Toronto: Stoddart, 1990, 232 pp., $15.95.
In 1987’s Fragmented Gods, Reginald Bibby faulted Canada’s religious leaders and chided their adherents who have sold their spiritual birthrights. Religion is now a consumer item for baptizing, marrying, and burying. In Mosaic Madness, Bibby widens the campaign from religion to three other keystone social institutions: education, media, and government.
Bibby’s thesis bears discussion: Individualism and relativism have sickened Canadian life and those four institutions. Individualism is a cancerous deterioration of the healthy claim of the value of the individual. When the individual becomes society’s supreme value, social relationships and institutions wither. For its part, relativism has developed from the loss of any transcendent standard by which to judge anything. Individualism plus relativism equal “visionless coexistence” (p. 105)—a cracked foundation for society building.
Bibby makes his diagnosis in chapters one through four by taking us on a quick historical tour. Things were not so great in the good old days and needed changing. As evidence he cites past racial prejudices. Immigration of many ethnic groups was limited; native population was marginalized. Also, rural areas were simply unpleasant places to live. In 1941, 69 per cent of Canada had electricity and 61 per cent had running water; those amenities reached only 20 per cent and 12 per cent of rural areas (p. 36).
Over the years, Canadians often worked together to build something of a nation in their struggle for rights—hence the word mosaic in the title. Yet over those same years that building project lost focus and became “visionless”—one of Bibby’s favourite words. Groups lived side by side but quit listening to each other. Wimpy tolerance set in where vigorous human interaction would have maintained standards for nation building. Such tolerance refuses to judge anything because it fears giving offense. Majorities or minorities must not and hence cannot claim better values. Eventually anything goes, but nobody truly knows anyone or anything nor cares enough to challenge; accountability and mutual responsibility disappear. Superficially carefree, Canadian tolerance is seething underneath with anger and fatal divisiveness. Sadly, that is what now passes for “multiculturalism”—the madness of this potentially wonderful mosaic.
Ironically, then, unprincipled tolerance destroys the very mosaic structure it was intended to encourage. That is Bibby’s bad news in chapters five through seven. In each chapter he tells anecdotes and cites statistics of extensive research to describe how individualism and relativism have infected religion, media, education, and government. Some of this rehashes Fragmented Gods, but it is worth rereading.
Finally, Bibby does some prescribing. Far from wishing to abolish multiculturalism, he yearns for its responsible, respectful expression. Minorities should struggle for rights but must own up to others’ claims as well. Majorities—who have bought into individualism and relativism in a big way—have been intimidated into silence by minorities. Majorities fear giving offense, but their silence prevents them from really knowing minorities or caring for them.
Bibby calls religion, education, media, and government back to mutual accountability. He despises the intellectual and spiritual laxity (for which he holds these institutions accountable) that combined to permit this sad case: A teacher was accused of fondling girls; he was acquitted, but nothing was done to rehabilitate his career or to call his accusers to accountability for false accusations (p. 175). As a solution for such laziness, Bibby prescribes intellectual daring, creative interchange among disciplines, and responsible popularizing of issues (pp. 191,192).
This book shows Bibby’s intellectual daring. He makes technical discussions and mountains of interrelated data accessible, bringing them to bear on religion, education, media, and politics. In short, Bibby attempts to integrate academic disciplines and life—and if ever there was a buzzword it’s integration.
Yet I shall not be merely tolerant. On the one hand I was surprised how much Bibby does dare, since he is a sociologist at the secular University of Lethbridge. On the other hand, he should have dared to prescribe more. Reginald Bibby is one of Canada’s foremost popularizers and synthesizers of sociology. But he is more than a competent sociologist. When he speaks for Christian groups, his own Christian commitment shines brightly. He encourages Christians to speak responsibly and respectfully in the public square. Why didn’t he do that more clearly in this part of the public square he himself built? In a sense Bibby himself falls victim to the madness he diagnoses by not forthrightly articulating his own commitments that could contribute to mosaic coherence.
And maybe we should tell that to him. But what if he listens? Then we’ll all be in for some hard work. Are we up to challenging Bibby and accepting his challenge in return?