Why I’m Not Cheering the “Loyola” Supreme Court Decision

The Supreme Court of Canada has now decided, albeit in an almost even split vote, the case of Loyola High School, a private Jesuit school in Quebec. The issue is whether such a school can be compelled to teach the provincially mandated Ethics and Religious Culture curriculum (ERC), as it is to be taught in every other school in the province, or whether Loyola should be allowed to teach its own version from a Roman Catholic perspective.

Lots of Christians, including many I personally like and respect, are rejoicing that the SCC has “finally” recognized religious rights. As a Christian professor of ethics and religious culture, however, I think Loyola’s objection has been misguided and the SCC decision is a mistake.

A legitimate worry from the religious side is that the ERC might be understood to require every teacher to affirm each and every variety of ethics or religion that might surface in a class. But it doesn’t, and for good reason. It would be simply monstrous to compel a teacher, whatever his or her beliefs and whatever school in which he or she is teaching, to affirm a belief in genocide, say, or the oppression of women, or sedition in the name of this or that theocracy. The ERC curriculum does not in fact mandate such ethical idiocy.

Instead, the ERC curriculum submits the discussion of ethics and religion to social scientific and philosophical discipline. Religions are to be described as historical phenomena with the intention of understanding them analytically, not judging them theologically. And ethical decision-making is to be studied philosophically in order to foster careful and consistent deliberation.

The teacher, representing the school and the state, must maintain neutrality—note: not affirmation—regarding the various options. She does so, just as professors of religion already do in public universities, in order that students may explore the vexed world of ethical reasoning and the variety of religious options without any compulsion to decide one way or another. For now—and that is the crucial qualifier: for now—teacher and students are to simply look hard at the religious realities of the world in order to understand their neighbours and themselves a little better.

Some religious people are protesting that the Quebec government is out to convince its pupils that all religions are the same, or that it doesn’t matter what religion you pick, or that the claims of Christianity to offer the one true gospel are wrong. These alarmists warn that the ERC is foisting a “religion of the State” and an implicit secularism on its young citizens.

Given the PQ’s recent and reprehensible Charter of Values, one can well understand this suspicion toward the ERC curriculum. But the ERC arose much earlier than did the Charter of Values, under a different regime, and in consultation with notable Christian educators.

The ERC curriculum offers a sensible attempt to acquaint students with the realities of Quebec’s cultural history as religion pertains to it; 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. (That includes secularist outlooks, as the curriculum explicitly recognizes “non-religious” viewpoints that function as religions.) The objective is to equip young people to build a common life with their neighbours of various outlooks.

This agenda is not at all inconsistent with Roman Catholicism, nor with any other form of orthodox Christianity. Christians properly engage in the social scientific and philosophical discussion of religion and ethics all the time.

The category mistake that the supporters of Loyola’s case seem to be making is a basic one: confusing the properly neutral discourse of the academic study of religion and the properly neutral stance of the state toward religions, on the one hand, with a secularist, anti-religious agenda, on the other. (And to those who cry, “No discourse is neutral!” I reply, But some discourses, such as the academic study of religion, try to be, and adopt disciplines to guide it accordingly. And surely we want the state to be as neutral as possible on such matters.)

Loyola instead should teach the ERC just as it is, without feeling it has to keep saying “and our religion is the right one” all the time, in order to give its students a brief opportunity to just look carefully, and without immediate theological judgment, at religious options and to think in publicly plausible categories regarding ethics. Loyola then can (and should) add its own courses to present an explicitly Catholic understanding of religion and ethics. How can such a combination of study not produce Catholic students who will be better informed about their neighbours and, indeed, more appreciative of their Catholic heritage?

For once, we can celebrate a government initiative that actually responds well to a key need of our time: to help Canadians learn about themselves and others, to cultivate respect for our past and for each other, and to position us to carry out our common life more knowledgeably and cooperatively. Vive le Québec!

UPDATE: Previous posts on the ERC and related questions are here, here, and here.

14 Responses to “Why I’m Not Cheering the “Loyola” Supreme Court Decision”

  1. Paul Allen

    John, You are way off base here. You should come here to Montreal and sit down and hear first hand what Loyola was threatened with and why. Loyola has taught a course that respectfully deals with religious and ethical differences for 30 years or so. It doesn’t need a lesson in respect from the Monistry of Education. Have you even read the judgment?

