There was violence on the streets of London. London, the quondam imperial capital, suffered a terror attack yesterday. But there has been frightening public in our London, Ontario, too. Google reminds us, in case we’ve forgotten, with this Toronto Star story from 2012.
“Our first crew got here at 11:30 p.m. and tried to get in to put the fire out,” London Fire Department District Chief Jim Holmes said. “But they were pushed back by the crowd. There were lots of bottles flying, other objects, rocks and everything.”
The damage to street pavements, vehicles and lights is estimated to be $100,000. Seventeen police vehicles were damaged.
London police chief Brad Duncan said the riot was the worst violence he had seen in the city in his 32-year career.
The cause of the five-hour riot? A St. Patrick’s Day bacchanal near Fanshawe College. Were the revellers actual worshippers of Bacchus? Unlikely. It’s unlikely they had the philosophical or theological wherewithal to be worshippers of anything. Certainly one is safe in concluding that their desire to imitate the life of St. Patrick, or ask for his celestial intercession, was greatly attenuated. Most of them would be hard pressed to enumerate the key differences between St. Patrick and a leprechaun. In the state they were in, many of them might have found it hard to count at all.
Last week, three days before the debauchery that St. Patrick’s Day has become, the great Christian publishing event of the season took place, with the long-awaited release of Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option. In due course we will have a proper review of it here, and I will offer my own views. In the meantime, Dreher himself – a blogger of truly staggering output – has chronicled on his blog a good part of the reaction to the book.
Here I would note only one aspect of what Dreher diagnoses is the problem: the lack of Christian formation among Millennials. They have no idea of what Christianity is, and therefore have no reason to even call themselves Christians, let alone attempt to practice the faith. And so they leave the churches in droves; or perhaps better to say they were never there.
The Benedict Option was released on the feast of St. Benedict according to the Orthodox calendar, March 14 (Dreher is Orthodox). But it was relevant to St. Patrick’s Day, for few days better illustrate the withdrawal of faith from shaping our common life.
There are those who, perhaps desperately optimistic, try to see St. Patrick’s Day celebrations as a hardy shamrock still standing despite the gale force winds of secularism. For my part, I loathe St. Patrick’s Day celebrations because I like to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by loving what St. Patrick loved, and loathing what St. Patrick loathed.
The revellers at Fanshawe College were likely too culturally illiterate to be capable of sacrilege, but marking a saint’s day with intoxicated violence is a desecration of what ought to be a holy thing. (We have our offensive revellers too at Queen’s University. I see them from my office window and am embarrassed; although the behaviour of some is a thoroughgoing disgrace, apparently they draw the line at public violence.)
While St. Patrick’s Day brings hoodlums, rather than pilgrims, to the streets, even the more civic-minded celebrations are lacking. The parades, the corned beef dinners, the reciting of limericks, the drinking of Guinness, the wearing of green, so much of it has been so emptied of the Christian faith that the patron saint of St. Patrick’s Day is no longer Patrick himself but Esau, who sold his birthright, the blessing and the promise, for a mess of pottage.
St. Patrick’s Day is a signal marker of our post-Christian culture, with its parading politicians whose conduct St. Patrick would have denounced in thunderous terms, and its drunken students who St. Patrick would have pitied more than condemned. They literally know not what they do.
My colleague at the National Post, Terrence Corcoran, published a historical piece for St. Patrick’s Day tracing the development of Fenianism – extreme Irish nationalism – and how it was defeated as a force in Canada.
It is easy to lament that religion, nation and culture – blood and soil – were put to violent purposes in our past. Yet ubiquitous St. Patrick’s Day violence seems rather a major step down from that. It is violence in the service of merely indulging appetites.
In any case, Corcoran is interested in how religious pluralism and ethnic minorities were accommodated in Canada in a more successful way than in either the United Kingdom or the United States. He quotes the Irish Catholic Father of Confederation, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, speaking in November 1867 during the first session of Parliament after the passage of the British North America Act:
This is the first Constitution ever given to a mixed people, in which the conscientious rights of the minority, are made a subject of formal guarantee… a guarantee by which we have carried the principle of equal and reciprocal toleration a step further in Canada than has been carried, in any other free government — American or European.
St. Patrick’s Day in McGee’s time was fraught with the potential of clashes between Catholics and Protestants, English and Irish. Today it is fraught with clashes between the debauched and the police for no particular reason. In Canada’s sesquicentennial year, it is good to remember that not all history is progress.
An earlier version of this column misstated the time frame for the events in London, Ontario. Convivium wishes to correct the record.
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