The Conservative Government’s pledge to create an office of religious freedom within the Department of Foreign Affairs is welcome and encouraging news. This proposed office would monitor the status of religious freedom in countries around the world and provide valuable information about the relative restrictions of religion under certain regimes. The research this office would produce could greatly assist diplomatic efforts to enlighten the perpetrators of religious repression, and we earnestly hope that such an office will be speedily established. We also hope, however, that while this international watchdog is being created, a domestic division be inaugurated as well.
Whereas recent religious repressions in the rest of the world have been obvious, brutal, and swift, in the West, the freedom of religion has been subtly and slowly eroding for decades (see stories on page 10). Thus, although we applaud their initiative, it is somewhat presumptuous of the Conservatives to set up Canada as an ever-vigilant sentinel watching for violations of religious freedom around the world when many instances of such violations continue within our own boarders. Canada, in other words, cannot offer what it does not possess: if we would promote religious freedom, we ought to lead by example; if Canada would be a doctor, it should first heal itself.
In Canada, non-Christian groups enjoy generous freedoms of religious expression, but they do so under the aegis of multiculturalism. From the Sikh Dastar to Islamic banking arrangements, secular institutions can accommodate the symbols and scruples of these groups because they are embraced as tokens of these foreign cultures. As a nation denuded of its own faith, Canada is unfailingly tolerant of any exogenous cultural practices – even when such rites violate human rights, as the repeated travesties known as “honour killings” tragically attest.
Christianity, however, represents the scandal of belief outright: it is a reminder of Canada’s pre-secular past; it is otherworldly, but not exotic. Since there is no foreign passport that the Christian can flash to justify his strange persistence in belief, the values of multiculturalism cannot be invoked in his defense. The office of religious freedom which the Conservatives want to establish, then, is a kind of multiculturalism beyond our borders; we export tolerance for different faiths, but continue to discriminate against the religion which made such tolerance possible.
This double-standard not only reveals a rank bias against Christian beliefs, but also a troubling condescension towards other creeds. Moreover, the paradoxes which such a double-standard produces cannot be ignored for long. Take, for instance, a contemporary example from our American neighbors: the Obama administration plans to coerce Catholic institutions to pay for the contraceptives (including abortifacients) of its employees and students. The flagrant violation of Catholics’ freedom of conscience troubles no one on the American left, who view this enforced funding as another triumph of the sexual revolution (which has, evidently, become a permanent revolution). And yet, it would be unthinkable that a Muslim group would be forced to provide its employees with contraceptives in a similar way. Tolerance, once again, is reserved for non-Christians.
The line between religious belief and cultural practice, however, quickly becomes blurred. Contraception is itself a sort of secular sacrament in the same way that the robust birth rates of Muslim countries are expressions of the faith of their citizens. Thus, the imposition of contraception on Catholics is really a form, not of religious repression, but enforced conversion: Catholics, like their liberated secular brethren, must go forth, and not multiply – or at least pick up the tab. However, as our sterile society heads towards an inevitable collapse of its population, the religious character of both procreation and contraception will soon become all too apparent. Nor will the meek inherit the earth: it will go, instead, to the prolific.
Thus, the other side of enlightened tolerance towards foreign religions – at home and abroad – is the Christian self-loathing that it conceals. The global disparity between the birthrates of post-Christian nations and the rest of the world proves the poignant point that the West is tolerating itself out of existence. Any office of religious freedom that does not recognize Canada’s own implicit restrictions will, therefore, enjoy limited success. If we preach the religious freedom which we do not practice, no one will listen – and no one should.