyond this graphic, social scientists articulating qualitative research standards identified religion as “a new frontier,” as if analytical scholarship on religion did not exist. As analysts, our issues are paralleled across the social sciences specifically the problematically formulated binary between activist and empirical scholarship. With recent examples, I will outline how people in the tent have talked about or are structurally allowed to ignore “us” while reasserting a notion of the big tent; arguably this is part of a dynamic identified by Lincoln. We want to articulate how we have long aligned with the wider social sciences. Social scientists advocated critical theory informed, historically attenuated, empirically grounded practice long before a recent reassertion. That consensus maps with J.Z. Smith, Riesebrodt, Lincoln, Taves, Lynch and others and has manifested in theory-attentive, descriptive historical scholarship that has grown to address research design more explicitly. We want to clearly articulate how we use theory and method in research design: accountability to representation, falsifiability and existing secondary literatures; the use of theory to denaturalize dominant narratives and our research questions; how we define, acquire, delimit and make claims about data; scale and the purpose of our communications with the people we understand to be our potential audiences.

Edward Silver, Wellesley College, Respondent (30 min)

 

 

My Generic Prayer Reprayed

Since I will be publicly addressing the issue of state sanctioned public prayer next Tuesday night (June 2) at the Lethbridge Public Library, I though I would republish my Generic Prayer from about 2009. Seems apt.

i.  Our parent(s) and/or legal divine gaurdian(s) and/or designated, covenanted or otherwise contractually obligated divinity, quasi-/semi-divinity, and/or spiritual, and/or ancestral entity, and/or alien-life-form and/or abstract cosmic principle(s) and/or Pasta.

ii.  Who art in any one or more of the following regions, realms, spheres or realities: Heaven, Underworld, deep caves, bottom of the sea, tops of various mountains, Planet Zorg, Ipswich (UK), or any other abode, place, domicile, dimension or locale.

iii.  Hallowed be thy no-name.

iv.  Thy Kingdom / Queendom / Hermaphrodom / Androgydom / Neuterdom come, but not in that sense.

v.  Thy will or unconscious workings of cosmic order be done on Earth and/or any other planets as it is done in any specified, indicated, implied or insinuated heaven or other “place” as listed in verse 2.

vi.  Give us (please) or otherwise empower us to have fair access to (at a fair price) our daily bread, rice, maize, noodles of assorted sorts, taros, yams, gruel, donuts, hamburgers, additional yams as required, bacon, free-range chickens, tasty mammals, cheetos, and/or walruses according to our individual preferences and cultural traditions, respecting, of course, our respective taboos (i.e., don’t worry so much about bacon for the folks in the Middle East, they’ll get by).

vii.  Forgive us our trespasses and unseemly loiterings, and other breaches of religious law, custom, or ethical standards, and for simply being such easy targets when thou art in a bad mood, as we decide to put up with other folk being bastards towards us.

viii. Neither lead, command, direct, tease or cajole us into temptations or otherwise acting like jerks.

ix. In the very least, deliver us from evil, violence, cruelty and so on, including taxes, although a damn good smiting of the bastards inflicting it may, at times, be more appropriate than a simple deliverance. Nip the problem in the bud, we say.

x.  For thine is the monarchy or polity of some another form; the power (although the Unitarians remain free to differ on this point), and the glory and street cred, for ever and ever until we redefine you differently.

Agender (unspecific).

 

The info for my talk is here:  http://www.sacpa.ca/index.php?p=38&action=view_session&ID=1126

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Public Prayer, Privilege, and Preambles

Dr Jim has another letter in the Lethbridge Herald. This time it is about the flap over pre-town council meeting prayers. On       the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that the Saguenay Que. city council had to abandon the recitation of a Catholic prayer. The Herald Story is here, but the page has some errors.  Needless to say, there was heck to pay, and the Premiere of Saskatchewan, Brad Wall, says that won’t stop the prayers before the Sask. Legislature. So, too, in New Brunswick. Well, of course, I had to weigh in.

Pontificat

 Here’s my letter, published today:

Many politicians across Canada are unhappy with the Supreme Court ruling that the Saguenay, Que. city council must end the reading of prayers before their meetings.

The court made the correct decision. If elected officials lack the confidence to do their jobs without pleading to, placating, or flattering one god or another, how are they competent to hold office in the first place? If they were not concerned by the absence of collective prayer at the voting stations, it seems a bit lame that they can’t stand up like adults and make a decision or two on their own without implying that a deity may have given them bad advice should they decide poorly.

In a democracy that values the right to hold whatever religious views one sees proper, a government ritual that enshrines religion as normative is profoundly contradictory. The contradiction runs much deeper than municipal prayer. The preamble of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms states: “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law:”

Our country was also founded on principles that denied full enfranchisement to First Nations and women, and we are struggling to end that legacy of inequality. The preservation of ritual acknowledgment of even a generic god as an expression of collective identity is not the expression of religious freedom but the exercise of privilege over others.