    • John

      Paul, I would be glad to know “what Loyola was threatened with and why.” But as I have written previously on this blog regarding the ERC, the fact that some people want to abuse it and might (and I do not doubt that some do and will) is not a good enough reason to oppose it. It is in itself a pretty good attempt at doing something that needs doing.

      “Respectfully” isn’t the point, is it? It’s whether there is a neutral space, however artificial and approximate it might be in a Jesuit school, in which Loyola students and teachers try to look at religious and ethical phenomena in terms of the secular disciplines of social science, history, and philosophy. Of course, as I say, Loyola can, will, and should offer in the entirety of the rest of its curriculum a thoughtful Christian approach to everything it teaches. But it is not inimical to Catholicism or Christianity more generally to heuristically take a different vantage point for sound pedagogical reasons. That’s what ERC is asking everyone to do, and I agree with it.

      As for your last comment in that brief fusillade (!), I am not critiquing the SCC’s judgment, even though I have in fact looked it over. That judgment deserves its own critique. What I am doing here is disagreeing with Loyola and its supporters vis-à-vis the ERC.

      • Ivan De Silva

        I agree with Paul Allen and Iain Benson, your comments are headlined by a direct reference to the SCC decision. To now say you are not critiquing their judgment can be quite misleading. I also agree with Paul when he suggests you haven’t read the judgment. I don’t think you have fully grasped the legal issues in this decision. It is quite a significant one in that it now clearly recognizes that religious freedom must be extended not just to individuals but to the religious institutions that those individuals belong to. Implicit in this is the understanding that religious institutions will not be ‘neutral’ and that is o.k. Here is the argument presented by Loyola and summarized by the minority judges:
        “Loyola proposed an alternative to the ERC Program that takes the following form: (1) Loyola will teach Catholicism from the Catholic perspective, but will teach other religions objectively and respectfully; (2) Loyola will emphasize the Catholic point of view on ethical questions, but will ensure all ethical points are presented on any given issue; and (3) Loyola will encourage students to think critically and engage with their teachers and with each other in exploring the topics covered in the program. Loyola’s proposal departs from the generic ERC Program in two key respects. When teaching both Catholicism and ethics, Loyola’s teachers would depart from the strict neutrality that the ERC Program requires.”
        Did you in fact read this? As I am curious to see why you have a problem with Loyola’s program?

        • John

          This is really frustrating. The tacky questions of whether I know what I’m talking about are, yes, irritating and do not conduce to a constructive conversation. For the record, yes, I’ve read through ERC stuff; yes, I’ve read through the Drummondville submissions and decision; yes, I’ve read the SCC decision re Loyola. My point, Brother Ivan, was that the SCC decision, whatever its merits or demerits as an argument, came to the wrong conclusion and for the reasons I suggest. That’s the distinction I’m making. I don’t see how that’s a difficult distinction to see.

          The court, in my view, is badly confused about what methodological/pedagogical neutrality/objectivity looks like when it comes to religious studies. And Loyola’s leaders have conceded that they can practice that in every respect, now, of the ERC except the ethical part. Well, why stop there? Do the whole thing, as a service to your students and as citizens not picking a fight with the State for no good reason, and all will be well.

          Of course religious institutions aren’t “neutral”–at least, they shouldn’t be. But they can teach things neutrally, and why not, if such teaching serves valid pedagogical and civic purposes, as I think ERC does.

          Too much emphasis on this “neutrality is impossible!” stuff would have ridiculously far-reaching implications. No Christian could teach law, either, without constantly referring to her Christian faith and the perspective of her particular brand of it. But that doesn’t make sense, does it? Nor any other discipline in which ideology can make a significant difference? There are disciplinary norms and procedures–in religious studies and in legal studies, among other examples–that can let us conduct scholarship together. To insist on binary categories and approaches when in fact there is much overlap is to push a good point (“religious schools ought to be intentionally and pervasively religious”) too far

          I’ve spent most of my career thinking about, and practicing the implications of, Christian faith and scholarship in both Christian and secular settings. I’m trying to make some crucial points clear, and I’m frustrated that obviously intelligent people aren’t seeing what to me is pretty clear. But I’ll keep working on it.

          Just, maybe, let’s not accuse each other of being stone ignorant of the basic materials of the conversation, shall we?

