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Darwin’s Cathedral: David Sloan WIlson or, How far does evolution spread?

David Sloan Wilson - This View Of Life

David Sloan Wilson



I feel as if I have never completely understood religion, though I am an Anglican and a believer. There are so many reasons for this incomplete understanding: rational temperament, a secular age, and a skeptical mind. Despite every modern influence, which largely act as justifications for materialist just-so stories, I have experienced mental events that are outside of the framework of  18th century Humean phenomena. I believe in God because I have done a lot of acid in my youth and felt the mystery and the outside edges of the power. I trust my experiences. These may be inadequate motives for the priest and the skeptic alike. I do not care: they are mine.

Another reason for not understanding religion is that it is like marriage: it has to be experienced. Hence pick your idea of God carefully. And to remind: Meister Eckhart said, “God is not an idea”. Hence the difficulty.

Which brings me to David Sloan Wilson’s Darwin’s Cathedral: Evolution, Religion and the Nature of Society.  I have found it a slog, not because it is excessively complicated or jargon-ridden. Quite the opposite: it is clear. What he is arguing is difficult to understand, for me at least, because Wilson takes issue with two Very large Ideas of  contemporary thought at the same time.

First, it concerns evolution in the Darwinian sense of that term. We are used to evolution being understood at the genetic or the biological level. For materialist purists like Dawkins, evolution is entirely a genetic affair, where the proteins dance to the tune called by the genes, and religion for men like him is so much mistaken balderdash.

The second level of Wilson’s arguments takes issue with a number of schools of interpretation of religion that seek to understand it in every manner except that which it truly is, says Wilson: as a system of behaviour and thought that is highly adaptive – that is, promotes fitness and survival, and which encourages in-group cooperation, trust, cohesion, and group strength. Wilson does not use these words to denigrate religion. He uses words drawn from sociology and anthropology without trying to say that these words define religion, or that secular utility of religion is its essence.

In short, Wilson takes issue with two streams of thought. One, that evolution is confined to the biological. Dawkins and Ernst Meyer would seem to think evolution is confined to the biological. We are so accustomed to this restrictive idea of evolution that it takes some adjustment to see what the issue is. I can hear David Berlinski in my head, asking in his Bostonian drawl about some broadly held tenet of modern nonsense: “really? Really?”. I recall Rupert Sheldrake talking about believing in “a radically evolutionary universe”, where even the laws of nature evolve and thus, are better thought of as habits than as laws.

Wilson inhabits a radically evolutionary understanding of reality.

Religion is a subject that depends radically on what explanatory stance is taken towards it. By explanatory stance I refer to theory: is it exploitation? A mirage? A by-product? A functional response to the free-rider problem and social coordination?

To illustrate the problem of theory Wilson cites Darwin exploring the geology of a Welsh mountain valley with a view to finding fossils.

“We spent many hours in Cwm Idwal, examining all the rocks with extreme care, as Sedgwick was anxious to find fossils in them; but neither of us saw the trace of wonderful glacial phenomena all around us; we did not notice the plainly scored rocks, the perched boulders, the lateral and terminal moraines. Yet these phenomena are so conspicuous that a house burnt down by fire did not tell its story more plainly than did this valley. If it had still been filled by a glacier, the phenomena would have been less distinct than they are now.”

To cite Einstein, “theory determines what is observed.” The study of religion is peculiarly fraught with this risk. Darwin failed to see evidence of glaciation because he had not the idea to guide him. Many a scholar seeking to explain religion is equally blind, says Wilson.

The difficulty of Wilson’s thesis (religion is adaptive in an evolutionary sense) lies in the number of foxholes of opposed ideas he has to clear out before his theory prevails. Unfortunately for the reader, the number is great, and they are resolutely defended.

The second and lesser difficulty is the name that Wilson has chosen for his ideas of evolution: multilevel selection theory. It is called ‘multilevel’ because it sees evolution occurring at the genetic, biological, individual and group levels. It might well have been more sexy to call it the “radically evolutionary theory“, which would have thrown the burden back on the materialists who see evolution as applying to the genetic level only.

David Sloan Wilson is making many proposals regarding evolution and religion in his book Darwin’s Cathedral and it is beyond the scope of this short essay to describe them all. It continues to impress me with its profundity, coherence, and sympathy for what religion actually accomplishes. Above all  – from my perspective – Wilson combats the Dawkins idea that religion is a form of mental parasite.

