True Love in the Media

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[From Noel] noel portrait1BWI saw an interview with Tim Keller where he was talking about his book The Meaning of Marriage. He explained that marriage is based on the idea of a covenant, and not on the idea of a contract. Covenant love is not based on what the receiver has done to deserve covenant love. It is based on the character of the lover. Covenant is a promise made between two people that is unconditional. I promise to love Julie not because she loves me back but just because I love her. If she loves me in return in the same selfless way it creates a beautiful testimony of the way God loves. It is, in fact, a little miniature picture of the Kingdom of God. Two people that covenant love each other no matter what is a pencil sketch of the love that God has for us.  The interviewer asked Keller, “don’t we need a new word for this?  If nobody knows what ‘covenant love’ is, do we need to find a 21st century equivalent for it?”  Keller replied, “we don’t know what the word ‘covenant’ means but we all know covenant love when we see it.”

Covenant love is part of God’s divine economy, an economy of abundance. How much love does the lover have for his beloved? All of it! An infinite amount. There is an abundance of love in a covenant relationship.

Contract love is part of the world’s economy, an economy of scarcity. The boundaries are set. They might even be generous, but they are limited, harsh and sharp. Contracts are bitter and breakable. They fail to satisfy the longings of our heart because it know better. Our hearts were made for covenant love and they shrivel up and dry out when soaked in anything less.

That is why covenant love is so beautiful. That is also why it is so rare. It is only with the help of the Holy Spirit that we are able to love like that. People are inherently selfish. Of my own accord, I am unable to love someone else like that. I can try to love Julie, but deep down I know I have ulterior motives. I love her because of what she can do for me. I express my affection in ways that I know are likely to make her love me back. It is only through the active work of the Holy Spirit that I can actually love someone unconditionally. This is how marriages can survive terrible mistakes. wayford and WilmaSpouses can forgive because they trust God to make it possible to forgive. When you see a couple celebrating 30, 40, or 50 years of marriage you are witnessing a little bit of a miracle. God’s Spirit has come to live in the midst of two people and has made it possible for them to forgive each other. It is nothing short of miraculous. Normally people are not able to love like that.

Our culture doesn’t know what covenant means but it sure likes it when it sees it. In songs, TV shows and movies, we love stories of selfless love. It stirs our heart and brings a tear to our eyes. We know it when we see it: a no matter what, never ending kind of love is a beautiful thing to behold.

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Song writers often write about covenant love. Whether they are Christian or not, they testify to the kind of love we hunger for. A wise man once said, “All truth is God’s truth” so I am grateful when I hear “secular” music singing better than it knows. Serena Ryder (Canadian content eh?) sounds like she is talking about God when she sings,

Your love is like an ocean that always takes me home.
Whispering wind is blowing, telling me I’m not alone.
Your love is like a river that I am floating down.
I’ve never been a swimmer, but I know that I’ll never drown.

The current grows stronger under different shades of blue
I’ve fallen in your water, forget everything I knew.
Oh what I wouldn’t do, Oh what I wouldn’t do.

It is a great mistake to assume that “Christian musicians” are the only ones who can speak truth. God uses all kinds of messengers to speak his truth. We just need ears to hear it.

NCW

Most Popular Post of All Time

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[From Noel] noel portrait1BWSince Julie and I started this blog almost two years ago, one post has since received more page reads than any other post by far.  It receives more search engine queries than all of our other 95 posts combined and it draws 15-20 page views every day.  It is not the most insightful of our posts, nor the funniest.  It’s not one of my favourite, nor Julie’s but it continues to draw controversy, discussion, debate, and even from time to time, angry hate mail! And that post is ….

Question: Does the Bible Really Say No Sex Before Marriage?
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Why does this post continue to draw so many readers? It plays, of course, to our more basic instincts: tell me what I can get away with! But, by looking at the comments, and thinking back over the emails we’ve received over the past year or so, I think there are two different groups of people searching this question on Google and coming to our blog:

  1. The Uninformed: Those who grew up in religiously unaffiliated homes and are genuinely curious about what the Bible says.  We get messages, from time to time, from people genuinely curious or confused about Biblical teaching on sex and marriage.  They are often shocked to hear how much the Bible has to say about sex.
  2. The Over-informed: Those who grew up in church-going homes and know already what the Bible says about premarital sex. These are readers who are getting acquainted, re-acquainted, and re-re-acquainted with Biblical teaching about sex and marriage.  We get messages from them from time to time seeking clarification for the teaching about sex that they already know about.  They are surprised by how LITTLE the Bible says about sex.  “Why aren’t the directions more explicit?  Why can’t the Bible be more clear?”

Whether under-informed or over-informed, one things is for sure: growing up in a Bible-believing home seems to make almost no difference to your sexual behaviour at all:

BeforeMarriageIn 2011, Oxford University Press published a book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying. In this book they discuss the latest psycho-social research into sexual practices in the United States.  In one study of unmarried college educated males ages 18-25, they isolated two groups: One group grew up in homes where sex before marriage was considered perfectly fine. In this group, 23% were virgins.

The other group grew up in homes where pre-marital sex was considered immoral. 28% of them were virgins. The researchers consider this difference to be statistically insignificant, so what does this mean?  It means that the teaching that you received in your formative teen years (either pro or con) has almost no impact on your sexual practices once you become an adult.  Now, I don’t want to trash promise rings and solemn covenants between parents and children, but the truth of the matter is that the True Love Waits generation didn’t.  Is it possible we are missing the point? For the 25% or so of young adults who are still virgins and are considering getting married, what made the difference for them?  I think that it is fair to conclude three things:

  1. We Need A New Imagination for Marriage: Marriage is not like a drivers license for sex.  Marriage is a physical manifestation of a covenant agreement between a man and a woman to love each other no matter what.  It is an acted out parable where we try to model the way God has loved us.  The Bible is full of beautiful pictures of the unconditional affection God has for us and that is what we are doing when we are married.  Sex operates best within the context of marriage, not because God is a kill-joy.  God wants to lead us into the most rewarding joy we will know this side of heaven.  God knows what is best for us and the question we should be asking is not “when can I have sex” but “can I trust God to lead me to my greatest joy?”  “Is God trustworthy?”  We need to be talking to our teens about that message, not what will happen if they have sex.  We are clearly not making any progress with scare tactics or promise jewlery.  We need a whole new imagination.
  2. Information Doesn’t Transform: We tend to operate in a modernist mindset that says “poor behaviour is the product of misinformation.  If I learn better I will behave better.” That simply isn’t true.  We do not operate out of a lack of information.  Kids who grew up hearing “wait for marriage” behaved almost exactly like kids who heard no direction at all.  Information is not making much of a difference.  What will make a difference is knowing Jesus better.
  3. Limiting Exposure To Sexually Explicit Media Isn’t The Answer: I don’t have good data on this yet but I can guarantee that my 15 year old son has had more opportunity to see naked ladies than I did by the time I was 15. I despair that there is no way I will be able to keep him from seeing things he shouldn’t so I am putting all my hope in training him to seek God when looking for pleasure that will last. That doesn’t mean I won’t be diligent and wise in managing media consumption in my home, but what it does mean is that I am working hard at telling a better story.

Our culture tells the story that fulfillment is found in better technique.  The community of faith need to do better than just disagree.  We need to tell a better story. Jesus is all-satisfying and what He says about me and my value as a human being is more true than what my culture says about me. Sex is a mingling of souls and is a joy and delight given to humanity but sex does not define our entire purpose.  It fails miserably to be a reason for living.  Sex is a human reflection of the intimacy we were meant to have with God.

“You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless, until they can find rest in you.” -St. Augustine

I’m Married to a Crazy Person!!

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The title says it all.  Noel is crazy, but a good kind of crazy.  He can get more done in one day then most people can in a full week.  This fall he is heading into his last two classes to finish his Masters of Divinity.  It’s been a long haul getting here.  Six years of part time study while being a full time minister and full time dad.  I don’t know how he has done it but here we are with the end in sight.  So close we can almost taste it.  I feel exhausted and I’m not the one doing the work.

