God as “Lawgiver” and “Judge” is precisely what is at stake in Canada today. In an age of economic, social, and cultural transition the rules of God, so to speak, have to be relearned and reaffirmed all over again on pain of losing them altogether and thereby becoming “secular.” The greater the intensity of the transition, the greater the danger of losing sight of them. Canadians in general have been wresting with the implications of moral permissiveness. Canadian Catholics, moreover, have also been occupied with the implications of the Second Vatican Council, while Quebec Catholics have gone through no less than three transitional crises: the changes in the Church; their own political, economic. And social overhaul known as the Quiet Revolution; and the problems associated with moral permissiveness. With regard to the Church, an emphasis on personal freedom accompanied by a downplaying of a personal sense of sin can easily gravitate to belittling the role of the Church in public life to the point where there is no role at all. The sixties were a period of rather facile optimism about life in general. Some Catholics, in a post-Vatican euphoria, were questioning the very idea of sin itself: Original, personal, or social. Associated with this was a further questioning among some who doubted that in an age of the Spirit there actually was a need for the institutional Church at all. In general much theological turmoil of that time was accompanied by a suspicion, even a rejection, of authority.
Secularism in the air
It may well be assumed that this line of thought confirmed for Trudeau his earlier religious ideas and their implications for politics. As far as hid personal faith was concerned, he was not prepared to abandon it. But religion was purely private, with no role in public life. The time for “sacred concepts” was over. The events in Quebec may have removed any doubts that lingered on. Already in the fifties, Trudeau had written in the epilogue to his book The Asbestos Strike that changes for a better Quebec would have to come about through
a bloody revolution against outmoded superstructures, as in nationalistic and Catholic countries like Spain, Mexico and Argentina, etc. We have a safety-valve in a continental economy and in a federal constitution, where pragmatism, secularism and an awareness of change are the predominant attitudes.
Secularism was certainly in the air. While Quebec escaped blowing off the lid, the Quiet Revolution was revolution enough. The death of Duplessis and the window opened by Pope John XXIII “to let in fresh air” (i.e., the Second Vatican Council) combined to make a new Quebec. With regard to religion the word most often used is “secularization.” Gérard Dion pointed out in the Journal of Canadian Studies (1968) that there are many expressions related to this term “which do not cover exactly the same realities”: secularization, desacralization, profanization, laicization, declericalization, and de-confessionalization. Whatever the term, the result was a Quebec in which individual private opinion, now apparently as often as not separated from or opposed to Catholic doctrine, played a greater role than the authority of the Church, in personal as well as public morality.
For Quebecois Pierre Trudeau, state secularism originally was viewed as a safety valve, not an end in itself. By 1967, however, secularism in the western world had become aggressive and was in the process of causing that intellectual and moral haemorrhage known as the “permissive society.” While an intellectual revolution gained strength in Quebec, in English Canada intellectual liberalism championed the permissive society through the media. Pierre Trudeau, on assuming office as Minister of Justice in 1967, showed himself ready to accommodate the new intellectual and moral order by introducing permissive legislation for divorce, homosexuality, and abortion. In private he could be guided by religion, but not in public. To the delight of the Globe and Mail, Trudeau was prepared to ignore the authorities of his own Church, with regard to public legislation on moral matters. He adopted the stance and even popularized the view that the intended changes were non-moral issues pertaining only to medicine, or law, or the rights of women. Opposition to these changes was counted as of little or no importance.