Thu 28 Feb 2013
So, it’s a day after people noticed my National Post article “Disagree with Christians? Fine. But do not silence them.” I have to say, I’m surprised it got quite the attention it did. In just one day, 130 comments had been posted on the article, and a couple dozen tweets for and against had flown through Twitter. Meanwhile on Facebook, there were 322 shares and likes of the article, with a fair amount of accompanying conversation. One thing’s for sure: it got people talking. But how fruitful exactly was the resulting conversation?
You’ll recall that my major concern in the article was a growing intolerance in Canada towards religious people (especially Christians). It was pretty clear early on in the day that my concerns were shared by others: “Thank goodness someone finally noticed,” wrote one person on Facebook. “We live in a world where you can be of any faith or no faith, except for Christian.” Another on Twitter wrote that it “seems like [people] nowadays only defend freedom of speech and religion for a select few, while silencing others.” Many Christians seem to feel a growing antipathy towards them.
While some people agreed with my article, many others did not. A number of their comments were insulting, questioning my sanity for believing in “Christian mythology.” But that of course did not mean their comments were bad. Distasteful, perhaps, but not unacceptable. I was arguing in my article on the importance of open discussion, of allowing Christians to speak freely in the public arena. And being given that privilege myself, I also have to respect the freedom of those who disagree with me to speak freely as well. One commenter agreed with another that I was a bit mad. “But we don’t silence him,” that person cautioned, “We just criticize and ridicule him.” Fair enough. The right to insult is also included in the right to freedom of speech. To be sure, I don’t think this is a very helpful sort of rhetoric; it tends to shut down dialogue, not keep it going. But censoring each other in the public realm isn’t the answer either. That’s something I and the commenter both agree on: censorship should be eschewed.
Of course, some commenters confirmed my article’s point by saying openly that they thought religion should be banned—that is to say, censored—from the public forum. “It is reasonable to expect sex as being an activity for consenting adults in the privacy of their bedrooms,” writes one commenter, “and that’s the best for religion too.” Some would indeed like to see Christians (and other religious groups) silenced—to keep their religion at home and not let it show up in the public square. It’s an opinion that I fear is growing, and it is at this type of intolerance my article was aimed: knee jerk, shut ‘em up, anti-Christian rhetoric.
As for the actual subject of religious persecution, some commenters don’t seem to think it’s an injustice at all: “People killed for their religion are no more martyrs than soccer fans killed in a riot,” writes one commenter. I find it shocking that the targeted extermination of people solely based on their religion can be so callously disregarded, shrugged off as it were the natural consequence of doing something you knew was dangerous. You played the game, the commenter seems to say, and sometimes people die in that game. Them’s the breaks. Don’t like it? Get out of the game.
But there were also oddball comments on the other side too. One commenter suggested that negative online reaction to the Office for Religious Freedom was done mostly by people who “take a personal delight in the death of Christians.” When asked by another if they specifically meant that the CBC as an organization takes a personal delight in the death of Christians, the first commenter said yes.
Needless to say, that’s a radical departure from what I suggested in my article—and a despicable accusation to boot. I argue that there’s a growing intolerance in Canada to people of faith, and that we see a glimpse of that in the overly negative online reaction to the Office for Religious Freedom. But I’m careful to point out that this is intolerance; it’s not persecution, at least not in the sense that many religious and non-religious people face persecution in other parts of the world. Still, we should resist attempts to silence religious people in Canada, to affirm our right to be part of the public forum. Whatever our faith or non-faith, we live in this country together; we all have the right to discuss openly and freely our opinions on how our shared society should operate. We should feel free to be part of the dialogue.
I was grateful to see at least a little bit of that happening in some of the comments on my article. One religious and one non-religious commenter suggested that, while the online debate was polarized, it might be easier to get along in real life. “If we met, I am sure we would get along fine because we [would] see each other as people first,” writes one.
I hope that type of level-headedness prevails.