Ignoring Silver Bells

There is a myth that the inspiration for the Christmas song “Silver Bells” came from “the bells used by Santa Clauses and Salvation Army people on New York City street corners.” What is not a myth is Christmas music inspires people to spend enormous amounts of money in late November and in December. Christmas music also inspires people to give money to charity and to contribute to food drives and appeals for toys for less fortunate children. It’s become a cliche to suggest that people should be charitable all year. It is not a cliche to say that people should make responsible and ethical decisions about where to allocate their money.

One of the enduring and questionable symbols of Christmas giving is the Salvation Army kettle. The Salvation Army launched its 125th Annual Christmas Kettle Campaign on November 16, this year with the slogan, “The World Keeps Moving Forward. Why Are so many left behind?” Good question Sally Ann! Here’s another, Why is there evidence, despite its denial, that the Salvation Army continues to discriminate against LGBT members of society?

The Salvation Army is proud to list Loblaw Companies Limited, Walmart Canada, Costco, BC Liquor Stores, LCBO (in Ontario), Canadian Tire, Cadillac Fairview, Metro, Safeway, Save-on-foods, Sobeys among the corporate partners who allow kettles to be placed at their stores each year. While it’s doubtful that shoppers patronize these stores because of the kettle, there is no doubt that if a local community newspapers were to report that one of these corporate partners refused to allow kettles in its stores, that corporation’s sales would drop.

The bells and the kettle are seductive, ubiquitous and insidious. They work on the rationale that people who can afford to fill their shopping carts to the brim can afford to drop some spare change in the kettle. The kettles are designed to allow shoppers to donate effortlessly and absent-mindedly without breaking their stride to the parking lot.

Although thinking before donating takes time and energy, we should start using that time and energy: the Salvation Army kettles, toy and food drives are not the only alternatives to giving. People can

  • donate food to a local university or college food bank.
  • buy socks and gloves to give to the homeless people you meet in your community.
  • pay attention to the people around them; their neighbour may need assistance.
  • attend functions where the proceeds go to local non-denominational charities.
  • donate surplus clothing to the Canadian Diabetes Clothesline program.
  • donate to Supplies for Students programs in your community
  • donate to a secular or atheist organization.

David Suzuki Will Kiss The Pope Anywhere He (The Pope) Wants

David Suzuki has raised eyebrows, we’re told, by deploying a colourful analogy in the course of a discussion about greenhouse gas emissions. As Maclean’s reports, Suzuki doesn’t have much time for Brad Wall’s view that economic factors such as potential job losses need to be considered when formulating policy in this area:

Suzuki dismissed Wall’s comments as the same arguments used by those who benefited from owning slaves. “It sounds very much to me like southern states argued in the 19th century, that to eliminate slavery would destroy their economy,” Suzuki said in an interview Monday on SiriusXM’s Everything is Political with Evan Solomon.


Suzuki says 19th-century slave owners prioritized the economy over the goal of ending slavery like Wall is putting the economy and jobs ahead of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “Who would say today that the economy should have come before slavery?” Suzuki said.

Apparently Suzuki, in his sanctimonious way, said something about both climate change and slavery being “moral” issues as opposed to “economic” ones. I’d view them both as issues that have coexisting moral and economic dimensions, neither of which can be reasonably ignored. I doubt any government ever abolished slavery without thinking hard about the economic consequences, unless slavery was a marginal institution in the country in question to begin with.

Be that as it may, Suzuki was also full of praise for another prominent climate change activist:

“I’m with the Pope, and as you know, I’m an atheist, but I’m willing to kiss the Pope on his feet, on his hands or anywhere else he wants me to kiss him,” Suzuki told Solomon about the Pope’s position on climate change.

I wasn’t previously aware, in fact, that David Suzuki was an atheist. Good on him, of course, and it also occurs to me that he may have performed a considerable service to Canada by making those comments. If the Vatican becomes aware of his offer of anatomically unrestricted oral affection, Pope Francis may just be sufficiently alarmed to avoid setting foot in our free and glorious land until St. David the Green is safely enclosed in its soil.

The Conversation Continues

The post “’Declaration for a Secular Public Service‘” has attracted numerous comments. A couple of commenters want clarification and one commenter drew attention to the post “’Canadian Masquerade.’” The conversation continues on the Atheist Freethinkers blog with Christine Shellska’s  “Response to Blog #062 ‘Canadian Masquerade.’

