Pushing the Pendulum

Claire Hoy September 11 2000

Pushing the Pendulum

Claire Hoy September 11 2000
Everyone has memories.

One of my best is of my late grandmother Maria Hoy standing during the service at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Prescott, Ont., and politely but firmly disputing a theological point made by the presiding minister.

This was not uncommon, and often meant the services would last three hours or more. While I would have preferred to be splashing in the St. Lawrence River or restaging the War of 1812 at old Fort Wellington, those Sunday mornings served as my practical introduction to the art of debate and taught me that pronouncements from authorities, in the pulpit or elsewhere, are not infallible. The only exception, of course, was God’s word, although there, too, various interpretations of what He actually said often led to prolonged debate.

My grandmother, of United Empire Loyalist stock, raised 10 children and was fiercely protective of both her family and her faith. She was no stereotyped, dutiful, compliant woman of the time. She believed that “if you have something to say, say it,” and that “the Ten Commandments were not written by a liberal.” In her mind, they meant what they said.

In my mind, too, which I suppose is what makes me a social conservative. But to say so these days risks incurring the wrath of the secular elite. Why has this happened? Why has it become wicked to love family above self, to believe in God, to believe that life itself matters more than temporary inconvenience? How did those who adhere to these traditional beliefs get painted as satanic? Many people think it’s a common consensus on these issues, but is it really?

An Angus Reid / Globe and Mail / CTV poll of 1,500 Canadian adults in April found that 84 per cent of respondents said they believe in God, 67 per cent said their religious faith is very important to their day-to-day lives, and 66 per cent said the Bible is the inspired word of God. Yet despite this overwhelming confession of faith among Canadians, people who openly espouse faith-based views are routinely marginalized. To be a social conservative is to be labelled intolerant by self-declared champions of tolerance, many of whom are the least tolerant people I know. Having mastered the art of dismissal, their notion of tolerance often is to tolerate only what they personally find acceptable. For everything else, there’s an absurd oxymoron, zero tolerance.

The Bible forms the foundation of our system of justice and morality, but concerted efforts by secularists have made such touchstones not only unfashionable to repeat, but in some cases illegal to pursue. The mantra of those who would impose their “liberal” views on society is not simply that the rest of us recognize the existence of other perspectives and lifestyles—which is fair enough—but that we applaud them or suffer direct consequences if we don’t.

This confuses acceptance and agreement. They are not the same thing. I accept the sorry fact, for example, that every few minutes an unborn baby is aborted, but I do not agree with it. I even accept the notion that there will always be a few cases where abortion is a legitimate moral option, but I don’t agree there are more than 100,000 cases a year where it is legitimate.

I accept that our unelected and unaccountable Supreme Court judges—and other judges, too—are abusing their positions by “reading in” their personal biases in many cases involving controversial social issues, particularly in the area of homosexual rights. Yes, a small percentage of Canadians are practicing homosexuals, and nobody has the right to either harm them or advocate harming them. But I don’t agree that homosexual relationships are the moral equivalent of heterosexual relationships. Nor, it seems, do the federal Liberals, since Justice Minister Anne McLellan recently enshrined in law the fact that marriage is a heterosexual relationship between a man and a woman.

While I accept the notion that many Canadians have different points of view on social issues, I do not agree that these issues cannot even be debated without smearing people with charges of homophobia or sexism or dragging them before one-sided human-rights czars whose idea of a fair trial is to declare the party guilty first, then force him to show why he is not guilty as charged.

Pendulums swing, however. In the mid-1980s, when Brian Mulroney’s Conservative government began assailing profligate government spending, the cacophony of cackling from the tax-and-spenders was deafening. Now, even the federal NDP is singing from the hymnbook of balanced budgets. The fight for fiscal conservatism has been won, at least for now. On the social side, alas, it’s been the opposite. Twenty years ago, it was common to debate issues such as abortion and homosexuality. Today, it’s seen as questioning the Holy Grail. Yet opinion polls show considerable differences in public attitudes over social issues. For years, however, non-liberal attitudes have been silenced by special-interest groups who have enjoyed the ear of the courts, the government and the media.

Enter Canadian Alliance Leader Stockwell Day, a man who has not been cowed into donning a cloak of political correctness at the mere sight of professional tsk-tskers wagging their collective fingers and furrowing their world-weary brows at him. Common wisdom decrees that anybody who even thinks about these issues, let alone talks about them, can never be elected, particularly in Ontario—an elitist, Toronto-centered construct if ever there was one. Days positions have led to numerous personal attacks, including the controversial Maclean's cover that asked the absurd question: “How scary?” Judging by his performance in the polls so far, not very.

Critics accuse Day of being a religious zealot—he is, after all, an evangelical Christian—who, like all religious people, wants to impose his own religion on everybody. Day told me in an interview that as a senior cabinet minister in Alberta, “I didn’t pass a law making Bible-reading mandatory in downtown Edmonton.” He reads the Bible, and is guided by it. Whether you do or not is of no concern to him.

What he is concerned about, however, is how Canadians feel about issues. He has suggested referendums on abortion, euthanasia and capital punishment. Imagine asking mere Canadians if they are comfortable with the fact that Canada has no criminal laws governing abortion? Are pro-choicers happy with the fact that, under dire circumstances, a fetus can be aborted at the very late stage of seven or eight months? Do Canadians really oppose capital punishment for certain crimes? When were they ever asked?

Day wants to ask them, a sharp break from our tradition of leaving it up to the political, media, academic, judicial and social elites to tell us what is best for our souls. What is scary about this? I suspect that some of the positions I hold would lose in a referendum. But I’d rather have been asked and lose than have never been asked at all.

A recent Globe and Mail story about the infighting over Alliance nominations touched on the B.C. riding of Nanaimo/Alberni, where sitting MP Bill Gilmour lost the nomination (and is appealing) to local chiropractor James Lunney. Riding president Leonard Melman says Gilmour lost when “a bunch of church people” voted for Lunney. The Globe story says Lunney “admitted” he recruited 50 new party members from his church. Why do they report that Lunney “admitted” this? Is it against the rules? Are church people not entitled to take part in the democratic process? Well, with the emergence of the Alliance, get used to it. And it’s not just church people, it’s all those Canadians who have been frustrated for years by feelings of powerlessness as they watched the elites tell them what to do and what to believe.

My grandmother would have loved it. I’m looking forward to it myself.