Friday, November 23, 2007


Ontario's publicly-funded Catholic school system is an anachronism. It is a bad idea for a whole host of reasons, and they've just added a new one:

"Concern widens over 'anti-religion' book

Dufferin-Peel Catholic board to review fantasy after neighbouring board pulled it from libraries
Nov 23, 2007 04:30 AM

Education Reporter

The Dufferin-Peel Catholic board is conducting an informal review of The Golden Compass because concerns have been raised about the children's fantasy book in the neighbouring Halton board."

The "His Dark Materials" books are amazing: well-written, well-constructed and introduce big ideas to younger readers (I'm almost through the second book for the second time). And Phillip Pullman is an atheist. The books are about religion and how is has been tainted throughout history and used for oppression. I concede that they are inflammatory, and antagonistic towards religion in general, and the Roman Catholic Church in particular.

Know what? It makes no difference.
These books ought to stay on the shelves.

There are a number of reasons:

  1. Phillip Pullman is an atheist, but that's no excuse for censoring his books. If the Catholic school board tried to censor a Jew's books, or a Muslim's books, or a Protestant's books, there would be a justifiable outcry. You cannot discriminate against a person because of their religious beliefs, and therefore, their lack of religious beliefs.
  2. The books contain things that are critical of the Roman Catholic Church. But so do history texts.
  3. There are themes and issues discussed which Catholics may find uncomfortable or offensive. Same with almost any literature worth reading. Such themes include: other religions (and religion itself), idols, murder, coveting, blasphemy, lying, adultery, working on the sabbath, disobedience, the death penalty, suicide, racism, socialism, communism, fascism, pornography, unmarried sex, contraception, abortion, teenage pregnancy, climate change, revolution, slavery, war, homosexuality, the nature of reality, capitalism, and Satan.
  4. Catholicism has been given a free ride in Ontario's marketplace of ideas. It needs to stop. We've funded this particular flavour of religious education and no other since our Protestant education system became our public education system. It's a funny little quirk of Confederation that has given them this special privilege, and we now know better. Ontario has been censured twice by the UN for this discriminatory practice, and has refused to change. It's about time that Protestant, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim families (and a whole lot of other kinds) stopped paying for Catholic education. So let's stop. Other provinces have done it. We can do it. Catholics are only 1/3 the population of Ontario, and some of them support eliminating the public funding of Catholic education.
  5. If your faith can't stand up to the criticism in three children's books; if your child's faith can be jeopardized by exposure to a story about a little girl whose father wants to finish the war in heaven, then maybe you ought to take a closer look at your church, its message, its marketing, and whether or not it's a good idea at all.
  6. Because the Catholic school board gets funding from Ontario's secular government, we get to tell them what to do. They are not allowed to discriminate against other faiths (and by extension, again, those without faith). Removing an atheist's books containing atheist ideas, besides being discrimination, won't make atheism go away.

Why am I so pissed about this? First of all, I don't think the Catholic school system should be publicly funded by Ontario's taxpayers. That's a big burr under my saddle. Second, it directly affects me. If this ban stands, and as a consequence, other atheist texts are removed from Catholic school libraries, then my daughter, who is being raised Catholic and will be going to a Catholic school (and don't even get me started on that), will get not be exposed to the ideas in atheism in the same forum as other ideas. Atheism, alongside theism, will not be addressed, examined and judged. She will not have all the information she needs to form an opinion on her own faith.

And that's really the crux of the problem, there. Religion is just like all other ideas or sets of ideas, and it needs to suffer the same rigours of evaluation. Communism, socialism, fascism, anarchism, capitalism, liberalism, conservatism, and ecocapitalism are all ways to organize your life, your community and your society. They've all been subjected to tests of evidence, practicality and application. They've all passed or failed to some degree. But what is most important is that they were tested. Religion has been given a relatively free pass. And I'm not talking about any particular religion, because they've all been criticised by other religions. Other religions assume god(s) (with the exception of Buddhism, and to a lesser degree, Taoism), and criticise methods of worship.

Not good enough. Religion's central idea, that there's a god (or several) and he (she, or they) cares what happens here, needs to be tested, too.

Pretending that atheism isn't a valid viewpoint doesn't make it go away (insert pretending there's a god joke here). And ultimately, that's why I'm so offended. I've been told by two Catholic school boards here in Ontario, two school boards that are publicly funded, and therefore told by Ontario as a whole, that my opinion isn't valid, and not worth discussing.

I suppose Pullman should be flattered. He's making Ontario Catholics nervous.

But until we stop giving special status to one faith above all others, or none, then I do not enjoy the same rights as other Ontarians. In Canada, more so than elsewhere, that's unacceptable.

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