It’s rare that a conversation about religion enters the halls of federal Parliament, at least insofar as the beliefs of our MPs are concerned. We don’t, for example, see members of Parliament standing up and demanding re-affirmations that we keep “God keep our land glorious and free” as part of the national anthem. We’ve got more important things to do – like rush through crappy and ineffective legislation. But my sniping at Darth Harper aside, we don’t really spend a lot of time and energy discussing religious matters at that level. It’s that fact that made this story particularly interesting:
Liberal MP Justin Trudeau says he is upset and offended by a Tory MP who publicly questioned his adherence to the Catholic faith and his suitability to speak to students at a Catholic school. Dean Del Mastro, the parliamentary secretary to the Prime Minister, said on Facebook last month that it was “outrageous” the Catholic school board in Peterborough, Ont. had invited Trudeau to speak for a second time in three years.
“If they are looking for a truly great speaker, who also happens to be Catholic, perhaps they might invite [Immigration] Minister Jason Kenney,” Mr. Del Mastro wrote on Oct. 12. “Are there any tenets of the Catholic faith that Justin supports?”
Let’s hope there are very few. Maybe only the generic ones that are common to all religions (or is to too much to ask that Trudeau also thinks that faith is a bad idea too?).
Trudeau’s response was telling as well:
“I have to say, I’m really surprisingly upset. I didn’t think I would be, but I am,” Mr. Trudeau told The Canadian Press on Tuesday evening.
“For someone to start questioning my own faith and accusing me of being a bad Catholic, is something that I really take issue with. My own personal faith is an extremely important part of who I am and the values that I try to lead with.”
Wrong answer, Justin. While I can appreciate you not wanting to throw your religious confreres under the bus, the correct response to this kind of ridiculous religion-baiting is to lampoon Del Mastro with the absurdity of his charge. “MP Del Mastro makes an excellent point – how could I possibly speak to students about the importance of political involvement if I am not 100% up-to-date on the latest developments in transsubstantiation? My whole talk would fall apart the moment that any student, curious about a life in public service, asked me to detail the finer points of the Immaculate Conception. Surely anyone who can’t speak fluently about the communion of the saints couldn’t possibly encourage someone to aspire to the lofty heights of sanctimoniousness that The Honourable Mr. Del Mastro so clearly demonstrates every day. Sorry, I meant ‘sanctity’. See? Completely unqualified!”
I hope this kind of religion-baiting isn’t an indication of the direction of political discourse over the next few years. With
Conservative Republican North MPs becoming increasingly vocal about things like abortion, we may be poised to follow our southern cousins down the precipice of stupidity that is the religification of public service. Once we open that door, it becomes incredibly difficult to close it. It seems as though even the school that invited Mr. Trudeau to speak feels the way I do:
The Peterborough teacher who first invited Mr. Trudeau to speak says he finds Mr. Del Mastro’s comments “petty.”
“First of all, my question, is: who is the faith police? Who are the people who are supposed to be judging somebody’s faith?” said Trevor Digby, department chair of Canadian and world studies at Holy Cross Secondary School. “Is that not a private matter? When we invite speakers, we don’t go out and do a police record check on their faith, unless they’ve done something outrageous.”
Mr. Digby said Mr. Trudeau’s speech was extremely well-received, and is part of an ongoing series of speeches by Canadians from a variety of backgrounds that are meant to emphasize the importance of international service to humanity. He said he didn’t know Mr. Trudeau’s religious background, and didn’t care.
“We haven’t called them to speak about a theological issue, we’ve called them to speak on inspiring young people to international service and their place in leadership now in society and make a better world,” Mr. Digby said. “That our minister of Parliament would have a problem with that I think speaks more about him than about Justin Trudeau.”
A statement which, you’ll have to admit, has much better soundbytes than Trudeau’s pearl-clutching response.
It will be interesting to see the extent to which Canadians have an appetite for this kind of nonsense, or whether the attempted smear will backfire as Canadians, unaccustomed to faith-based attacks and leery of the circus we see happening in the American Republican presidential race, will reject the author of the attack rather than its target. I also wonder whether atheists can play a role in fighting against such attempts to make religion loom larger in the Canadian political system.
I also wonder when the last time Del Mastro went to church is…