You would think that there would be a big sigh of relief at the thought of a graduate school free existence but alas, no.  My husband has decide that now is the time to start  his doctorate of ministry.  Well of course, why wouldn’t this be a most excellent time.  So Lord willing, Noel will be starting his doctoral studies in June 2014.  He loves school.  I love being educated, not the process of getting educated.

When he said he wanted to start his doctoral work right away, I must admit that I wasn’t very excited.  I was really looking forward to having school off the plate for awhile.  You see, he is the one getting the degree but I feel like there should be some kind of honorary degree presented to the spouses of those getting their masters/doctorates.  It’s a lot of stress, time, money – and holy cow – the proof reading!  I’ve watched Noel pour hours into his studies and spend hours at the computer writing papers.  Not to mention the year of the thesis, that was intense.  That thesis is awesome man!  I read it more than once.  I continue to be amazed at how smart Noel is and how good he is at presenting ideas.  He has so much crammed into his brain I’m surprised it’s not spurting out his ears and he remembers it.  I don’t know how this is possible.

So, two choices are before me.  Get supportive or start trying to talk him out of this crazy doctoral studies plan.  I have to admit I tried the second choice.  We have four kids that we need to educate and I thought Noel should take a pause with his education while we focus on the boys.  That would mean no more school for Noel for approx 10 years.  That’s a long time and he is in the school groove now.  I wanted to hear the reasons why he wanted a doctorate in the first place.  I’m not interested in just having more letters after his name.  That’s not high value unless it’s helpful in service to others.  He assured me that it would be helpful and it would present more opportunities in the future.  After much discussion and deep sighing on my part I had to agree with Noel that now is as good a time as any.  At this point I’m embracing the first choice, get supportive.  I don’t know how we are going to do this but we’ll get it done.  By the time our first born is in university we’ll have a doctor in the house but please, please let that be the end.

p.s. He’s still crazy. 🙂

Something Special

We are celebrating some really special occasions this year at our church along with our usual crop of new babies (which are extremely special in and of themselves).  Genesis 9:7 seems to be our congregational life verse.  Good job everyone.  We are exceedingly well blessed and God is faithful.

sadieDuring the summer we celebrated a wonderful lady who turned 100 years old.  Her family had a special family dinner.  Turkey dinner with all the trimmings followed by the birthday cake she always made for her family. As a special treat her daughter-in-law put loonies in each piece so that everyone present would leave with a 2013 one dollar coin.  Her church family surrounded her the following Sunday to mark the occasion with hugs, well wishes and of course more cake.  What a treat for all of us.

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This past Sunday we marked the 61st Anniversary of a wonderful couple.  They are leaders and mentors in our church family and special people to many, Noel and I included.  My Sunday isn’t complete without a hug from Wayford and Wilma.  Wilma has shared her wisdom with many women’s groups over the years as a leader and participant.  She has even shared with all of you as a guess writer for our blog.  Wayford is a wonderful man of God who has served many as a minister and continues to be an encouragement to us as an elder in our church.  They are a joy.  I’m so glad I’ve had the opportunity to sit at their feet.

So, Happy 100th Birthday Sadie and Happy 61st Anniversary Wayford and Wilma.  We love you.

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My Mirror

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julie portrait3BW[From Julie]

Can I just say that mirrors are not my friend?  The scale and I aren’t even on speaking terms and don’t get me started on swim suit shopping.  It’s a struggle.  Amen?  I could give you a comprehensive list of all the things I don’t like about myself and I have been known to share said list with Noel from time to time.  Usually this ‘sharing’ produces a deep sigh from my beloved’s mouth followed by some appropriate response designed to make me feel better.  He’s a good man.  I appreciate his efforts.

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We’ve been together for 27 years and he has spent much of that time telling me I’m beautiful.  Repeatedly and in detail and often totally out of the blue.  Not just on the outside but on the inside too.  Have I mentioned that he’s a good man?  He tells me what he loves about my character and what he thinks I’m good at.  He asks my opinion about what he’s thinking about or what he should do because he trusts my instincts.  He calls me his emotional rock because he can count on me to be solid when he is feeling overwhelmed and he can pretty much predict how I will respond to something.

