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Catholicism & multiculturalism.

In Canada not many people are aware that the emphasis on multiculturalism during the last 20 years has sometimes been used to deny the rights of the larger faith groups (Catholics, Evangelicals) vis-a-vis smaller ones (Muslims, Jews, Hindus). Still worse, aggressive secularists are using it more and more to impose their minority views upon the rest of society under the guise of equal treatment for all.

Jewish secularists, for example, argue that if they cannot have schools of their own, Catholics should not have them either: They have even succeeded in getting a United Nations' committee to condemn Catholic public schools in Ontario.

Here is another example. At a mid-April, 2004, committee meeting of the Toronto District School Board, Trustee Howard Goodman (Jewish) proposed that a highly multicultural school board like Toronto's would be more compassionate to non-Christian students by renaming the Christmas break "Winter Break." The trustees voted to rename it accordingly (Sun, April 19). Yet almost certainly the majority of students in the Toronto Board are Christians, including tens of thousands of Catholics who do not or cannot attend Catholic schools.

Instead of cooperating, Canadians should vigorously fight what otherwise will be the steady erosion of rights and customs.--Editor

South Bend, IN--In a recent interview, Christopher Shannon, a Jacques Maritain Center research associate at the University of Notre Dame, discussed with Zenit news service how Catholicism can stand up to multiculturalism and the ideology of radical individualism that underlies it. Following are excerpts from that interview:


Q: What is multiculturalism and how does it subvert culture?

Shannon: Multiculturalism means different things to different people. If I had to identify a common ground that unites all self-proclaimed multiculturalists, it would come down to two points. First, they claim all cultures are equal in value and have an equal right to flourish flee from external constraints; and second, the greater good of humanity is best served by people living within or directly experiencing as many different cultures as possible.

The demand on the part of multiculturalists for a constant engagement with different cultures betrays a very elitist, cosmopolitan vision of culture in which each individual is free to sample the cultures of the world and piece together their own idiosyncratic, personal "culture." By the standards of most of the cultures in world history, this is simply cultural consumerism.

Q: Where are the roots of multiculturalism?

Shannon: The roots of multiculturalism lie, appropriately enough, in the idea of culture. Work in the field [a century ago] led anthropologists to believe that the so-called primitive cultures of the non-Western world were not simply at a lower level on an evolutionary scale, but that each had an integrity. The cultures of Africa were not inferior to that of Europe, they agreed, but simply different.

Q: Is there something in American culture that especially fosters multiculturalism?

Shannon: With respect to racism, the [Second World] War against fascism certainly induced a kind of shock of recognition among many Americans, most clearly with respect to the historic treatment of African-Americans, but also the lingering refusal to accept the legitimacy of the European cultural groups that descended from the great waves of immigration in the 19th and early 20th centuries. (Editor: America became a "melting pot" in contrast to Canada which claims to be a "mosaic" where the two recognized language groups inhibited the process at work in the United States.)

Since World War II, America has officially embraced peoples of all cultures, but the terms of that embrace remain unclear. The tension between equality and diversity still drives much of the debate over multiculturalism today.

Q: How can Catholicism be a bulwark against individualism and the balkanization of culture?

Shannon: I believe that Catholicism really offers an alternative "road less traveled" for those concerned with reconciling equality and difference. In the Catholic tradition, a certain degree of balkanization is understood as the only bulwark against individualism. Still, Catholic "separatism" (as expressed in the parochial school system) managed to peacefully coexist with patriotism and a sense of civic responsibility to a broader political community comprising non-Catholics and Catholics alike.

Q: What insights does Catholicism share with other critics of liberalism? In what does it differ?

Shannon: Catholicism shares with other critics of liberalism a deep suspicion of the ideology of "individualism." Catholicism is distinct, if not unique, in its insistence on the priority of an authoritative moral community not of one's own choosing. To use a religious metaphor, Catholic community proceeds from infant baptism, while secular communitarianism requires some kind of "born again" experience.

Q: How can the Church undermine the societal myth that Catholicism oppresses, while Protestantism and secular modernity liberate?

Shannon: That's a tough one. By the standard of freedom celebrated in mainstream American society today, it is hard to deny that the Church is "oppressive." Oppression and liberation are relative to particular conceptions of truth, and the question of truth is that moderns--in the great tradition of Pontius Pilate--consistently bar it from the discussion of culture.

Catholics are again distinct, if not unique, in insisting on the inescapability of questions of ultimate truth in any discussion of the ethical problems facing society.

Q: Have American [Editor: also English Canadian] Catholics in general been affected by the same myth? If so, what needs to be done to overcome this?

Shannon: Catholics have pretty much accepted libertarian ideals as the ultimate truth and have little awareness of the conflict between these ideals and their faith--except maybe on a few hot button issues such as abortion. The only way to turn this around is to shore up the local Catholic communities--that is, parishes--necessary to create the kind of separate cultural space in which a communally-oriented faith could flourish. Turn off your televisions and go down to the parish hall.

Q: Is Europe facing the same problem of multiculturalism?

Shannon: It is becoming more like America in every way, including hostility to immigrants. The most pressing question of diversity in Europe today seems less a matter of ideology than demographics. The native European population is dying off. Immigrants from Asia and the Middle East may well be the ones setting the tone for any European multiculturalism we are likely to see in future.
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Publication:Catholic Insight
Article Type:Interview
Date:Nov 1, 2005
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