The defining characteristic of Shellska’s response to “the case of Zunera Ishaq, who was granted permission to wear the niqab while taking her Canadian citizenship oath” is Shellska’s ambivalence:

As an atheist, I am, quite frankly, “offended” by all religious head coverings; I cannot help but conceive of them as silly costumes symbolizing irrational deference to imaginary beings. In particular, I share the view that the niqab is inherently misogynist, an instrument of segregation from one’s fellow citizens that underscores the pernicious idea that women are responsible for the sexual behaviour of men. And I daresay that I think those who claim the niqab is “liberating,” or symbolic of “feminism,” are misguided victims of the false consciousness sanctioned by religion.

But as a secularist, I recognize that my “offense” is not sufficient grounds to deny the rights of my fellow citizens to express themselves as they deem fit – assuming that it is indeed a “right” and not an obligation imposed upon those women who don the niqab by their oppressive “guardians” under threat of violence, or worse, murder in the name of “honour.” Moreover, cultural and linguistic isolation can provide an effective barrier to prevent vulnerable individuals from understanding their rights as Canadian residents, and seeking out the resources that ensure those rights are protected. Whether the niqab should be banned, and if so, who to penalize and how, are questions that require careful consideration, for punishing those we intend to protect is surely not among the outcomes Canadians, and humanists, desire.

Shellska’s mixed feelings about the niqab are even more obvious in her conclusion:

While legislation banning facial coverings is surely appropriate in some contexts, in my opinion, the solution is to offer resources to those who are the targets of oppression and, possibly, violence, and to educate future generations.

The AFT Board of Directors response “Face-Coverings Must be Banned in All State Institutions” is unequivocal. It is not, as one commenter suggests, an attempt to “fight the twin scourges of freedom of belief and freedom of expression.” The members of the AFT Board of Directors make it very clear that

The failure to ban the full veil in state institutions is unethical and unacceptable. It is a betrayal of Muslim women and secular Muslims. It is a betrayal of secularism, women’s rights and human rights in general.

Those who point out that there is “no constitutionally based separation between church and state” are correct. However, the Supreme Court Decision in Mouvement laïque québécois v. Saguenay makes it very clear that state institutions must be secular and neutral:

The state’s duty of religious neutrality results from an evolving interpretation of freedom of conscience and religion. The evolution of Canadian society has given rise to a concept of this neutrality according to which the state must not interfere in religion and beliefs. The state must instead remain neutral in this regard, which means that it must neither favour nor hinder any particular belief, and the same holds true for non-belief.

Let’s keep the conversation going and consider reading and commenting on the many posts on secularism on the Atheist Freethinkers’ blog.


A prayer for Dawkins

The power of being offended is about fear, which leads to anger… Blah blah…the dark side…

He told the Guardian: “My immediate response was to tweet that it was a violation of freedom of speech. But I deleted it when respondents convinced me that it was a matter of commercial judgment on the part of the cinemas, not so much a free speech issue. I still strongly object to suppressing the ads on the grounds that they might ‘offend’ people. If anybody is ‘offended’ by something so trivial as a prayer, they deserve to be offended.”

But I want the freedom to silence others dagnabit!

No prayer for you

I’m not easily offended. I don’t much care about the magical incantations people often feel the need to mumble, but if someone says they will pray for me… in a goodwill sorta way… I will simply take it as that, goodwill. Full stop.

Prayers mandated by government are more problematic. Mostly I find them amusing and silly, but I understand how it can make people feel excluded. And since they tend to be more about religious people pissing on everyone else to mark their territory, tossing them seems like good sense.

In a survey of 1,504 Canadian adults, taken after the Supreme Court found official public prayers violate the state’s duty of religious neutrality, three-quarters approved of just starting meetings with no ceremony at all, and a similar proportion approved of a moment of silence.

Of course, if you pay me enough, I’d even read Finnegans Wake to a crowd of penguins. Hail Eris, you are the fairest!

Jesus and Mo Wednesday and Contest



Thanks to this week’s guest scriptwriter, The Archbishop of Canterbury.


Yesterday was this comic’s 10th birthday, and to celebrate we’re running a little competition (thanks to sparky_shark for the suggestion).

To enter, you just have to write a script for the last panel of a J&M “X-factor” strip:


The script should a line from Jesus, a line from Mo (in any order), plus the off-screen judge if required. Just words, presented like this:
Jesus: Blah
Mo: Blah
Judge: Blah

The best script will win a book of the latest collection of Jesus & Mo strips (Vol 7), plus publication here on the website (anonymously, obvs). There may be runners-up prizes, too.

Send entries entitled “X-factor script” to author[AT]jesusandmo.net

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