          • Ivan De Silva

            “Of course religious institutions aren’t “neutral”–at least, they shouldn’t be. But they can teach things neutrally, and why not, if such teaching serves valid pedagogical and civic purposes, as I think ERC does.” I apologize for this, but this sentence seems to me a self-contradiction? A few questions: 1. Is not the purpose of a religious school existing alongside “secular” schools precisely to examine knowledge and to teach it from the perspective of the Christian world view? I assume such will never happen in the secular schools 2. On what basis are you saying that examining these issues from a Christian world-view does not serve a pedagogical and civic purpose? Are you not merely assuming that studying the course Loyola is on about “neutrally” will make one better able to engage with the surrounding world? But is this in fact the case? As I find it, most young people of faith today know well the ‘secular’ or ‘neutral’ views of these things – as they are inundated with it from the ‘secular media’, it is the ability to evaluate these views from the Christian mindset that they are missing. And that is the primary purpose of the existence of these schools, to examine all questions from the perspective of the Christian faith. And that doesn’t mean their teachers will be saying at the end of every subject “but our religion is better…” (you took a cheap shot there) I see no evidence whatsoever that the course as Loyola had taught it since time immemorial produced religious nincompoops. If you know of any such cases, I will humbly listen. Cannot this course be taught from the Christian perspective so as to produce cogent thinkers who engage their world respectfully and peaceably. If you have evidence to support the assumption that unless these subjects are taught ‘neutrally’ they will produce obscurantist religious zealots or some such then I’m all ears.

  2. Iain Benson

    I am a law professor and advocate who argued the companion case, Drummondville parents before the Supreme Court in 2011 where I represented two national co-alitions that believed parental exemptions should have been respected in relation to the same ERC course. They lost.

    Now the private religious institution has won, and that unanimously. There is politics behind these decisions that I will write about in future. Not here.

    I would like to comment, here, on the Loyola decision here. The decision was not an almost even “split” at all. It was unanimous on its central finding – – that the Quebec government’s ERC program could not be forced on a denominational school that has a program like that being taught in a Catholic way, at the Catholic Loyola College.

    The Quebec Minister breached the law by refusing to grant the College an exemption for its own program. This was the right and essential decision.

    The division between the justices was on the remedy and here I believe the concurring judgment (how can so many journalists and commentators not understand that “concurring” means agrees not disagrees and is not, therefore, is not a “split”?) of the 3 judges was superior in logic and fairness to that of Justice Abella and the four. Why should Loyola have to wait for another Ministerial determination after 7 years of litigation? The Chief Justice in her reasons was right. The exemption should have been granted immediately.

    And the court should have awarded costs to Loyola! It won a very important decision against a secularistic anti-religious government and to not give it costs was bizarre on such an important public interest case of a private interest (Loyola) against the state.

    Part of the problem with contemporary legal analysis is that it does not sufficiently or at all recognize “the limits of the law”. Failure to comprehend law’s limits alongside the cultural necessity and goods of religion is one of the chief causes of what philosopher Giorgio Agamben has called “the hypertrophy of law” in our time.

    I find, however, that there is a failure to deal sensitively, or at all, with why the decision unanimously (not split at all on the key points as I’ve said) found a breach of religious liberty, an interference with religion’s associative dimension and, for once, genuine diversity in a pluralistic society rather than the steamrollerish anti-religion masquerading as respect we saw in the Hutterian Brethern decision (drivers licences in Alta).

    Prof. Stackhouse’s rejection of the decision was not attentive to the complex jurisprudential waters and thus is, with respect, misleading. There is more to say about the incoherent understanding of pedagogy, parent’s role and the nature of the public sphere and “values language” …but not here.

    I would welcome the chance to engage the rightly renowned Prof. Charles Taylor on his far too sanguine conception of Quebec’s anti-religious secularism. His adoption in the Bouchard/Taylor Report of the neologism “open-secularism” was ill-advised – – the equivalent of calling for “healthy botulism” and it has confused and misled many people including, I suspect, the Supreme Court of Canada itself.

    Canada’s public (including judicial) rhetoric on “secular” “secularism” “neutrality” (confused with “objectivity”) and “values” is a mess and getting these developments right is essential to a richer frame.

    The Roman Catholic tradition offers insights on religion, law and culture not found elsewhere in this age and for that reason alone (though there are others too) the Loyola decision will be a decision of lasting importance out of all proportion to the size of the school involved and may provide grounds for future clarifications.

