Sectarians/Imperialists–or Citizens? More on the Quebec "Ethics and Religious Culture&quo

Given that people I normally agree with–such as the good folks over at the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and at the Canadian Council of Christian Charities–seem to me to be arguing quite wrongly about the so-called “Drummondville” case recently decided by the Supreme Court, I thought I’d look over that curriculum again. Here it is, in case you’d like to do the same.

I simply can’t find anywhere in the documentation I have read that the state is out to convince its pupils that all religions are the same, that it doesn’t matter what religion you pick, that therefore the claims of Christianity to offer the one true gospel are wrong, and so on. Nor can I find anywhere in the documentation a “religion of the State” or an implicit secularism or anything of the sort being raised as spectres by the opponents of this curriculum.

What I find instead is a sensible, carefully worded attempt to acquaint students with the realities of Quebec’s cultural history as religion pertains to it (Roman Catholic and Protestant Christianity are frequently highlighted as especially significant); to help them think better about religious and ethical questions; to increase their understanding of religion’s relationship to culture; and to emphasize commonalities among various religious outlooks (including secularist ones–the curriculum explicitly recognizes “non-religious” viewpoints that function as religions) so as to equip these young people to build a common life with their neighbours of various outlooks. This agenda seems to me to be exactly what one should want from the state on such matters.

Alas, what Catholic and Protestant critics seem to be saying is that they don’t like a curriculum that fails to endorse certain parents’ teaching that Christianity is the best (or only valid) religion. By failing to endorse that view, the curriculum, they aver, is undermining that view. Parents therefore, they claim, have the right to exempt their children from such teaching.

I am sympathetic with worries that Canadian culture nowadays poses a wide range of threats to Christian faith. I have identified and spoken out against some of them, and I expect I’ll speak out against more. I also have no stars in my eyes about public schools in Canada–from kindergartens to universities–as to how circumspectly everyone behaves in regard to ideology and toward Christianity in particular. We are in a huge and fast and complex transition from a century of Christian hegemony (1860s to 1960s) to something else, and lots of mistakes are being made along the way.

Still, I fear that our fears are driving some of us Christians to misunderstand as a threat what is actually an opportunity. We must guard especially against the reflexive judgment that every new thing a government does in regard to religion is bad! So I reply as follows:

1. The curriculum does not say anything one way or another about whether one religion is better than another, whether one particular religion is the best of the bunch, or whether only one religion is valid.

Nor does failing to endorse one religion over another imply anything about the relative merits of each religion–just as the refusal of the state to endorse one political party or one economic philosophy or one hockey team over another imply that all are equally good.

Instead, the state here takes the common-sense approach that there are in fact lots of religions in Quebec and that the state will not privilege one religion over another–not in terms of access to power, nor in terms of pedagogical endorsement. There are various religions in Quebec, and the state’s interest lies in acquainting its citizens with the facts of those religions and in helping its citizens cooperate with each other for the common good.

2. Parents do not have the right to withdraw their children from legitimate education. Mandatory education is something most of us agree is a good idea in the modern world, despite some parents who would like to keep their kids home working on the farm, or their (female) children isolated from society so as to marry them off young, etc. And parents cannot withdraw their children from science teaching that conflicts with their (religiously based) views of creation, or social studies classes that conflict with their (religiously based) views of race or gender, and so on.

You don’t like Canadian values on these matters? Feel free to acquaint your kids with your resistance to science or your embrace of racism or sexism, but your kids–our vulnerable fellow citizens–deserve what we have collectively agreed is a proper education so that they can eventually make up their own minds on such matters. They can listen to you, yes, but they ought to be given the opportunity to listen to what we collectively have agreed is right