By PAT WATSON
There are so many reasons defence of religion is at the forefront these days that it is hard to know where to begin, but let’s start in Quebec, where a distinct society more reflective of its spiritual connection to its French ancestry is putting religion front and centre.
Or rather religious intolerance.
A few decades ago, Beatle John Lennon had a hit with the song “Imagine”, in which he suggested imagining that there was no religion. As noble as his aims may have been with such a song, it also really speaks to a desire not to contend with difference.
For all our diversity in this world – culturally, racially, religiously, linguistically – you would think that by now there would be acceptance of the wondrous ways we group ourselves as human beings.
Instead, what we seem to get is fear of these differences along with intolerance, as if all these various forms of human expression should not be allowed to co-exist. The very fact that we have a word for such a notion – paradox – tells us we recognize that opposing truths can co-exist.
When the French Revolution took hold at the end of the 18th Century, the oppressive power of religion as it manifested in that region at that time fomented revolution. So the principle of the separation of church and state was no small matter. It took hold in the ethos of governance in the emerging United States of that period as well.
So, closer to home, what the minority Parti Québécois (PQ) is attempting now has its historical lineage. Quebec’s Quiet Revolution of the 1960s is a significant era characterized in part by secularization. There was strong rejection of the power of religious institutions over the Québécois.
But adherence to governance that is free from religious domination is not so simple. Now it is being played for political gain and political distraction as the PQ try to remove any vestment of religious affiliation from among employees of the provincial government. Quebec Liberals may protest this gambit but when Liberal Jean Charest was premier, a similar move was tried. Predictably, this move by the PQ is having greater reception in rural Quebec, and is rejected in Montreal where the population is more diverse.
The PQ has not been very successful in carrying forward any number of policy initiatives in the year since coming to power. With the recent student protests, the PQ led by Pauline Marois came to power with a promise to meet the demands of students not to increase university tuition. To make this affordable, the PQ asked universities to roll back their budgets by 30 per cent. This has not been successful. Then there was an effort to raise taxes retroactively. That was not supported by the opposition parties and also failed. Other initiatives have had similar results.
It remains to be seen how far the PQ will go with this issue since it would challenge Canada’s Charter of Rights and would also require constitutional change within Quebec. Certainly, this latest gambit does the job of raising the issue of religious tolerance across the country.
More universally, these matters always seem to end up at the church steps. It was 50 years ago that four little girls – Addie Mae Collins, 14, Cynthia Wesley, 14, Carole Robinson, 14, and Denise McNair, 11 – were killed when the battle for civil rights in the United States led to the terrorist bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama. During the very same era that religion was seen as an oppressor in Quebec, African American churches and religious leaders were at the forefront of the push away from oppression and toward equality.
So, regardless of how opposing forces try to separate, or on the other hand conflate, politics and religion, the question has to be, when for the love of God, will all of this madness cease? For what it really tells us more than anything else is the length to which human beings are willing to go in rejecting one another. Whatever happened to the Golden Rule?
A note on winning TV ratings…
For the first time in its 102-year history, a woman of South Asian ancestry has taken the Miss America title. Witness the ‘browning’ of America. “For the times, they are a-changin’…” – Bob Dylan.
Pat Watson is the author of the recently published ebook, In Through A Coloured Lens.