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Vol. 3 No. 3 - Dormition 2008

Rewarding Evil:
The Order of Canada and the redefinition of a "better country"

"From the prophet even to the priest, Everyone deals falsely. They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, saying, 'Peace, peace!' when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed." - Jeremiah 6:13-15

As one crosses the bridge into North Winnipeg, one of the poorest neighbourhoods in the country, a large sign proclaims, "People - Not Profits". The sentiment was inspired by the Canadian prairie Social Gospel movement, a uniquely Canadian mixture of evangelical Protestantism and socialist doctrine. The movement has broadly shaped the face of Canadian life, providing the basis for Canada's social safety net, and the national healthcare system.

The successes of the Social Gospel movement in Canada have attracted the praises of Canadians, religious and secular alike. Yet its Christian-inspired roots defending family life and the right to life have grown increasingly awkward for Canadians - again, both religious and secular - to discuss in public. Rendered mute by the fear of disagreement or offending, most Canadians, including religious leaders, prefer to talk about easier subjects, allowing their light to shine through more socially acceptable windows.

Externally, Canadians maintain a veneer of civility, inherited from our mannerly Anglo formation, and the moralism of its puritan parliamentary tradition. Yet behind the cheerful exterior and economic prosperity, the reality of one of the world's most liberal abortion laws looms large. Since the striking down of Canada's abortion law in 1983, the country has been unique among nations as a place where abortion can be legally performed at any stage of pregnancy - up to the day before delivery.

The latest official national hero in this struggle can be found in the person of Henry Morgentaler, a secular humanist whose fortune has been made promoting and performing abortions across Canada for the last four decades. A committee advising Canada's Governor General has nominated the abortion partisan for the country's highest honour, the Order of Canada, as a kind of national recognition for the significant part Morgentaler has played in Canada's history.

On a certain level, Canadians would be right to recognise the man for his role in national history, a role which has cost more Canadian lives than any war in our two and a half centuries[1], and which has done immeasurable emotional damage to the women left as victims of his crimes. Such a role is certainly worth mentioning in the history books, alongside other atrocities.

The Order of Canada, like the country of its birth, suffers from an identity crisis of mammoth proportions. Initiated in the Canadian Centennial Year of 1967, its measure of worth was defined by its motto, based on Hebrews 11:16, desiderantes meliorem patriam, meaning "they desire a better country." The exact nature of such a country - and what would make it a better country - has undoubtedly strayed from the mind of the nations founders, or even from the spirit of the defenders of the Social Gospel of a century ago.

What is perhaps most evident from the awarding to Morgentaler of Canada's highest order is the fact that he does, in many ways, reflect the national distinction of hypocrisy. His life has been a study in contradictions, of publicly-won personal wealth made from the suffering of Canada's poorest citizens[2]. His public discourse has been sprinkled for three decades with the jargon of freedom, equality, and fairness, while his sole private practice has been directed at stopping the beating hearts of children in the womb. The madness of his own story - including perhaps especially his chirpy public image as a liberator of those in personal crisis - reflects our own national confusion over questions of truth, questions which Canadians would much prefer to keep private and silent.

Morgentaler has taken to new heights the very quality that modern, politically correct Canadians value most, and that is the value of public niceness. Do not speak of sin. Do not speak of death. Just smile, wave, and smile some more. The camera will capture only pretty pictures. After all, this is Canada, and Canadians are nice, polite people.

This is our identity. It has become our national creed.

A survivor of the Nazi Holocaust, Morgentaler has succeeded in perpetrating his own brand of evil in the desert of Canadian niceness. In the decades since the Holocaust of the Second World War, Canadians have too often become paralysed by the fear that strongly articulated worldviews can only lead to conflict, and conflict is the thing most to be avoided in our home and native land.

Upon announcing the award, the good people at Rideau Hall (the official residence of our Governor General) indicated that Morgentaler had become a member of the Order, "for his commitment to increased health care options for women, his determined efforts to influence Canadian public policy and his leadership in humanist and civil liberties organizations." One can only wonder if an outspoken Christian would ever qualify for the same honours, and if they did, how two such contradictory views could be reconciled, in the name of seeking a better country.

While such an award is not surprising (it is the logical result of the progressive secularism of the True North), it is cold comfort to witness the silence of far too many Orthodox Christian leaders across the land when it comes to such issues. Yet this is but another example of Canada's imperial identity at play, exerting an unforgiving pull on immigrants (and those who after generations in Canada still think of themselves as immigrants) to submit to the all-encompassing Canadian moral imperative to be nice, and to be quiet.

For many Orthodox Christians, it is likely difficult to remember the last time the question of abortion - its victims both inside the womb and the mothers themselves, and the mountains of social efforts to support them - was mentioned in an Orthodox parish. One may ask, how many parishes would take up a collection to fund a support agency for unwed mothers? How many would circulate a petition to preserve local schools from providing abortion referrals? How many would put in place parish counseling to rescue young women contemplating an abortion? For Canadians - including far, far too many Orthodox Christian laity and clergy - such questions are much too uncomfortable to entertain, let alone to address. It's all so... unpleasant. And pleasantness, along with niceness, is a cardinal Canadian virtue.

As Morgentaler takes his place as the dark icon of Canadian hypocrisy, the victims of his efforts to make Canada a "better country" will be left to the care of social workers, to the couches of psychiatrists, and to the confessionals of priests. Quiet, private solutions to very public evils - this is the way it is done in Canada. And but for a few voices out of step with the national obsession with politeness, the voiceless will remain voiceless - because that is the Canadian way.

[1] In 1973, Morgentaler indicated that he had by that time performed over 5,000 abortions.

[2] Morgentaler has an estimated gross annual revenue of $11 million from his abortion clinics, according to research published in the Ottawa newspaper Le Droit on Saturday, October 26, 2002.

Father Geoffrey Korz, (Dormition, 2008)

© All Saints of North America Orthodox Church
Orthodox Church in America, 2008.