The Extended Weinberg Principle


Otherwise intelligent people sometimes say the most absurd things once their thinking is infected with religious belief or meta-belief. In this blog I present and analyze several antisecular assertions (some made by so-called secularists) which are outrageously irrational. These declarations are representative of the antisecular socio-political climate which currently reigns in Canada.

Sommaire en français Des personnes normalement intelligentes sont capables de faire des déclarations d’une absurdité alarmante, une fois leur pensée infectée par des croyances ou des méta-croyances religieuses. Dans ce blogue je présente et analyse plusieurs assertions anti-laïques (faites parfois par des individus se disant « secularist ») qui sont hautement irrationnelles. Ces quatre assertions sont:

  1. Fournir un uniforme adapté spécifiquement aux agents de la GRC de religion sikhe ne constitue pas du favoritisme.
  2. Le port du niqab lors des cérémonies de citoyenneté est un « droit ».
  3. S’opposer au port du niqab lors des cérémonies de citoyenneté est raciste.
  4. Les partisans de la Charte de la laïcité du gouvernement PQ pratiquaient une politique de la haine tout comme Donald Trump aujourd’hui.

Ces déclarations témoignent du climat socio-politique antilaïque qui sévit actuellement au Canada.

There is a famous quotation, popular among atheists, from the American physicist Steven Weinberg:

With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.

I call this the Weinberg Principle. In a 2015 AFT Blog (Turban: The Real Issue Remains Unresolved) I defined what I call the Extended Weinberg Principle as follows:

With or without religion, intelligent people will say and do intelligent things and stupid people will say and do stupid things; but for intelligent people to say or do stupid things—that takes religion.

I also call this phenomenon “voluntary selective stupidity” in which otherwise intelligent people choose to be foolish about a particular subject, usually religion. Indeed, there is nothing like religion to turn intelligent people into fools. This applies even to non-believers, who—although they may reject all religious beliefs—may nevertheless persist in holding and transmitting religious metabeliefs, i.e beliefs about belief. In this blog I give several examples.

Assertion #1

Firstly, consider the following statement:

Allowing RCMP officers to wear the Sikh turban while on duty does not constitute favouritism.

This assertion was made by a self-proclaimed secularist, who was clearly adept at the Orwellian language “Newspeak.” Recall that George Orwell, in his celebrated novel 1984, introduced Newspeak, a language so dishonest that it regularly asserted the exact opposite of a simple truth, oxymorons such as “Black is white” or “War is peace.” Indeed, allowing Sikh Mounties to wear the turban of their religion is precisely and obviously an example of favouritism towards a particular religion, i.e. religious privilege. The only way that it could not be a privilege would be if special uniforms were also made available for every other possible religion and indeed for every possible ideology: special dress for Christians, Pastafarians, Muslims, atheists, Marxists, anarcho-syndicalists, Friedmanite capitalists, etc. The list is endless. Such a chaotic collection of ununiform uniforms would be unmanageable. Fortunately the RCMP does not do this. But it continues to offer this one privilege to Sikh men.

Assertion #2

Secondly, let us consider another example of Orwellian contradiction, this time on the subject of face-coverings:

Wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies is a “right.”

Face-coverings are a serious impediment to communication and security and thus may legitmately be forbidden in many situations for reasons having nothing to do with either religion or secularism. But then along comes an adept of a particular religion who declares that she is “obligated” by her beliefs to wear a face-covering, called the niqab, at all times, even during a brief citizenship ceremony. The secular response would be, “The ban applies to everyone equally. No exceptions for religious reasons.”

But the current Canadian government of Justin Trudeau does precisely the opposite: it not only allows this religious accommodation, it says that it is the believer’s “right” which must be guaranteed! To make matters worse, the religion favoured here happens to be a particularly malignant, fundamentalist and extremist version of monotheism. By allowing it this privilege, the government is objectively enabling an extreme right-wing ideology.

Assertion #3

Thirdly, it gets worse. In a Feb. 16, 2016 article in the Globe & Mail, Gerald Caplan declared that:

To oppose wearing the niqab during citizenship ceremonies is racist.

To be accurate, Caplan applied the word racist to describe “the demagogic racist campaign against the niqab by Mr. Harper and associates” but I suspect that the word “associates” means he is extending the accusation to all who favoured a ban on the niqab in that context. For one thing, the niqab is an emblem of an extreme variant of the religion Islam and has nothing to do with race. Islam is not a race. Islamism is not a race. Religion is not race. Criticizing a religion is not racist. The accusation is nonsense.

[…] some so-called secularists were so carried away by their hatred of Harper that they approved the niqab, apparently out of spite! This is like opposing the breathing of oxygen because Harper breathes oxygen.