While the inside of a person is what really matters I can’t deny that I love to hear what Noel loves about the outside of me.  When I met him at the tender and influential age of 16 I didn’t feel attractive in any way.  Believe me when I say that Noel has spent all of our 27 years together trying his best to change my opinion of myself.  He has succeeded for the most part, however there are times when I can hear the old voices shouting louder than his voice.  Voices that say I don’t measure up.  This is a size 00 world and that size doesn’t really work for me so obviously I’m not attractive.  When I look in the mirror I see stretch marks and to much extra ‘stuff’.  The last time I thoughtfully brought this observation to Noel he gave me his best response to date.  He said “You’ve had four people in there.  Of course you have stretch marks.  I love your stomach.”  Okay then.

Ladies, don’t you love to hear your man tell you that you’re beautiful?  When he does say it, be thankful and then chose to believe him.  That’s the part I’ve struggled with over the years.  Letting Noel be my mirror.  After all, Noel’s opinion about the way I look is the only one that truly matters.  His constant encouragement gives me comfort and confidence that he will find beauty in me no matter what.  I’ve gone up and down the scale more than once in our married life and Noel was supportive every step of the way.  No matter what the number was he delighted in how I looked.  I have no doubt that his opinion won’t change despite the addition of (gasp) newly spotted wrinkles or bizarro hair growth.  Again, good man.  How did I ever find this dude?

This may all be very trivial and surface.  Shouldn’t we be concerned with more important things in our marriages?  There is definitely more important things in life and beauty is fleeting after all but it is a joy to know that the most important person in my life likes to look at me.  For that I am thankful.

Husbands, I hope you are doing the same for your wife.  She’ll love you for it.

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JW

You Can’t Make Yourself Happy

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[From Noel] noel portrait1BWIt turns out I have already blogged on this topic: Joy vs Happiness in marriage but I’m not going to let that stop me.  Just think of this as Chapter 2 of an emerging written work :).

Marriage in western culture is really taking a beating out there.  Today, like all adult relationships these days, marriages are becoming more and more provisional: they are simply assumed to be temporary – “we’re just going to make the best of it while we can.”

Many twenty-somethings have only known serial relationships without any formal act of commitment and research shows that, outside of marriage, adult romantic relationships like this (read: living together) only last about two years on average.

When a relationship of mine is provisional, I am constantly checking to see  if it is still alive.  “Are we still an item?” And to answer this question I look inward at myself.  “Am I still in love?”  “Is he/she still sexually compatible with me and my needs?” “Do I still have feelings for him/her?” And this is where a big problem lies.  Joy (lasting happiness) is not something we find through self gratification.  It will not be found through facing inward but instead joy is found through attending to the other in a self sacrificing, sort of way. It reminds me of a story I read recently: A desperate man wrote Rabbi Menachem Schneersohn seeking advice.  He wrote,

I need the Rabbi’s help. I am deeply depressed.  I pray and find no comfort.  I perform the commands but feel nothing. I find it hard to carry on…

The Rabbi sent a compelling reply without writing a single word.  He returned the man’s note and circled the first word of every sentence.  At the bottom of the note he wrote one sentence.  “The door to happiness opens outward, not inward.” Happiness is not something that we will find through looking after our own needs. but instead, it is found through looking after the needs of someone else.

There is a word in the Old Testament that makes this point beautifully.  It is the Hebrew word simchah. It is translated as “joy,” “gladness,” “mirth,” but translators  have trouble because it has no exact equivalent in English.  Johnathan Sacks writes in his book The Great Partnership, “in English … all our emotion words refer to states of mind we can experience alone. Simchah is something we cannot experience alone.  Simchah is joy shared.”  (p. 203-4)

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You know that Internet video of the guy getting hit in the head with a soccer ball.  It’s funny, but sharing it with someone is almost as much fun as seeing it again for the first time. It’s a joy shared.  That’s what married joy is like. 🙂 To truly experience it you need to want it for the other person.  If you are trying to get it for yourself you will be disappointed but when you want it for your spouse, in time, you can find it too.