    I agree with Paul Allen’s comments above. What the Supreme Court did with the parent’s in the parallel case involving the public school (the one I argued), requiring them to prove the damage they sought to avoid (actual interference with passing on their religious faith) was an absurd reversing of the onus.

    Parents delegate their primary authority over the education of children to the State. The state has no pre-emptive prior ownership. the Quebec approach fails to respect properly diversity.

    The Supreme Court in Loyola was correct as far as it went. However, confusion on so many terms they still use including “neutral” “secular” “secularism and “values” shows how badly framed philosophically our current law is…..

  3. John

    Brother Benson, a world-class expert on these matters, brings several points forward with which I would like to agree.

    First, he is quite right that the court was “split” mainly in terms of remedy. I put the matter wrongly, and he has put things right. Thanks, Ian.

    Second, we disagree about both the Drummonville case and on this one. I think the state has legitimate interests and authority in behalf of the children in its care that are not to be set aside for parents’ rights, nor for the rights of religious groups. It all depends on a careful balancing of the various rights and responsibilities involved, as I trust Ian would agree, and he and I disagree about where, in these cases, the courts ought to have come down.

    But we disagree, may I suggest, not because I’m dull to the issues involved. And frankly, Ian, I’m surprised that someone of your considerable experience somehow thinks that a condescending, if not outright insulting, mode of speech is optimally designed to further constructive conversation here. Just point out the problems with what I’m saying, as you seen them, without arrogating to yourself the privilege of pronouncing summary judgment, okay?

    I’m especially not unclear about the definitions involved. Indeed, I have a pretty good lexicon about these things that I have published several places, and I daresay Ian would agree with most, if not all, of what I would say in that respect. (And we both agree that Charles Taylor has not been entirely helpful in this regard, particularly regarding “secularism”–although it escapes me, so far, what other noun we can use for the kind of thing he is designating by his positive version of secularism. What do you propose, Ian?) So don’t lump me in with what I agree is the considerable semantic confusion in regard to the “religion” and “secular” word-groups, if you please, unless you’re pointing out actual mistakes I am making. If I am making them, then point them out and I shall thank you for it.

    So I’ve set out my logic, and I don’t understand still, to my frustration, why someone as learned as Ian Benson insists that Loyola could concede as much as it did and then somehow didn’t have to concede the rest. I don’t find either of the SCC opinions in fact to be theoretically coherent, and I fear instead that they amount to a mere sop thrown to believers–a sop that, because it is not well grounded, can be taken back at any time by the State that we agree is to be regarded warily indeed.

    • Iain Benson

      Dear John:

      I apologize for errors of tone. Your article angered me and I ought to have let it cool before putting fingers to keyboard and pushing “send”.

      Loyola did some important things that need to be cheered. They will help TWU.

      The importance of religious freedom has been ignored in some recent decisions where state interests could have been met while, at the same time, accommodating the religious concerns. One involved the Hutterian community in Alberta (objecting to pictures on drivers licences) and the Drummondville parent’s case (objecting to the ERC course).

      In both cases accommodation could have been given so that the religious concerns and state concerns could have been met.

      The SCC in both cases dropped the ball and gave the state an unfettered power to squelch religious objections. Loyola stepped away from that–by accommodating alternative religious “but equivalent” approaches to “ethics and religious culture” the highest court recognized and protected the autonomy and diversity of a religious community or individuals as they should have done in the other cases.

      The recognition of the importance of community to religious freedom–that the right is not purely individual–is a step to the further revognition of what is still missing in Canadian (but not South African) law…namely the “goods of religion” to culture.

      The court is weak on “secularism” as is Charles Taylor and adopts the anti-moral language of “Charter values” which then distances the court from the different MORAL viewpoints that religious communities offer a culture with its public settings too frequently set to “full drift ahead”.

      There is much more to say but criricizing as you did, a decision that contributes positively (as well as negatively) to some of these points was and is in my view an error.

      Loyola is a positive landmark decision and whole it is far from perfect and full of contemporary confusions, not to celebrate what should be is, with respect, a mistake.

      Pax vobiscum

      Iain Benson

      That said, I do think you wrong on not seeing the benefits of the Loyola decision. In the sea of decision

  4. Paul ALlen

    I think some specifics are needed in order to root this conversation in something approximating reality.

