The Daily Offices

The Daily Offices from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, (Canada 1962), including daily Bible readings and occasional sermons from the Cathedral of the Annunication of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Ottawa

Monday, June 09, 2008

Keith Clemons on his latest novel Angel in the Alley

1) Tell me a little about Angel in the Alley and the future dystopia you created.

Angel in the Alley is the story of a man, Peter Defoe, and Angela, his seven year old daughter who is dying of cancer. Angela has but one wish, she does not want to die in a hospital; she wants to be at home surrounded by her family. Peter is determined to honor her request, but just as they’re about to leave an international warrant is issued for his arrest. His crime? Illegally distributing Bibles over the internet. This is the landscape I’ve created for my book: a day in which many of the rights we enjoy today have been stripped away. As a society we tend to take our freedoms for granted. Yet all around us the ability to express certain beliefs, particularly those that sanction God, are being eroded. There was a time when having an open discussion on points of disagreement was considered healthy discourse, but that simply isn’t true today.

Certain topics, like that of homosexuality, are taboo, particularly if you’re a teacher or politician. God forbid anyone with a public platform voice the opinion that homosexuality is wrong. To do so would result in their being mocked by their peers, or vilified by the media.

It’s odd to see this in academia where the right to speak and be heard was formerly held as sacrosanct, but we do. Men with substantial academic degrees are being refused publication, denied tenure, and are losing their jobs if they dare discuss Intelligent Design as a possible alternative to the theory of evolution. “Expelled,” a new documentary hosted by Ben Stein, elucidates how the academic and scientific communities are trying to censor anyone who does not toe the evolutionary line.

Even more troubling was a comment I read on the web only a few days ago. The author said, and I quote, “You must be careful folks, religion is responsible for the oppression of murder of millions...” I don’t know where this man got his information, but it wasn’t from history. Most modern wars, and the subsequent murder of millions, were fought to eliminate every vestige of God. Mao Tse-tung’s Communist takeover in China in 1949 led to a bloodbath that slaughtered 38 million innocent people. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the killing fields of Cambodia murdered several million more. Joseph Stalin killed tens of millions in the Communist revolution of Soviet Russia. These were political systems that were out to banish God. Hitler murdered six million Jews because he saw them as an inferior race, not because of God’s calling. Genghis Kahn and Alexander the Great didn’t murder in the name of God. They did it to satisfy their lust for wealth and power.

People who say religion is the primary source of war aren’t looking at history. True religion brings life, not death. Yet with all the good brought by people of faith, a survey done in the UK recently said the number one problem in the world today is “religion.” When I look at history, I see abundant evidence that those who held a belief in God have been responsible for some of society’s greatest advances. I see humanitarians like Henry Dunant and Clara Barton, founders of The Red Cross, responsible for saving millions of lives. People like Mother Teresa who waded through the gutters of Calcutta to tend to the outcast and comfort the dying in the midst of unimaginable human suffering. World Vision who feeds tens of thousands of starving children each year. And a number of independent missions that provide comfort to those dying of AIDS in Africa. Men and women of religious faith have used their beliefs to lay a foundation for our just system of government. The founding fathers of Canada and the United States were, for the most part, men of deep religious conviction who based their view of liberty and equality on precepts found in the Bible. British Legislator William Wilberforce worked to end the slave trade in England, as Abraham Lincoln fought to end slavery in the US. Both were devout Christian men.People of faith have fostered art and education. The paintings in the Sistine Chapel and the statue of David would not exist apart from Michelangelo’s religious fervor, neither would the music of Handel’s Messiah, or great works of poetry like Milton’s Paradise Lost. Without the express purpose of providing religious training, we would not have the educational intuitions of Yale, Princeton, Oxford, and Notre Dame.God believing men and women have blessed our world with invention and discovery: Johann Gutenberg invented the printing press, Isaac Newton discovered the laws of motion, and Breese Morse the telegraph, just to name a few. Albert Einstein, Louis Pasteur, Johannes Kepler, Franz Boas, Max Planck, Marie Curie, Gregor Mendel, Alexander Fleming, and hundreds of others were great men and women of faith. Even Columbus, who is credited with the discovery of North America, believed he could cross the ocean without sailing off its edge because the book of Isaiah, found in the Bible, said the world was a sphere.

All of these benefits were granted to us by men of deep religious conviction who felt they were responding to the call of God on their lives. Yet in spite of all the good they accomplished, men still want to remove God from the public square.

