This coming Thursday, December 10, 2020, the world honours the 72nd anniversary of the signing of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
A little-known Canadian law professor, John Humphrey of McGill University, drafted the Declaration’s 30 clauses of rights and freedoms, for the committee chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt.
As a signatory, Canada incorporated much of that Declaration into John Diefenbaker’s Bill of Canadian Rights, 1960, and then into Pierre Trudeau’s Constitution Act, 1982.
The UN Declaration states, “Everyone is entitled to [these] rights and freedoms … without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
And, in another article, that no one shall be subjected to coercion: “torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.”
It offers no exemptions for religious beliefs.
Yet it is precisely certain religious beliefs, which violate the principles of the UN Declaration, that generated federal Bill C-6.
The House of Commons passed a second reading of C-6 by a vote of 308–7 this autumn. If it passes third reading it will criminalize “conversion therapy,” defined as “a practice, treatment or service designed to change a person’s sexual orientation… Everyone who knowingly causes a person to undergo conversion therapy against the person’s will is… guilty of an indictable offence.”
Conversion therapy attempts to “convert” gays into heterosexuals. It’s supported by a small number of evangelical churches who take their Bible literally.
They believe, first, that homosexuality is wrong -- based on seven isolated verses, only two of which explicitly condemn sex between two males (Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13).
And, second, that it is a personal choice. Therefore, the choice can be un-made.
Officially, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada doesn’t support conversion therapy. It does “seek assurances” to protect “religious instruction, parental guidance and supportive services for individuals wishing to order their sexual lives in accordance with their religious conscience.”
Less officially, it provided a letter for church members to send to their MP, which states, in part, “I believe Bill C-6 poses a serious threat to freedom of expression and the ability to live according to one’s religious identity and personal convictions.”
To “convert” gays, these “therapies” have used coercive tactics reminiscent of the brainwashing done by Viet Cong forces on American prisoners. And by Stalin’s gulags.
Hollywood dramatized brainwashing in The Manchurian Candidate.
I’m told by a psychologist who worked with victims of conversion therapy that the tactics included showing pictures of naked men to gay males while administering shocks to their genitals, to build an aversion to gay sex.
I have to take his word for it. I wasn’t there.
Eventually the victim cracks, breaks down, professes himself cured, and gets discharged.
I’m sorry that the bill limits itself to issues of sexual orientation. Because these processes start with the conviction that anyone’s mind can be changed, if you apply the right techniques, long enough.
What about Canadian youth who went to the Middle East to fight for a hard-line Islamic State? If they come home, can we safely assume that they have changed their mind, totally? Or should they undergo conversion therapy to ensure they have given up any jihadist beliefs?
And what about their children? If their parents were Canadian, those children are Canadian by birth. They’re entitled to return to Canada. But they’ve been raised in what Canadians would consider a terrorist culture. How do we ensure that they’ll integrate into conventional society?
Do we put them through conversion therapy, to straighten them out?
And who makes that decision?
We’ve been through this before. Yes, we have.
Remember the hippie ‘60s, when all kinds of good, clean-living kids were getting sucked into far-out religious cults headed by people like Jim Jones and Charles Manson?
They too used brainwashing tactics. Sex. Coerced chanting. Sleep deprivation. Forcible confinement. Endless sessions of persuasion.
In a word, conversion therapy.
To break our kids free from their cults, we -- their parents -- used similar tactics. William Sargant documented the unscrupulous efforts of both sides in his book, Battle for the Mind (1957, reprinted 1997).
That too was conversion therapy, in a different context.
Our own hands are not clean.
If we take the UN Declaration of Human Rights seriously, we should assert that conversion therapy is never acceptable. In any situation.
Friendly persuasion, yes. Living true to one’s own beliefs, yes. But applying coercive tactics to change someone else’s mind and beliefs, no. Never.
Copyright © 2020 by Jim Taylor. Non-profit use in congregations and study groups encouraged; links from other blogs welcomed; all other rights reserved.
To send comments, to subscribe, or to unsubscribe, write firstname.lastname@example.org
Lots of letters about last week’s column, linking masks and authoritarianism. So let’s get going with them.
Sandy Warren: “You've presented a depressingly accurate description of the belief system or mindset of those who will not be swayed by evidence. If only it were not so widespread!”
Tom Watson: “An interesting thesis, that the authoritarian mindset cannot accept constant change. I have been thinking along the same line regarding being an Originalist with respect to the U.S. Constitution. If the principal benchmark is what was in the minds of the original framers of the Constitution, what then makes possible a change due to the context of a new time? I think that being an Originalist isn't dissimilar from being a biblical fundamentalist.”
JT: I had not heard of “originalism.” Wikipedia says, “Originalism… asserts that all statements in the constitution must be interpreted based on the original understanding ‘at the time it was adopted’… This notion stands in contrast to the concept of the Living Constitution, which asserts that the Constitution should be interpreted based on the context of the current times, even if such interpretation is different from the original interpretations...”
Bob Rollwagen: “At one time scholars believed the world was flat. In the 21st century, scholars, now known as scientists, are adding more knowledge daily than had been added yearly in the 19th century, at a rate far beyond the ability of most to comprehend.
“The purpose of a mask is obvious. Any mask will help, but not all are equal and the best are in limited supply. Many people … consider personal comfort over community safety. Some global societies have a strong sense of the relationship between personal health and community welfare, and they wear masks when in public. No complaint, just respect.
“Instead of debating the need for masks, we should determine who in the general public did not wear a mask and became infected vs those had masks and became infected, and compare as a percent of each population. What, no data? Science vetted the need for mask protection centuries ago and all we have to do is put it on. I have since March 24, 2020 and upgraded as [better masks] became available.”
