Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Secular tots and social harmony in Quebec

“It may be that this policy will not prevent “any nascent religious fanaticism among the very young.” But it will (not) enhance and perpetuate a “them and us” culture that is not conducive to a harmonious society. There is no denying that many religious teachings, from holy texts created in times when fighting for a god against the infidel was a way of life, may not be such a good thing. . .We could surely work on ways to do without this. The Quebec daycare policy is a step in the right direction.
Robert Harrison, Burlington, Ont.
The government of Quebec, with the help of 58 daycare inspectors, is determined that its (universal) daycare subsidies do not support teaching religion to three year olds. Click on:
How will these inspectors distinguish between religion, tradition and custom? Quebec’s Family Minister Yolande James announced that Christmas trees can stay put but role-playing and songs used for religious teaching are banned. As Lysiane Gagnon speculated, “the memorah is okay but it would be forbidden to tell the children why one candle should be lit every day.” Representatives of Catholic, Muslim, Jewish and Greek Orthodox faiths fear that in order to avoid offending the inspectors all hint of religion will have to be muted.
Was the policy launched only to protect the purity of the majority’s tax dollars or also to advance the conviction that secular toddlers are most likely grow up to be temperate mainstream citizens? Either way, there is something disproportionate about this initiative. Its aggressiveness feels like an act of faith.
The tiny fraction of Quebec’s thousands of subsidized daycare facilities that pass on rituals and, yes, some of the rudimentary magic of their parent’s religion, surely, doesn’t constitute a serious or deliberate challenge to the social order of Quebec. Furthermore, a universal childcare industry that accommodates rather than shuns stories and activities that help bind individual families together is clearly in the best interests of creating a healthy new generation of Quebeckers.
The state’s school system, the weight of the majority culture and the long demonstrated appeal of Quebec’s secular values to new generations suggests that remedial pre-school interventions to restrain the appeal of religious zealotry is hardly necessary.
Of course, some strong families do aggravate the tendency of some teenagers to become political and religious fanatics. And the state should be—and is—well equipped to protect society from the illegal acts of extremists. Conversely, however, the state isn’t as successful in dealing with high school drop-out and delinquency rates that are aggravated by weak families—families that can’t talk amongst themselves or appreciate their parent’s roots or values.
Is secularism, in Quebec’s case, acting like a new state religion? Certainly, this campaign to clean religion out daycare centers reveals a rather free-wheeling impulse to smooth out differences that should give us pause. One of the principle glories of the secular state is the vitality of pluralism. If the state insists that its beneficence must only be available to deserving secular agencies it undermines that pluralist society.
The state and its awesome fiscal and regulatory power must be careful about putting any virtue above all others. Measures “conducive to a harmonious society” are not automatically steps in the right direction. Indeed, the rule of law, entrenched charters of rights and peaceful elections should give us comfort that we needn’t strive for some dreamy “harmonious society” in order to be safe, prosper and express ourselves.

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