So being married is like getting hit in the face with a …. no, getting married is hitting someone in the face with a soccer ball…  Or is it being married is watching someone getting hit with a soccer ball…?

Where’s Julie?   I think I need her to finish this blog post off.

ncw

Keep Dreaming Chewie

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Me and the boys went to see the “Star Wars Identity” exhibit at the Aeronautics and Space Museum in Ottawa last week.  It was 2 1/2 hours of awesomeness.  We had a blast.  Julie was a trooper (not a storm trooper but she was willing to play along).  There were lots of practical life lessons that could be gleaned from the experience but here is one that has stayed close to the top of the pile as I have reflected it:

Sometimes the best idea you can have is to let your first idea go.

When doing story boards and conceptual work for the very first Star Wars Movie (Episode IV) George Lucas had some very different ideas about what Chewbacca would look like. He was first a human with a dog head, inspired by Lucas’s favourite dog as a kid.

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Next Chewbacca was a creepy goblin guy, yes that’s Han Solo beside him in the tighty whiteys and the cape.

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Finally one of his artists was doodling and came up with this:
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So there you go. Don’t stop thinking after your first idea. Keep dreaming and fill up a world of possibilities.  You can cull the herd later. Think of all the things that we could have been spared  if the creative geniuses had kept their thinking caps on. Like maybe Jar Jar Binks?

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P.S. Wookies deserve medals too.
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Marriage Advice From Kids

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[From Noel] noel portrait1BW
This from News Daily Dig (Chris Hughes)

A group of young kids were asked how to decide who to marry and here are the results which are pretty amusing.

HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHO TO MARRY?

(1) You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.
– Alan, age 10

(2) No person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry. God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with.
– Kristen, age 10

WHAT IS THE RIGHT AGE TO GET MARRIED?

(1) Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person FOREVER by then.
– Camille, age 10

(2) No age is good to get married at. You got to be a fool to get married.
– Freddie, age 6 (very wise for his age)

HOW CAN A STRANGER TELL IF TWO PEOPLE ARE MARRIED?

(1) You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.
– Derrick, age 8

WHAT DO YOU THINK YOUR MOM AND DAD HAVE IN COMMON?

(1) Both don’t want any more kids.
– Lori, age 8

WHAT DO MOST PEOPLE DO ON A DATE?

(1) Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough.
– Lynnette, age 8 (isn’t she a treasure)

(2) On the first date, they just tell each other lies and that Usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.
– Martin, age 10

WHAT WOULD YOU DO ON A FIRST DATE THAT WAS TURNING SOUR?

(1) I’d run home and play dead. The next day I would call all the newspapers and make sure they wrote about me in all the dead columns.
-Craig, age 9

WHEN IS IT OKAY TO KISS SOMEONE?

(1) When they’re rich.
– Pam, age 7

(2) The law says you have to be eighteen, so I wouldn’t want to mess with that.
– Curt, age 7

(3) The rule goes like this: If you kiss someone, then you should marry them and have kids with them. It’s the right thing to do.
– Howard, age 8

IS IT BETTER TO BE SINGLE OR MARRIED?

(1) I don’t know which is better, but I’ll tell you one thing. I’m never going to have sex with my wife. I don’t want to be all grossed out.
– Theodore, age 8

(2) It’s better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need someone to clean up after them.
– Anita, age 9 (bless you child)

HOW WOULD THE WORLD BE DIFFERENT IF PEOPLE DIDN’T GET MARRIED?

(1) There sure would be a lot of kids to explain, wouldn’t there?
– Kelvin, age 8

And the #1 Favorite is……..

HOW WOULD YOU MAKE A MARRIAGE WORK?

(1) Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a truck.
– Ricky, age 10

ncw

Morally Neutral? Mon Derrierre!

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I spent a few lovely days in Quebec last week and saw an amazing political spectacle in “la Belle Province” that is barely showing up in the press here in Ontario.

