Not a godless country like the Catholic nations of Europe nor a god-full sovereignty like the United States of America, Canada is the perennial via media. Sort of. I was reminded of this unique status of the Canadian reality--the continental straddler--when the country's national equivalent to Time, Maclean's, showcased on its front cover the tantalizing "Is God Poison?" by staffer and medieval historian Brian Bethune, at the same time as the country celebrated the success of philosopher and public intellectual Charles Taylor with his lucrative Templeton Prize. Taylor, arguably the most important contemporary philosopher writing in English on modernity, identity and religion, has always been a bit of a sphinx for the media. A onetime social democrat running for office, friend of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, professor of political philosophy at several illustrious academies, including Oxford, and a savant of unimpeachable credentials, Taylor has been enlisted by the government of Quebec to examine the various competing social and political priorities that attend upon a secular society's accommodation of diverse religious needs in the public arena. It is ironic that a society like that of Quebec, that is increasingly viewed as spiritually deracinated, should become a testcase for Canada's much celebrated reputation for an enlightened multiculturalism. But who better to examine colliding truth claims in a religious and social gallimaufry than Charles Taylor, whose intellectual and spiritual shapers include Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Henri de Lubac, and Yves Congar A good antidote to the God poison of fundamentalism.
Michael W. Higgins is the Basilian Distinguished Fellow in Contemporary Catholic Thought, University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto, and Distinguished Professor Emeritus, Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Conn. He is currently writing a book on Pope Francis for House of Anansi Press.