Wilson looks like a Presbyterian minister,  talks like a well educated Yankee, and  lives in New York state. He is a great scholar and expounder upon Darwin, yet it takes a while to understand that what he is saying is fundamentally important, possibly because he looks like he could be a cousin or neighbour. He looks so ordinary, and he asks and answers such important questions.

He has overturned the gene-centric evolutionary model. He has re-founded our understanding of religion in evolutionary terms. He has been a lone voice crying in the wilderness, and has been vindicated by the passage of time. More people should know of him and his work.


Wilson in real life talks here.

And gives a speech at UBC here.



Quotations from David Sloan Wilson:

“For me, the failure of religion to achieve universal brotherhood is like the failure of birds to break the sound barrier.”

[to make a bird fly faster than sound] “you will need to discover a design breakthrough that was missed by the natural selection process….When we criticize a religion or a social system for failing to perform better or to expand its moral circle still wider, we often implicitly assume that the problem is like a broken wing with an easy solution….Improving the adaptedness of society may require appreciating the adapted sophistication that already exists.” [p.217-218]


“Much religious belief does not represent a form of mental weakness but rather the healthy functioning of a biologically and culturally well-adapted mind. Rationality is not the gold standard against which all other forms of thought are to be judged. Adaptation is the gold standard against which rationality must be judged, along with other forms of thought….If there is a trade-off between two forms of realism, such that out beliefs can become adaptive only by becoming factually less true. then factual realism will be the loser every time…..It is the person who elevates factual truth  above practical truth who must be accused of mental weakness from an evolutionary perspective.” [at p 228]


and now we go over the edge….

This is what the evolutionary theorist Donald Hoffman says in his book “The Case Against Reality” “What you see is an adaptive fiction”.  

Hoffman has taken the adaptiveness argument to its logical extreme. Evolution is there to guide us to adaptive behaviour, not to elucidate reality. The Hoffman argument treats the representations we experience in the same light as icons on the desktop. The voltage changes inside the computer that cause email to be written are forever hidden from the user. Adaptedness gives us the desktop, not the innards.

And this is the point that Stephen Pinker does not quite get in his book “Rationality”.

So many theories, so little time.





Things I believe and do not believe

To be accurate, “belief” is distinguished from knowledge. What I know for sure does not  need to be believed, because in that case belief is superfluous. I see belief and knowledge to be incompatible states of mind. When the pen is dropped from the hand in normal gravity, I know it falls towards the centre of the earth. I might believe it as well but that belief is superfluous.


I believe:

  • There is spiritual wickedness in high places.
  • Recent global warming is real and not significant in the long record of climate change on earth, though we should keep an eye on it.
  • There exists an immaterial force for goodness that is called God and by many other names. It is benign and intelligent, and occasionally directs those open to his insights and revelations to better outcomes.
  • We have received revelations.
  • I do not have an accurate, comprehensive, and correct picture of all that is going on. No one else does either.
  • Tolerance is required because of the preceding point.
  • Measures to control COVID were a foretaste of future totalitarian social controls that will be needed for a meatless future where we shiver in the cold, cold designed by globalists to immiserate us. See first bullet.
  • Gain of function research associated with COVID was paid for by American sources.

I do not believe:

  • That the governments and ruling classes of this world give a damn for the fate of the average person.
  • I do not believe in the benign intentions of those forces associated with the World Economic Forum, the Davos crowd, or the global warming climate emergency.
  • That the government of Canada is in good hands. (The first three bullets here are the same thing said in different ways).
  • That all people are equal in many significant senses of the word equal. Inevitably this includes peoples as well as people.
  • That though evolution is true, that natural selection or sexual selection as Darwin has explained them are sufficient explanations. Good try though!
  • That materialism is a sufficient explanation. The world is far more and greater than matter and its motions.
  • COVID was not a natural event but was an engineered plague that was either deliberately or accidentally released from the Wuhan Institute for Virology.


Most of what I blog is a commentary on the above. And with that, I will call it a day.






Peter Turchin reintroduced me to the concept of asabiya in his War and Peace and War. 

