Sunday, July 31, 2005

Loyal She Remains

Returning to Eastern Canada after a few years away, it is striking how bizarre it all is politically. Political correctness rules; prejudices are deep.

Why? I think it is because Canadians tend to be too respectful of authority. If someone in authority tells them a thing is so, they do not question it.

This goes back to the country’s founding. Canada was loyal when the rest of America split away from the European motherlands. Loyal acquiescence to established authority is the essence of Canada as a nation. Toronto is perhaps the acme of this: “Toronto the Good,” always earnest. I smile every time I pass by the sign for Temperance Street. That’s Toronto. Political correctness is just the new orthodoxy, as moral improvement once was.

This respect for authority can be Canada’s strength. So long as the ruling elite is trustworthy and capable, it makes things efficient. Toronto, and Canada, often function like clockwork.

Until recently, the Canadian elite was indeed generally trustworthy and capable. The old idealistic, ill-paid Canadian civil service, the civil service of Lester Pearson. The old Bay and St. James Street establishment who sent their sons to spartan and competitive conditions at Upper or Lower Canada College, McGill, Western, Dalhousie or Queen’s to sink or swim, and above all to learn self-discipline and the trick of deferred gratification.

But that has changed. Since the 1960s, the idea of learning discipline has long been out of fashion. No more drafting young men to war; no more corporal punishment in the schools; no more spanking; no more sexual abstinence before marriage. As a result, I think, Canada’s elite has learned to be less responsible, more self-indulgent. With no tradition of questioning authority, this puts Canada in jeopardy.

Things are still holding together reasonably well—a good system can carry on for some time on pure momentum. But gradually, we seem to be seeing more corruption in our politicians; less restraint in our judges; less service in our civil servants; less honour in our politics. The system, in sum, is growing decadent.

The American ruling class is no doubt as corrupt; but their population is less servile. They should fare better. Europe may or may not be as corrupt; but they at least do not define themselves by their loyalty.

Canada seems doomed to a long, slow decline: culturally, economically, politically.

Americans already seem to be rebelling against this self-indulgence in the elite. If they do, rejection of self-indulgence becomes a new orthodoxy. Canada may then embrace this as it embraces all orthodoxies. The Canadian ruling classes should then straighten themselves out over a generation or so.

Still, such thoughts don’t encourage me to return from my self-imposed exile.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

Toronto's Communion of Saints

In Toronto last week, I went to mass at St. Thomas Aquinas, associated with the University of Toronto’s Newman Centre. Not my choice; I was visiting with a friend who is a parishioner there.

But it was interesting; St. Thomas has quite a “progressive” reputation. Catholics of a certain left-wing bent go to mass there from all over Metro Toronto. Like my friend, who lives in North York.

And it is a thriving parish. It was chock full for the mass I attended, as it always has been in the past. Good rubbernecking, too: some of the parishioners are famous.

Knowing its reputation—one recent pastor was cashiered for straying too far from orthodoxy—I was on the lookout for innovations.

The most immediately obvious is that the pews are arranged in a U shape. The priest paces back and forth along the centre aisle for the sermon.

Next most obvious is that the crucifix is slightly unconventional: Jesus is not nailed to it, but apparently rising from it. It shows, it seems, the resurrection, not the crucifixion. And, more unusually, framing it is what looks like a large golden hula hoop. I’m guessing this represents the sun.

Next thing I noticed is that the congregation does not kneel. Nor can they. The traditional kneeling bar is absent.

The stained glass is also notable. Instead of depicting saints or Biblical scenes, they show people who have lived in the last century or so, and who, although often under consideration for sainthood, are not officially saints yet. Mother Theresa is there; so is Georges Vanier, a former governor general, John XXIII, Oscar Romero, and Kateri Tekakwitha. They also tend to be local, Canadian, figures. And they tend to be laity.

None of this is really unorthodox. But taken together, they seem to me to imply an unfortunate message: that all is well with the world as it is, and there is no need to work out one’s salvation in fear and trembling. These are, to my mind, rather too comfortable pews.

Indeed, the pastor of St. Thomas once actually said in a sermon I attended that “there is no need to preach to this group.”

The central aisle tends to diminish the symbolic boundary between sacred and profane: between what is and what ought to be. This is a comforting doctrine, to those in power; but not to the poor, those who mourn, or those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. The congregation, though, is very largely composed of those with some temporal status. The modern equivalent of Scribes and Pharisees, for the most part. University professors, journalists, lawyers. Some students, no doubt; but the congregation is not notably young.

