Faith and secularism after the election

By Father John Walsh on May 5, 2014

In many way we may be experiencing the end of the cultural wars that have marked Quebec politics and Québec life for the past many decades.  The recent proposal of a “Charter of values” was divisive of the population and the use or non-use of religious symbols in public institutions raised the ire of members of all religious communities and resulted in professionals in health and educational institutions publicly refusing to follow the demands of the Charter.    

The reactions to the election of a Liberal majority government by pro-federalists is one of elation; the defeat of the PQ has sent the party members into a deep reflective mode questioning the very redefinition of the “raison d’être” of the party.  The CAQ and SQ have gained inroads that have generated hope for greater numbers of elected MNAs in the future.  

The new premier Philippe Couillard has promised a new attitude of reconciliation within the Assembly and within the Canadian Federation.  It was a surprise to hear the first mention ever of a premier on election night of the native people, a reminder of the meaning of “all” Quebecers and Canadians.  The promotion of the French language as the language of Quebec and the reinforcing of the “culture Qubécoise” are paramount but the mention of the necessity of bilingualism to remain open to the world may now be regarded as complimentary rather than adversarial.

The building of bridges over chasms of historical separateness and solitudes loom as possibilities.  In these burgeoning new times there is no doubt that whatever is said or done will not deter Quebec from becoming more and more secular.  It is in the context of a secular Quebec that theological reflection is inevitable.

The recent publication of Truth and Relevance – Catholic Theology in French Quebec since the Quiet Revolution by Gregory Baum may well offer, for the first time, to the English-speaking population of Quebec and Canada a rich overview of how theology in Quebec has evolved since the Quiet Revolution begun in 1960 to the present moment.  

The author in his brief introduction puts forward an insight that the important issue for these scholars is not the truth of the Church’s teaching, but its relevance, that is, its power to redeem the human heart and change the course of history...The theology of these authors is unashamedly contextual: it reflects in one way or another the historical experience of the Quiet Revolution.   Baum in re-reading the Dumont Report, published in 1971, L’Église du Québec: un héritage, un projet, discovers foundations upon which la culture Québecoise evolved.  He describes how the Church as “communion” implies participation, pluralism and tolerance of dissent and that the democratization of secular life has not failed to influence the expectations of the faithful, whether they are lay people, religious or priests. (A book by Baum on Fernard Dumont will soon be published)  However, Baum also points out that Quebec’s Catholicism of yesterday and the significant institutional changes introduced during the Quiet Revolution are the principal causes of the rapid secularization of Québec society.  A final quotation: With Fernand Dumont the theologians felt that abstract truth is not good enough; what counts is relevance, providing answers to people’s urgent questions and responding to their spiritual aspirations.  

The book is a tour de force of the theological insights arrived at by a wide variety of theologians, women and men as progressive theologians, whose ideas and thoughts have a remarkable affinity to those of Pope Francis. This confluence may be a strong invitation for the Church of Canada, in which there are two theological solitudes, to enter a dialogue with secular society and in that context address the issue of reconciliation.


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