“Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority...” -Lord Acton
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I was still serving time in the corporate world in Toronto. When there was snow and ice on the roads, I rode the subway to work and back instead of biking. I carried—and sometimes pretended to read—a hardcover copy of The Satanic Verses. I didn’t think much of the book, but I enjoyed glancing at the responses of other passengers to its presence.
That’s because shortly after it was published in 1988, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini channeled the outrage of peace-loving Muslims by issuing a fatwa calling for the book’s author, Salman Rushdie’s, death. A dream sequence based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad and other passages in the book were considered blasphemy to the sacred teachings of Islam.
The fatwa was never rescinded.
Earlier this month, Rushdie was attacked and repeatedly stabbed by 24-year-old Hadi Matar, a New Jersey man, because he considered Rushdie, “someone who attacked Islam.” While not citing the fatwa directly, he admitted he’d only read a couple of pages of the book.
Iran blamed Rushdie for the attack. Go figure.
Also earlier this month, there was a celebration, if that’s the right word, for the 75th anniversary of India’s partition into Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. The very real fear, as the British Raj ended its rule of India, was the two religious factions would continue to escalate their bloody fighting, each in the name of their god(s).
Whether political or religious, the history of civilization can be traced by the fighting between great men wielding power in the quest for absolute power. And the beat goes on.
Whether it’s persecution of Jewish people, Protestants fighting Catholics, evangelicals murdering abortion providers, or even “peaceful” Buddhist monks in Myanmar supporting the junta and joining the persecution, killing and exile of Rohingya Muslims, virtually every religious institution—okay, maybe not the Quakers—have, and still, proclaim theirs as the one true god and will try to counter those who disagree.
Tom Lehrer, mathematics professor at both MIT and Harvard and popular satirical songwriter and performer in the 1960s, captured the inter-religion intolerance in a verse in his humourous song, “National Brotherhood Week”:
“Oh the Protestants hate the Catholics
And the Catholics hate the Protestants
And the Hindus hate the Muslims
And everybody hates the Jews.”
In his 1905 book, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, Sigmund Freud postulated—and yes, I simplify here—jokes and humour allow the expression of thoughts society generally prefers to suppress. Interestingly, he also pointed out not everyone is capable of formulating humour. Nor, I suspect, is everyone capable of identifying it.
With that groundwork, I’m not certain whether local issues recently brought to my attention are examples of religious humour or intolerance. I suspect the latter. But whichever they are, while I will defend the right of the religious organizations to live their beliefs, I’m not comfortable supporting their humour or intolerance financially.
Before I wade into this—and in an effort to relieve Pique’s publisher and editor of the unnecessary burden of defending my position—I’d just like to make a few things clear. If you, dear reader, are a church-going, religious person, if you find comfort and guidance in the teachings of your particular religion, if you feel your life is richer because of your beliefs, if you live life as a better person because of it, more power to you. I applaud you. Whatever floats your boat, or as John Lennon said, whatever gets you through the night, is laudable. Life’s tough, and we all need something to believe in and make us better people.
That said, if you interpret your religious tenets to control what I or others believe in, how we live our lives, how and whom we love, what we say, what we write, what we paint and draw and even think, well, that’s not all right. That’s intolerant. And if the things you find unacceptable happen to be both acceptable and legal in our country, that’s especially not all right. That’s both intolerant and discriminatory. In another place and time—and for all we know here and in the future—that’s the kind of intolerance that leads to authors being knifed, people who believe in other gods or none at all being persecuted and murdered, countries fighting endless wars against each other, groups vowing to annihilate other groups. Bad, bad, bad.
So I was taken aback recently with news our local Catholic church was planning to cosy up with the Napa Institute, a group that seems to want to use its version of religion as a cudgel to bring non-believers into line.
And I was further taken aback by rumours of the Whistler Community Church (WCC) refusing to allow the use of their rental facilities to groups and individuals because they might—not will—insufficiently align with their stated values and guidelines.
Usually I dance around information like that, because it frequently involves miscommunication or misinterpretation. But I was directed to the written guidelines on WCC’s website, which read groups and persons wishing to rent their property are prohibited from:
4. Use of Church property to promote same-sex sexual relationships, same-sex life partnership or same-sex marriage;
6. Use of Church property to promote or support abortion, abortion rights or abortion related activities. (Find it yourself at whistlerchurch.ca/rental-enquiries).
Last time I checked, same-sex relationships, partnerships and yes, even marriage, was legal in Canada. So was, is, abortion.
If WCC wants to preach against same-sex relationships and abortion to their brethren, I have no problem with that. If their congregation prefers to believe those things are evil in their god’s eyes, no problem.
If they’re willing to rent their space—space having always been scarce in town—to groups who align with their beliefs and not do the same to groups who may hold opposing beliefs, I’m even kind of okay with that.
But I’m not okay with supporting their imposition of those beliefs. And unfortunately I’m doing that because the Resort Municipality of Whistler grants them, and the Catholic church, a permissive tax exemption for the land surrounding their church building.
Under the Community Charter, the church building itself is exempt from property tax. And while that provincial statute makes no sense to me, it does not preclude the municipality from taxing the land appurtenant to the church building. But in 2021, both organizations were granted five-year exemptions from paying those taxes.
So, yeah, the taxpayers of Whistler and the RMOW are complicit in this little display of intolerance and discrimination against totally legal activities.
You okay with that?