Asabiya is a term borrowed from the Arabic philosopher of history Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406). Asabiya is the power of a society to accomplish things collectively, such as build an empire, a cathedral or a bridge, or fight a war. If you want to experience the power of asabiya, just consider how the entire British nation and its institutions buried their monarch. mourned her loss, televized the funerals, held complex ceremonies in centuries-old churches, organized 4000 soldiers, sailors and airmen and the the top ranks of the governing classes into parades, solemn processions, and ceremonies of the state church, as the people organized themselves into disciplined throngs of hundreds of thousands enduring hours of patient waiting in order to flow past the coffin of the dead Queen.


Says Turchin:

“Different groups have different degrees of cooperation among their members, and therefore different degrees of cohesiveness and solidarity…. Asabiya refers to the capacity of a social group for concerted collective action. Asabiya is a dynamic  quantity; it can increase or decrease with time. Like many theoretical constructs, such as force in Newtonian physics, the capacity for collective action cannot be observed directly, but can be measured from observable consequences”.

Great Britain manifestly has huge asabiya. So does the United States or Japan. Canada had asabiya. It demonstrated this in two world wars. Whether it still has asabiya is doubtful. It is rent by too many ethnic fissures, and the group most asabiya-endowed,  English Canada, is constantly denigrated and weakened by the governing Liberals as a matter of multicultural policy. “Diversity is our strength.”  The French Canadians fear English Canada’s asabiya and seek always to diminish it. For that matter, all of woke ideology is an attempt of the political left and their black allies to weaken the asabiya of the American people – “white fragility”, “systemic racism”. So is the attack on organic sexual divisions in the species a different form of attack on asabiya, as the idea of fixed sex roles, indeed fixed anything, goes against the idea of personal choice.

Life is not a matter of expressing our puny selves. It is a matter of belonging  to something great. Think if the political left as being in a permanent war against every other kind of asabiya but their own, when theirs is a weak and hate-filled search for enemies.

Asabiya is real, though not material.






Since I have been away, the world has fallen apart – what else is new?

A short note. In my month away from blogging, Russia has launched a war against Ukraine, and has not won yet, COVID seems more and more to be a manufactured virus escaped from a lab in Wuhan, COVID vaccines have been shown to be neither safe nor of durable effectiveness, inflation has run rampant, after central banks printed trillions of dollars, Trudeau is still in power, Biden dodders towards his earthly demise, Kamala Harris proves to be even more vacuous than originally supposed, and the Democrats seem paralyzed before the oncoming headlights of the great truck of electoral obliteration. Oh! and the Gay/Transgender Identity Thing gathers force. The crisis of over-compassion continues.

I have been silent, and my excuse is this. I have been overwhelmed. I have not felt that a word of mine will make a difference to various unfolding catastrophes. In the past, forgive me, I used to think that what I wrote had some importance for somebody. I ought to have known I was writing as a witness, not a participant. My testimony may well be forgotten. It will be forgotten. get used to it!

Nevertheless despite superior knowledge, I return to the fray.

Of the many things I have seen in the last while, I strongly recommend the Triggernometry interview with the historian of religion Tom Holland

on the Great Awokening. He reminds us that Christianity is frequently riven with religious fanaticisms, of which the Woke thing is the most recent example. His analysis of   the dispute between the Woke and the unWoke is that it is a replay of the struggle between Pelagian view of man as capable of infinite self improvement, and the Augustinian view of man as stained with original, ineradicable sin, incapable of self salvation and dependent on divine grace. In Holland’s view, we are living through a replay of frequently occurring movements in Christian and specifically American Christian religious history.

As the black police sergeant said to a Woke rioter, “Lady, America does not have a racism problem, is has a sin problem.”

Holland says he is now attracted to the idea of original sin, as a democratic idea. The 1960s were an outburst of Pelagianism, and again with Wokeism. Moral self satisfaction is the key to understanding both epochs.

“Strange religious ideas keep re-occurring over centuries” says Holland.

Worth your time.


I replayed the movie Steve Jobs last night, after having seen it in 2016. Michael Fassbender inhabits rather than merely plays Steve Jobs. It was directed by Danny Boyle and written by Aaron Sorkin. It was better the second time than the first, and it was great on the first viewing. Kate Winslet disappears into the character of Joanna Hoffman, Job’s right hand man. Its many excellences need to be experienced rather than described.






