18 December 2003

La France chrétienne

Ten years ago my sister, who is a professional musician, spent some weeks in France studying gregorian chant with the monks at Solesme. During her stay, 14 July arrived. This date, of course, marks Bastille Day, when in 1789 the revolutionaries stormed the famous prison in Paris. Since this is a national holiday in France, my sister assumed that the townspeople of Solesme would be celebrating, much as Americans celebrate their country's independence on 4 July. In fact, the town was quiet that day. Somewhat naively, she asked some of the townspeople why they made so little of this event, and she was greeted with shock and incredulity.

Solesme, it seems, is a very Catholic town, and it would not have occurred to its devout residents to observe such an occasion, given that it commemorates an event central to the heretical faith of the "godless republicans." This was my sister's first introduction to the two-century-old cleavage in the French political culture between the revolutionary republican and the traditionalist Catholic communities. In the post-war era, sad to say, the latter's presence has diminished considerably, but there are still pockets of dissent from the secularism that now holds official status in the French Republic. Solesme is evidently one of these.

It cannot be easy for such communities to exist, given that their voice in the public square is so conspicuously unwelcome and that their very allegiance to what Augustine termed the Civitas Dei makes their loyalty as citizens suspect.

In recent days I have been engaging in a three-way discussion with Gideon Strauss and Brian Dijkema over the best way for Christians to approach the predominant liberalism in our North American societies. What I would concede to both is that, although I am a nonliberal, I much prefer to live under Canada's relatively benign version of liberalism than under France's more obviously oppressive variety.

It is difficult to imagine something similar to the Christian Labour Association of Canada or my own employer, Redeemer University College, functioning as openly christian organizations in France. Even France's shortlived christian democratic party had to hide behind the name, Mouvement républicain populaire. Thank God we live where we do.

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