3 min

Faith masquerading as reason

It's time to come clean about religious influences

Dear John Fraser, master of Massey College, University Of Toronto,

I don’t know if you remember me. I was in your theatre criticism class at York University in the early 1970s. I remember how impressed I was by your natty bow ties and irrepressible wit. You were a great teacher. But there’s something I want to confront you about.

I think it’s about time you came out of the closet.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting you’re gay, John. I’m suggesting that you’re in the closet about something else — the relationship between your religious views and your academic job. Of course, no one could accuse you of hiding the fact that you’re an Anglican. You’re open and proud of your devotion to your faith. But what about the influence your faith has on your position as master of Massey College? What about when religion starts to sneak into the secular realm and nobody is the wiser?

I’m referring to the case of Margaret Somerville, the notorious Montreal academic and ethicist who received a controversial honorary degree from Ryerson University this summer. Your involvement with Somerville begins with Massey College’s invitation to her to deliver the prestigious Massey Lectures at the University Of Toronto (and across Canada) in October of this year.

You have defended Somerville in a recent interview in The Globe And Mail. Interestingly, you defend her on the basis of academic freedom. But there is nothing very academic about Somerville’s arguments. She opposes same-sex marriage by referencing children’s rights. She says same-sex married couples make inferior parents. You don’t need a high-school education to know this just doesn’t make sense. After all, how can we discuss the effects of Canadian same-sex marriage when they haven’t even been adequately studied, due to the fact that same-sex marriage was only just recently written into law?

I did a little digging on the web and discovered that Somerville is not only against same-sex marriage. She’s against quite a long list of things: assisted suicide, embryonic stem-cell research and late-term abortion. Hmm… interesting. Those opinions don’t make much sense to me. But they sure make sense to deeply religious people. In fact, Somerville’s views are the views of the extreme, dogmatic, sexist, homophobic religious right. Conincidence?

With a little more digging, John, I hit the jackpot. Somerville was recently featured in a book of essays called Recognizing Religion In A Secular Society, published in association with The Centre For Cultural Renewal. This is the mandate of The Centre For Cultural Renewal: “The place and importance of religion is no longer understood or appreciated in our society or in many western societies. At the centre we know this to be a serious problem and we are here to do something about it.” Somerville, by publishing an essay in this collection, reveals the hidden agenda behind her opposition to same-sex marriage — she believes that religion should have a more important place in modern culture.

I don’t agree. I’ve always been very open about where I’m coming from. I am a sexual gay man, a drag queen and a leftwinger. People recognize that when I make arguments, do research, write novels, articles or plays, or simply speak out that I am trying to promote an agenda. I’ve got nothing to hide.

Some people distrust the religious right these days, in my opinion, for good reason. So, just as people have traditionally been uncertain about coming out as gay (fearing persecution), they are nowadays a little unsure about coming out as being religious.

What’s so important about being out, about being honest about your agenda? If Somerville is religious, why do we need to know? So that we will be aware of what we’re in for when we look at her ideas. Most people in the Toronto’s gay community know that if you support Sky Gilbert’s ideas, you are supporting a sexual, lefty, drag queen agenda. Similarly, everyone should know that if the University Of Toronto gives a voice to Somerville, they are providing special, much-coveted public access to opinions based upon religious faith, not reason. There is a grave danger here. When religion influences lawmaking, we are living in a theocracy, a society founded on faith and superstition, not in a democracy founded on justice and the quest for truth.

I challenge you, John Fraser, to confirm that Somerville is a committed Christian. I also challenge you to confirm that her ethical ideas are affected by her religious beliefs. That’s standing tall, and coming out about your — and her — religious agenda, and the effect they may have on Canadian legal system.

Sky Gilbert