The Immortality Key: The Secret History of the Religion with No Name


The Immortality Key, by the American author and lawyer Brian C. Muraresku, is at once entertaining, annoying, important, and badly argued. They key assertion is that the ancient mystery religions used psychoactive doped beer or wine, akin in its effects to psilocybin experiences of today. He does us a great service in reminding the present that the Eleusinian Mysteries, as they were called, involved a ceremonial consumption of psychoactive chemicals of unknown nature, and that the pilgrimage and associated ceremonies acted as the centre of a religious cult that lasted for centuries if not millennia. The Eleusisian Mysteries were not some trivial affair. The site, and its ceremonies, acted as the major cultic centre of the ancient Greek-speaking world. Romans too participated.

To summarize the argument, Muraresku claims:

  • that Eleusis (a city near Athens) was the centre of a cult that involved psychoactive chemicals absorbed in religious context. Though the participants were sworn to secrecy, enough has been written about the effects of the ceremonies to give a reasonable confidence that whatever went on there caused participants to have profound psychic events that erased in them the fear of death.
  • Other centres of such ceremonial consumption of psychoactive beer and wine existed in the Greek-speaking world.
  • That some early Greek-speaking Christians practiced holy communions of a similar type. This is called the “pagan continuity thesis”. It means that Christianity emerged out of the interaction of Judaism with a Greek-speaking, wine drinking culture and that, to be accepted by the Greeks, the core ceremonies of Christianity were made attractive to the followers of Dionysus, god of wine. Although Muraresku is not clear on this point, it appears from his argument that some but not all early Christian house churches of the Greek speaking world practiced a communion with pyschoactive chemicals.
  • This form of holy communion with the body and blood of the living God was suppressed by Roman Catholic Church authorities in the course of time.
  • The Roman and other churches have been offering a placebo communion for the last two thousand years.
  • The suppression of witches in the 16th and 17th centuries was a further continuing suppression of ancient female-borne knowledge of psychoactive chemicals.

The first two points are very likely to be true. The third is a stretch, but it could be true. The fourth point, suppression of psychoactive communions,  depends on the third point being true, because there might have been no psychoactive chemical communions to suppress. The fifth point, that what is offered in communion to this day is a placebo, a substitute for the eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood of the true God, constitutes (I believe) a huge mistake as to what the Chritian message is. The last point, that the suppression of witches was the suppression of female centred drug knowledge, seems plausible

Muraresku calls this the “pagan continuity with psychoactive twist” thesis.

I find it significant that the author has never tried psychoactive chemicals of any kind.  Thus his arguments cannot be refuted or defended against by saying he is a drug adept. For the same reason they also partake of a complete innocence of the issue.  In my experience, psychoactive chemicals, such as psilocybin and other entheogens, have to be approached in a spirit of religious awe, and in a completely secure and preferably beautiful setting. The reasons for this is obvious to anyone who has tripped. Nor should they be done in a crowd. Not everyone can handle it. Some might be in a very bad mental space. For many practical reasons, you cannot have thousands of people tripping on acid or psilocybin every Sunday. It is hard to see how the Church could have become universal in time and place if its core ceremonhy had remained (if it ever had been) a quasi-private drug initiation.

Yet none of these reasons of prudential wisdom capture my real objection to the Muraresku thesis. Whether you are tripping or stone cold sober, you are required to believe certain impossible propositions in order to be a Christian. Impossible to nature that is. The idea that Christ rose from the dead is not made any more likely depending on the chemicals in your brain at the time of hearing the news. And if it were made to seem more likely by the consumption of entheogens, then the Gospel message would be made to look ridiculous in the sober light of the day after the trip. Either way, you may get to belief through psychoactive chemicals, or not arrive at belief at all. Pschoactive chemicals can loosen tightly bound minds. They do not bring one to belief, however.

Belief is not knowledge. If we knew, belief would be superfluous. I do not have to believe the car is in the garage if I see it parked there. Belief is what you reserve for what you cannot prove.

For a brilliant discussion of Christianity’s revolutionary message and effects, you are far better off reading Tom Holland’s Dominion: How the Christian Revolution Remade the World. 