This is why, as a setting for my book, I had to invent a different world than the one in which we live. Frank Capra, in his 1946 classic, “It’s A Wonderful Life,” had Jimmy Stewart, alias George Bailey, receive a look at what the world might be like if he’d never been born. What I tried to do in Angel in the Alley was paint a similar picture so people could see what the world might be like without the freedom to worship God.

2) How much does your imagined future have a grounding in present attacks on freedom of speech and of religion that are happening in Canada now

The limitations and restrictions being placed on people of faith today is the very reason I wrote the book. We’re seeing it all around us. Just last month Christian Horizons, a Canadian ministry that assists people with disabilities, was fined by the Ontario Human Rights Commission for firing an employee who was engaged in a homosexual relationship, even though the employee had signed a contract agreeing to abstain from all sexual immorality, including homosexuality.

The ministry had to pay the complainant two years' wages and benefits, plus $23,000 in compensatory damages. In early December, Mark Steyn and Macleans’ Magazine were the subject of a complaint to the B.C. and Federal Human Rights Commissions because of an article in the magazine that included an excerpt from Mr. Steyn’s book “America Alone.” The complaint said the article subjected Canadian Muslims to discrimination, hatred and contempt, when all the article did was quote one of their own Islamic clerics. Ron Gray, leader of the Christian Heritage Party was brought before the Ontario and Federal Human Rights Councils for an article on the party’s website critical of homosexual conduct. Among other things, Mr. Gray was told by a HRC mediator that “freedom of expression is an American concept.”

Pardon me, but I always thought Canadians were as free as Americans. Apparently not.
The Knights of Columbus of Port Coquitlam, BC, were fined by the BC Human Rights Tribunal in December, 2005 for refusing to let a lesbian couple use their hall for a “wedding” reception. It seems The Knights of Columbus, a Catholic organization whose tenets prohibit homosexual union, doesn’t have the right to act on what they believe. Another example happened in 1999, when a Toronto printer, Scott Brockie was ordered by the Ontario HRC to pay a Gay activist group $5,000 for refusing to print their letterhead. The attempt to vilify people of faith isn’t just a local phenomenon. It’s a growing worldwide problem. European author Christopher Hitchens introduced his book, God Is Not Great, to a class of undergraduates at the University of Toronto and a front page story in Canada’s National Post quoted him as saying, “I am absolutely convinced that the main source of hatred in the world is religion.” Entertainer, Elton John, echoed the same sentiment when he said he would, “ban religion completely,” because it turned people, “into really hateful lemmings.” And on the topic of religion, Richard Dawkins, evolutionary biologist at the University of Oxford said “It’s one thing to say people should be free to believe whatever they like, but should they be free to impose their beliefs on their children? Isn’t there something to be said for society stepping in?”This kind of character assassination always makes me nervous. There are just too many examples of the vilification of a certain group of people leading to their annihilation.I have to be careful here lest I be misunderstood. I’m not saying individuals who are atheist or agnostic can’t be good citizens. Of course they can, just as those motivated by religious beliefs can do bad things. The issue is that those who believe in God and those who are atheist should “both” be free to hold to their beliefs without rancor. As we hear an ever louder voice proclaiming the “evils” of religion along with the increased frequency of judgments made against those who stand up for their convictions, we are in danger of losing many of the freedoms we have come to take for granted. We’re already seeing capitulations on a number of fronts. If we’re not careful, one by one we’ll see the basic freedoms we have so long cherished completely disappear.

4) Aside from giving your readers a rip-roaring good read, what else did you hope to accomplish by writing Angel in the Alley?

It was, and is, my hope to provide Canadians and Americans with a wakeup call. At the conclusion of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge said to the Ghost of Christmas future: "Ghost of the Future...I fear you more than any specter I have seen...Are these the shadows of the things that will be, or are they shadows of things that may be, only?" Ebenezer was given a glimpse into a possible future and was wise enough to discern that the future can be changed by the actions we take in the present.

Similarly, Edmund Burke said: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” I think it’s time for good men to speak up. I applaud people like Ezra Levant and Mark Steyn who are taking the Canadian Human Rights Commission to task, just as I applaud all those who have had to pay fines for standing up for what they believe. If we do less, we may well end up weeping with the anonymous writer of what has become known as the, Holocaust Poem, to wit: “First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me.”