    1. My son has just taken the World Religions course at Loyola. It’s really no big deal. The guys got to investigate the concept of nirvana, the purpose of Haj and the notion of Torah. It was a Religious Studies course and it sparked some conversation around the dinner table that came out of what was obviously an atmosphere of intelligent curiosity in the classroom. It was also an opportunity for some rudimentary assessments of other traditions to take place. Why wouldn’t it be? After all, it’s a Catholic school. That’s what the parents signed up for, and their wishes are primary. As you must know, there is a field known as the theology of world religions that has been going strong for two or three decades. This course plausibly fits with such a perspective (Hick, Clooney, D’Costa) or at least allows for such evaluative questions to be raised. Can we not simply leave it this way? Loyola is doing a fine job teaching world religions as it did with the Ethics component that the guys do in grade 9. As is the case with the history of the Church (including a fair assessment of Protestantism I might add) in grade 10. Loyola, like all schools, can always improve its curriculum. But if anyone signs on to a targeting of this school for doing a damn sight better job than what the public schools could ever hope to achieve, expect pushback from me.

    2. Your embrace of Durkheimian ‘neutrality’ is deeply worrying. The gospel isn’t neutral and viewing other religions can never be a neutral exercise, even if you come at it from a secular perspective. There is NO SUCH THING as neutrality John. Give that up. The gospel does not permit neutrality, it promises faith, hope and love. Neutrality can only be squared with these things in an eschatological perspective wherein the current social order is held to be an ambiguous gathering of the City of God and the City of Man. What no Catholic can do is capitulate to the City of Man. Not that the state is the City of Man – I am a thoroughgoing Augustinian to see that the state can – in theory – be a tool for good, in the limiting conditions of being guided by the virtuous citizens whose own sense of limits is expressed — constitutionally expressed one would hope. And here is where your endorsement of ERC is so troubling. You give to the state what does not belong to it – children. Children belong to parents and to God. The state should only enjoy delegated rights and those expressly instituted by law for the protection of children. You are promoting a statism that is only too popular here in Quebec and which – not coincidentally – is the cause of so much unhappiness.

    3. The key to understanding the ERC lies in the realization that it is a text within a context. There are lots of lofty words and ideals contained in the ERC programme. Its core objectives have been endorsed by the school (you have not overlooked that have you?) I’ve never heard Taylor on this subject, but I’m sure he could endorse enough of it (as would I) at one level. But you’re missing the context John. This is basic hermeneutics 101 stuff. Just as you can’t read the gospels absent a rudimentary understanding of first century Judaism, so you cannot read the ERC documents in an ahistorical way. The ERC is intended to ensure that all religions are all equally treated with some emphasis on aboriginal spirituality, Judaism and Christianity for historical reasons. But what you have missed is the subtext of the programme: all religions are to be understood as equally implausible. Religion, in an ERC classroom is for the pre-moderns and the gullible.

    My kids got some ERC at the elementary school level, and it conformed rather neatly to this modernist view of history that is practically second nature in Quebec: “religion characterizes pre-modern society but we wise people hold to rationality and so therefore religion is a disappearing reality since the Quiet Revolution in 1968.” Classic secularization thesis. That’s what motivates and colors the ERC as with everything offered up by the Quebec state. The ERC may look neutral from 4000km away, but I assure you it is not. I taught a university level course 8 years ago for the first cohort of elementary school teachers who would be asked to teach the ERC. Only one or two had an identifiable religious background with which to guide them through the material – and they were lucky. The rest of them did not have a clue and the school boards know it and the Ministry knows it. The ERC was always mean to be largely taught by the ignorant in regards to the unknowable. That’s the reality of the ERC.

    A friend of mine had his son come home from school one day with a question about an assignment that the grade six class had to do. The students were asked to ‘make up a religion’ and provide some mythical content in order to describe their made-up religion. You don’t need a PhD in Religious Studies to realize the subliminal impact of this assignment: all religions are fairy tales. John, this view of religion appears over and over again in many instantiations in local media and culture. You really have to pay attention to culture if you want to understand the texts that the culture’s all-powerful state bureaucrats produce in order to promote its lies and to cover over its deceits. Read the ERC curriculum with a hermeneutics of suspicion, please.

    Finally, I take issue with liberal Protestants telling Catholics how to teach religion. This is a movie we have seen before: recall 19th. century Germany. And let’s reflect on how the Hegelian effort to make the state supreme in religious matters ended. In theology, Karl Barth made his choice vis a vis the champion of Protestant state power: Adolf von Harnack. Dietrich Bonhoeffer followed through on this vital project of ensuring that the gospel would not be swallowed up by authoritarian power. The rest is history. A mixture of the demonic and the prophetic. I follow the prophets.