As a prose stylist and as a historian, Holland is a far superior writer to Muraresku.


In Dominion, Holland reminds us of just how revolutionary it was for God to sacrifice his son to the humiliating death of a slave, through crucifixion.

I have no objection to psychoactive drugs taken in religious ceremonies, or for therapy, or for any solemn exploration whatever. But I do not believe that Christianity’s core sacrament is made valid or invalid according as we are stoned on enthogens at the time of participation.

Finally, as a lawyer, and therefore as an crafter of arguments, Brian Muraresku needs to be reminded that a paragraph consisting of a series of questions, however suggestive, does not constitute a rational discussion. State your argument, man! Say it boldly! His book would have benefitted from a reader who was ready to challenge him by asking: “what are you really saying here, Brian?”. “And if you really believe it, say it!” The book suffers from too much narration of the author doing his reasearch and talking with sources, and not enough careful exposition and handling of obvious counter-arguments. In the long run, no one needs to know what kind of day it was when he visited the Vatican Library.

Still, Muraresku has written an annoying, interesting, badly-flawed but possibly important book. Holland’s by contrast, is impeccable in style and content, and I commend it unreservedly.


Brian Muraresku appeared with Graham Hancock on the  Joe Rogan show. He did not have time to get to the last three arguments noted above in bullets.






It takes a Catholic

A Roman Catholic is best suited to slag the current Pope. David Warren rises to the occasion.


Allow me to agree with Pope Francis that Holy Church owes the world some “outreach.” Of our 266 popes (plus or minus), I mention that one in particular because he has had more to say about politics than, possibly, all the rest combined. His views on social class, income distribution, imperialism, colonialism, general oppression, environmental issues, anthropogenic climate, immigration controls, and many other topics not traditionally considered to be any of the Church’s business, are broadcast constantly. Moreover, his neglect of her primary mission — the salvation of souls through propagation of the faith — has underlined this by contrast….

Today’s dose of cultural doomism: Richard Fernandez on the fate of the Church and western society in general

I have a great deal of time and respect for the Roman Church, and vehement disagreements with it. However, on the fundamental questions of what Christianity is and means, it is sound. Here is the American Richard Fernandez writing on the fate of the Church, the universities and society. I could not have imagined the speed or thoroughness of the total moral collapse of the West that I grew up in. I would block and copy Fernandez’ article in its entirety, but shall content myself with this reference:

“[Pope]Benedict’s recollections [of the perversion of Roman Catholic seminaries into homosexual cliques] might be of little interest to non-Catholics did they not so closely mirror the recent experience of the secular West. As the devil was taking over the seminaries, something was also seizing the great universities of Europe and America, turning them into bastions of political correctness. Everything that happened inside the Church also happened outside with astounding swiftness. In less than 20 years, marriage was redefined from its centuries-old meaning as a union between a man and woman to include homosexuals. Abortion became a progressive sacrament. Concepts of gender and race, which some had thought to be immutable, were transformed in a few short years into a veritable smorgasbord of categories. Slate tells us Facebook offers users 56 genders to choose from.

“Although the fires that damaged the Notre Dame in Paris and almost started at St. Patrick’s in New York City during Holy Week seemed to underscore the disaster that had overtaken the Church, Rod Dreher points out that the flameless burning of the Western world’s secular cathedrals has been happening for some time. An ongoing and relentless purge of politically incorrect academic thought at institutions of higher learning has been proceeding apace. Librarians call it weeding and have already removed millions of books from campus collections. “At the University of California, Santa Cruz … the removal of 80,000 books from the Science and Engineering Library last summer sparked uproar among faculty … more than 60 science and math faculty members signed a letter to university librarian M. Elizabeth Cowell complaining they hadn’t been adequately consulted on which books could be discarded and which ones had to be saved.” It’s not fringe behavior, but a program abroad in the noonday sun. Dreher points out that a senior librarian at MIT openly regards “white” books as a waste of space and a legacy of oppression. Her article in the Association of Research Libraries argues the challenge now is to “build diverse and inclusive library environments that contribute to social justice.”

And so forth, endlessly. The hideous strength of white supremacy is observed even in dog walking.

