Sunday, June 08, 2008

A Letter to Uncle Sam

Canadians have a funny relationship with the US. It's complicated, to say the least. The US is our single largest trading partner, we share the longest undefended border in the world, and American movies and television keep bleeding into our airwaves. As a result, the CRTC enforces rules on the amount of Canadian content our broadcasters must use.

It's not all sunshine and ass-kissing, though. We are critical, very critical, of American foreign policy (some of us not so critical, but most Americans would agree those guys are idiots), and a good deal of your domestic policy. The whole "right to bear arms" thing is baffling to most of us, and the "church and state" thing gets some of us angry. We don't have any such policy, but oddly, we don't have any problems with it, either (except Catholic education, but don't get me started).

We are attracted and repelled at the same time, annoyed and affectionate, comfortable and frightened. The sheer volume of the States is deafening, and we're too close to hear anything else too clearly, so our historical ties to Britain and France mean less than our proximity to the Great Elephant (to borrow an image from Trudeau).

On the whole, though, I want to see the US succeed, flourish and prosper, and I'd like to see my neighbour become a force for good in the world. Unfortunately, though, that train has sailed, and I think the American Empire has met its Endor.

There are several reasons for this, of course, including your soaring debt, your oil dependant culture (ours is no better), your idiotic wars that can't be won, the essential unsustainability of your economic model, the fact that you've consumed most of your resources without regard to the future, the essential fraud of the democratic system (ours, too) and the bitterness of the other 190-odd nations on the planet. The last thing the US needs is another fatal flaw.

But you've found one: biblical inerrancy.

The idea that a single religious text, especially one so riddled with contradictions, is flawless, is a uniquely American idea, and it is eating away at everything from your relations with Middle Eastern countries, to your presidential campaign, to your Constitution. In fact, it is irrevocably tied into all the crises that face your nation, and it's making it worse:

  • Climate change looks a lot like the End Times.

  • Israel must be protected at all costs.

  • Russia is evil.

  • China is evil.

  • God chooses your president.

  • God will provide, so conservation is blasphemous.
It all looks scary up here from the north, and I wish you'd do something about it.

One phenomenon that doesn't affect anyone but you guys, but still strikes me as spectacularly dumb, is the emergence of Creationism (under any guise) in your science classrooms. Why anyone would want to take as truth something that is so clearly allegorical (at best), and handicap your children with nonsense is beyond me. It's another nail in the American coffin, my friends, and you really ought to rethink it. Things are bad enough for your republic, my friends.

There's nothing to be gained from letting god into your science class. Even if he does exist, god's not particularly helpful in predicting the behaviour of the universe. In fact, god makes a habit of fucking up the natural order of things. It's what makes him special, right? That he can change natural law? Not helpful, whether you're plotting the course of a planet or projectile, predicting the behaviour of organisms, or studying why volcanoes blow up.

There are voices of reason, like the New York Times:

The trouble is, a creationist system of science is not science at all. It is faith. All science is “naturalist” to the extent that it tries to understand the laws of nature and the character of the universe on their own terms, without reference to a divine creator. Every student who hopes to understand the scientific reality of life will sooner or later need to accept the elegant truth of evolution as it has itself evolved since it was first postulated by Darwin. If the creationist view prevails in Texas, students interested in learning how science really works and what scientists really understand about life will first have to overcome the handicap of their own education.
...and you'd do best to listen to them. There are no quick fixes to the Middle East, climate change or peak oil, but you can do something about your children's education with very little pain or effort at all.

The Bible is a religious book. It is not a science text. Just try to remember that.


Dax said...


S said...

Some of us are trying. I'm in Georgia, most definitely the bible belt. There are hundreds like me, homeschooling our children free of religion. Regardless of whether you agree with homeschooling or not, the fact that there are so many of us in the deep south in direct opposition to religion and all proponents of science, makes it a little less scary. At least I think so.

Father Shaggy said...


I commend you on your choice. My feelings on homeschooling are pretty benign. Obviously, it's your right to do it, and it's a lot of work, so I appreciate your commitment. On the other hand, having been a teacher, I know that my training as a teacher did give me some tools that I didn't have.

I'm also pretty passionate about the place of public education in society: literate, aware and conscious citizens are invaluable to society, ate necessary for democracy, and about the only defense the general public has against tyranny.

S said...

I completely agree that without an educated people, there will be huge problems. I'm not familiar with the public education in Canada but I can tell you for sure that the schools here are not educating children. In fact, I would be so bold as to say that a sure path to tyranny in this country, is a public (read: government) education.

Father Shaggy said...

The education system in Canada is a little complicated, but not too bad. Education is a provincial matter, though they have to adhere to minimum standards (if a school is private, it has no standards, but they can adopt the provincial standards to smooth transitions to post-secondary education).

The only hiccup is the necessity of Catholic education, but that's a Constitution thing, and not easily remedy. I'll get into it someday. Keep your eyes open.

As for your fear that public education will reinforce tyranny, you're probably right to some extent. The pledge of alliegance is a neat little brainwashing trick, designed ot make little patriots. But simply learning to read, and to think, and about science are powerful tools that no dictator wants his suibjects to have. You're farther ahead having most people attend a school that is publicly funded and governed by the constitution than by having nothing at all.

It's not black and white, by any stretch, but my public education has served me well, if only by teaching me to value learning and decideing for myself.