Crossing Canada on a Cardus mission during the past week has brought home what it means to be countercultural.
Since last Thursday, Michael Van Pelt, Ray Sawatsky, and I have accompanied Paul Donovan, the principal of Montreal's Loyola High School, on a six-city tour. We've met with small groups and with members of the media to inform them of Loyola's upcoming Supreme Court case against the Quebec government. We've spread the word on what's at stake for all people of religious faith if the small, Jesuit school loses its right to simply teach its full curriculum from a Catholic perspective.
Today we're in Calgary. Tomorrow it's Edmonton. Somewhere in the blur of days are meetings in Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Vancouver, and Langley. At the beginning of every meeting, Cardus president Michael Van Pelt lays out the options for engaging the cause ranging from angry arm waving to mobilizing public protest to political pressure tactics. He then points out that we have cut across the cultural grain by choosing to do none of the above. We have chosen instead to speak clearly, directly and, above all, calmly about a) the situation in which Loyola finds itself, and b) the meaning of that situation for those who may believe themselves far removed from its particulars.
As Michael puts it, sometimes anger and sometimes a raised voice are justifiable responses to a specific circumstance. But neither should be a default. Unfortunately, we live in a time and in a culture where shouting has become synonymous with seriousness. To really "mean it" means, all too often, being really mean. Sometimes the meanness relies on demonizing the children of God who just happen to have a different point of view about a given topic. It means universalizing one perceived fault of the other.
When Paul Donovan speaks at the meetings, he is explicit that Loyola's legal action is not a blanket condemnation of the curriculum imposed on his high school by the Quebec government. Rather, it is a last-call response to the government's inexplicable refusal to engage in a conversation about how that curriculum might be formed and augmented to meet the very real needs of a Jesuit teaching program that has shaped citizens of Quebec and Canada since 1896 at Loyola.
The refusal of both Michael and Paul to invoke the vocabulary of the cultural battlefield is discernibly confusing for some at the meetings. Their questions are sometimes polite cover for their conundrum, i.e., if we're not here to go to war, why are we here? It is a query I not only understand, but a seduction to which I am personally and professionally all too susceptible.
Decades in journalism have taught me the argumentative effectiveness of reducing everything to the binary clarity of dynamite: either you blow up or I do. The approach is now a cultural given in North America. Yet traveling with the Cardus cross-country caravan has been a salutary reminder of the need for an approach in which faith, reason, and difference are brought together in a room and engaged with passion steeped in the virtues of prudence and charity. It is a process that our entire culture would do well to encounter far more often.