I refrain from a daily re-iterations of alarm and despair at the decline of the moral backbone of the West, of what used to be Christian civilization, because I do not want this blog to become a Gates of Vienna, a Vlad Tepes or a Jihad Watch. But make no mistake: I agree with their analysis and perspectives. For me, Islam is not the enemy so much as it is the adventitious bacterium that invades the body politic when it has lost its antibodies. The anti-white-ism, anti-male-ism and anti-Christianity comes from this society, not from outside it. Trump is not remotely the answer to this dire situation of collapsing culture, but at least the rot has stopped, for the time being, in high places.

Now for the universities.

Please read the Richard Fernandez article.

The Burial of Richard III

It took a few centuries for the political passions to settle and for the bones to be found. He then received a proper burial ceremony. A proper and fitting ceremony for a dead king.

For a good commentary on his successor, Henry VII Tudor, father of Henry VIII and grandfather of Elizabeth I, see this.

Some of the kings of England have been weasels, main-chancers, weak, unscrupulous murderers, and traitors, even. Although Charles 1st thought that it was impossible for him to have committed treason, Parliament demonstrated to him otherwise by lopping off his head in 1647. With the passage of political leadership to the institution of Prime Minister, it is their assistants rather than kings’ minions who shove a knife into their enemies these days. The Wars of the Roses makes the resignations of the Gerald Butts and the Clerk of Privy Council seem like small stuff.

Jordan Peterson, Presbyterian Divine

The most important aspect of the story today about Jordan Peterson being rejected for a stint at the Cambridge school of divinity is not that they rescinded his application. No sir. What is of interest in the story is that the greatest Calvinist in living memory has found his proper metier, as a minister of the Christian religion.

It took him a while, but it was inevitable. The search for truth leads you where it goes, and the Word of God is more durable than stone.

Psychic interpretation of laws and “charter values”

David Cole in Taki’s Magazine draws attention to a pertinent point: when you are guilty of thoughtcrime, your actual words are of no importance to the leftist inquisitor. This is bad enough in ordinary encounters among civilians, but when the habit spreads to the Supreme Court of the United States, the psychic approach to interpreting laws can have disastrous consequences. By psychic approach I mean the habit of endowing oneself with powers of knowing that someone has bad intentions despite fair, scrupulous, neutral or lawful language expressing them.

Which brings us to the Supreme Court, and why Americans need to appreciate the bullet we dodged in November 2016. Hillary would have given us another Sotomayor to replace Scalia, and now, another one to replace Kennedy. And the peril of too many Sotomayors (or just one, frankly) was laid bare last week in the “wise Latina’s” dissent in the Trump travel-ban ruling. The facts in the case were fairly clear: The travel ban does not cover only Muslim nations, and the Muslim nations it does cover represent only a small portion of the Muslim world. There is no wording in the ban that is anti-Muslim, and the nations affected by the ban had been identified by the previous administration as high-risk for terrorism.

The ban, as Chief Justice Roberts wrote for the majority, is “neutral on its face.”

Sotomayor, however, writing for the minority, donned her psychic sombrero and took a different approach. Yes, the ban might be neutral as written, but Trump’s statements while on the campaign trail indicated that his intent was to craft a Muslim ban, even if he didn’t. Therefore, the ban must be ruled unconstitutional because Trump initially wanted something unconstitutional, even if what he actually did was not unconstitutional.

Call her Yogi Master Sonia, because that’s one hell of a contortion.

…..Sotomayor’s dissent relies on something known as legislative intent. Among legal scholars, there’s a long-running debate: To what extent should a court take into account the intent of a law’s author(s) when ruling on the legality of that law? The prevailing school of thought in American jurisprudence is that courts should abide by the “plain meaning rule.” In essence, that means that if a law is clear and unambiguous in its text, the court need not, or should not, try to mind-read the intent of the author(s). This was the reasoning of the majority in its decision on the travel ban. The text of the directive is plain, the directive falls within the president’s legitimate powers, and the directive has a legitimate reason for being (national security).

From the leftist perspective, thoughtcrime is the issue, not the facts or the plain statements of the law. Leftists are authorized to see thoughtcrime or heresy in any person. When dealing with a heretic, no respect for human dignity or conscience is to be given.