Ruth Shaver: “I once began a sermon with the question, ‘How many of you believe in gravity?’ Every hand went up. I went on, ‘You don't need to believe in gravity because it is a provable fact. Every one of us experiences the force of gravity in the same way here on earth. The effects of more or less gravity are predictable, when we know certain other facts about a planet, a star, or region of space. Now, how many of you know God exists?" Most hands went up. ‘Well, actually...God's existence is not knowable as a fact… Unlike gravity, no two of us have the same experience of God...’
“One of my parishioners wrestled with this for WEEKS as she tried to make sense of it in her life. I'm happy to say that for her and for many others in the congregation, that explanation led to some additional generosity of heart in listening to how others experience God and how people can accept the same tenets of a faith and yet live those tenets differently. Epistemology should make a comeback in secondary education, for the sake of religion and for the sake of science.”
Michael Jensen: “I've often said, ‘The only thing you can count on is change.’ However, I do reserve the right to a big BUT. Our God is an unchangeable god. We just don't know Him well enough yet. Because we are still learning the laws that He uses, we expect to make mistakes, thus, the constant changes.
“Most people don't like change, me included. We are social creatures and chafe at restrictions. Our ability to adapt is being put to the test.
“P.S. I wear a mask.”
Rob Brown: “Janet and I both wear masks regularly. Not at home, but when we go out. That is the latest recommendation from our health planners and specialists in Saskatchewan.
“Wearing masks was not initially recommended as a help with Covid-19. But as time went on, researchers gathered new information, which led to new recommendations. Which is reasonable, given the scientific method; as you gather new information, you reach new conclusions.”
Isabel Gibson: “Before I start, let me assure you that I wear a mask in all currently recommended settings. But it seems to me we have an odd mix of scientific method and authority at work here.
“Chief Medical Officers have told us what to do since the start of the pandemic. Their basis for that instruction is, we hope, mostly the scientific method. But it's not presented as ‘the best info we have right now suggests…’ It's presented as definitive.
“It doesn't bother me that the instructions change. It bothers me that each is presented with the same seeming certainty. Just as if they thought that to show any doubt would undermine the communication.”
Steve Roney: “I think you get the mask issue wrong. Changing opinions among the authorities on mask use have little or nothing to do with science. As Dr. Fauci and others have admitted, early advice that masks were useless was given primarily to preserve the limited supply of masks at that time for health-care workers, where they were most needed.
“Please note that I am not advocating that people go without masks. I certainly wear one, and hope everyone else does too. They are little enough inconvenience, and they might work. That is a different matter. But we are not dealing in any meaningful way with science here.
You also seem to me to be arguing that the official position on masks has been changing is evidence that the science on masks is sound. This is the opposite of science, which is fundamentally the quest for universal, unaltering laws. You are right to say that science progresses by disproving things, never by proving things. However, the likelihood that a given model or theory is true is measured by the fact that it has been tested over a long period and not been disproven. If, in any given area, you find theories and models being rapidly overturned or changed, this means science has, in this case, clearly failed to approach truth. To see change itself as evidence science is getting closer to truth is like seeing fever as evidence of health.
In one of last week’s letters, Steve Roney denied that Colin Powell had lied to the UN. Another reader, an American who insisted on remaining anonymous, claimed insider information: “Yes, Colin Powell lied. It wasn't bad intelligence. He and Bush knew there was nothing there. I have a relative at the top of a particular agency. I was planning a trip. ‘When are you going?’ he asked.
“When I told him, he said. ‘You'll be OK [now]. We'll likely be at war by March 1.’ This conversation was in Sept. or Oct. Going to war had already been decided. We did indeed go to war on March 1.”
If you want to comment on something, write me at email@example.com. Or just hit the ‘Reply’ button.
To subscribe or unsubscribe, send me an e-mail message at the address above. Or subscribe electronically by sending a blank e-mail (no message) to firstname.lastname@example.org. Similarly, you can un-subscribe at email@example.com.
You can now access current columns and seven years of archives at http://quixotic.ca
I write a second column each Wednesday, called Soft Edges, which deals somewhat more gently with issues of life and faith. To sign up for Soft Edges, write to me directly at the address above, or send a blank e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
And for those of you who like poetry, you might check my webpage https://quixotic.ca/My-Poetry. Recently I posted a handful of haiku, something I was experimenting with. If you’d like to receive notifications about new poems, write me at email@example.com, or subscribe yourself to the list by sending a blank email (no message) to firstname.lastname@example.org (If it doesn’t work, please let me know.)
To use the links in this section, you’ll have to insert the necessary symbols. (This is to circumvent filters that think some of these links are spam.)
Wayne Irwin's “Churchweb Canada,” is an inexpensive service for any congregation wanting to develop a web presence, with free consultation. http://wwwDOTchurchwebcanadaDOTca. He set up my webpage, and he doesn’t charge enough.
I recommend Isabel Gibson’s thoughtful and well-written blog, wwwDOTtraditionaliconoclastDOTcom. She also runs beautiful pictures. Her Thanksgiving presentation on the old hymn, For the Beauty of the Earth, Is, well, beautiful -- https://www.traditionaliconoclast.com/2019/10/13/for/
Tom Watson writes a weekly blog called “The View from Grandpa Tom’s Balcony” -- ruminations on various subjects, and feedback from Tom’s readers. Write him at tomwatsoATgmailDOTcom (NB that’s “watso” not “watson”)
ALVA WOOD ARCHIVE
The late Alva Wood’s collection of satiric and sometimes wildly funny columns about a mythical village’s misadventures now have an archive (don’t ask how this happened) on my website: http://quixotic.ca/Alva-Wood-Archive. Feel free to browse all 550 columns.