Cultural Masochism. (the Public Square: A Continuing Survey of Religion and Public Life)

By Neuhaus, Richard | First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, April 2002 | Go to article overview
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Cultural Masochism. (the Public Square: A Continuing Survey of Religion and Public Life)


Neuhaus, Richard, First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life


The New Criterion and Mark Steyn are well matched. The former, edited by Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball, delivers each month a sophisticated thumb in the eye to the several cultural elites who exuberantly undermine culture in the cause of anti-elitism. Steyn, who, in addition to his contributions to the New Criterion, appears regularly in the London Spectator, Canada's National Post, and almost everywhere else worth reading, wields what may be the most humorously devastating pen in today's culture wars. Kramer and Kimball invited him to be part of their series on "the survival of culture," and in the course of his contribution on multicultural madnesses Mr. Steyn illustrates his argument by reference to a strange development that has been discussed from time to time in these pages. Steyn notes that shortly after September 11, a resolution came before Congress to observe "Native American Month." The resolution contained the usual platitudes, and then this: "Native American governments developed the fundamental principles of freedom of speech and separation of powers in government, and these principles form the foundation of the United States Government today." The reference is to the Iroquois Confederation, which, multiculturalists would have us believe, served as the blueprint for the U.S. Constitution. Mr. Steyn then makes the connection to the aforementioned strange development:

"Until relatively recently in Canada, many natives went to `residential schools' run by the Christian churches on behalf of the federal government. They learned the same things children learned in other schools: there was a map on the wall showing a quarter of the globe colored red for the Queen-Empress' realms; there was Shakespeare and Robert Louis Stevenson, and `Dr. Livingstone, I presume'; there was not a lot about the Iroquois Confederation. No doubt, as in any other school system, there were a number of randy teachers and sadistic brutes.

"In the Nineties, a few middle-aged alumni came forward to claim they'd been `abused' while at the residential schools. How did the churches react? Here is Archbishop Michael Peers, the Anglican Primate of Canada, making his first public statement on the matter in 1993: `I am sorry, more sorry that I can say,' he said, `that in our schools so many were abused physically, sexually, culturally, emotionally.'

"At that point, there was not one whit of evidence that there was any widespread, systemic physical or sexual abuse in the residential schools. There is still none. But His Grace had lapsed reflexively into atone that will be all too familiar to anybody who's attended an Anglican service anywhere outside of Africa or the Pacific isles in the last thirty years. In Ye Sixties, `Peter Simple,' the great satirist whose work appears in the Daily Telegraph, invented a character called Dr. Spacely Trellis, the `go-ahead Bishop of Bevindon,' whose every sermon on the social issues of the day reached a climax with the words, `We are all guilty!' Riddled with self-doubt and an enthusiastic pioneer of the peculiar masochism that now afflicts the West, the Anglican Church has for years enjoyed the strange frisson of moral superiority that comes from blanket advertising of one's own failures. It was surely only a matter of time before some litigious types took them at their own estimation.

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