Sunday, August 5, 2012

Brits' addiction to form over content trumps fair practices in colony and church

In Canada, it used to be said that the Anglican church was the Tory party at prayer. Reading the history of the words used in the Canadian constitution, dedicated to "peace, order and good government" as compared with the earlier and more compassionate "peace, welfare and good government" in John Ralston Saul's book, A Fair Country, demonstrates the importance of a single word, in the development of a new country.
Order was generally used in the British Empire to describe the use of authority or power. Welfare was used to describe the nature of governmental policy, which implied the existence of a public weal.
In practical terms, power meant power over programming. As late as 1942, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council--the equivalent of a Supreme Court in London  for the Dominions and the colonies-- had to interpret the meaning of Peace, Order and Good Government in the India Act. They said it referred to the scope and not the merits of the legislation. In other words, Order referred  to power over the extent of the law, not to the nature of the law, which would come under Welfare....Power in 1866 meant that the Canadians would assume power over programs, that is, pay for their own defence." (A Fair Country, p.155-156)
So there are two regrettable results of these decisions, to replace "welfare" with "order".
First, the British government was now exempt from paying for the defence of the colony, demonstrating a kind of parsimony, as well as a degree of disinterest, unless and until the colony could be shown to be "profitable" for the Empire.
Second, the matter of how power was shared would, forever, trump the quality or the fairness or, in French, the bien-etre (the well-being) of the nature of Canadian law although that quality was the focus of much of the discussion, including the proposed wording, that went to London from the Canadian colony for approval.
Saul continues:
(The Judicial Committee) used the section on peace order and good government to turn the decision of power into the central question of Canada's existence, in fact, of Canadian public life. In the context of order, they made all debates seem to be about the "scope and not the merits of legislation." They made form, not content, the driving force of Canadian politics. Over the decades this has become increasingly the case. It matters less whether children are hungry than who writes or does not write the cheque. Nothing national in scope can be discussed except under the magic umbrella of form. (Ibid, p. 162)
Not only is this tragic, but it manifests a similar situation in the training and development of priests in the Canadian Anglican tradition. First, all priests are like "colonials" under the thumb of the bishop, whose power, when deployed, is fiat, without appeal. Second, the matter of form is much more important than substance.
For example, two weeks of formal training in "holy hand-waving" demonstrating and practicing how to literally hold and move one's hands during the course of the Eucharist epitomized, for the writer, this emphasis on form, while not a single class, lecture, reading or discussion was dedicated to the delicate and highly important issue of parish conflict and its resolution. Nor was a single class, lecture, debate or discussion dedicated to the topic of personal spiritual development, and when I once asked a bishop to describe the spiritual life of a specific warden, for whom I was going to work as a student intern, I heard, "Red book!" (as opposed to the more liberal and contemporary green book of prayer and liturgy.) Categorizing individuals as politically more in favour of one prayer book than another does not describe their spiritual life but rather attempts to depict their political leaning, as to form, and certainly not as to content.
There is much ink being spilled in daily papers these days, about the troubles of the liberal church, much of it focussing on the decline in membership of the American Episcopal church. With a history of attending to form, over content, to holy hand-waving over conflict resolution, to the worship of authority over welfare, fairness and compassion, it is little wonder that more and more people are acknowledging they are not being fed the kind of spiritual food that can and will sustain them in their private search and pilgrimmage for God.
Nor is it any wonder that the Canadian government can pass a law in 1979, with a unanimous vote, to eliminate child poverty by 2000, and in 2012, not a single piece of evidence exists that would indicate any effort was made to enact such a law. In fact, child poverty has grown worse in the ensuing decades.
Once again back to Saul:
Again, what matters here is not the specific splits of federal-provincial power, Much more important is the direction in which this process of defining order took the expression of Canada's imagination. Our energies were deflected away from the conceptualization of policy and toward the arcane battles of ministerial and bureaucratic control at different levels. Nevertheless, Canada continued to grow as an intentional civilization producing unusual content. However, we could no longer sound like an intentional civilization. In our legal public descriptions of ourselves, the concept of welfare, fairness, bien-etre has been erased." (Ibid, p 165)...
You know that this lugubrious atmosphere, of a country finding its way accidentally, has begun to matter when you have a large, well-trained elite that seems increasingly incapable of action, as if incapacitated by some unexplained force, as if they cannot conceive of Canada as an intentional civilization capable of undertaking unusual and original initiatives. And so they are reduced to arcane battles of short-term power and profit. They have difficulty imagining content as anything more than form. It seems as if our own country is unable to do what should not be that difficult to do.  (Ibid, p. 166)
Saul then lists examples of default in government action:
  • a 2004 law to sell cheap drugs to poor countries, not one pill sent two years later
  • Canada has lowest per capita number of doctors in OECD..not enough places in medical schools and number of immigrant doctors
  • a lost Canadian steel industry while smaller countries still retain a flourishing steel industry
Arcane battles over power and authority as compared with substantive debates over the fairness and the justice of proposed legislation/ministry....hardly defines either a healthy intentional country or a healthy intentional worship community.

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