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Eros and CivilityEros and Civility

Eros and Civility

Introduction from Publisher Peter Stockland

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Eros and Civility December 1, 2014  |  By Peter Stockland
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Celebrating our third birthday, Convivium looks happily ahead to our mission of fostering faith in common life. In two years, Canada will mark its 150th birthday. We’re already readying our gift by committing ourselves to the project of including content that explores our sesquicentennial from the perspective of the faith that has been a critical element of our country’s birth and growth.

In this issue, Alan Hustak writes about the coming of the Catholic Church to Saskatchewan's Fort Qu'Appelle, propelled by reports of "a tide of Anglicans sweeping through the Valley." The phrase harkens to a time when people of faith not only believed in but competed robustly for souls, admittedly sometimes in ways that shamed the Gospel. How far we are from those days is one theme we’ll look at.

Though we convivially foster faith in common life, there are days when shameful behaviour by some contemporaries leaves us wondering if we shouldn't be focusing on renewing common decency and common dignity in our nation's life. As this issue goes to press, Canadians are absorbed by two sexual harassment scandals. It's pointless to detail each debacle here: the stories will have shifted when this text reaches readers. It's important to note no criminal charges have been filed at this writing.

Yet the befuddled response to each scandal shows how, two generations after women became a massive part of Canada's workforce, we continue grappling for the right response to the sexually predatory mistreatment of female workers. (In fired CBC Radio host Jian Gomeshi's case, literally grappling.) Among older and younger men alike, there remains a cohort resistant to understanding the iron rule that women are never mere prey, and that what applies in society generally must be even more stringently observed in the close quarters of the workplace.

Such personal failure of understanding is echoed at the institutional level as was discovered when two Liberal MPs were summarily suspended from their caucus following allegations they each harassed female MPs from the NDP in different times, places and, presumably, ways.

As is so frequently the case, everything comes wrapped in double-indemnity doubt about what is true and what to do. Indeed, the Parliament of Canada does not have a functional policy or system for dealing with sexual harassment of one MP by another. Shocking as that might sound, it must be tempered by the reality that even institutions with voluminous manuals overflowing with detailed directives for handling such cases routinely fall short of effective responses.

CBC’s handling of the Gomeshi case is a prime example. Our editor-in-chief Father Raymond J. de Souza writes in his Sea to Sea column that if ever there were an organization that could be expected to act swiftly and surely against any serial sexual harasser in its ranks, it would be Mother Corp. Its attitude of infinite superiority when reporting on the fleshly failings of the Catholic Church, the military, schools and amateur sports leagues has always purveyed the odour of an outfit with its own house impeccably in order. Yet it failed, massively, to curb Gomeshi's rote goatish rutting.

Finger pointing is one thing. Running around in ever diminishing circles wondering what to do is another. While we do both, we ignore a primary cause of sexually harassing behaviour as much as we reflexively ignore the behaviour itself. It's not that we don't know the cause. It’s that we want to live in a world of magical thinking where Eros itself is only a happy-face part of the human condition that must never be considered morally problematic.

We want to live in a kind of fogged denial that even pubescent teenagers know biologically is ludicrous. We want to sustain the pernicious myth of two generations that human sexual conduct is primarily recreational and only secondarily, to use the language of the Church, procreative and unitive.

The corrective is not Pecksniffian rectitudinalism. Who, after all, can anticipate the oscillations of the human heart? All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Passion happens. Out of passion, regardless of how improbable or even initially untoward, genuine love might grow.

Yet everything in our anthropology, our evolution, our common life shows it is nonsense at best, a monstrous and destructive lie at worst, to pretend the sheer power of passion and love can be safely severed from moral restraint. Such restraint is articulated through the common decency, the common civility of traditional modes of right conduct in our common life. Those modes of conduct are rooted, after all, in humanity’s ancient experience of exactly what happens when such codes are discarded and buried. What happens is we forget that while we sometimes have sex, we always have souls. Seeking only the former without recognition of the latter, as we have become habituated to doing, is no cause for celebration. It is a source of dangerous, even criminal, shame.

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