As my hometown of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada lurches dramatically into the coldest chunk of winter for several years and I prepare for some balmy foreign travel, it is difficult to avoid thinking about how much more pleasant my existence in this snow-choked city could be. Winter often brings critics of urbanism smug satisfaction, as they look down at us mere transit users from their heated vehicles that migrate from sealed garage to sealed garage. They watch us trudge through snow or sigh in defeat when paths are blocked, often by snow cleared for cars’ benefit in nearby areas, and imagine that this imbalance is a fact of nature. Well, very little about our relationship with automobiles is a fact of nature. Contrary to their privileged imagination, it is not the dashboard vents delivering slightly burnt-smelling warmth to frozen hands on steering wheels that make winter so much easier for them. Cities are systems that reflect the forces shaping them and past the most basic physical realities, every factor that makes winter feel like motorist territory that has trapped the rest of us until spring is the result of human decisions. And different decisions could have been and could still be made.
It is election season in Ontario, and for the first time, I’ll be voting. After much wailing and gnashing of teeth, my citizenship is complete and my voter registration is in place. I can call myself “Canadian” with that much more conviction now, and the attention I pay to this country’s politics now weighs on a vote where it previously weighed on just my thoughts. In this unusually portentous time, I have been confronted not only with the mainstream parties, but with the tiny splinter parties trying to gain a foothold in real politics, as they litter public spaces with their signs and pamphlets. And they have reminded me that Canadian conservatives are pit-in-the-stomach terrifying compared to their American counterparts.
Virtually every American I keep in touch with has, at some point, asked me this question. American history classes do a very poor job of explaining how one region of mainland North America colonized by the United Kingdom became one country and the next region over became a different country, and tend to pretend Canada isn’t even on the map most of the time. I certainly faced this question with confusion prior to moving to Canada and being confronted with its reality.
As it happens, though, the events that led to these two settler states to emerge as separate entities are fairly interesting, and tied into the events that started the Thirteen American Colonies thinking of independence. Continue reading “Why Isn’t Canada Part of the United States? A Primer for Americans”
As many readers are undoubtedly aware, this past week the people of Scotland held a long-awaited referendum on whether to become an independent country. What, exactly, this means has been more confusing than it should have been, because Scotland exists at a nexus of confusion within the mess of terms used to describe that general region of Europe. With my trusty Imaginary Correspondent, let’s sort that out.
Imaginary Correspondent: I find Britishness quaint and also confusing. Where do we start?
It would turn out that I had overestimated the extent of the damage. True, I had become a pariah from many of the people that had filled the social outings of the past few years and simply grown apart from many more. But I still had friends (mostly from high school) I would have felt bad about losing. It would be they that I would commit to seeing on my visits back to Miami.
In Ottawa, population 1 million, I could build myself anew. The blogosphere became a close companion in my newfound solitude, and what had been intuitions and half-formed ideas grew into a far greater understanding. I learned about the historical events surrounding the major religions. I learned that Mormonism is, in fact, more overtly ridiculous than Catholicism, by a hair. I learned about the psychological underpinnings of faith. I learned just how little the average believer’s ideas relate to the Bible they claim is the foundation of their faith. I learned about the gory zeal with which religions persecuted science that revealed religious teachings to be factually incorrect. I learned about confirmation bias and how it convinces people they have psychic powers. I learned why the sexual education regimen in my elementary school had to be split into sections at multiple locations: so that the segment on safe sex could be kept away from zealots’ eyes. I finally understood the religious energy directed against the pure, visceral, primal joy that is sex, and into the authoritarian command to obey without question. I learned about the seemingly boundless well of the Catholic Church’s crimes against humanity. I learned about how Buddhist teachings encourage people to treat disabled people as monsters because their genetic disorders are a curse from karma for past lives’wrongdoing. I saw that so, so, much of religion can only exist in a pluralistic, secular society when people do not live by it, that the litany of reforms that fill history classes occurred precisely because religions as originally formulated, as “God intended,” are utterly monstrous. I saw that religious notions pervert our innate, empathetic moral sense until it is something inchoate and unrecognizable.
I saw that my parents and many of my friends and most of our leaders were in the grips of a vile and transmissible mind poison that told them their lives were worthless beneath the judgmental gaze of a cosmic entity whose plagues and marauding beasts we were supposed to take as expressions of “love.” I saw that those same people paid regularly to hear someone tell them that this loving god would condemn one tenth or more of the human race to eternal torment based on who they loved, and that the best of them would merely disavow that notion without disavowing that church. The worst of them would share that abuse out of “concern,” and drive a wedge through our family that makes me burn with sad, piteous rage.
I don’t remember when I listed myself as “Atheist” on OkCupid, but that designation was most emphatically in place when I changed my location to Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The lady I sought would not find this problematic, or would even look for it specifically.
I cultivated a different persona. I did my reading, and recognized my desperation and my caution for the impediments they were. I was now in a land where I could be the swarthy, exotic foreigner, where my American manners were fashionably impolite, and where my quiet, cerebral nature didn’t make me seem gutless and ineffectual to my ethnic kin and utterly invisible to anyone else. In Miami, I was Solomon Vandi angrily listening to Johnny Archer shout at him, “Without me, you’re just another black man in Africa!” In Ottawa, I could be who I wanted, and it would work.
In Ottawa, the zealots only come out to hold up their evil signs at Gay Pride parades and to show off their insultingly incorrect billboards about terminating pregnancy. Canada isn’t as irreligious as paradises like Sweden or Estonia, but compared to the suffocating weight of Miami’s obsession with Spanish virgins, it was beatific. Here, at long last, I could feel safe. The political discourse here figured out that caring for one’s population and treating them fairly even when religious groups demand otherwise is the only way to run a modern country, while the United States still has to fight, over and over, people who want the government to enforce some specific version of Christianity on 320 million people. Canada figured out the humanist notions of ethics that are the watchwords of the best atheists out there. The United States belongs in another century by comparison.
And it was in Canada that I met a lady who thought clearly enough that she could see all of that, and did not despair. A lady who, at long last, I would not have to placate with lies. I met a lady who would not make me choose between loneliness and dishonesty. A lady whose intelligence and understanding is matched only by her fiery commitment to making the world a better place and her mastery of Polish cuisine. A lady who was everything I needed, and more. I met Ania, and then we became co-bloggers.
Continue reading “Why I am an Atheist – 3 of 3”