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Peter Stockland: Leave some energy for our faith issues

  • October 3, 2019

Somehow in the tsunami of humanity flooding Montreal’s downtown streets for last Friday’s “climate march,” I spotted an elegantly dressed woman wearing a small white lapel button protesting Quebec’s Bill 21.

Curious, I approached to ask whether she might have liked so many hundreds of thousands to come out to protest the infamous legislation that crushes the religious freedoms of Quebecers by banning the wearing of faith markers in public sector jobs. I’m still not sure what, if anything, I expected as an answer. Still, she surprised me.

“They’re both tackling the same issue,” she said. “They’re both part of the neo-liberal agenda to divide people from each other.”

If her words had come from the multitude of other mouths streaming past, I’d have looked around for a Socialist Worker banner and pole, or at least to her hand for a cheat sheet of old school Marxist slogans for a new age. She, however, had the intelligence and clarity common to those who are nobody’s political fools. 

Non-plussed, I pressed: How is Bill 21’s repression of religious faith neo-liberal? 

Her response was to ask me how I thought such divisiveness was any different, in essence, from the way founders and leaders of so-called green companies have turned the environmental movement into profit centres for themselves by packaging people into infinitely reductive market segments. At least, she said, the young climate marchers in particular were bringing to their fight their energy and commitment as individuals and as citizens. They were giving to the good, not merely grasping for more for themselves. 

But wouldn’t it be an even greater good if they diverted some energy into the just cause of overturning Bill 21? Yes, she said. But we all have our blind spots. “There are feminists who assume wearing (religious symbols) is a sign of oppression, even though they don’t know any religious people themselves,” she said.

Then she added this: “Gandhi warned us not to confuse justice with laws. Today (Bill 21) is the law. But I have grandchildren. I’m a college teacher. That’s why I’m wearing my button here. For justice in the future.”

Ah. The future. Which the hundreds of thousands of climate marchers insisted is just a tick of the temperature away from bursting the Earth into a ball of fire while simultaneously drowning it in Category Noah floods. How this peaceful co-existence of utterly antithetical forces will be carried off, and carry us off too, the marchers’ signs and songs failed to specify. 

Sense and specificity weren’t part of the Montreal marching orders. The climate protest was more amble than order, a stop-start process in a vague direction no one seemed to know. 

I saw no real evidence of a genuine battle against neo-liberalism. The true mood of the march seemed submission to the old paganism. It was not just the ersatz language of Mother Earth worship or Gaia gimcrackery. It was the elevation, and celebration, of doom as the inevitable and fitting end for homo sapiens, that is, for God’s created children. For all its ballyhoo about saving the planet, it revelled in the denial of hope. The real alarm was so many of the revellers being so impressionably young.

Of course, it is undeniable climate change is a serious issue of stewardship that we should all be concerned about acting on democratically. We should be more deeply concerned, however, about its reliance on the abolition of true faith and the substitution of the mechanics of false religion. We of Holy Mother Church know painfully, horribly and all too well how the energy and commitment of the young can serve the self-profit of those who would use them for cynically perverse purposes.

Marching with the marchers in Montreal, I kept thinking of the name the poet Allen Ginsberg, in his immortal poem “Howl,” gave to such cynical social, political and personal perversity. Moloch, he called it: The ancient fire god to whom the children of Israel were fed. I could be convinced that old Ginsberg hit it on the button.

(Stockland is publisher of Convivium.ca and a senior fellow with Cardus.)

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