Why Canada 150 fell flat

National Post (National Edition) - - LETTERS - REX MUR­PHY

Like a lot of oth­ers I’d guess, I have the feel­ing the great sesqui­cen­ten­nial didn’t come off with the élan and charge that it should have. Even the cli­matic evenings on Par­lia­ment Hill lacked the full ef­fu­sion of clear joy that liv­ing the har­vest of our 150 years should have eas­ily brought for­ward. And it wasn’t just the “tac­ti­cal” mis­cues over se­cu­rity, the Styx-river length line­ups to get to Par­lia­ment Hill, or the lack of any con­fi­dent theme in the cel­e­bra­tions that dimmed things.

It’s hard to say, in any par­tic­u­lar way, why the events of this July 1 week­end didn’t reach an ap­pre­cia­bly dif­fer­ent tone or pitch than that of the non-sesqui­cen­ten­nial cel­e­bra­tions of pre­vi­ous years. Maybe we’re just cel­e­brated out. Maybe it’s be­cause so many good causes now spat­ter the cal­en­dar. Or maybe there are so many fes­ti­vals of “con­cern,” so many cor­po­ra­tions, as­so­ci­a­tions and in­sti­tu­tions wish­ing to avail of this day or that day, for this cause or that group, that we can’t seg­re­gate the ar­ti­fi­cial from the au­then­tic. Politi­cians flock to these ri­tual mo­ments with that nec­es­sary zeal that comes with the long­ing to court a par­tic­u­lar con­stituency, or to ex­hibit an easy com­mit­ment to the right donors or iden­tity group.

So now, when a spe­cial mo­ment comes about — a mo­ment when we need to pause and com­mem­o­rate a gen­uine in­stance of sac­ri­fice or achieve­ment in our com­mon na­tional en­deav­our — how can it stand out and alone from the blur of the rou­tine and pre­dictable?

We are also in an era where cel­e­bra­tion has adopted a pe­cu­liar mode: that of the con­fes­sion of sins not our own. The form has be­come too fa­mil­iar. The preacher of the day puts on a man­tle of showy hu­mil­ity and soul­fully takes on the “re­spon­si­bil­ity” for all the dim deeds of our past. He chants the litany of past wrongs, and turns his af­flu­ent, virtue-ripe eyes to the dere­lic­tions and cru­el­ties of the un­en­light­ened gen­er­a­tions that went un­der the Earth with­out an iPhone.

That the past had its sins and crimes is be­yond all de­nial. But the rather zeal­ous re­count­ing of them im­plies a cu­ri­ous ex­emp­tion from like fail­ings in those who so pi­ously enu­mer­ate them in our present.

There is an un­avoid­able charm­less­ness in ser­mons that take as their theme: “We thank thee Lord, that we are not like those who were be­fore us.” Ser­mons that mine the his­to­ries of peo­ples past, to iso­late their flaws and moral squalors, and de­tach them from the stream of their own time and cir­cum­stance, in or­der to judge and con­demn them — now. But, quite won­der­fully, im­plicit in the apol­ogy for the sin of an­other is that it is not one’s own, or in­deed ever could be. It is the cry of the Pharisee. Ev­ery such apol­ogy is the ves­sel for a sly boast.

They were not as we are, and we are not as they were, is the ser­mon’s crux and bur­den. The preacher at such do­ings bathes lav­ishly in the wa­ters of right­eous­ness, at no cost. There is no moral tur­moil in apol­o­giz­ing for the sins of some­one else.

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