The following story is part a new feature, the serialization of our columnist Wayne Weedon’s fictional work, Our Democracy. Wayne is a brilliant writer whose style consists of simple declarative statements that stick in your mind as he leads you through an intricate web of circumstances to reach the lesson he set out to teach.
Chapter 1: Equality
Pregnant and deserted by her lover, a young girl moves in with her grandfather. When the baby boy is born, the grandfather agrees to look after him so his granddaughter may go to work. Despite the age difference, the relationship between the boy and his great-grandfather was more like two siblings than that of an adult and child. As this boy grew into a young man, he loved to look back and tell stories about his great-grandfather, whom he always called “Pops”.
At my school, just about every boy was in the habit of wearing a baseball cap in class. Some wore them sideways and some with the peak to the back. I wore mine properly.
The first day I started grade six, everything changed. Miss Styles, our new teacher, announced, everyone must remove their caps while in class, explaining, it isn’t polite to wear hats in school. With much grumbling, all the boys took their caps off.
This all went very well until a new boy came to our school. It was in late fall, just before the first snow came, when this new student, Jasbir, was introduced to our class. He was wearing an orange-coloured hat with a knot on the top. Miss Styles told the class that Jasbir was an exception for wearing a hat in class since the Patka he wore is mandatory for his religion.
That evening I told Pops, my great-grandfather, about Jasbir’s hat. Pops stated that one exception to a law, voids that law. If one boy is allowed to wear a hat, then in all fairness, every boy should be allowed to wear a hat. He suggested that I tell this to my teacher, and I did, on the next day at school. Miss Styles did not agree with Pops, and she continued to enforce her no-hat policy.
A day later, Pops walked to school with me. Despite being ninety-three, Pops was energetic, and very articulate as he spoke with Miss Styles. Miss Styles did not concede. She suggested to Pops that he should speak with the school principal. The principal sided with Miss Styles. However, Pops would not capitulate. He announced that he would bring this matter up at the next school board meeting. Later, at home, Pops told me that the principal had downplayed the issue by suggesting to Pops he was being frivolous over a minor matter. This only got Pops’ dander up, and he declared, “Frivolous? No, this is not a frivolous matter. Our whole idea of equality is at risk. In Canada, every person must be treated in the same manner.”
That evening, after supper, Pops and I had a long talk about his thoughts on religion. He began by stating that Jasbir was in fact not a Sikh and therefore could not be using religion to justify wearing headgear. “I believe that Jasbir’s parents are Sikh, but Jasbir is under the age of majority and therefore he is too young to choose a religion. In Canada a child is not a parent’s chattel, and parents do not have the right to force a religion onto their child.”
I interjected, “But all children are brought up in their parents’ religion, isn’t that, right?”
“That is just the point I’m making. Canada, in theory, has justice and equality. But what we really have amounts to nothing other than ‘Might is Right’. Jasbir’s parents are bigger than he is and therefore they can force their religion on him. But that is not justice. In a free society each child should be raised with knowledge of all opinions and all beliefs, and when they reach the age of majority, they should have the right to choose their own path. They should have the right to decide which, if any religion, they wish to follow, and they must have the right to change beliefs as they see fit.”
“What religion are you Pops? You never go to church.”
“Me? I am non-dogmatic. I choose to follow no religion.”
“Aren’t you afraid of going to Hell?”
Pops laughed at me, “You are so serious and naïve. I don’t know where you got the idea that I’m going to Hell. It’s all a fairy tale, this Heaven and Hell. Didn’t you know that?”
“Nobody ever told me, and everyone at school takes Heaven and Hell for granted.”
Pops sprang to life, almost jumping from his chair as he went on, “That’s my point. We live in a country that theoretically has a secular government, but the government comes across as if there are no arguments about God, Heaven, and Hell. Should we also accept the tooth fairy and Santa Claus? Ridiculous!”
“Well, everyone believes in God. Right?”
“No, that is not right. There are billions of people who have no belief in a divinity and no belief in Heaven nor Hell. It’s just that this subject is not commonly spoken about.”
“Well, you see it on TV all the time. Even our politicians ask us to pray for this or pray for that.”
