The story of Galileo recanting astronomical reality under the duress of an Inquisition is an uncontested historical event in the popular mindset.
A historical critique of this story will reveal that these events were as much about the hubris of the main protagonists Pope Urban and Galileo, as they were about the Church of Rome trying to suppress a scientific truth which challenged its prevailing worldview.
However, the days of Christendom, when the power of the Christian Church was sufficient enough either to hinder public expression of such facts, opinions, and beliefs or to determine the shape of public behaviour and morality of society, are far past.
Instead, for many years we have been experiencing a reverse situation where our society now prevents the free expression of faith-based belief and/or morality; and goes so far as to actively repress beliefs or morals that are deemed politically incorrect, regardless of their basis.
The increasing intensity of this societal pressure comes from two different directions. One is the widespread practice of affirming in the most positive ways lifestyles that many faithful Christians believe are sinful and destructive to personal and societal well-being. The second is the repressive chill that occurs when any traditional Christian perspective or even non-religious viewpoint or position contrary to the popular mindset is expressed or advocated.
The former is subtle yet pervasive in contemporary Canadian society, most commonly evident in the characters who are the heroes in sit-coms and movies or whose lifestyle choices are promoted on television talk shows. I’m certain there may be an exception, but I don’t recall a recent portrayal or promotion of the lifestyle or beliefs of a devout person of faith as someone to be admired as a balancing perspective.
The aggressive, repressive examples of the second direction are also becoming a regular phenomenon. This is not limited to matters of sexual behaviour or orientation, but since those matters have been at the forefront of many of our lives, let me first offer examples of the above state of Galileo Reversed.
Let’s begin in the spheres of academia and science. Trinity Western Law School Graduates have been threatened and excluded by some provincial law societies, because they have committed to a personal lifestyle and belief system.
The financial costs of combating these draconian measures are enormous and the appeals by Trinity Western continue and may end up before the Supreme Court. To take the logic of these provincial law societies to an extreme, one could make a case for revoking the licence to practice of Marie Henein, claiming she must believe in sexual violence since she ably defended Jian Ghomeshi.
In a similar vein there are reports that a quasi-official academic body, Universities Canada, is considering changes that would prevent institutions of higher learning with ‘code of conduct’ practices from being members.
For a decade the University of Calgary has sought to limit and exclude students from advocating a pro-life perspective on campus. They have persisted in these pressure tactics, in spite of prior recognition that the campus must protect individuals’ Charter rights, and no compelling case for threat to public safety has been made. They charged a student involved with non-academic misconduct. [See Wilson v. U. of Calgary].
Then there is the furor revolving around U of T professor, Dr. Jordan Peterson who refuses to diversify his use of pronouns to accommodate students’ sense of sexual identity. He claims there is a lack of reliable scientific evidence for “non-binary sexual identity”. He is a highly qualified academic, yet under intense pressure to accede to the personal preferences of self-authenticating experts.
[see http://torontoist.com/2016/09/non-binary-students-react-to-u-of-t-prof-who-doesnt-think-theyre-real/; and http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/christie-blatchford-if-gender-identity-debate-at-u-of-t-was-about-free-speech-then-the-battle-is-truly-lost]
When one moves away from the campus the chill continues. The recent debacle related to Dr. Kenneth Zucker, who was fired by CAMH (the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health) because his perspective on gender dysphoria and gender-identity development fell outside their perspective, reminds one of Hitler’s Germany or Stalin’s Russia or a modern day dictatorship. There is a party line and you adhere or else. Zucker could be wrong, but his credentials and research are of the highest quality.
[see http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/toronto/gender-identity-debate-swirls-over-camh-psychologist-transgender-program/article28758828/; and http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/02/fight-over-trans-kids-got-a-researcher-fired.html#]
Or one could recall one of the first shots from the ice cannon. In May 2011, a well-established reporter at Rogers Sportsnet, Damian Goddard, tweeted his support of male/female marriage and was quickly chastised and when he refused to recant, he was fired by his employer. No deficiencies in his work were cited. A similar fate befell Peter Vidmar, the former U.S. Olympic chief of mission, for the same reason.
Move into the sphere of politics and the thin edge of wedge has already been exposed. Quebec proposed a Charter of Values, enshrining secularity by outlawing external, personal religious symbols for all civil employees. The Liberal House Leader Dominic LeBlanc has made it clear all government members will vote in favour of the legislation regulating Physician Assisted Death. In July 2015, a Senate committee proposed that government should oversee “the training and certification of imams”.
There is little doubt that the so-called times of Christendom are over and for some of the excesses associated with it, that is a good thing. Regrettably the human predilection to uniformity, ironically often being promoted in the cause of diversity and respect, has unleashed new forms of inquisition as evil as or even worse than what Galileo experienced. Courage, wisdom, and grace under fire will be much needed in Canada for some time to come.
By Kerry S. Dooley [retired PCC minister]