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A Catholic postscript to the elections.

At the end of the Jubilee year of 2000, during which we commemorated the conclusion of two millennia of Christianity, Canadians voted in a federal election where most party leaders wanted nothing to do with Christianity. Though there was much talk about "values," no vision for the future was provided; though there was frequent mention of religious faith of one kind or another, Christianity was banned from the political debate.

I would like to put forward three topics for reflection: is religion private or public? What guidance did Catholics receive? And why was the election senseless? Because the answer to the third question is the shortest, we'll deal with it first, followed by question one which is the most important one, and then question two.

A senseless election

The election was inane in its origin and in its execution. It was called out of sheer opportunism, whether to catch the newly re-created opposition off guard or, as Mr. Joe Clark claimed, to allow Prime Minister Chretien to checkmate his own party rival, Mr. Paul Martin, in order for himself to cling to power for three or four more years. Perhaps it was a combination of both. It doesn't matter except for the fact that $200 million of taxpayers' money was wasted. The election showed little change among the parties.

What does matter is that there wasn't a trace of purpose or vision for the future on the part of the governing party. Does history have a purpose? If not, then Canada has no purpose either.

A vacuum will be filled one way or another. Consequently, the dominant features of the election were sleaze, fear mongering, and the demonization of the Alliance by all the other parties as well as by the "national" (i.e., Toronto) media, the National Post excepted. This attack on the Alliance, in turn, disguised a panic and a horror that religious views might have something to do with politics.

A typical letter stated that "the Canadian Alliance brand of social conservatism is a mix of self-righteous moralizing and authoritarian fundamentalism. [Its] understanding of moral issues is derived from strict, literal interpretations of Biblical scripture....In a pluralist society like Canada, [this] type of absolutist ideology is antithetical to our mosaic" (Toronto Star, Dec. 2).

The author's real fear shines through at the end in his reference to "absolutist" principles. Such, for example, is the teaching of the Catholic Church that abortion is an abomination which cannot and may not be justified under any circumstances; or the teaching that mankind is saved through the redemption of Christ only and through no one else; or that same-sex "marriage" is contrary to the natural law and the related law of God. All three points were attacked by Liberals, Conservatives and Socialists, with the Catholics among them, such as Jean Chretein, Joe Clark and Hedy Fry, shouting loudest.

Religion, private or public?

Since the mid-sixties Canadians have allowed themselves to embrace ethical pluralism as a matter of policy. This "pluralism" is really religious agnosticism in politics. For Catholics it is ironic that this came so quickly after the close of the Second Vatican Council where the role of the laity in public life had been re-emphasized. Instead of renewal, there followed a collapse of the common view that Canada should have laws in conformity with Christian wisdom.

When I say "Christians allowed themselves" to adopt pluralism, it is to indicate that as far as one can judge, it wasn't a political priority with them, but it was so with the Jewish community, the feminists, and the growing non-religious or anti-religious segments in society, including the media. This showed clearly during the debates in the sixties around contraception, abortion, and homosexuality, where religion was said to be irrelevant on the grounds that it was of "private interest" only. At the same time Quebec's Catholicism as a public force disintegrated, removing a pillar of religious strength for the whole country.

I hasten to say that major contributing factors to the marginalization of religion such as growing affluence, the decline of traditional authority, the rapidity of social change, all contributed to shaking up the older order. Because this occurred throughout the West, it ensured that the attack on institutional Christianity was not limited to Canada but extended to the United States and Europe as well.

Catholic public philosophy

Past Catholic teaching about the public role of Christianity has always been that, first, Christian philosophical/theological principles are indispensable to society at large; and, secondly, that the rational foundations of Catholic public philosophy can be shared with people of goodwill who do not share the Catholic religion. The expression is "Grace builds on nature." Religious grace through faith in God does not destroy nature, it supports and complements it.

The first point, that of the necessity of the Church for society, was recently expressed by Cardinal Angelo Sodano on November 9, 2000, at the new session of Lateran University, when he stated that "the mystery of Christ" is necessary to avoid totalitarian regimes. Ridiculous, you say? Pope John Paul II repeatedly said the same thing in his 1995 encyclical Evangelium vitae (The Gospel of Life), in discussing how "relativism," or the rejection that there is such a thing as truth, will destroy liberal democracies. For example, one cannot hold that it is absolutely forbidden to kill people who are innocent of any wrongdoing, and at the same time legislate the killing of innocent preborn babies. Truth is indivisible. You can't have it both ways without endangering society's foundations.

The second point, sharing the rational foundation of Catholic public philosophy with others, is expressed in a practical way (aside from philosophical reasoning) by the Church's emphasis on the "dignity of the human person." This dignity is independent of sex, colour, race and religion. Since Vatican II (1962-1965), the Popes have based practically all their efforts dealing with social, political, economic and spiritual aspects of society on that foundation.

This concept can be shared with everybody, not just religious people, provided right reason is maintained and not overthrown as in the case of legalizing the killing of the unborn. It is, in turn, surrounded by a moral code the main principles of which are also attainable to reason. The Ten Commandments given to Moses are part of the natural moral law which is meant for everybody, not just religious people. You don't have to be religious to reject theft or adultery: these are offences against the natural law.

