Commentary by Donald DeMarco
On Oct. 11, 2005, one day after Canadians celebrated Thanksgiving, a cherished event of religious origin and tradition, the Toronto Star, the nation’s largest circulation newspaper, printed an article that epitomizes hatred of religion, petty vindictiveness, and a level of ignorance that is an embarrassment to the author, the paper and the country.
The author, alleged humourist Joey Slinger, whose surname is now being prefixed with Mud- and Gun-, is positively vitriolic about the possibility that the Catholic church might deny Communion to politicians who obstinately persist in lending their approbation to abortion and same-sex “marriage.”
Slinger, in his spacious liberality, does not think the Catholic church has a right to its own self-identification. He passionately denies that the Church should explain to its people what she is and what she cannot be. Presumably, he envisions a church without boundaries, one so utterly amorphous that it stands for nothing. He adamantly believes, one can logically conclude, that nothing should be what it claims to be (like Slinger’s claim to being a humourist). In other words, Slinger is passionately in favor of hypocrisy. And when he notices that an institution such as the Catholic church does not share his enthusiasm for this vice, he then attacks – vigorously, remorselessly, irrationally.
“We can play hardball too,” he writes, like Don Quixote fighting windmills, and goes on to outline forms of retaliation that include the removal of the church’s tax exempt status and auctioning off church property. He confidently predicts that the time will come when there are no longer any Roman Catholic churches in Canada.
Concerning the hierarchy that is discussing the issue of denying Communion to politicians who are a scandal to the church, he states (with evident sarcasm and irreverence): “They’re an open-minded, in-touch-with-public-sentiment bunch of guys. They may not think it’s such a wonderful thing to do if they happen to have been sitting around smoking a lot of dope.”
Two points are of particular interest concerning his threat that “we can play hardball too.” The first, by employing the term “hardball,” is the allusion to baseball, a game that has clear boundaries, exemplified by the strike zone and the foul lines. But Slinger wants to erase boundaries and, as he advises, leave everything to “a person’s conscience” (he seems unaware of the fact that “conscience” means “with knowledge,” con + scientia).
The baseball umpire, however, is no respecter of the “conscience” of ballplayers. His judgments are determined objectively, by the strike zone and the foul lines. But we do not find Slinger going after umpires who say, by implication, when a batter strikes out, “No first base for you.” Yet, as Slinger insists, the church, in respecting the dignity of the Eucharist, is somehow following the style of comedian Gerry Seinfeld’s infamous “Soup-Nazi:” “No soup (Communion) for you!”
The second point has broader and deeper significance. It refers to his use of the editorial “We.” Who joins Slinger in his absurd and gratuitous vilification of the church? Slinger is confident that he speaks for many. The tragic fact is that he does. Directing irrational hatred against the Catholic church is now in. Respect for a venerable institution is out.
Slinger’s column would provoke nothing more than a scratch of the head, were it not for the fact that it represents a current mindset that is analogous to that of the Ku Klux Klan. It represents an irrational hatred that one group has for another group. It is a collective, though poorly understood, hostility that certain secularists in the media have for religion and anything to do with the spiritual nature of the human being. The noted historian, Christopher Dawson, observed this phenomenon and wrote about it in Progress and Religion:
“Modern civilization has pushed religion and the spiritual elements in culture out of the main stream of its development, so that they have lost touch with social life and have become sectarianized and impoverished. But at the same time, this has led to the impoverishment of our whole culture … This, however, is but a temporary phenomenon. It can never be the normal condition of humanity. For, as we have seen, the vital and creative power behind every culture is a spiritual one.”
Slinger and his ilk are confident that they can take cheap swipes at the church and get away with it because they believe they have the support of a power elite. This elite, however, though sophisticated in certain ways, can act in the same manner of a mob. It can ridicule without warrant and attack without mercy.
Canada may boast of being pluralistic, yet the media elite is steering it in the direction of rigid uniformity on the one hand and mindless intolerance on the other. If the media elite, taking a note of self-congratulations from its own press guide, could be truly open-minded for a moment, it would recognize what it owes to its Christian past and how it should revere an institution, such as the Catholic church, that offers it moral and spiritual nourishment.
Slinger, apparently, thinks he is being funny. Writing the epitaph for a nation, however, is not at all funny.
Donald DeMaro, a regular contributor to The Interim, is professor emeritus at St. Jerome’s University and adjunct professor at Holy Apostles College and Seminary.