Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Dangers of Letting Our Demons Define Us

Movements, like people, make mistakes -- and no one is immune

When one takes count of some of the views held by the most extreme of the extreme, one thing becomes immediate apparent.

The most extreme individuals almost universally tend to have long, unforgiving memories. More importantly than that, they tend to hold grudges over the mistakes made by individuals and movements they deem to be their political opponents.

For a telling example, one really needs look little further than Lindsay Stewart (who blogs under the alias Pretty Shaved Ape) and his response to a recent discussion (or, rather, attempt at discussion) over whether or not churches are public goods:

"Organized pedophilia, cultural genocide, mass graves... good times, good times."

It's unsurprising that a left-wing demagogue wannabe like Lindsay Stewart would produce something like this as a response to the revelation that churches are a public good.

In the minds of such individuals, all the good things that many churches provide to the community -- shelters for the homeless, recreation services for youths and a considerable volunteer pool for the community, as merely three examples -- certainly don't matter. Any little thing they can use to denounce religion -- their favourite target seems to be Christianity in particular -- is all that matters to them.

Few people will pretend that nothing bad has ever happened in the history of Christianity. The Inquisition and the treatment of women as second-class individuals and Canada's Residential Schools are merely a few examples among a myriad of charges that could be raised against Christianity.

The most predictable complaint for Stewart and his fellow wannabe demagogues at Canadian Cynic's Temple of Sychophantic Groupthink is the pedophilia scandal in the Catholic Church. That's what he's alluding to here.

Few Catholics, in particular deny that such abuses have taken place. Even Pope Benedict who has been accused of masterminding a cover-up of the abuses, has acknowledged the abuses.

Despite this, most Catholics refuse to allow these abuses to define them, or their religion. And with good cause.

The pedophilia scandal in the Catholic church is certainly a demon for Catholics -- in fact, for all Christians -- to confront. But demons are meant to be confronted. They aren't meant to define a person or movement's identity, no matter what the demagogues may demand.

The ironic thing is that the social movement that demagogues like Lindsay Stewart lay (illegitimate) claim to membership in -- the progressive movement -- has plenty of demons of its own to confront. Although the demagogues among them rage impotently whenever they're mentioned, these demons very much are real, and very much are theirs, despite their attempts to force them on others.

Consider, for example, one of the wannabe progressive movement's favourite arguing points against Alberta -- its Eugenics program.

Many so-called "progressives" have often been quick to blame Alberta's Eugenics program on the inherently conservative nature of its politics. Unfortunately for them, the historical record demonstrates that matters in regard to the Eugenics program -- the world's longest-running such program -- are a little more complex than that.

In Alberta, more than 2800 people were sterilized for a variety of reasons. Some of them were judged unfit to raise children. Others were sterilized due to various congenital conditions. Others were sterilized due to developmental deficiencies. Many were sterilized for what turned out to be largely arbitrary reasons.

What ensued was, unquestionably, a massive social injustice -- one that words can barely be describe.

But Alberta's Eugenics program -- as with most Eugenics programs in the world -- had a distinctly Utopian flavour to it; the idea being that by breeding the Albertan population as selectively as possible, the genetic conditions by which developmental deficiencies, genetic afflictions, and even childhood diseases could be virtually wiped out. Eugenics, it was argued, would improve the quality of life of all Albertans and, in turn, all Canadians.

Among those who supported Alberta's eugenics program were progressive icons like Nellie McClung, CCF founder JS Woodsworth, Emily Murphy and Tommy Douglas.

Some progressives have the courage to confront this particular demon of Canada's progressive movement. Some progressives have the courage to confront these demons of the progressive movement's past. Others, unfortunately, do not.

Interestingly, some times charges need be mere allegations that those making them won't, oddly enough, even allow to be investigated, as is the case with Stewart's envokation of recent mass grave allegations regarding Canada's shameful Residential School system.

Ironically, Residential Schools were also rooted in a Utopian vision that is so often the domain of progressive political thinkers. And again, the historical record shows, progressive activists with the best of attentions must share the blame for Canada's Residential School System and the horrors that therein occurred with the churches who ran the schools.

Of course, one would be holding their breath a long time before demagogues like Stewart acknowledged this historical truth. Better not to risk asphyxiation.

But those who choose to confront the demons of their movement's past are wise indeed when they refuse to let those demons define them. The risk of allowing progressives (be they feminist or socialist) to be permanently discredited by their mistakes are vast. Progressive values, after all, have often proven to be a force for positive and necessary social change.

Likewise, even while it remains necessary for Christians worldwide to confront the demons of their past, it would be utter folly to insist that those demons simply must define Christianity. It would ignore all the good that Christianity -- and those that take its true message to heart -- have done, especially in individual communities.

Although anti-Christians refuse to acknowledge it, churches have often been beneficiary to their communities. The Salvation Army Church provides countless man-hours and dollars worth of services to the needy in their communities. And Canada's vaunted progressive movement has enshrined the accomplishments of those who lived their lives -- personal and political -- according to the Protestant Social Gospel.

Of course, there is clearly a certain amount of frustration evident in the attitudes of anti-Christians like Lindsay Stewart that Christians simply will not relent and allow themselves to be permanently discredited for mistakes that many Christians will almost immediately acknowledge -- and it reeks of hypocrisy so long as so many in the progressive movement continue to hide from theirs.

Like those progressives who acknowledge the mistakes committed in the name of progressive Utopianism, Christians who acknowledge the mistakes made by the Church -- and they are legion -- are wise to refuse to allow these mistakes to define them, simply because no one -- individuals or movements -- ever learn from (or redeem) their mistakes if they choose to despair over them.

Not learning from our mistakes is the danger of letting our demons define us, just as it's the danger of refusing to acknowledge them.

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