Delving into the background of Canada’s first Ambassador of Religion.
The phrase “acids of modernity,” quoted in the syllabus of the Ottawa micro-university in which Andrew Bennett was dean, is indeed a striking one. Paradoxically, modernism is characterized not only by dissolution and fragmentation, but by a plethora of grand narratives, what Eric Fromm called a “flight from freedom,” as the spiritually deracinated sought to shore the fragments against their ruins. The modernist poets who wanted to squeeze “the universe into a ball/ To roll it toward some overwhelming question” longed for the lost unity of universal meaning that Christianity once supposedly provided—and some struggled back into its comforting embrace (T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden).
Postmodernism marks the abandonment of this fruitless quest, but there are many more religious folks than postmodernists kicking around, to put it mildly. As secular grand narratives collapse, fundamentalism of all kinds is on the rise. Stephen Harper is on very sure ground here. You can bet that secularists, atheists, agnostics and those whose spiritual explorations include the rejection of religious institutions and hierarchies as a first principle, will not likely find an ally in the Office of Religious Freedom. Freedom for religion is at issue here, not freedom from religion.
The ORF, now headed up by a devout Catholic, is supposed to uphold the freedom to practice religion in an ecumenical spirit. But the picking and choosing will inevitably be staggering (see photo above—will Ambassador Bennett tackle Islamophobia in Switzerland?). Jon Stewart poses the problem with an economy of words: “Religion. It’s given people hope in a world torn apart by religion.” The acids of modernity are more than counteracted at present by the caustic beliefs and actions of the faithful.
Try being a scientist under a government whose Ministry of Science and Technology is run by a creationist, for example. Or where non-Christian chaplains have been booted out of the corrections system—something that seems to be beyond the new ambassador’s remit.
Let me not stray into the wilds of religion critique, however, or I shall never bring this post to a conclusion. Instead, here’s a kind of anti-climax—more puff-piecery from the corporate media:
Truly defend freedom…good reasons…necessity…secular elites…Harper wisely…may not sit well with the secularist mandarins…balance principle and pragmatics…voice for the persecuted…
Sorry. Nodded off there for a moment. Where was I? Oh, yes: the Office of Religious Freedom is a bloody waste of time and money. If it’s souls you want to save, why not keep the Kitsilano Coast Guard station open instead?