We suffer from a something even more pernicious in Canada, I submit. This is the view that there exists something called “charter values” which are the in the exclusive domain of the Supreme Court justices to find and apply. Sotomayor, the “wise Latina” knows you have bad intentions. The Supreme Court of Canada knows, by contrast, that its intentions are pure, so that it is free to invent stuff that is nowhere in the written language of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, or the Constitution Act, 1982.

Bruce Pardy writes about the Trinity-Western decision of our own Supreme Court, which ruled that the Law Societies of British Columbia and Ontario were within their rights to refuse to recognize Trinity Western as a law school.

“It’s a vibe kind of thing”. Only they did not use such words, they called upon “charter values”, not the actual words in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. to legitimize their distaste for an explicitly Christian law school.

On June 15, the court ended Trinity Western University’s quest to open a law school. The university had challenged the refusal of the law societies of B.C. and Ontario to approve the school. The law societies did not question the quality of the legal education to be delivered but objected to Trinity’s “community covenant,” which requires its students and faculty to abstain from “sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.” A majority of the court found that the law societies were entitled to violate Trinity’s religious freedom in the name of “Charter values.” While freedom of religion is guaranteed as a fundamental freedom in section 2(a) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, Charter values are found nowhere in the text. They are, yes, “just the vibe of the thing,” used by the Court to trump actual Charter rights and remake the Constitution.

Trinity’s covenant, the majority said, imposed inequitable barriers on entry, especially for LGBTQ students, and held that the actions of the law societies reflected a “proportionate balancing” of the Charter protections at play. It may sound fair and reasonable but it is actually profoundly twisted. The case did not feature competing Charter protections. Trinity’s religious freedoms were not pitted against the equality rights of LGBTQ persons because no such rights existed. The Charter does not apply against anyone but the state. As a private religious institution, Trinity was not subject to the Charter or for that matter to the B.C. Human Rights Code. Trinity was the only party with Charter rights, enforceable against the law societies as agencies of the state. Calling the covenant an “inequitable barrier” is disingenuous. Religious communities consist of private persons gathering together and agreeing on a code to which they choose to adhere. They impose those standards on no one but themselves. No one is forced to join them and no one has the right to go to their law school, which is part of a private religious institution. There is nothing to “balance.” Until, of course, the court invokes Charter values. You know, the vibe of the thing.

…Turns out Charter values aren’t the vibe of the actual thing at all, but a competing set of moral judgments that exists in the Court’s imagination. The Charter was conceived and drafted as a roster of individual negative rights that protected against interference from an overbearing state. Charter values, as articulated by the court, are collectivist values of progressives: (substantive) equality, (social) justice and (group) dignity. Charter values are decidedly not the individual liberty values of classical liberals or the traditionalist virtues of conservatives.

When I say that the Supreme Court of Canada is just making shit up, I mean exactly what I say, and they are doing so on a vast and unconstitutional scale.

To borrow the language of the two dissident justices of the Supreme Court:

The majority’s continued reliance on values protected by the Charter as equivalent to rights is similarly troubling. Resorting to Charter values as a counterweight to constitutionalized and judicially defined Charter rights is a highly questionable practice. Charter values are unsourced, amorphous and, just as importantly, undefined. The majority’s preferred value of equality is, without further definition, too vague a notion on which to ground a claim to equal treatment in any and all concrete situations, such as admission to a law school. A value of equality is, therefore, a questionable notion against which to balance the exercise by the TWU community of its Charter‑protected rights.

I leave it to you to discuss which may be worse: the notion that the judiciary can declare an act illegal because its members feel that it was motivated by  thoughtcrime,  which they can discern from their insights into the state of your soul, on the one hand, or the idea that the judiciary can make up entire categories of law (Charter values) that have no statutory basis whatever.

Which makes you feel more insecure in your remaining rights and freedoms?


PS Strangely, and welcomed, is the opinion piece in the CBC site, of all places, by Anna Su:

It is almost comedic for the Court majority to unconsciously invoke the promotion of diversity — which it did in upholding the law societies’ decision not to accredit TWU’s law school —as if it only means one thing. But as Justices Suzanne Côté and Russell Brown wrote in their dissent, tolerance and accommodation of difference, including religious difference, also serve the public interest and foster pluralism.

Remember what I said a few weeks ago: we are living in a Liberal Oceania. Ignorance is strength, freedom is slavery, and diversity is uniformity.