The Truth Will Get You Fined?

“Not all truthful statements must be free from restriction.”

-Supreme Court of Canada

These words should terrify any skeptic. That they would be found in a Supreme Court decision in my country I was unthinkable 6 months ago. But on February 27, 2013, this ruling was issued, and everything I thought I knew about my right to free speech in this country was turned upside down.

The only thing worse than the loss of freedom was the shrug in the atheist community that followed it. Some even applauded the decision because Bill Whatcott is a loud, arrogant anti-homosexual bigot who surely does spread hatred.

Bill Whatcott

But this decision is not restricted to the Bill Whatcotts of the world. It applies to anyone speaking about a protected group in Canada. And the original class of protection, listed first in every hate speech law, has always been religion.

I urge you to read the ruling and consider how it affects your right to talk about any religous issue. These laws are not limited to speech that calls for violence or genocide. How could a true statement call for violence? A statement doesn’t call for any action on its own, it is simply true or false. All that is required is that the speech may tend to reduce the acceptance of religious beliefs within the community.

“Hate speech seeks to delegitimize group members in the eyes of the majority, reducing their social standing and acceptance within society.”

“It must seek to marginalize the group by affecting their social status and acceptance in the eyes of the majority.”

It does not matter whether reducing the acceptance of those beliefs is your intent or not. It does not matter whether it actually had that effect or not:

“Whether or not the author of the expression intended to incite hatred or discriminatory treatment is irrelevant.”

“The fact that s. 14(1)(b) of the Code does not require intent by the publisher or proof of harm, or provide for any defences does not make it overbroad.”

“The difficulty of establishing causality and the seriousness of the harm to vulnerable groups justifies the imposition of preventative measures that do not require proof of actual harm”.

It doesn’t even matter if you are not directly criticizing the religion, but only the actions inspired by that religion. For example circumcision or wearing burqas.

“where the conduct targeted by speech is a crucial aspect of the identity of a vulnerable group, attacks on this conduct stand as a proxy for attacks on the group itself.”

I’m not sure how that would apply to someone who’s religious identity included illegal actions, such as cannibalism. (Meaning an ancient religion that advocates actually consuming human flesh, not just consuming a substance you believe to be human flesh. The fact that I have to explain that should be sufficient to reduce the credibility of a major religion in the eyes of a “reasonable person, aware of the context and circumstances”. Does that make it hate speech?)

But worst of all, it does not matter if you can prove, based on sound evidence, that every word you speak is completely, unequivocally true.

“Truthful statements can be presented in a manner that would meet the definition of hate speech, and not all truthful statements must be free from restriction. Allowing the dissemination of hate speech to be excused by a sincerely held belief would provide an absolute defence and would gut the prohibition from effectiveness.”

This is nonsense. Truth is a defence in our defamation laws, and the criminal code sections on hate speech. It is even a defence that “on reasonable grounds [you] believed them to be true”. Oddly enough the only defamation law I can find that does not have a truth defence is our blasphemy law. Presumably that is because if the defendant could prove to the satisfaction of the court that their blasphemy true we wouldn’t have a blasphemy law in the first place.

(Yes, Canada still has a blasphemy law in the criminal code. It has not been used since 1935. If it were used today it would be subject to the free speech provisions in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which six months ago I would have said rendered it essentially void. But given this judgement all bets are off.)

Truth defences do not render any of these other laws ineffective. “Scorched earth” tactics do, but that’s another rant altogether. It is the defendant’s burden to prove to the court that the statements he made are truthful. If he can do that he should be allowed to say it. Period.

At least the law also silences an annoying bigot, right?

But it’s actually ineffective at that too. The publicity of the trial made far more difference to his cause than a $7500 fine. But more importantly, think about the message the decision is sending him. The implied message in not wanting to look at whether or not the statements are true is that the statements are true, but we won’t allow you to say them anyway. All the court did was confirm his conspiracy theories. What better evidence could you ask for of a powerful homosexual lobby suppressing Christian freedom?

Bill Whatcott is not right. Most of the information in his brochures were not facts. I am confident that we could prove those statements that remain are false. And if we cannot, he should have a right to make those statements until we can.

I demand the right to speak the truth in Canada. Is that really too much to ask for?

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”

―Salman Rushdie

 

Yes, I give them money

If you sincerely believe something different than me, I want to understand why. If you’re wrong I want to fully understand your beliefs so I can properly refute them. If you’re right I want to know so I can change my beliefs. Either way, I need to hear your beliefs to examine them and decide whether your are right or wrong. I don’t want a skeptic’s straw man summary of your beliefs, I want to hear what actually convinced you, as a rational human being who has put some thought into the issue. And presenting those beliefs in a logical and articulate manner is a service worth paying for.

On the other hand, sometimes I just need a good laugh.

Jesusland

I have been to Holy Land Experience (better known as Jesusland).  I sat in the hot Florida sun and watched a morbidly obese woman wielding  a turkey leg call out “THANK YOU JEEEEE-SUS” over a re-enactment of the crucifixion while her young children looked on, bored. It was the most authentic cultural experience I had in central Florida. I gave them almost $50 for this privilege.

Big Valley Creation Science Museum

 

I have been to the Big Valley Creation Science Museum. I didn’t actually give them money, though I fully intended to. Because the owner showed up late to let us in he gave us free admission and a couple of free books.

 

The default radio station in my car is Shine FM. True to their advertisements, the more I listen the better I feel. Just try listening to this without cracking a smile. I’m not sure if they have made any money off of me or not. Their advertisements tend to be fairly futile because I am not interested in spreading the word of God to the third world, I don’t care whether my accountant lives according to biblical principles and I don’t have six children.

