On a recent evening at St. Michael’s College in Toronto about 200 of us were treated to a talk by Ross Douthat, the esteemed New York Times columnist.
Mr. Douthat holds the honour of being the only openly Catholic columnist at the Times. More than a self-identified Catholic, he actually writes about the Church from the perspective of a loyal son. One only has to read the Times regularly to understand how unique his voice really is.
His talk was about he and his family’s gradual march from liberal Episcopalian to Roman Catholic, with detours along the way to faith healers and Pentecostals before eventually swimming the Tiber to our home. He then discussed his time at Harvard and what it was like to be a Catholic among America’s liberal elites, especially in the hothouse of ambition and lust.
During question period I asked him how he felt young Canadian Catholic students should react today to the pressures they face from secularism and the extreme left.
At first I found his answer too soft. But on reflection I realized that he was right.
He did not quote Scripture but he might as well have. His response could have come straight out of 1 Corinthians:
“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.”
Mr. Douthat said that those who have a gift for confronting conflict, for fighting back, should do so. Those who have a gift for prayer should follow that path. And those who decide to go through school “with whimsy,” not getting caught up in intra-student battles, should also do what their heart tells them is right.
One thing became clear, though. The situation in the United States in terms of religion being under attack pales when compared with Canada. Somehow we have become the North American leader in squelching freedom of religion and speech.
One only has to witness the decision by three law societies — British Columbia, Nova Scotia and Ontario — to block Trinity Western graduates from becoming lawyers because the BC-based school asks students to sign a community covenant which forbids sexual relations outside of marriage, which they define as the traditional sort between one man and one woman. This move is all the more disturbing given that the civil marriage act that allowed for legalized gay marriage also allows for dissent.
There is one glaring example that I think makes my point. Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump are actively courting the religious vote. There is even now a committee of prominent Catholics working with Trump to help him win the Catholic vote.
Can you imagine a politician in Canada courting our vote?
And the rare time they may show up at some religious celebration the emphasis is on ethnicity rather than faith.
Most pro-life campus groups in the United States are not being banned by other students — at least as far as I can tell from my research and having reported on the issue for a number of years. Here in Canada it’s rare not to have a pro-life group thrown off of campus by fellow students. Worse, the school administrations seem to sit happily by using the excuse that they are trying to give student councils real life decision making authority.
I can only wonder what banning others for their beliefs is training for? Stalinism? Maoism? Intolerance?
This is not to say that the United States is some dreamland for social conservatives. But what I think is different is that south of the border there is a strong expectation of liberty, which seems to be vanishing here. Liberty in this country has become selective; only those with certain ideas are truly free to express them without facing scorn or sanction.
Freedom is not tangible. It is more of a spirit. It carries a responsibility that can be uncomfortable. But to shirk from that is to lose freedom – as we are seeing here in Canada.
To those who have the stomach for conflict I would say do not be afraid. Or try to conquer your fare. It is a cliché but you can never go wrong by doing the right thing.
Fear is a killer. Much of is an illusion. We are losing many battles in this country because we have an outsized idea of what might happen to us if we should refuse to bow to little dictators.
Here’s what will happen: You will feel better for standing up. You will develop a life-long habit of respect for others but also the habit of expecting respect. You will learn that the approval of others is not as important as the approval of those who share your most deeply held beliefs. And the angels and saints will smile upon you.
Charles Lewis is a regular contributor to The Catholic Register and a board member of the Catholic Civil Rights League. He has been writing for 36 years. He was also the religion reporter for the National Post until January 2014.
About the CCRL
Catholic Civil Rights League (CCRL) (www.ccrl.ca) assists in creating conditions within which Catholic teachings can be better understood, cooperates with other organizations in defending civil rights in Canada, and opposes defamation and discrimination against Catholics on the basis of their beliefs. The CCRL was founded in 1985 as an independent lay organization with a large nationwide membership base. The CCRL is a Canadian non-profit organization entirely supported by the generosity of its members.
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