Canada, Matrix of Modernity, part 2
Mark Wegierski continues his analysis
An essay based on an English-language presentation read at the First Sir Thomas More Colloquium: ‘Diplomacy, Literature, Politics’, at the Akademia Polonijna (Polonia University) in Czestochowa, Poland, held on March 11-12, 2010
The concept of “soft totalitarianism”, as distinct from the “hard totalitarianism”, typified by regimes such as those of Hitler and Stalin, emerged from various dystopian novels and political writings of the Twentieth Century.
In his dystopian novel Brave New World (1932), and a subsequent preface, Brave New World Re-visited (written after World War II), Aldous Huxley posited a future society that would be mostly non-coercive, but at the same time, totalitarian. While George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), portrayed a highly coercive society, in his “Appendix” Orwell noted that the control of vocabulary and language was the key to the maintenance of the system – “Newspeak is Ingsoc, and Ingsoc is Newspeak”. If semantic control could somehow be maintained through non-coercive means, an apparatus of coercion might become unnecessary. In The Managerial Revolution, likewise, James Burnham identified a caste of managers controlling society.
Such ideas may seem surprising. Nevertheless, the author will demonstrate how current-day Canada – often considered a paragon of freedom and democracy – is moving in directions that could be termed “soft totalitarian.” The author, who was born in Toronto, Ontario and has lived there for over fifty years, contends that in current-day Canada, it is increasingly difficult for Christians to live in accord with their faith.
Indeed, analogies may be seen between the dilemmas faced by Sir Thomas More in his refusal to submit to the dictates of a powerful State, and the problems faced by Christians in contemporary Canada. The eminent historian Norman Davies has pointed out that Henry VIII may have had more in common with his contemporary Ivan the Terrible of Muscovy, than most English historians have usually realized.
Protestant England, although typically considered as the bastion of freedom and rights among the European countries, actually extended a harsh and punitive regime towards its Roman Catholics over many centuries – and especially in Scotland and Ireland which England had conquered. Despite England’s traditions of “the rights of Englishmen” — legal and social instruments were put into place to harry Roman Catholics, such as the Test Acts. Perhaps one could draw a certain analogy to current-day Canada which – although it prides itself on being the “most free” and “most democratic” society on the planet – has enacted a variety of legal and social instruments that create difficulties for Christians.
By the term “sincerely-believing Christians”, the author means those members of the various Christian churches who take their faith seriously. If they are Roman Catholics, they will be paying strict attention to the various official teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. These are also persons who would wish for a considerable level of respect for their respective denominations across the society at large.
The Media Environment
Various media critics such as Neil Postman (Amusing Ourselves to Death; The Disappearance of Childhood) have drawn attention to the media’s sexualization of life, and the promotion of what were once called loose lifestyles. This pervasive sexualization comes into immediate conflict with the moral teachings of the Christian churches – and the latter accordingly become perceived as increasingly tedious and irrelevant to young people. Such notions as sexual abstinence and chastity are regarded with increasing disdain.
In most current-day popular comedy and satire in Canada today, the Christian churches are a target. The figure of the “pedophile priest”, likewise, has become a fixture of North American culture. Other professional groups in society in which sexual abuse may occur in ratios comparable to those among the Roman Catholic priesthood are rarely brought to public attention.
The media also dwell on various past iniquities of the Christian churches, especially of the Roman Catholic Church. They enthusiastically take up such stories as the Catholic Church’s purported complicity in the Holocaust. In 2000, when Stockwell Day became leader of the centre-right Canadian Alliance, he was described as a “fundamentalist Christian extremist”. In March 2005, a Conservative member of the federal Parliament (Cheryl Gallant) circulated a leaflet at the Conservative convention, entitled, “Is Christianity under attack?” She was denounced as an “extremist’ and was deemed to have negated her chances of ever being named to the Cabinet, should the Conservatives win an election.
