This American Spectator column from a decade back deals with a spate of church desecration. But, from the perspective of 2010, what most struck me upon rereading was the small aside that a ski-masked gang storming a cathedral at prayer, hurling used condoms at worshippers, desecrating paintings with bloody tampons, attempting to smash the tabernacle and lighting up a burning cross at the entrance doesn't qualify, under Quebec law, as a "hate crime". As Constable Sylvie Latour explains below, the "hate" law cannot be used against people who "in good faith" attempt "to establish by argument an opinion on a religious subject" - even if you're "arguing" with sanitary napkins and condoms. Who knew? If only I'd hurled used tampons at Mohammed Elmasry and Khurrum Awan, I could have saved myself a whole heap of trouble. Just when you think Canada's "hate" laws can't any dumber or more worthless, they always do:
One typical March weekend in Brooklyn: Vandals smash the face and arms of a marble shrine to Our Lady of Fatima at St. Gregory's Roman Catholic Church. The same night, a wooden image of Christ is torn down from the cross and broken into pieces at St. Francis of Assisi-St. Blaise Church.
For parishioners at St. Francis, it was the second assault on their church in little more than two months: In January, the statues of both Francis and Our Lady of Fatima were decapitated. But so what? This kind of thing is becoming routine. A dozen Catholic churches have been desecrated in Brooklyn in the last six months - though, in a belated attempt at ecumenicalism, in the last week of March an Episcopal church was targeted, too. The media, happy to hop on Jesse Jackson's and Bill Clinton's bandwagon and be taken for a ride about an entirely mythical spate of black church burnings a couple of years back, are largely indifferent to the actual, real assaults on churches which occur every day. The Clinto-Jacksonian fictional church burnings (orchestrated by Newt and the Republican Congress, naturally) were about racial hatred, whereas these attacks demonstrate only anti-religious hatred, and who cares about that? Most of the recent Brooklyn church attacks were buried in the New York Times somewhere round page B6 in the Metro News Briefs. But eventually some Times editor noticed that Metro had been running the same church vandalization News Brief week in, week out for months on end and decided that maybe the series of religious desecrations merited a short 700 word piece on page B1, which duly ran on March 22.
Still, to give the Times its due, at least it covered the story in the news section. On International Women's Day, I happened to be in Montreal, where a feminist collective decided to mark the occasion by sacking the Marie-Reine-du-Monde cathedral, the city's Roman Catholic basilica. The group sprayed anti-religious slogans on the walls, smeared paintings with soiled sanitary napkins, hurled used condoms at terrified worshippers - all to protest the Church's position on abortion. Naturally I picked up the Montreal Gazette to see what the local paper had to say on the subject. It wasn't on page 1, or page 2, 3, 4... I ploughed my way through to the end of the news section and, figuring I must have missed it, worked my way back to the front. I started on the "B" section. Nothing there either.
Later that day, browsing through the "Adults Only" classifieds on page C8 and trying to choose between "Ally (massages & services by gorgeous & playful women)" and "Aux Bonnes Mains (new ladies, warm hands)," I happened to notice a short, unsigned report at the foot of the opposite page, underneath a picture of a hockey-playing robot named for Canada's late viceroy Lord Stanley (of Stanley Cup fame): "Seven charged after attack on cathedral," it said. Page C9. Back of the classified section. A bit of filler space. If "Club Strip (Nancy, Marilyn & Caroline + adult toys)" had only taken out a bigger ad, maybe the sacking of a Roman Catholic cathedral in the heart of downtown wouldn't have made it into the paper at all.
The Gazette's offices are a mere stone's throw - or, in this case, a sanitary napkin's throw - from the church, but passers-by weren't in any danger of being crushed in the stampede of reporters. "There's a burning cross outside the cathedral? It's being stormed by a gang in ski-masks while worshippers are at prayer? A couple of American tourists are trying to stop them from smashing the tabernacle and the vestry? Hold the front page!" barked the editor. "On second thoughts, hold page C9. Unless, of course, Octopussy Live Private Erotic Shows calls in a display ad."
If I sound a little bewildered, it's because I've spent the last couple of months watching George Dubya Bush try to shake off the "anti-Catholic bigot" tag he's been saddled with ever since he spoke at Bob Jones University and was perceived by the media as having failed to distance himself sufficiently from some anti-Catholic sentiments expressed by Bob Jones III or Bob Jones IV or whichever the hell Bob it was in 1978 or 1955 or whenever. You'd have thought from reading the papers that the media were, as the old saying goes, more Catholic than the Pope.
Bush's "anti-Catholic" stand was believed to have offended enough Catholics to cost him the Michigan primary; to repair the damage with Catholics, he'd have to appoint a running mate who appealed to Catholics. You mean someone who's pro-life? Well, no. Don't jump to conclusions. Turns out the press has in mind one of those Catholic Republican governors who's pro-choice. It seems Catholics don't mind being offended as long as it's by their own kind.
But anyway, after a few weeks of being re-cast as the Reverend Ian Dubya Paisley, Bush was soon dropping notes to cardinals regretting that at Bob U he'd failed to take the opportunity to distance himself from whichever Bob it was had said whatever it was he'd said. Of course, Dubya had no inkling what it was that Bob Jones VI or Bob Jones VII was supposed to have said - he's a uniter not a diviner - unlike Al Gore, Bill Bradley, and Senator-designate Rodham vis-Ã¡-vis the Rev. Al Sharpton. But nonetheless he was still required to distance himself.
By contrast, in Montreal, the International Women's Day groups protesting in Phillips Square, from where the tampon commandos launched their assault, are not being required to "distance" themselves from the anti-Catholic bigotry of their more robust sisters. As for Montreal's hate-crimes law, police spokeswoman Constable Sylvie Latour said it cannot be used against people who "in good faith" attempt "to establish by argument an opinion on a religious subject."