Quebec premiere Pauline Marois recently announced that, in a few weeks, the Parti Quebecois will introduce the “Charter of Quebec Values” which will be used to ban all public displays of religious symbols. So if you are a public employee (nurse, teacher, cop, politician, municipal worker, etc.) you cannot wear any kind of “religious sign.” This includes a cross on a necklace, a turban, ring, anything with religious meaning. All to underscore what it thinks is a fundamental value of Quebec’s culture: religious neutrality.

“For the public service to be neutral, there has to be the appearance of neutrality,” wrote Daniel Baril, head of the Quebec Secular Movement, in Montreal’s Le Devoir. “A state that declares itself secular and then leaves its employees free to promote their religious belief, it’s like a restaurant that declares itself non-smoking but leaves those who work there free to smoke.”

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The problems with this kind of legislation are legion. For starters, consistency is completely impossible. Despite it’s religious meaning, the PQ are planning to leave the crucifix on the wall behind the speaker’s chair in this same Quebec legislature because of its “cultural significance.” They also announced that Christmas and Easter will also continue to be observed as “civic holidays.” I’m not making this up. The contradiction is hard to fathom but they are going to try to go ahead with it.

turbanIn a similar way, earlier this year, Quebec’s Soccer Association banned players of all ages – Timbit (5 years old) on up – from wearing turbans . The rest of the nation was outraged and the QSA finally relented in June after the Canadian Soccer Association overruled them. At the time, Dr. Charles Taylor, who in 2008 wrote a report on the provinces accommodation of minorities, was shocked by the attempt. The idea of a blanket ban on the wearing religious symbols “is like something we would see in Putin’s Russia,” he said.

An even bigger problem with legislation like this is that it is a clear violation of Canadian and International Law. Article 18 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights guarantees that, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to … manifest his/her religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” Religious expression is also guaranteed using similar wording in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms (Section 5 of the Constitution Act (1982) (Article 2a). This legislation stands no chance in any higher court, Supreme Court or otherwise but its biggest problem is a logical one.

The presupposition of a religiously neutral society is logically contradictory – it cannot stand on its own weight. All you have to do is ask a simple question, “Why?” The question, “Why should Quebec be a religiously neutral province?” can only be answered by proposing some, far from neutral proposition, such as, “because displaying religions signs, promotes a particular ideology which claims to be morally superior.” In turn, Marois and her political party are making an ideological claim that their understanding of religious symbolism is superior to that of a Catholic nurse, or a Muslim municipal worker. In the end, they are guilty of the very thing they are trying to oppose: moral imperialism!

For the same reason, a morally neutral position is logically impossible. The idea that we need to remove religious or spiritual thinking from the public square is a project that is flawed from the start. The minute you ask the question “why?” you have to use a moral authority to justify your reasoning. We need a better way to consider religious thinking.
A healthy society prefers truth to lies, love to hatred, honour to dishonour and justice to injustice. While it’s true that we have difficulty translating high ideas like this into everyday life, the only way to support truth, honour, love and justice is through rational dialogue, not imperialist policies. John Milton wrote that “when there is much desire to learn, there of necessity will be much arguing, much writing, many opinions; for opinion in good men, is but knowledge in the making.” (see Article 24 of Milton’s Areopagitica)

Vigorous intellectual discussion is essential for a healthy society but those who claim to have “morally neutral values,” insist that no one’s beliefs can be challenged, and by design they suppress free speech. If you try to assume that human discourse can be conducted from a value-neutral stance, what you’re saying is that this value-neutral stance cannot be questioned. This requires that metaphysical truth is either unimportant or non-existent which means that your “value-neutral stance” is worthless too.

The real problem for Quebecers is that opinion polls suggest that policies like this enjoy broad public support in Quebec. Polls show that the majority of Quebecers support a turban ban and also view hijabs and kippas as a cultural threat. Marois’s minority government stands to benefit from illogical and racist policies like this, and might just make this an election issue in an attempt to consolidate power.

Quebec’s nice place to visit but I wouldn’t want to try to have an opinion there.