We can probably assume that attempts by Harper and his Conservative gorvernment to ban the niqab at citizenship ceremonies were partially motivated by religious bigotry (i.e. Christians expressing anti-Muslim sentiment). Yet even by this worst possible interpretation, those attempts were objectively MORE secular than the shamefully antisecular position adopted by both the Liberals and the NDP—and by Caplan. In Canada outside Quebec, some so-called secularists were so carried away by their hatred of Harper that they approved the niqab, apparently out of spite! This is like opposing the breathing of oxygen because Harper breathes oxygen. Fortunately this did not occur in Quebec, where secularists resolutely and simultaneously opposed both Harper and the niqab.

The unscrupulous broadcasting of gratuitous accusations of racism, intolerance, xenophobia or “Islamophobia” is the hallmark of the regressive left (or centre). Caplan has chosen his camp. Not only is Caplan’s assertion irrational and unacceptable, if he were to direct such an accusation against an individual it would arguably be illegal because it could constitute personal libel, in which case I would suggest suing Mr. Caplan before the courts.

Assertion #4

Finally, two months after his election, our new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made a statement in which he opined that:

The Quebec Charter of Secularism (proposed by the previous Quebec government) was comparable to Donald Trump in promoting “the politics of division, the politics of fear, the politics of intolerance or hateful rhetoric.”

While Caplan slandered supporters of a niqab ban in citizenship ceremonies, Trudeau here manages to slander the majority of Quebeckers who supported the Charter of Secularism. (Remember, the PQ government was defeated mainly because of its sovereignist program, not its Charter.) Working towards a secular state in which the public service is free of religious advertising is not “hateful.” Rather it is a plan for progress and freedom. Of course we have heard such nonsense before from many Charter opponents, but that does not make Trudeau’s statement any less unacceptable or any less defamatory. What is new is his addition of even further insult by comparing Charter supporters to that bigoted reality-TV clown Trump. It is Trudeau who is indulging in hateful rhetoric—against secularists.

Confusion and Intimidation

In describing the above examples of voluntary selective stupidity, I wish to emphasize that I am not labelling anyone as lacking intelligence. The accusation I am making is far more serious than that. I am saying that otherwise intelligent people are deliberately choosing to adopt a very unintelligent and dangerous position with respect to a religious issue. This is inexcusable. If they did lack intelligence, that would at least constitute some excuse.

I have listed the above examples in order of increasing seriousness, ranking Caplan’s and Trudeau’s slanderous accusations as worse than the unreasonable religious accommodations in assertions 1 and 2. However, in the final analysis, they are simply two sides of the same coin. I have heard many people make statements equivalent or similar to the first two assertions, but I have never heard any of them denounce—or even distance themselves from—the defamatory rhetoric of the last two assertions. While the first two lead to confusion about secularism, assertions 3 and 4 accuse those of us who remain committed secularists of all sorts of horrible sins (racism, xenophobia, intolerance, etc.), thus intimidating the confused so much that they are afraid to even consider what we have to say.

I recently saw a particularly onerous example of this on Facebook: a person claiming to be a secularist declared, “I am not a dress code bigot.” As if it were possible to have a secular state with NO dress codes at all! We can debate whether secular dress codes should apply to all public servants on duty, or only to certain categories, but it is inevitable that such codes must apply at least to state agents with coercive authority—or do you want your police and judges to wear collanders, g-strings, hijabs and large crucifixes while on duty? Even without secularism, implicit and explicit dress codes are ubiquitous, including many workplaces and professions. Clearly this person has been bullied into submission by the incessant and virulent antisecular propaganda which has inundated the media in the last few years and poisoned the debate.

a climate of antisecular intimidation, where multiculturalist ideologues echo the discourse of Islamists, throwing around outrageous insults whose purpose is to silence anyone who dares to question the dominant ideology of religious privilege […]

If the four assertions listed above are not explained by a lack of intelligence, then what on earth could have motivated anyone to say such inanities? We do not need to know each individual’s personal reasons. It is enough to understand the socio-political climate which facilitates and encourages the expression of such nonsense: a climate of antisecular intimidation, where multiculturalist ideologues echo the discourse of Islamists, throwing around outrageous insults whose purpose is to silence anyone who dares to question the dominant ideology of religious privilege, i.e. the meta-belief that religion must have priority over other considerations, the meta-belief that religious beliefs are so overwhelmingly essential to personal identity that their blatant expression must never be curtailed— not even among public servants on the job, nor even for the few minutes duration of an official ceremony.

Where are the Secularist Voices?

Unfortunately the assertions stated above may be representative of majority opinion among so-called secularists in Canada. If so, then we have a serious problem. Even if this is not the case, we still have a serious problem, because of the near-total silence. Why have we not heard dozens, or hundreds, or thousands of pro-secular voices raised in protest against the misrepresentation of secularism and the denigration of secularists?

Clearly, if Canadian pseudo-secularists aspire to become secularists, they must abandon their political and intellectual cowardice as well as their reactionary attachment to ethno-religious determinism, which they sugar-coat with the label “multiculturalism.” They must stop worshipping at the altar of Saint Justin. In particular, they must stop opposing pro-secular measures simply because the government proposing such measures may happen to be unpopular.

Next blog: Of Pigs and Prayer

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