Again, the rising Christ perhaps downplays the value of suffering for salvation; and the sun disk suggests that what is apparent, what is visible, is what is real. To my mind, this is a materialist, message. God appears instead in the darknesses: in the silences after the whirlwind, or on the night road to Emmaus. But it is consoling to those materially well off.

The absence of kneeling boards follows: there is no need to show humility before God. And the stained glass figures hint that sainthood is far closer and easier to achieve than we suppose. The women of the parish, of course, said all the prayers using strictly inclusive language: God is “parent,” not father, was made “flesh,” not man. I guess even better than imagining you are a saint bound for heaven is to imagine being God yourself.

I do not feel comfortable in this parish. I do not feel comfortable with this sort of Catholic “progressivism” generally, for it seems only self-indulgence and self-congratulation by a ruling elite.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Gananoque Takes the World Stage

I’m back.

By chance, last week I was in my hometown of Gananoque Ontario, usually a pretty quiet little burg of 5,000, when it hit the international news. A few women took a tour boat out to the middle of the St. Lawrence and held a ceremony which, they declared, made them Catholic priestesses.

The unreality of the event is suggested by their reason to do it in the St. Lawrence: the notion that it is international waters, and so under the jurisdiction of no Catholic diocese.

As any local knows, there are no international waters in the Thousand Islands area. But the women had so little interest in truth that they held to this fiction rather than spend the few extra dollars to get into genuine international waters off Halifax, Vancouver, or St. John’s.

That says it. Religion is about Truth above all. These people have no interest in it.

The “ordination” was by a female “bishop” who, just three years ago, was herself “ordained” a priestess in a similar fake ceremony in the Danube. Which also has no international waters. Not bad going, and emblematic of the self-indulgence of it all: from laity to bishop in three years.

Once, when the Globe and Mail seemed to be writing from behind the looking glass, claiming seven or eight impossible things at each breakfast, the National Post at least seemed refreshingly straight.

No more. It would be hard to beat the bias of their recent article on ordaining women, “Called by God, Cast out by Rome” (National Post July 23, 2005, A3). Note the implication in the head itself that these women are genuinely called by God, and that the Catholic Church is wrong to believe otherwise.

The article goes on to consistently refer to the women and their parish as “Catholic” and “Roman Catholic.” How can this be so when they are not recognized by Rome? When they have been publicly declared excommunicate? By this definition, aren’t we obliged to call Anglicans, Orthodox, Lutherans, Baptists, or anyone else who wants to use the term, “Roman Catholic”? Doesn’t it simply empty the term of meaning?

It is not, after all, as if ordaining women is the only departure here from the magisterium. These women “priests” are also, according to the article, married with children, and perform gay marriages. One wonders, if they are legitimately called to the priesthood, how is it they were not given the charism to keep their vows of celibacy and obedience? That, at least, would have given some suggestion it is all something more than self-indulgence.

The article repeatedly refers to the two priestesses as “ordained” (or, indeed, “honoured” with ordination) with no attempt to reconcile this claim with the fact that the Catholic Church does not ordain women. They were “ordained” by a woman “bishop” who herself has been formally excommunicated from the Catholic Church, and who claims she was herself ordained a bishop “secretly” by persons unnamed.

In Catholic terms, it is clear that the ceremony was outside the apostolic succession; it was not an ordination. The women, as a group, conferred this “honour” on themselves.

Leaving the question: why is this given any press attention? Any group of seven or ten women could do the same at any time. Valid ordinations are not covered by the press, and they are a genuine honour.

It is, I submit, yet another example of press bias—against religion, and against men.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

The Tragedy of Canadian Junkie Fish

Greetings from sunny Toronto, currently melting under a tropical heat wave.

Nice to see a letter in the current Maclean's haranguing the magazine for missing an important story: the worry that all the psychiatric pills we are now taking will end up in the ecosystem.

"√Źmagine what harm they might do to the birds and fish," the correspondent frets.

I'm really trying very hard to get upset about this.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

We the Village People

Folks, I apologize for the recent silence in this space. I'm on a grand tour of the headquarters of World Liberalism: Amsterdam, New York, Toronto.

Yesterday, here in New York, I saw a poster. The background was the "Rainbow" flag of the gay rights movement--or os it now the gay-bi-lesbian-transgendered rights movement? And on it the words: "We the people reject the Bush-Cheney agenda."

Your people, sir, is a great beast.

And it apparently does not vote in elections. Why?