Yesterday is the New Tomorrow

Location: London, United Kingdom

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

God Bless the Queen

The recent furore about the Da Vinci Code film and a seemingly throw away remark by Stephen Harper (Canadian PM) set me thinking. Not just about the inevitable but nevertheless incredibly haste with which that Spanish club Opus Dei has adopted such a patulous approach to 2006, but the rather more significant question about the role of religion in society.
Well, what did Stephen Harper (PM of probably the world’s leading exponent of the multi-culti society) say?
He said "God bless Canada" at the end of a televised speech. “Big deal” I can hear you thinking, “George Bush says it every time he gets in front of a microphone”. The question then arises: Why the furore?
A generation or two back, Canadian schoolchildren sang "God Save The Queen." Then they went home and their parents sang along to "God Only Knows" by the Beach Boys. Even today they sing, "God keep our land glorious and free." As in the UK, every Canadian coin bears the sovereign's likeness and is surrounded by the phrase "DG Regina" - "Dei Gratia Regina" - i.e., she's Queen by the grace of God and not by a 5-4 decision of the Supreme Court reversing an earlier decision by the some Human Rights court in Ottawa or Brussels.
In Canada nobody seems to mind a passing reference to that old-time religion if it's like the DG and the "God keep our land" stuff - a bit of Heritage Canada vestigial parchment-and-sealing-wax religiosity. No, the furore surrounds a feeling that Harper's "God bless Canada" might portend a non-heritage religiosity that gets the secularists rattled.
The term has drawn comparisons between Mr. Harper and U.S. President George W. Bush, who regularly ends speaking engagements with 'God Bless America'. While we're at it, Clinton and Reagan and Carter and Ford and so on and so forth all ended their speeches with "God bless America."
As far as I am aware, Stephen Harper isn't evangelical, born again, speaking in tongues or even much of a churchgoer. He's not a professional God-botherer or social conservative but a cautious libertarian. We should consider the far more interesting reality: a man of no fierce religious convictions personally nevertheless has consciously chosen to re-introduce modest invocations of the Almighty to Canadian public life. Why?
Well, perhaps because, as the media reaction suggests, the absence thereof is far more psychologically unhealthy. Religion is a bit like gun ownership. States like Vermont and New Hampshire with a high rate of firearms possession also have a low crime rate. You don't have to own a gun, and there are plenty of sissy arms-are-for-hugging knit-your-own-yoghurt types who don't. But they benefit from the fact that their loony stump-toothed neighbours do. If you want to burgle a home in northern New England, you'd have to be really certain it was one of the one percent and not some plaid-clad gun nut who'll blow your head off before you lay a hand on his TV. That's the way it is with religion. A hyper-rationalist will always be able to dismiss the whole God thing as a lot of pie in the sky la-la stuff, but his hyper-rationalism is a lot more vulnerable in a society without a strong Judeo-Christian culture.
A New Hampshire non-gun owner might tire of all the Second Amendment Charlton Hestons with gun racks in their SUVs and move somewhere where everyone is, at least officially, a non-gun owner just like him - Washington DC, say, or even London. Suddenly he finds that, in a wholly disarmed society, his house requires burglar alarms and window locks and security cameras, lots of security cameras.
As with state gun control, so with state God control. There's a big difference between a society of lapsed Catholics, twice-a-year Anglicans and legions of individual atheists, and a society of official state atheism.
Last year, George Weigel published The Cube and the Cathedral: the book contrasts two Parisian landmarks - the cathedral is Notre Dame and the giant modernist cube is la Défense, commissioned by President Mitterand to mark the bicentenary of the French Revolution and which boasts that the entire cathedral of Notre Dame, including spires and tower, would easily fit inside its cold geometry. That's the question Weigel ponders: How did the cube - the state - come to swallow the cathedral - the church? He revisits the controversy (although it actually isn’t one because the European ruling liberal Godless elite are all in agreement on this) over whether to include a reference to Europe's Christian inheritance in the preamble to the EU's constitution. A former Swedish deputy Prime Minister dismissed the proposal as "a joke"; a French Socialist called it "absurd"; Scandinavia's largest newspaper said it would be a "huge mistake"; a Labour Euro-MP objected that it would "offend those many millions of different faiths or no faith at all." The ruling class rose up as one and squashed even the most glancing reference to any Christian past.
As with the "God Bless Canada" furore, the objections were far weirder, far more doctrinaire, far more coercive, and far more intolerant than the original modest offence. They were also a denial of reality - never a good foundation for any constitutional project. In 1944, at a dreadful moment of arguably the most terrible century, Henri de Lubac wrote a reflection on Europe's crisis of civilisation, Le drame de l'humanisme athée. By "atheistic humanism," he meant the organised rejection of God - not the freelance atheism of individual sceptics but atheism as an ideology and political project in its own right. I think his most salient point was "It is not true, as is sometimes said, that man cannot organise the world without God. What is true is that, without God, he can only organise it against man."
This might go some way to explain why there are no examples of sustained atheist civilizations. "Atheistic humanism" became ‘inhumanism’ in the hands of the Fascists and Communists and, in its more benign form in today's European Union, a kind of dehumanism. The economist Paul Krugman recently published a study, it was called "French Family Values". The thesis was that, while parochial American conservatives drone on about "family values," the Europeans live it, enacting policies that are more "family friendly." In Europe, he claimed, "government regulations actually allow people to make a desirable trade-off; to modestly lower income in return for more time with friends and family."
How can an economist make that case without noticing that the upshot of all these "family friendly" policies is that nobody has any families? Isn't the first test of a "family friendly" regime its impact on families? On present demographic trends, by 2050 60 per cent of Italians will have no brother, no sister, no aunt, no uncle, no cousins. The last surviving big bountiful Italian mamma will have no one to dole out the pasta to.
As for that "desirable trade-off" and all the extra time, what happened? Continentals work fewer hours than Americans, they don't have to pay for their own health care, they don't go to church and they don't contribute to other civic groups, they don't marry and they don't have kids to take to school and extra-curricular sports and the stand at the county fair, for example.
So what do they do with all the time? Where's the great European art? Where are Europe's men of science? A present tense culture amuses itself to extinction. Post-Christian European culture is already post-cultural and, with the present surging Muslim populations, it will soon be post-European. An entire continent is expiring from ‘civilisational’ ennui.
The U.S. fertility rate is bang at replacement rate: 2.1 births per woman. The Spaniards and Italians are at 1.1 & 1.2. These are dry numbers but there's something metaphysical and profound behind them, and no responsible leader would look at the EU without wanting to do everything to ensure his country's not the next in line. No-one should want to be next in line to adopt the dead-end (literally) that is Euro-secularism. I don't know whether a society can recover its faith, or even recover the lip service to faith of, say, social Christianity. But it should at minimum be able to end its disdain for the public expression of faith. Separation of church and state is one thing, but the modern social democratic West's belief in the state-as-church has been a disaster.