CTS was my primary television station for over 3 years. That was before Sun News came in and stole their best hosts and guests. This wrecked both stations. CTS hosts discussed even the most controversial news topics politely and effectively. Sun News consists entirely of sensationalized rants even I have trouble watching. While CTS was a refreshingly different perspective on my world, Sun News seems to be completely out of touch. Again, I’m not sure how much money they have made off of me, their primary source of income being advertisers for a different demographic.

I go to live presentations whenever I know they are in town. There are usually enough free ones that I don’t bother with ones that cost. There are, however, Christian comedians I would pay for if they ever came to Edmonton.

I have read more books I disagreed with than I can count. I feel I have to read something myself before I have a right to laugh at it. I’ve read Of Pandas and People, Scientology and Dianetics, and Sarah Palin’s autobiography. I get them from the public library whenever possible, but if there is a particular author I like and it’s not available I have been known to purchase them.

My favorite blogs include New Advent, Age of Autism, Ann Coulter and Creation Ministries International. No, I don’t have any for Scientology or Mormonism. These religion’s PR campaigns consist largely of convincing people they don’t really believe all that crazy stuff. Their public, entry level beliefs are straightforward and boring. It’s only after decades of indoctrination that they bring out the aliens and spaceships. Because of this the only sources for this information are brought out by apostates, and the PR guys deny it if they can and ignore it when they can’t. Therefore you don’t find strong scientologist apologists trying to rationally defend their beliefs on the internet. The beliefs they share with the world are too common sense to bother defending, and the rest they deny. For many other religions it is difficult to find good sources that write in English.

So yes, I think it is fairly certain that people I don’t agree with have received money from me over the years. But they have given me valued entertainment, and contributed to a free and flourishing marketplace of ideas. And I am willing to support that.

Empty Tomb Argument – A Biblical Response

I think every non-believer is tired of hearing about the historical evidence for the empty tomb.

Model of empty tomb from Jesusland

Model of the empty tomb from Jesusland – Six daily crucifixion re-enactments for the kids!

The argument goes that Roman and/or Jewish authorities could easily have quashed Christianity’s claims of the resurrection by bringing forward the dead body of Jesus. The fact that they didn’t do so implies that they did not have it. Anyone who did have the body would have great motivation to bring it forward to gain favour from the Roman Empire. If the Christian followers had taken it that would imply that they knew the resurrection was a sham and yet continued to martyr themselves for something they believed to be untrue. So where was the body?

They generally include the claim that we have better historical record of Jesus’s empty tomb than of any other event of that time. I’m not sure exactly what they mean by this, I can’t find any sense in which it is true. Furthermore, the only reason it even comes close to being true is because early Christians spent so much time destroying any documentation they felt might undermine or compete with their religion.

Child stomping on all of the other sandcastles on the beach so that his is best.

Now I don’t believe that the testimony of a few people recorded a long time after the event meets the threshold of evidence that I would require to believe in resurrection. But obviously the people bringing up this argument do. And arguing that their book may be insufficient in any way never goes anywhere.

But the claim is that there is no explanation for the facts presented other than resurrection. To defeat this claim requires only a single alternative explanation. You don’t need an explanation you believe in, you need alternative explanation that your opponent believes in.

So does the Bible give us any alternative explanations for where that body could have gone? Try this one:

  1. Jesus repeatedly made statements such as “Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.(John 6:54)
  2. Five thousand people were present for these statements. Twelve of these people were present for the bread and wine at the last supper. The time between the last supper and the crucifixion was short and eventful. It is likely that at least a few of the 5000 (not to mention all of the people that heard about it secondhand), did not get the news that Jesus actually meant bread and wine representing and/or miraculously transformed into his flesh and blood.
  3. Upon learning that Jesus is dead, and believing that eating his flesh and blood is necessary for eternal life, these followers would realise that there is not going to be enough flesh and blood to go around. This provides substantial motivation to get into the tomb and steal the body.  Belief in eternal life is sufficient motivation to risk their lives, including bribing, tricking, or even killing any guards that may have been present.
  4. Under Roman law, the punishment for cannibalism was death. Under Jewish law, the punishment for cannibalism was death. Stealing and eating the body of the Messiah would certainly not make them popular with the Christians, especially once the bread and wine information got around. Therefore the people responsible would have good motivation to keep quiet. Furthermore, there would be no identifiable body left to bring forward after the flesh was eaten.

Not only does this seem to be a solid alternative explanation for the evidence presented, but it follows logically from beliefs most Christians already hold. This causes them to actually listen to what you are saying and question their own beliefs. Which is a good start in actually getting somewhere.

Note: John 6 is one of the rare sections that Catholic and Orthodox denominations actually take more literally than their evangelical counterparts. Evangelicals are used to arguing with Catholics that Jesus did not mean that you literally had to eat his flesh and blood, therefore the Eucharist is symbolic not literal. However for our purposes, it does not matter what Jesus meant, all we require is that at least 1 of those 5000 witnesses, or the people that heard about it second hand, took him literally. And John records that many people were disgusted by the suggestion of cannibalism and left. This makes it difficult to deny that at least 1 person could have taken it literally.

Note 2: Try not to start with the simple answer to their question for shock value (“he was cannibalised”). The whole point is to break through the stereotype of disrespectful atheists who know nothing about their religion. The shock value you are looking for is the realisation that you actually know their book fairly well, and hopefully this will get you to a place where they actually listen and think about what you are saying. From a believer’s perspective there is no more effective argument than one from the Bible. That is why can’t seem to get out of the habit when talking to someone that doesn’t believe in the Bible.