The sooner we eliminate these expressions of inequality, the more proud we can be of our stand on true freedoms. Secularism is not atheistic or anti-religious but holds that real religious freedom requires the protection of the minority from exclusion, be they religious or not. Indeed, even some religious thinkers had views on the real reason for public prayers:

“And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.” (Matthew 6:5, NRSV).

And, as a Post-Amble, I should mention that they also published this short epistle from Mr. Hans Visser, who, as a member of Canada’s badly persecuted Christian majority, is a frequent “contributor”.

Re: “Prayer ruling hits a Brad Wall,” Herald, April 19. Wonderful that this premier takes a stand when he “noted that the constitution recognizes the supremacy of God.”

According to a dictionary, “the preamble of a constitution is a brief introductory statement of a constitution’s foundational purposes and guiding principles.” Then Canada’s Supreme Court judges rule, I suppose based on the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, no prayer to that supreme God in Canada’s government assemblies.

Sometimes I wonder if former prime minister Trudeau’s concocted charter ought not to be called the charter of “dictates and bondage.” Our Supreme Court judges don’t seem to pay any attention to the preamble.

Stolen from http://themetapicture.com/archer-prayer/

Stolen from http://themetapicture.com/archer-prayer/

Super Duper Bonus Exam Question! Name that biblical kitty (or puppy)!

Just finished the take home exam for my Bible Survey class. Alongside the three essays they must write, I’ve included a Super Duper Bonus Question:

After which biblical character would you name this kitty and why? If you don’t like cats, you can name the puppy. If you don’t like kittens or puppies you are a heartless, evil person and should be ashamed of yourself.cat

puppy

So, any answers?

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Creationisming Another Conference Paper

Yep, I get around. I got another conference paper accepted. This on is for the “Highway 2 Conference” in Lethbridge on May 9.  The conference is just Alberta-wide: Highway 2 runs north-south through Edmonton and Calgary. It doesn’t actually get to Lethbridge, which might imply rather low attendance. The conference is about highlighting one’s current research project and so my paper is an overview of my creationism project.

 Professional

In the Beginning Was Their Own Image:
Young Earth Creationism’s Modern Mythology

Academic work into Young Earth Creationism (YEC)—the position that the universe is only ca. 6000 years old and that the Bible accurately describes its origins—typically addresses the movement’s history and political agendas and strategies. Another large body of work addresses a more popular audience and openly contests YEC’s “scientific” claims. Both areas of study typically share the view that YEC forces ancient biblical myth into a pseudoscientific straightjacket that furthers an anti-modernist discourse. The multiplicity of creationist cosmologies and differing strategies of accommodations between biblical creation narrative and perceptions of social and scientific realities is less well researched. My new project explores these areas by studying creationist cosmologies as components of a totalizing myth-making endeavor in which meaning and identity for creationists are actively created and re-created through a “play” between various biblical, social, and historical paradigms and models. This includes the paradox of conceptualizing “science” as the arbiter of revelation’s meaning. The resulting creation myths are part of a larger mythic world view in which the many “Creation Museums” and conferences in North America serve as pilgrimage sites and centers of social integration and cultural transmission and transformation.

Another SBL Paper of (Anti-mythic) Proportions Accepted

I found out a while ago that my second proposal for the great and glorious Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in Atlanta (in November) was successful. It’s on something that has been bugging me for a long time.

The Priestly Creation Myth and Anti-Mythic Myth

It is widely understood the Priestly creation account [Genesis 1:1-2:4] is, in some ways, written as a polemic against key aspects of Babylonian mythology, such as the struggle against Chaos motif and the divinity of the sun and moon. It is also often claimed that the Priestly writer offered a “demythologized” version of creation. There is considerable academic debate, however, over the presence of an Israelite Chaos-kampf in the biblical materials (e.g. Tsumura, Creation and Destruction, 2005; Watson, Chaos Uncreated, 2005; Ortlund, Theophany and Chaoskampf, 2010; Scurlock and Beal, Creation and Chaos, 2013). After a critique of the current state of the debate, and the role of modern day, theologically motivated, Israelite exceptionalism, this paper argues that while it is plausible to identify a struggle against Babylonian mythology in Gen 1:1-2:4, scholars should be at least equally interested in its implied polemic against other Israelite creation and cosmological traditions, including those that see Yahweh combatting Leviathan, Rahab, the sea, and rivers. Above all, the Priestly creation must be seen as especially affirming key parts of priestly theology of sacred times, acts and places. In this light, the creation week story hardly represents a demythologization of creation at all, but a restated mythology to serve a new theological and ideological context.

My first paper is described here.

I should only do one paper at this meeting but since I have to meet with program unit committee members I need to be sure of getting university funding. They won’t provide funding for committee meetings, but will give some ($900) for presenting a paper. So I propose two just to increase the likelihood that one will be accepted. The past few years, however, I’ve been lucky enough to get two accepted. I then feel like a jerk at the thought of backing out of one once another committee has made its list (it is a bit of work). So I agree to do both. And then I panic trying to get both done. At least this year I will be on study leave!

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