Despite the usefulness of this general public philosophy, over the last 35 years the ruling class in Canada has cast it aside, and replaced it with an irrational pragmatism which accepts contradictory principles. It has done this even though members have no coherent moral and public philosophy of their own. The liberal democratic version of what is left of the Enlightenment philosophy of the eighteen century has procedures (be tolerant), but it has no moral content (Why should I not lie, or steal, or be tolerant?).

In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, religion was declared the opium of the people. Today the process of disintegration tries to kill religion by declaring it to be a private matter only. Christianity is OK for your personal use, but it should not be accepted as a guideline in legislation or political conduct. Communist China uses this as the standard for suppressing all educational social action by Christians.

That brings us right back to Pierre Elliot Trudeau who in 1967 declared that theological principles should have nothing to do with the conduct of political affairs. That this was accepted without a murmur by the many Catholics in his party demonstrates how the new paganism had already undermined their Catholic principles.

The only group that fought the abortion bill of 1969 tooth and nail were the Catholic Creditistes from Quebec, whose fourteen MPs knew their Thomas Aquinas, and who tried manfully to stop the bill. They were ridiculed throughout English-Canada as stupid backwoodsmen with the same fervour that the Alliance and Stockwell Day were demonized with during the November 27 election.

What guidance for Catholics?

To come right to the point, the guidance given Catholic voters by most Catholic weeklies, the Conference of Bishops, the Catholic Health Association, Development and Peace, and other social justice groups was pathetic. These groups were all concerned to move the politicians closer to what is called "the Church's social teaching." But in Canada the "Church's social teaching" resembles more the opinions of the New Democratic Party than that of the Church world-wide. Consequently the printed guides offered to the Catholic public by these groups emphasized economic/political issues, and placed abortion as only one of many topics to be considered, while those in the Prairie Messenger and the Catholic New Times never even mentioned abortion.

Episcopal guidance should stand out above all others, but alas, its voters' guide suffered from the same crippling paralysis as that of the others. A number of years ago American historian Brian Benestad studied the Policy Statements of the U.S. Bishops between 1966 and 1980. He said this. The bishops, have, "1) issued statements in which they lack sufficient expertise; 2) failed to communicate satisfactorily the Church's rich social doctrine; 3) failed to instruct and involve the laity in their task of Christianizing the temporal sphere; 4) demonstrated a politically partisan attitude by focusing mainly on issues of importance to political progressives; 5) neglected, for the most part, the principle of subsidiarity and, conversely, overplayed the role of the federal government in the pursuit of the good society; and 6) relinquished their responsibility for the forging of social policy to an unrepresentative and left-wing group of new class bureaucrats centered in and around the United States Catholic Confer ence."

Change "U.S. Catholic Conference" to "Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops" and one has an accurate description of the imbalance between economic/social and family/moral issues at the CCCB. The last time the CCCB said anything worthwhile about abortion was a one-line sentence in a 4000-word document published in 1983. Throughout the eighties and nineties this silence continued. Meanwhile, the American bishops began to turn over a new leaf in the latter half of the nineties, but the Canadians didn't.

Seamless garment

The principal change among American bishops has been the realization that the "life" issues, that is abortion and euthanasia, cannot be treated like any other social issue. That required a clarification of the late Cardinal Bernardin's 1983 idea of the "seamless garment." This was adopted in the fall of 1997.

While the Cardinal himself had made the observation in the document issued on behalf of the American bishops, that abortion stands out among the evils of society, "progressive" Catholics interpreted the otherwise one-sided document to mean that all economic, social, and moral issues were equally important. When a candidate is pro-abortion therefore, but also infavour of a number of social improvements, one could readily vote for him.

In contrast, the pro-life argument has been that when a candidate is pro-abortion (i.e., "pro-choice," or "I am personally opposed but I cannot impose my morality on other people"), he has disqualified himself from public office, no matter how sensitive to the environment he may be, or how brilliant an economist. One issue people therefore? Yes, in so far as the right to life is primary to all other social issues combined.

A large number of socially active Canadian Catholics have used the seamless garment as an excuse to continue voting for pro-death candidates, either for the NDP, despite the fact that this feminist party is by platform and policy fiercely pro-abortion, or for the Liberal Party, which has spoken out of both sides of its mouth for years. When this party finally acknowledged during the November, 2000 election that it, too, is officially "pro-choice," one bishop raised his eyebrows, expressed his disappointment, and left it at that.

When the two leaders of the Liberals and the Conservatives, Jean Chretien and Joe Clark, speaking as Catholics, broadcast throughout the land that they are "pro-choice" "because everyone knows that Catholics are divided on this subject," there was no authoritative response. Only one retired auxiliary bishop solicited by the pro-life network LifeSite explained that it is impossible to be a good Catholic and be pro-abortion at the same time.

Conclusion

It is clear that the political/moral/cultural disintegration will continue. A December 6 editorial in the Globe and Mail, for example, opened the Canadian offensive for "gay marriages." It is a harbinger in the wind.

The Catholic community in Canada has been intellectually impoverished over the last forty years, not least by the loss of most of its universities, colleges and seminaries, and the decline of religious orders. Yet somehow, a spiritually revitalized community must find the strength to fight back. The only strength we have is that of the rock of Christ, and that should suffice.
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Title Annotation:Canada
Author:Valk, Alphonse de
Publication:Catholic Insight
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Jan 1, 2001
Words:2155
Previous Article:Religious belief as weakness.
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