Quebec's spiritual void

  • November 8, 2007
{mosimage}The Reasonable Accommodation Commission hearings in Quebec have been described by some observers as a “horror show” or “circus” demonstrating some of the more xenophobic aspects of Quebecois culture. For that, however, they should be lauded rather than condemned. They have done all Canadians a favour.

Media pundits have recoiled at some of the more aggressive displays of resentment toward immigrants, particularly Muslims, who have settled in Quebec in recent years. In the presentations before Commissioners Charles Taylor and Gerard Bouchard, there have been distinctly anti-Semitic remarks (one man was tossed out of the hearings for complaining about having to buy kosher peanut butter), and panic-stricken prophecies that Muslim women would soon be stoned in Quebec if something were not done to force Muslim immigrants to drop their religious customs.

Equally disturbing have been the attacks on Catholicism and Christianity. Several people have called for the complete elimination of all signs of religion — crucifixes as well as Sikh kirpans or Islamic head scarves — from public spaces.

What is most remarkable about these demands is the vehemence behind them. The fear and anger are palpable.

Cardinal Marc Ouellet, archbishop of Quebec, brought a sense of sanity to the hearings with his own brief Oct. 30 (see text here). He argued that the real issue was not head scarves or religious symbols in public. It was not immigrants and their foreign customs. Rather, it was the all-too-noticeable spiritual void in Quebec, a void that left people uncertain about what they believe, ready to fall victim to emotions rather than reason, and afraid of those who seem to have the spiritual certainty they lack.

“Hence the confusion of youth, plumetting marriages, the miniscule birth rate and the staggering number of abortions and suicides, to name only a few of the consequences,” he explained. Adding to the malaise is a cynicism and contempt for established religion fed by the media. “This fosters a culture of contempt and shame with respect to our religious heritage, which is destroying the soul of Quebec.”

While Quebec is, of course, a “distinct society” with its own particular history and customs, Cardinal Ouellet’s analysis has some validity in other parts of Canada. Though regular participation in Christian churches has not fallen nearly as much in the other provinces as it has in Quebec, there is a distinct fear of true religious belief and practice. Particularly in the media and among some educated elites, those who are faithful adherents of any of the great Abrahamic faiths are often scorned as superstitious throwbacks to another age.

Outside Quebec, we too have demonstrated our fear of the stranger, particularly those who look different and don’t embrace our empty culture of narcissism and consumerism. We too have a spiritual void in our society. The Reasonable Accommodation Commission should remind us that bigotry and prejudice are not all that far away.

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