Nevertheless, the media’s attitude to Christianity can sometimes be ambivalent. When Christians embrace so-called “progressive” causes such as helping the poor and disadvantaged, especially in the Third World, they are usually praised. However, when they step outside the parameters of what today’s opinion-forming elites consider “permissible” – even when these are some of the core teachings of the Christian churches – they are severely censured.
The Juridical Environment
Laws against libel and slander may be one of the few legal instruments left to Christians. However, the Canadian Supreme Court has weakened the definitions of libel and slander. There was the case of a woman who had objected to the promotion of pro-homosexual attitudes in the public schools of Surrey, British Columbia. Rafe Mair, a talk-show host in British Columbia, called her a “Nazi” and a “Klansman” on the airwaves. She sued for libel, but, after a lengthy process, the Supreme Court of Canada found that Mair’s statements constituted “fair comment”.
At the same time, however, there are in place at the federal and provincial levels, so-called human rights tribunals and commissions, amongst whose tasks have latterly become the regulation of speech that is considered hateful or discriminatory.
A Protestant minister had a pointed letter about homosexuality published in the Red Deer Advocate (a major local newspaper) in Alberta. A homosexual activist complained to the Alberta Human Rights Commission, with the result that the minister was required to pay a hefty fine, write a letter of apology, and was ordered to never again publicly express his opinions about homosexuality.
A homosexual activist launched a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission that claimed that Catholic Insight (a magazine of tradition-minded Catholics), willfully promoted hatred against gays and lesbians. Although the publication was completely exonerated after fairly onerous legal proceedings, the legal costs the magazine had to bear amounted to upwards of $20,000 – money which a small magazine could ill afford.
In Ontario, there was the case of Christian Horizons. An employee of the organization “came out” as a lesbian (having earlier signed an agreement to remain in conformity with the organization’s code of conduct, which prohibited homosexual activity among employees). She was fired by the organization, and went to the Ontario Human Rights Commission. The Commission ruled that the firing was illegal, and that religious organizations were not allowed to set such criteria for their employees.
In Canada’s juridical system today, the chances of sincerely-believing Christians being appointed to more senior judgeships are slim. In appointments to the Supreme Court of Canada, for example, the media would pay enormous attention to whether an appointee might threaten the regime of unrestricted abortion in Canada. An appointee opposed to unrestricted abortion would face a firestorm of criticism. Yet opposition to abortion is considered one of the most important tenets of belief in the Roman Catholic Church.
The regime of unrestricted abortion also imposes ethical dilemmas for healthcare professionals who are trying to avoid participating in the culture of abortion and contraception. For example, there have been some attempts to make the study of abortion procedures mandatory in medical school. Thus, a conscientious Christian would find it difficult to finish his or her medical studies in such a situation. At the same time, nurses may be required to participate in abortion procedures in public hospitals, regardless of their personal beliefs. Hospitals once associated with the Catholic Church might be forced to offer abortion services. Pharmacists may be required to prescribe so-called “morning-after pills” regardless of their personal beliefs.
There have also been laws made to prevent peaceful protest in the vicinity of abortion clinics. Some anti-abortion protestors have defiantly carried out such peaceful protests, for which they were subsequently arrested by the police, tried in court, and have served months or even years in jail.
Another method of pressure by the State against the churches is the threat of revocation of tax-exempt and charitable status. By longstanding tradition, churches are exempt from most taxes in Canada. Charitable status means that donations to a given charity can be claimed on one’s income tax form, which can in some cases significantly reduce one’s taxes. There is thus an incentive to give charitable donations. During the acrimonious debate over “same-sex marriage” in 2003-2005, there were threats made by Revenue Canada that the charitable status of Catholic charities could be revoked, if the Catholic Church continued its vocal opposition to “same-sex marriage”. Some years ago, the charitable status of a small, evangelical Protestant church in Alberta had been revoked. Although the main reason claimed for this by Revenue Canada was “financial irregularities” there were also added statements by the government agency that vocal opposition to same-sex marriage and abortion may constitute “political activity” – which is in Canadian law prohibited to charitable organizations. Also, Catholic adoption agencies that refuse to place children into gay or lesbian households, can be threatened with the revocation of their charitable status.
