Quebec’s totalitarian impulse

FATHER RAYMOND J. DE SOUZA

The Ministry of Education essentially ordered a Catholic school to teach things it believed to be false.

A statue of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Jesuit Founder, at Loyola High School in Montreal

Six years ago I wrote an essay for a journal of religion and public life about growing restrictions on religious liberty in Canada. The editors entitled it "Thinly Disguised Totalitarianism" – admittedly tough language. I claimed that Canada was not a totalitarian state but that the "totalitarian impulse had infected the body politic." Six years on, the infection has become a disease.

Talk about totalitarian tendencies in the liberal West is thought alarmist. It is certainly not the type of language used by judges, but Quebec Superior Court Justice Gérard Dugré did not blanch from doing so in regard to the Quebec government's insistence that its "ethics and religious culture" (ERC) course be taught from a "neutral" perspective.

"The obligation imposed on Loyola [High School] to teach ERC subjects from a secular perspective takes on a totalitarian character that is essentially equivalent to the order that the Inquisition gave Galileo to renounce the Copernican cosmology," wrote Dugré in his judgment last week, no doubt pleased with his choice of historical analogy.

Loyola is a private Catholic high school in Montreal which has existed for twice as long as Quebec's Ministry of Education. When the Ministry unveiled the ERC course as its replacement for religious education in Quebec, Loyola asked if it could teach the course from a Catholic perspective. As Barbara Kay pointed out here yesterday, ERC is a parody of relativism in the name of neutrality. Wiccan, Buddhist, Muslim, Catholic – no one view was to be taught as superior to another, let alone as true. Loyola simply wanted to teach respect and tolerance in a manner consistent with a Catholic school, holding that, well, the Catholic faith is true. The Ministry refused, essentially ordering a Catholic school to teach its students things that it believed to be false.

It was a gross violation of religious liberty and parental rights in education, not to mention lacking completely in pedagogical common sense. What happens to the credibility of teachers when they are forced to teach their students that their Catholic faith – presumably why they choose in teach in a Catholic school in the first place – is no more valid a path to salvation than witchcraft or atheism?

The "neutrality" demanded by the state was recognized by the judge for what it was – a secularism which gives its own answer to religious questions, namely that all religious truths are relative and none are true. Forcing this upon children against the wishes of their parents and teachers is a dictatorial act – what in fact Benedict XVI famously called the "dictatorship of relativism".

But it was his predecessor who identified the totalitarian impulse in aggressively liberal societies, and from whom my editors took the title of that essay.

"Nowadays there is a tendency to claim that agnosticism and skeptical relativism are the philosophy and the basic attitude which correspond to democratic forms of political life," wrote John Paul II in 1991. "Those who are convinced that they know the truth and firmly adhere to it are considered unreliable from a democratic point of view, since they do not accept that truth is determined by the majority, or that it is subject to variation according to different political trends. It must be observed in this regard that if there is no ultimate truth to guide and direct political activity, then ideas and convictions can easily be manipulated for reasons of power. As history demonstrates, a democracy without values easily turns into open or thinly disguised totalitarianism."

Quebec's position is that no one, no school, no parent, no child, anywhere for any reason, can be exempt from the government's course – even if, or especially if, it violates their religious faith.

The Quebec government certainly thought Loyola was unreliable. Still clinging to the thin disguise of neutrality, it is determined to appeal. In another case, where a family simply asked to have their children exempt from the new course, the Ministry of Education prevailed in the courts to force the children through ERC. Quebec's position is that no one, no school, no parent, no child, anywhere for any reason, can be exempt from the government's course – even if, or especially if, it violates their religious faith. In the name of tolerance for all faiths, all faith must be taught to be false from a secular point of view. The zealous mandating of ERC is Orwellian in its language, dictatorial in its methods, intolerant in its attitude and without limits in its application. There is a word for this, and Dugré was not shy about using it: totalitarian.

On this St. Jean Baptiste Day, the state of Quebec will mark its fête nationale – the most banal name imaginable for a national day. It says nothing about anything, and it is the perfect symbol that neutrality is really about choosing nihilism. Nihilism enforced by state power is an approximate definition of totalitarianism. At least at Loyola, at least for now, the totalitarian impulse has been resisted.

 

 



ACKNOWLEDGEMENT

Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Quebec's totalitarian impulse." National Post, (Canada) June 24, 2010.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.

photo: Graham Hughes/National Post

THE AUTHOR

Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2010 National Post




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