    Catholics, I submit, have a bit of a better track record of standing up to naked state power. And after years of deft ambivalence, one Catholic institution – Loyola – finally saw that the accommodation that the local Catholic church had made with modern Quebec life was fatal to itself. And so it stood up to be counted – on the side of the clarity of the gospel. The bishops have supported Loyola increasingly. Slowly, local Catholics are coming to see the real limits of what the Church’s opening to the world in the 1960’s means: the need to engage the world cannot be made on the world’s terms. The ERC is certainly part and parcel of how Quebec and the western world sees the Church and Christianity in general. Loyola is one institution showing us a better way than that.

    • iain benson

      I completely agree with Dr. Allen. The fact is that basic concepts such as “parental delegation” and therefore parental right to request (and receive exemptions) need to be recognized and have not been in recent cases — certainly not in Drummondville and , that having happened, the glowing words in favour of respect for religious parents in Loyola is “too little too late”. Drummondville will need to be revisited once the full horrors of the course (and there WILL be horrors given the aggressive nature of Quebec “secularism”) are made clear in an appropriate case.

      I cannot help feel that the theological points that Paul Allen makes, above, are also relevant to your continuing to miss the deeper waters of the problem with “values language” and the SCC adopting “Charter values” – – which is, as George Grant so wonderfully put it, “an obscuring language for morality used when the idea of purpose has been destroyed”. The court never mentions morality except to run from it….and yet it is moral difference, NOT some amorphous, ambiguous, plastic language of “values” that grounds religious insights. Grant himself once told me in a long phone call a year or so before he died, that he found it continually puzzling how many people “just don’t get the importance of the “values” point…” Now, 20 years later, having written on it myself (look for my article “Do “Values” mean anything at all?: Implications for Law, Education and Society” (SSRN)).

      I am even more puzzled as the bankruptcy of “values language” and “values constructs” combined with its increasing ubiquity (particularly by religious people who should know better and, a fortiori, Catholics who have much more deeply than Protestants a strong tradition of the virtues to draw upon!) should be obvious by now.

      That it isn’t is one of the puzzles of our age and will, I am sure, come to be seen as one of the main planks of why our public theology fails to engage our public institutions more clearly.

      Incidentally, one of my concerns of how Loyola was argued was that the lawyers failed to make a strong “moral difference” argument. Though, having tried that in various cases myself (and largely failed) I know the struggles.

      Anyway, I think both theologically and legally there is much to be said in favour of Loyola and you should, rightly, have recognized what was good, important and perhaps even lasting about it.

      Having argued before the SCC various time s in recent years and been on the receiving end of their appalling judgments in both Whatcott (hate speech) and Drummondville parents, I recognize what a victory Loyola was.

      It certainly doesn’t need being pooh-poohed in the way you did in your article. OK?


  5. John

    Okay, then. Thanks, sincerely, to Paul, Ivan, and Iain for engaging my blog post in the midst of what I’m sure are busy lives. (Iain, I do apologize for misspelling your name throughout. My friend Iain Provan would be smacking me for it right now, if he were nearby, I’m sure.) I expect that interested readers have all they need to go on now, and too many rabbits have been sent running for me, or you, to chase them all down.

    I do feel rather ill-used, I confess. I don’t think I pooh-poohed anything. (I apologize if I did. I meant to treat serious things seriously.) I don’t think I need to be given elementary lectures in hermeneutics, or Canadian culture, or political realism. (Having published hundreds of pages of scholarship on each of those topics, among others, I feel a little abashed that someone else thinks I don’t grasp even the ABC’s of them.) I don’t think I need to say all the things that are right and good about Christian education to disagree with a particular action by a particular school on a particular question. (Having been trained in two Christian postsecondary institutions and having lectured at half-a-dozen more, the record shows how grateful I am for Christian education.) And I’m pretty sure I don’t need someone telling me about Bonhoeffer (on whom I have published most of a book and several articles) while this someone is on his merry way to instantiating Godwin’s Law.