By "argument," she means the sanitary napkins and condoms. By "opinion," she means that the Collectif Autonome Feministe believes that the Catholic Church oppresses women by being anti-abortion. Never mind that all major religions are anti-abortion. Or that, in Quebec, the Church is doing such a great job of oppressing women that the province now has the highest abortion rate in the Western world - which, if nothing else, suggests that those ski-masked feminists might have more usefully thrown their condoms and contraceptive pills at their own kind.
Now it's true that, if devout Catholics in ski-masks had stormed an abortion clinic and attempted to confiscate, say, the scissors which are used to puncture the baby's skull in so-called "partial birth abortions," the Montreal Gazette would have given the story more play. To his credit, Alan Allnutt, the editor of the Gazette, subsequently conceded that his paper had blown the story, though he attempted to cover himself by claiming a kind of even-handed indifference: He reckoned that most of the feminists trashing the cathedral were, as francophone Quebeckers, probably Catholic by origin and that, therefore, he'd have paid just as little attention if a synagogue had been turned over by Jewish feminists.
Well, maybe. But south of the border the last month or two suggests that a kind of hierarchy applies:
1. Being anti-Protestant is okay. When John McCain called the religious right the "forces of evil," the press assumed everyone around the country would say, "Sounds reasonable to me." Unlike Dubya, Mister Maverick was not called on to distance himself from himself.
2. Being anti-Catholic isn't news unless you're Republican. Thus Dubya and his doomed attempts to distance himself from Bob Jones V.
3. Being anti-Catholic is only news until someone starts being anti-Semitic: The minute the Pope issued what was misleadingly presented as his "apology," the press decided it was insufficiently contrite in respect to Jews. Dubya's failure to distance himself from Bob Jones IX was forgotten in the wake of the Pope's failure to distance himself from Pius XII.
4. Being anti-Semitic isn't news if you're black. Just because the Pope has to distance himself from His Holiness Pius XII is no reason for Gore, Bradley, and Rodham to distance themselves from His Supreme Majesty the Rev. Al.
5. Being black won't help you if you're anti-gay: A black minister in New York put up a billboard quoting Leviticus and his, ah, unhelpful strictures on homosexuality. Guy Molinari, among others, attacked the poor fellow, who began receiving death threats. He was surprised to discover, via Caller ID, that several of these death threats came from City Hall.
But underlying all these various stages is the same massive uninterest in religion per se. "All the news that's fit to print" says the Times, but the people who decide what news is fit in the major papers have little or no religious sensibility. After a statue of Saint Pius X (Pontiff in the years before the Great War) was decapitated and smashed at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Canarsie in January, a sign was found amidst the rubble calling John Paul II "Satan who deceives the earth." Sounds like a "hate crime" to me. But hate crimes against religion can proceed with impunity. Indeed, as poor old Dr. Laura has found out since the resident gays on "Frasier" decided to target her TV show, moral traditionalism is now by definition a form of "hate speech": These days, a devotion to the Bible is the love that dare not speak its name.
In the Attack of the Tampon Commandos and the massive media shrug which followed, the secular future of the Western world can be glimpsed in all its narcissistic nullity. Insofar as most of us give any thought to the concept of a "secular" society, we assume it means the right of your neighbor to worship at the church of his choice and the right of you and your buddy Chip to bunk off and play a couple of rounds of golf on Sunday morning. But after you've raised a generation or two in a spiritual vacuum, you begin to realize it doesn't stop there. That's one reason, incidentally, why the most anti- religious society of all - the Soviet Union - has now degenerated into a gangster state. Even in a comparatively civilized country, according to the Church of England's insurers, at least twelve of its churches are badly vandalized every day. Until a quarter-century ago, one of the particular pleasures of the English countryside was strolling along a rural footpath and spying a small twelfth-century church rearing up from the fields and copses. They were unlocked, so that anybody who happened upon them and wished to seek God's grace within would be able to do so.
They are not unlocked now. They're barricaded. Most anything of value has been removed. The stained glass windows are covered with steel mesh, because thugs, in the absence of anything worth stealing, like to smash them--just for a lark. It is not necessary to be an Anglican or Catholic, Jew or Muslim to weep for a world so spiritually stunted that, instead of marveling at the ageless splendor of these shrines, looks at them as just something else to trash. Doubtless the Collectif Autonome Feministe would wish to distinguish itself from grunting, moronic Brits and Brooklyn gangs, but, on the barren plains of their hearts, in their inability even to comprehend the spiritual impulse, they're exactly the same. G.K. Chesterton said that people who no longer believe in God will believe in anything. But even he would never have expected to see a cathedral trashed by people who believe in...condoms.
As the Pope recognized, the Church has done bad things. But even nonbelievers have to acknowledge that Western liberal society is built on Judeo-Christian foundations: Try throwing sanitary napkins in Jeddah or Tehran and see where it gets you. Menstrual fetishists are a fine symbol of our present-tense culture. We celebrate the time of the month because we're barely capable of remembering anything before that.
The early Apostles wouldn't have been surprised. As Paul wrote in his Second Epistle to Timothy, "In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers... Heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God. .. Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof."
"A form of godliness" is a good way of putting it: You elevate your " pleasures" and their attendant paraphernalia - condoms, abortion clinics - into a new creed of "tolerance" and "diversity" that eventually supplants traditional morality. No news is good news, and God news is no news at all. On the matter of AIDS and homophobia, the gay crowd have a good slogan: " Silence = acceptance." On the accelerating anti-Christian hatred in Western society (which is really a form of societal self-hatred), we have been silent and accepting for too long.
from The American Spectator, May 2000