“Do you remember last Christmas when the news media was following Santa Claus’s sleigh? We watched it on television. They told us that our air traffic controllers could pick up Santa on their radar. Don’t you remember that?”
“Sure, I remember, but that was just a game to impress little kids. You always told me Santa Claus is a fairy tale and I knew they were just playing make-believe.”
“Did it do you any harm to know the truth about Santa Claus right from the day you were born?”
“In a way it did. When some of my friends found out their parents had been untruthful, they got mad at me when they realised, I knew the truth all along and I didn’t tell them.”
“Now I’m telling you there is no God, but I don’t advise you to go spreading this knowledge to all your friends. It’s best to keep it to yourself. I realise, what a person needs to see is always right in front of their face, and they usually won’t see it until someone points it out to them. However, people tend to shoot the messenger. People are funny, they want the truth, but they don’t want the truth.”
“But aren’t you now being dogmatic by stating that there is no god? You said you were non-dogmatic.”
“You’re right; I am being dogmatic. I know, the only thing that one can be certain about is that there is nothing one can be certain about. Who knows, maybe there are gods; maybe there are no gods. How can one prove it one way or the other? How can one prove that there is a Santa Claus, or there is no Santa Claus? It cannot be done. All I can say is that, with the knowledge which I have right now, I cannot believe in any gods and I cannot believe in Heaven nor Hell.”
“But why should we bother about a god? What’s the purpose of it all? Why should one have a belief in a god if one cannot prove there is a god?”
“Power, fear, and laziness on peoples’ part. People, for the most part do not want to think, do not want to make decisions, do not want to take blame for anything, and do not want to be edified. Our leaders use their god to rationalise their having power over us.”
I was bewildered as I answered, “I don’t understand what you’re talking about.”
Pops pulled a coin from his pocket, “Do you see these two letters on a Canadian coin, a D and a G followed by Regina? This stands for Dei Gratia Regina which is Latin for ‘Queen, by the grace of God’. Since one cannot prove the existence of a god and nobody is able to speak to a god, who can argue that the Queen does not sit on the throne by the grace of God? We are told that God has given the Queen power to rule over us. If we cannot disprove the existence of a god, we cannot argue against the British Queen’s claim.”
“Is that why god was invented?”
“Yes, God was devised by people who wanted to rule. They concocted Heaven and Hell to put fear over the people. Thankfully, no longer in Canada, but traditionally, anyone who denied God, or that God has placed their monarch on a throne, would have been executed. People have been compelled to go along with this sham and over the generations it has become a meme which nobody questions because it has become ingrained in our culture. Such Bible stories as Exodus or Joshua at Jericho, expose what the Bible really is, and Shakespeare revealed what monarchs really are in such plays as Richard the Third, Hamlet, Macbeth, and Julius Caesar. It wasn’t God who put monarchs on their thrones, it was the sword. How many true believers bother to read their Bible or Shakespeare?”
Religion had never been discussed in our house and we never went to church, but I always assumed that my mom and Pops believed in God, just like everyone else. Now Pops was telling me that all along he never believed in any of it. I was shocked and I questioned him about it, “Why didn’t you tell me about not believing in God?”
“I am telling you now, and I’m also telling you that you are a free person and nobody’s chattel. You were brought up with no religion so that you may form your own beliefs.”
“So, you’re telling me, if I wanted to go to church, say a Catholic church, you wouldn’t try to stop me, or try to persuade me not to go?”
“No. In fact I would encourage you to go and find out what it’s all about. But I would tell you to go into it open minded and informed. Read the Bible along with some other books like those written by Charles Templeton, a born-again Christian who worked with Billy Graham, and then he exposed it all as a scam in his books. Read Tom Harpur, who was an Anglican Priest and professor of theology for over forty years. Later in life, he finally saw the light and he then denounced the Bible as a fairy tale. Read books by Richard Dawkins who reveals how life on earth came to be and how it has evolved over millions of years. Read as many books as you can on the subject, both pro and con. In short, don’t go into it with just blind faith like the church leaders encourage you to do. Go into it with an open and informed mind.”
Chapter 2: Conflict and Compromise