    I think, instead, that I offered a focused argument about why Loyola ought not to have protested as it did and why ERC ought to be taught the way it is written. Since Loyola has since conceded most of what I originally contended, I have then wondered why they drew the line where they did–and why the SCC let them do that. (Indeed, Iain’s assertion that the SCC ought to have awarded Loyola costs is entirely consistent with his argument, and I believe that, by his lights, he is exactly right. From my point of view, that refusal to award costs shows a kind of half-heartedness on top of conceptual incoherence, and is another bit of evidence for my contention that this decision is merely a sop tossed to the religious by a court that really doesn’t understand the dynamics of the interaction of the religious and the secular.)

    Regrettably, I do not yet read in the foregoing an actual argument against what I contended except in the form of assertions: “what you’re proposing is wrong/impossible/un-Christian/stupid.” Assertions are not, of course, arguments, and I don’t see any of you actually troubling to SHOW that what I wanted to have happen at Loyola was in fact wrong, impossible, un-Christian, or stupid. Why cannot a Christian school teach the ERC curriculum properly, as it reads–even if lots of others likely won’t? From the other direction, why ought a Christian school dig in and fight the state over something its religion and its pedagogy ought easily to be able to include?

    And why is my proposal so difficult to countenance–especially since the person advocating this here, on this weblog, has actually taught world religions and philosophy in both Christian and secular environments–that is, has somehow done exactly what I said Loyola should do? Aren’t you even slightly interested to know how I managed to pull off that feat? Or is your prejudice that it cannot or ought not to be done so strong that it stifles even your curiosity?

    Ah, well. What we have here, for those of you who have read my book on ethics, “Making the Best of It,” let alone Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture,” is a nice set of representations of the “Christ transforming culture” model, Catholic-style, to which I offer an ethical alternative in my book. You’ll note that Iain, Paul, and Ivan demonstrate my secondary assertion from that book that the “Christ transforming culture” model is very closely related to, and is in fact simply an alternative mode of, the “Christ against culture” model in all of its binary, “antithesis,” City of God/City of Man starkness…coupled with a championing of the Catholic Church (e.g., Paul’s rather breathtaking assertion that “Catholics, I submit, have a bit of a better track record of standing up to naked state power”–which makes those of us who have studied Catholic history, as I have, shake their heads a bit: I mean, Really? “Better” than WHOM?!) that will simply get no traction with those of us who know Catholicism well and yet do not subscribe to it.

    Nonetheless, I am glad for such spirited and intelligent comrades (for comrades we are, in the larger scheme of things) and I am glad that we can contend about issues that matter, even if none of us leave this particular exchange satisfied. All Canadians–indeed, all modern people–are affected to some extent by these questions, and our cultures are having a very difficult time negotiating them. Let’s keep doing what we can, then, to shed what light has been granted us to share, and to receive gratefully whatever light we can from our neighbours.

  6. Ruben

    Hello Sir.

    Thanks for taking a courageous stand here and for opening up a conversation that I think matters.

    I read your post and have to say I found it provocative but I fundamentally disagree with you in that you seem to affirm the cultural positioning of secularism as a legitimate “neutral” starting point. I am less sanguine about whether or not the commitment to such ‘neutrality’ is actually warranted. But, irrespective, it is uncontroversial that a secular institution engages with the ERC material as it sees fit, or, in keeping with a secular landscape. However, a private religious institution need not accept such a position. In fact, it undermines itself if it were to engage in the ERC material from a strictly secular, ostensively neutral, position. Doing so effectively invokes or compels a kind of broad pluralism that diminishes the institutions reason for existence. This is the bigger point.

    Students are sharp. They get it when secularism effectively argues as follows: your ‘way’ is just a different ‘way’ from all the other ‘ways’ by which to live a life, and, by the way, any ‘way’ works! This is, at least in my opinion, the subliminal message that a ‘neutral’ or secular position propagates. It seems to have been recognized by the court. See Loyola [156; 161] and to lesser degree [68; 75-76].

    So, I might suggest that the proposition could be formulated in this way: a private religious institution does itself and the religion it purports to champion an injury if it obligingly allows for any significant capitulation to a secularist demands for normative ‘neutrality’.

    In the Loyola judgement the Supreme Court was unanimous in finding for the plaintiff. I think the SCC got this one right. Thanks for bringing this issue into focus for us.

  7. F.

    Thanks for writing and defending this piece, Dr. Stackhouse. I think your original argument was simple and clear, and to me persuasive. The other guys were very emotional. I enjoyed the candour, humour, and graciousness of your replies.


Comments are closed.