The Mass-Education System
Under the Canadian Constitution, education is solely under the jurisdiction of the provinces. Also, the original Canadian constitution of 1867 made explicit provision for religious schooling – and especially separate Catholic education. Thus, Canada has public schools, as well as “Catholic public” schools. The tendency in public schools has been towards ever more relentless secularization. The “Catholic public” schools have also moved in the direction of increasing conformity with the secular culture. In the public schools, Christianity has been almost totally expunged. Thus, the public schools fail to offer any kind of “counter-ethic” to the mass media.
Much of public schooling has been directed into anti-Christian trajectories by “sex education”, and “anti-homophobic” instruction. Canadian society today is said to be redolent with “homophobia” – which the public schools have to counteract with their inculcation of “anti-homophobic” attitudes. These twin aspects of the official curriculum of study doubtless make it difficult for children of Christian parents to attend public schools. And now there are attempts to bring the “Catholic public” system into conformity with the public system in the areas of sex education and anti-homophobic instruction. Christian private schools are often expensive and there are comparatively few of them, and home schooling is far less frequently seen in Canada than in the United States. The latter are fairly difficult options, as parents have to pay the education portion of their property taxes regardless of whether their children are attending public schools or not.
Quebec was traditionally a distinctly Roman Catholic part of Canada. Now, however, it has become one of the most secular provinces. The residues of the “Catholic public” system have been abolished in Quebec. Indeed, the provincial government has attempted to introduce a mandatory program into the curriculum of all schools (public and private) called ERC (Ethics and Religious Culture). The program aims to teach students “that all religions are equal”, and “that no religion can claim to be truer than any other religion”. Obviously, not only Christians but other religious groups are offended by this mandatory program.
At the level of colleges and universities, there is the presence of highly secular curricula in the humanities and social sciences which tend to undermine or minimize the role of Christianity. There have also been attempts to prevent pro-life and traditionalist Christian representatives from speaking at campus events.
Unlike the United States, with its hundreds of private, frequently religiously-affiliated colleges, there are very few private colleges and universities in Canada. The hundreds of private religious colleges in the United States can exercise a certain counter-weight to the pop-culture and mass media there.
Among the most prominent private Christian universities in Canada is Trinity Western University in Langley, British Columbia. TWU ran into difficulties when the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation refused to offer teachers’ accreditation to graduates of TWU’s degree in education. The basis for the refusal was that TWU was claimed to be “inculcating homophobia”. TWU has a very extensive Code of Conduct. One of its provisions (among many others) is the prohibition of homosexual activity. It was insinuated that because of this provision, teachers who had been trained at TWU would tend to discriminate against homosexual students. TWU appealed the matter to the courts. Eventually reaching the Supreme Court of Canada, the decision was that TWU graduates should be accredited, but also that the TWU graduates should be monitored very closely in subsequent years for possible signs of homophobia.
Now, TWU has attempted to launch a law school. However, the lawyers’ professional bodies in a number of provinces (including Ontario) have refused to accept that TWU law school graduates can practice law in that province, as TWU’s Code of Conduct is allegedly “homophobic” and “discriminatory”.
The situation for Christians is especially difficult in Canada because – unlike in the United States – there is no effective “counter-culture” of Christianity – which in the United States includes both fundamentalist Protestants and tradition-minded Catholics. Obviously, Canada is also far different to Poland which is permeated by a deep Catholic culture and history.
Christians in Canada tend to be highly isolated, and to lack a sense of community. In the former East Bloc, in contrast, there was a dynamic of attraction to the Christian churches of critics of the system. In Canada today, however, Christians are depicted as “bigots” or “haters”. Thus, the lineaments of an emerging “soft-totalitarianism” can be perceived here, despite Canada’s oft vaunted claims to be “the most-free” and “the most democratic” country on the planet.
Sociologist Mark Wegierski is a Toronto-based writer and researcher