History, society, and the individual
“I will be more myself in the next life.” — Matsuko Matumaki
This column asks the question: what is a sole person responsible for, and what is a society accountable for?
I’m fascinated by individuals’ “butterfly effect” in religious history. I’m distressed by Canadian society’s collective ignorance for understanding our history.
Crisis as opportunity
“We know from individual lives that there is nothing like a mortal crisis to profoundly reconfigure a person’s life. Out of such a crisis a radical shift of values tends to emerge. The whole moral structure of a person’s, or an entire society’s, way of being is transformed.
“It seems to me quite possible that we as a civilization and as a species may face some kind of crisis that will serve to catalyze this awakening…” — Richard Tarnas
A good friend is at present undergoing the kind of awakening referred to here, due to a diagnosis of cancer. He surprised me by saying, in reference to his cancer, “I asked for this. It was the only thing that could change me. I knew I could not quit drugs on my own.”
I’ve witnessed friends who experienced a “come-to-Jesus moment.” And so I know that such epiphanies — when one feels life will never be the same– might not prove to be an irreversibly permanent reconfiguration.
The quote from Tarnas also tells us an entire society can be in a crisis that transforms it. Canada is one such society.
Canadian History and a crisis of identity
Canada is having a crisis of identity, unsure if the nation is worthy to be. Andrew Coyne, one of our most penetrating, intelligent, and articulate journalists, is often exercised by the question of Canadians’ uncertainty over our right to be a nation.
Coyne has focussed on this existential issue for us:
A country that cannot assert its own right to exist, it turns out, has a hard time asserting anything else. When the country’s very existence is contingent, so is everything else: Every right, every principle becomes negotiable, a matter of mere opinion. And so we are peculiarly vulnerable to a kind of moral confusion that exists in all countries, but which seems to find particularly fertile soil here – and which has been on strident display….
One of the crises in the Canadian conscience is in our reconciliation with the indigenous peoples of our land.
“Present-day religious discrimination [is] deeply rooted in our identity as a settler colonial state.”
— Canadian Human Rights Commission discussion paper
cited in the Globe and Mail December 4 Opinion section
Anyone paying attention to political culture in Canada must surely not be surprised that the CHRC has written such a document on religion in our country. We are engaged in culture war, and woke progressives own the public discourse here because Canadians at present seem full of remorse and guilt for our colonial origins.
Religion and Canadian “racial guilt”
Christianity bears a huge weight of blame for what was done to indigenous peoples — according to the “woke” reading of history.
That our entire culture and European civilization from the time of Columbus to WWII was soaked in the assumption of superiority is true. Society’s elites in politics, science, culture, religion, all of them propagated one message: indigenous people needed paternal rule to “civilize” them.
The woke say we should feel guilty for past errors of deceased people; they judge the past and the people in it — and want us to feel what those then “ought” to have felt.
This is wrong-headed and irrational. All we can do about the past is rectify, rather than repeat, its errors; it cannot be changed, and making restitution is the best anyone should expect.
But people among woke ideologues want to increase colonists’ “racial guilt” over historic wrongs to indigenous people. No nation, no culture, is free of defects. We learned; our entire morality evolved. To judge people of the past by our morals is wrong.
Is guilt appropriate to people who, like myself, have not held to white-supremacist culture since our childhoods? No, guilt is completely, utterly, inappropriate.
Consequences of human being
Anti-religionists asserting religion is for inferior, immature minds are wrong. Religion is an exquisitely human thing. Humans originate it as naturally as we create art or sport.
Would humans manifest religion if we were immortal, if Death were no challenge? It’s quite certain that we would’ve probed different directions were Death not so awe-inspiring. (My friend’s encounter with his mortality is crucial.)
How does one unique individual revolutionize an entire religious culture? It requires propagators. Jesus and Buddha were reformers – of Judaism and Hinduism, respectively — intending people would live better, know God. It was propagators, interpreting/reimagining the lives of Jesus, of Buddha, who made them into Holy Founders.
Why do followers misunderstand? That’s the nature of unique visionaries.
Should Canadians reject Christianity for its historic crimes? Absolutely not.
It has become the fashion to guilt Canadians for their past. We must reject that. An individual is not his race. No, my “race” can’t confer guilt. The existential crisis of Canadian conscience now will not be solved by shaming non-indigenous individuals.
Expecting Canadians to show shame by rejecting holidays such as Christmas – which surely very few consider religious now – is simply nonsense. Christmas will continue to be a profoundly-important season in our culture. We will not cease to celebrate it — and we’ll be sensitive that not all do as we do.
The self-righteous woke zealots are simple-minded in comprehension of history and of religion. We make restitution to natives by improving their lives today by ensuring equality. We won’t hang our heads in shame for past injustice — committed when different, outmoded standards of justice and right were held throughout the civilization of Euro-Canadians.
We cannot change the past. We should act in accord with present morality to make restitution.
We’ve got to reconcile in this Canada-under-construction; it’s worth preserving.
‘Merry Christmas!” and other greetings.
on the topic question about individuals and societies as historical agents, some reading.
an easy read: https://fs.blog/the-butterfly-effect/
a more difficult essay: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1527394
and a long, deep, difficult read: