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Democracy, Theocracy, Racism, And Me

I don't have anything against them personally you know; in fact some of my best friends are Christians. There are a couple of them in my office and they usually come over to the house with their husbands once or twice over the course of a year. We usually end up talking about our kids or other stuff that we have in common. Of course, they're not really close friends, but its just good policy to make everyone in the office feel like they matter to me.

Now, I would never have them over with anybody else from the office, it would just be awkward. Not everybody on staff is as liberal about integration as I am, not that I've much choice in the matter considering the latest edict on equality in the workplace. But, edict or no edicts, I would treat them the same way as I treat them now, and I know they appreciate that.

I've known Christians for years you see, my family always had a couple around the house who would look after the gardening and the housekeeping. I remember mom always used to say, nothing beat a Christian for being hard working and uncomplaining. Smart too, you'd never have to tell them something twice or worry about them not understanding the most complicated instructions for planting a year's flower arrangements.

I can still see her, like it was yesterday, out in the yard in the fall making arrangements with the gardener for planting the over wintering bulbs that would come up as spring's first flowers. There was the one-year when the squirrels decided to lend a hand, and replanted half a year's bulb crop. They spent the spring laughing together like kids whenever they saw another tulip or daffodil growing in the middle of the lawn.

The next year though my mom did make sure to remind the gardener to plant the bulbs an extra inch deep. After all, I heard her saying to Dad latter, what's funny one year can become awfully tedious the next. Still that was the closest I ever heard either one of my parents ever saying anything negative about any of the Christians that worked for us. Usually my mother could be counted on to say at least once over the summer that she didn't know where she'd have been without the gardener, and that he certainly was a credit to his people.

There were a couple of Christians in all of my classes each year in school, but they usually felt more comfortable sticking with their own kind, we'd see them sitting at lunch together in the cafeteria. By the time I was in University there were quite a few on campus – I know some people didn't want to have one as a roommate, but Jim and I became close enough friends that we shared a room for the last two years of our degree progams.

We did everything that young men do together; double-dated, stayed up all night talking philosophy and politics, and held the other's head the first time he threw up from too much booze. For those two years, he was my best friend, and I'd like to think I was his. But after university our interests seemed to diverge, and the only times we did get together were awkward and strained. Although he seemed genuinely interested in what I was doing, he would become strangely reticent whenever I asked him about his career.

I like to think it's because of Jim that I'm the open-minded person I am, and inviting the couple of Christians in the office over for coffee with their spouses is the least I can do by way of honouring our former friendship. It's a pity more people didn't have the opportunities I did getting to know Christians. I'm sure if they did they'd realize that given the right opportunity, a Christian isn't much different from the rest of us.

Growing up in very white, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant Toronto, Ontario Canada, in the late 1960's and through the mid 1970's, I'd run into this attitude on a regular basis. The birthday parties I wasn't invited to as a child for example, because the clubs they were held in were restricted; restricted to keep people like me out.

I have memories of my mother from those times that make me suspect she was more hurt by these incidents then I was. She lived through the Second World War and the horrifying aftermath filled with news of death camps and family dead in Europe for no reason except their religion. A war supposedly fought to preserve democracy and ensure equality to make a world where people were treated with dignity.

Twenty years after its end, the same racism that existed in Toronto when she was a kid before the war, was still going strong. The same racism that had greeted her grandparents when they arrived at the beginning of the twentieth century to seek a life free of persecution and equal opportunities. A racism that very politely and firmly told Jews the name Young Men's and Young Women's Christian Associations, (YM/YWCA) meant they were not welcome.

Today there are still clubs and organizations across North America that claim the right to limit access to their facilities based on a persons skin colour and/or religion. Yet our governments claim they are fighting wars to create democratic societies just like ours. Why would anyone want a society like ours?

How can our governments say with a straight face that they are fighting in Afghanistan to liberate its people from a theocracy, when that's what they are attempting to impose on their own people? No modern era, "democratic" governments have been more regressive and close–minded then those of George Bush and Steven Harper in The United States and Canada respectively. Their governments have been changing the criminal code and/or, passing legislation to ensure people live in closer compliance with their narrow definition of Christianity, whether they want to or not.

George has been championing "Intelligent Design": – the theory that God "faked the fossils" as a means of testing our faith and that He created evolution. It very conveniently makes both God and Darwin right, although I've yet to hear how they get around the whole –Adam and Eve versus the higher form of primate theory. I don't know how successful he's been in getting that taught in high schools, but the fact that he's trying at all scares me to death.

His buddy Steven, up here in Canada, wasn't able to get rid of same sex marriage as he had promised to do if elected. Instead, he's trying to modify the criminal code to allow people the right to discriminate – if their religion tells them to. "The Defence of Religions Act" would allow anybody, public service and private sector, to refuse service to gays and lesbians, refuse to hire them, refuse to sell them a house or rent them an apartment, and to publicly preach and teach that they are evil.

Now I don't know if the law is limited to gays, or if you can discriminate against anyone as long as your God tells you to, but it would set a dangerous precedent. It doesn't seem to matter that all of those activities are forbidden by the criminal code and Canada's Bill of Rights, The Charter of Rights and Freedoms, and would never stand up to a court challenge. This way everybody knows Steven's heart is in the right place. If only they could get rid of that pesky Charter of Rights, he'd rid the land of fags and other undesirables, so fast it would make you head spin.

How anyone could even think of claiming that the rights of the majority need defending is beyond me. What do they need defending against? They should be grateful that the only price they are paying after centuries of intolerance, cruelty, and oppression are affirmative action programs that barely offer any redress for their behaviour. Would they prefer to have the state confiscate all their possessions and revoke all their rights as citizens like we did to Japanese North Americans during the Second World War in the 1940s?

How about living in an atmosphere of such poisonous fear you are referred to as a "rag-head" and automatically treated with suspicion because of your religion? Maybe you would prefer being stopped by the police on a regular basis simply because they can't believe "your kind" could own the vehicle you're driving without having done something illegal? Or, you could just be hauled out into the town square every time you screw up at work; whipped, sold, and shipped across country never to see your family again.

For all my apparent cynicism, I'm a pretty naive and optimistic person. I still believe that the purpose of a religion is to help people celebrate the beauty of creation, and to provide them the means to say thanks for being given the privilege of living in such an amazing world. Unfortunately, too many people view it as a means for justifying oppression and exalting themselves over others.

The other day I caught the tail end of a discussion on the radio about racism in the oil patch in Western Canada. It seems that anybody who isn't a white skinned male is treated with open hostility. A listener had emailed in a response; silence in the face of racism or other oppressive behaviour implies your tacit approval.

The twentieth century showed just how deadly not speaking out could be. The twenty-first has barely begun and governments the world over are counting on us to keep our mouths shut. I plan on disappointing that expectation whenever possible.

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