The National Post delivers intriguing story on Quebec and the Catholicism it loves to hate


I wanted to draw your attention to a very good piece by the Toronto-based National Post on religion in Quebec, one of Canada’s most secular provinces.

Secular? One might say. The province with the famed St. Anne de Beaupre shrine? Couldn’t be.

But yes. Here’s a story about how the Catholic faith in Quebec is only skin-deep and has been for a long time. It’s not really about Muslims and niqabs as it’s about the charade that goes on in a place where true faith hasn’t existed in a long while.

... (T)here are frequent reminders that secularism in Quebec comes with an asterisk. Typically, the religions that need to be restricted are those of minorities -- Muslims, Sikhs, Jews. More often than not they are practiced by relative newcomers to Quebec. And despite the conventional wisdom that Quebecers broke free from the yoke of the Catholic Church in the Quiet Revolution, a stubborn attachment to Christian symbols remains, leading critics to label Quebec’s secularism “catho-laïcité.”
In the aftermath of the adoption of Bill 62, Gabriel Nadeau-Dubois of the left-wing Québec Solidaire party, saw an opportunity to correct what he saw as a glaring contradiction. The law targeting niqab-wearing Muslims in the name of religious neutrality was adopted in a legislature where a crucifix hangs prominently behind the Speaker’s chair…

That last part is very significant and there will be continued referrals to this crucifix throughout the piece. Let's keep reading. This passage is long, but essential:

Citing the need for a “separation of powers between religion and the state,” Nadeau-Dubois called for legislators to debate moving the crucifix out of the legislative chamber, which is known as the Salon Bleu because of its blue walls. His motion went nowhere when the Liberals and CAQ refused to grant the unanimous consent required to debate it. “It’s part of the history of the Salon Bleu,” Liberal member Serge Simard explained to Radio-Canada. “It’s part of the history of Quebec.”When you visit Quebec (I’ve been there multiple times, the latest being in July 2016), you see churches galore and everything in sight named after a saint. But, the article suggests, looks are deceiving.
Haroun Bouazzi is head of Association of Muslims and Arabs for a Secular Quebec. In principle, he says, secularism should be a positive thing for minority religions, protecting freedom of belief while shielding the state from the influence of any one sect. But what he has witnessed in Quebec in recent years is secularism being invoked by politicians and opinion leaders to oppress rather than protect…
When Bouazzi arrived in Quebec from his native Tunisia in 2000, he absorbed the standard Quebec history of a 1960s rupture with the once powerful church, which led to a commitment to secularism. He now sees that account as a myth. “It’s not true that all Quebecers got rid of religion,” he says.

The article goes on to chronicle how Quebec has secularized, in a fashion, but the old ties to some religious symbols remain.

Meanwhile, evangelical Protestant missionaries from other parts of Canada talk about how difficult a nut Quebec is to crack. Even the Mormons find it tough sledding.

Census data show that while Quebec pews have emptied, a strong attachment to the church remains. The 2011 National Household Survey found that 75 per cent of Quebecers declared a Catholic religious affiliation, and just 12 per cent declared no religious affiliation -- the lowest of any region, according to University of Waterloo professor Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme. It is British Columbians who are the least religious Canadians, with 44 per cent declaring no religious affiliation.

The article includes a lot of good quotes from academics, but the best may be from a professor out in Alberta.

Reginald Bibby, a sociology professor at the University of Lethbridge who has long tracked religious trends in Canada, says the identification of francophone Quebecers with Catholicism remains surprisingly high. For example, nearly 90 per cent of adults aged 35 and under who were raised in Catholic homes continue to identify as Catholic. He says many francophone Quebecers have an “à la carte” approach to religion, praying privately and believing they experience God, but rejecting church authority over issues relating to sex, sexual orientation and abortion.
Bibby says the historical importance of the Catholic Church to Quebec-born Catholics is inescapable. Catholicism “is virtually ‘in their bones’ and is not only part of their culture but also part of their personal identities,” he said in email correspondence. “The result is that they feel natural affinity with Catholic symbols, public and otherwise. Any efforts to obliterate those features of their culture is also an assault on identity and can be expected to be met with opposition, sometime vigorous.”

The first paragraph sounds like many Catholics in the United States. But the second is unique to North America and feels like something one might encounter in Orthodox Greece or Muslim Pakistan, both of which have populaces whose affinity with the majority religion comes from the gut.

There are so many good quotes in this story that illustrate the religious schizophrenia that is Quebec, including this one:

Spencer Boudreau, a retired McGill University education professor and a practicing Catholic … sees ample evidence that Quebecers’ attachment to Catholicism persists -- from the atheist politician and writer Pierre Bourgault requesting a funeral in Montreal’s Notre-Dame Basilica in 2003 to the Journal de Montréal’s publication last week of a calendar of cultural events to mark Advent. “It’s like your family,” Boudreau says. “There might be things you don’t like in the past, maybe you’ve got this crazy uncle, but that doesn’t mean you reject everything.”
One obvious link that is not brought up is Quebec’s French roots. Whereas the old country is manic about laicité, Quebec has gone in the opposite direction. ... On paper, it’s secularized. Everywhere else, it’s not.

Obviously Quebec isn’t part of the welcome wagon for immigrants that the rest of Canada has become. Too many new and different people, they reason, will destroy who they are.

Quebecers are not alone in resisting minority religious symbols, but polls suggest they are the most opposed. An October poll by the Angus Reid Institute after Jagmeet Singh won the NDP leadership found that 47 per cent of Quebecers would not consider voting for a turban-wearing Sikh, compared with 32 per cent in Alberta, 23 per cent in British Columbia and 24 per cent in Ontario.
Another Angus Reid poll later that month showed 68 per cent of Quebecers thought niqab-wearing women should be prohibited from visiting government offices, well above the national average of 49 per cent. The same poll found 55 per cent of Quebecers consider Islam to be damaging to Canada and 22 per cent said Judaism is damaging (compared with 11 per cent who said it is benefiting.) Catholicism, on the other hand, was seen as damaging to society by 10 per cent of Quebecers and benefiting by 36 per cent.

Do read the entire piece if you wish to begin understanding this corner of eastern Canada that resists easy definition. At some point, some form of Christian faith will catch on in Quebec -- much like Pentecostal Christianity has in once-solidly Catholic Latin America. The question will be: What kind?

The church photo, by Julia Duin, is of the exterior of the Basilica of Notre Dame in Montreal.

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