– in Montreal, Quebec – Perhaps the timing was Providential, if one is still permitted to say that at a Quebec high school. I came here to Loyola high school in Montreal to give a lecture on faith in our common life, only one day after the Quebec government had won an appellate court victory that, in effect, said there was not much room for faith at Loyola, unless the teachers here pretended it wasn’t true. Comforting the afflicted is one of the traditional tasks of both priests and journalists, so I was happy to be on hand.
My colleague Barbara Kay detailed the facts of the case yesterday in this space, indicating her agreement with the lower court judge that it is “totalitarian” to compel a private Jesuit high school to teach that, as between Christianity and say, witchcraft, there can be no considered judgment as to which view is to be proposed.
When Quebec secularized its schools more than a decade ago, it was decided to teach students about the realm of the spirit in a new course called Ethical and Religious Culture (ERC). The ERC curriculum requires teachers to maintain strict neutrality between all creeds, whether they appear on the extensive list in the curriculum or they are other perspectives the students might themselves introduce to the class. So the teacher would instruct the students that Christians believe that Jesus is divine, but that Muslims do not.
Happy to do so, Loyola said, noting that it already had been teaching world religions for some time. But, the Catholic school asked the ministry of the education, could we also teach that while Buddhists do not recognize Jesus as being divine, we do, being Catholics? The ministry said no, that Loyola’s teachers would have to pretend that the Catholic school was equally open to the idea that Jesus was a complete fraud rather than the sovereign Lord of all creation.
Loyola preferred neither to pretend nor to deny its faith, and went to court, arguing that the ERC mandate was not only a violation of religious liberty in principle, but practically absurd. Loyola won at the superior court, but has now lost at the appellate level. A Supreme Court appeal may be launched.
This is not an argument of public provision. Loyola is a private school. And, in any case, the ERC applies even to homeschoolers. Consider that: A Muslim mother who homeschools her children in order to better teach them the Islamic way of life would also have to teach them that being Muslim is no better than being an atheist.
Pope Benedict XVI sent his inaugural tweets yesterday. I half hoped he might send one to us: “Canada, good luck with the dictatorship of relativism!” For Joseph Ratzinger warned us about this on the day before he was elected pope, in an address to the college of cardinals:
“Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labelled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be ‘tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine’, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive.”
When we hear about dictatorship in Canada, our initial response is to be skeptical. Surely not here! But what else to call a state mandate that dictates that Catholic schools — and every single religious believer in Quebec of any creed — must teach relativism pure and simple, namely that between two contradictory positions, both are equally true or equally false, or to put it more directly, equally nothing.
Loyola had its Christmas decorations up when I visited. I spoke in front of a large Christmas tree and nativity scene. Tonight, they are having their Christmas concert and, yes, they call it a “Christmas” concert. The poster features the Magi from the east. What are the teachers to say about all this if ERC is imposed upon them? That the Magi were not wise men but on a fool’s errand?
The Quebec government seems to believe religion is like the playful Santa Claus in the Loyola foyer, a mere seasonal decoration that few will miss. But the nativity scene in the heart of the school is not a decoration — it is a statement of faith. It won’t do to profess the faith in the centre of the school only to deny it in the classroom.
The Magi were searching for Jesus. They had to deal with King Herod. Today, those seeking for Jesus have instead the Quebec ministry of education and the appellate court. Be of good courage, Loyola!