If you’ve ever been to Canada, you’ve found yourself quite at home, eh? True, the money looks different, and the speed limits are posted in kilometers per hour, and people say “aboat” when they mean “about,” and cafes offer orange marmalade instead of “mixed fruit jelly,” and red maple leaves wave where you’re used to seeing stars and stripes—but apart from that, you’d hardly know you were in another country.
Unfortunately, being so much like the United States has a definite downside. Much of the same nuttiness that plagues us plagues our northern neighbors as well.
You may have heard about the jury in a Texas custody case that sided with a boy’s mother even though she wants to raise him as a girl, against his father’s wishes. Well, in Canada, a father is under a court order not to address his daughter—pardon me, his transgender “son”—by her (sorry, “his”) birth name, nor speak of “him” as a girl, nor refer to “him” with female pronouns. Any of that, the judge warned, “shall be considered to be family violence.”
That was in British Columbia. Political correctness reigns also in Manitoba, where a teenage student has been suspended for “hate speech” after objecting to her school’s substitution of rainbow-colored poppies for the red poppies Brits traditionally have worn on Remembrance Day (their Veterans Day) to honor those who died in World War I and subsequent wars.
Meanwhile back in the States, the New York City Commission on Human Rights has informed citizens they can be fined up to $250,000 if they refuse to use a co-worker’s preferred pronouns. “Say ‘ze,’ not ‘he,’ or cough up the dough. And hop on one foot while you’re at it.”
As Erick Erickson and the folks at Instapundit like to put it: “You Will Be Made to Care.” North or south of the Great Lakes, we are fast approaching the predicament once described by the great Russian dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn. The Soviet system, he said, is uniquely oppressive because, “over and above its physical and economic constraints, it demands of us total surrender of our souls, continuous and active participation in the general, conscious lie.”
Consider the National Post story about that British Columbia custody case and notice how the reporter is totally on board with the lie, referring throughout to the man’s daughter as a boy. The Associated Press observes that rule, too, as do other news organizations. When I first was told of this, back in the newsroom in San Antonio, I exclaimed aloud: “You mean that if a man wants to pretend he’s a woman, we have to pretend he is, too? Journalists lie, my God, journalists lie! There’s no lie so big a journalist won’t tell it, so long as it’s P.C.”
You can imagine how that situated me with my “woke” colleagues!
More Sensitive than God
Though it originates among people who are not religious and who, in many cases, are actively anti-religious, this pronoun mania has invaded Christianity as well.
In John 11:25 (KJV), Jesus says, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” And in Revelation 3:20 (RSV), He says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.”
Those verses use masculine pronouns in the original language, not just in English, to express the Lord’s direct, individual, one-on-one promise of communion and eternal life to all who believe in Him. In neither case has that promise ever been understood to be exclusively for men, not for women. In the first case, Jesus is even speaking to a woman! Yet some modern versions of the Bible use “those,” “they” and “them” or “you” and “we,” so as to avoid using “he” and “him.” Thus, by trying to be more sensitive than God, those “woke” translators bow before a politically correct idol.
This pronoun mania is just one way in which the Left confirms the words of G.K. Chesterton: “When men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything.”
Returning to the Great White North for a moment, consider Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It begins with the words, “Whereas Canada is founded upon principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” Some years ago, one Svend Robinson, a leftist member of Parliament from British Columbia, rose in the House of Commons to propose removing that reference to God and saying “founded upon principles of intellectual freedom” instead.
Nothing’s special about his idea, of course. We in the States have lots of nut cases who want “under God” out of the Pledge and “In God We Trust” struck from our coins. But just as no one here is going to strike “created equal,” “endowed by their Creator” and “the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God” from our Declaration of Independence, the Canadians declined to strike “the supremacy of God” from their charter.
As for “intellectual freedom,” it’s funny that the phrase is so often invoked by those who reject God’s authority. It’s funny because the intellectual movement to deny God has produced some of the most ferocious enemies of intellectual freedom.
In North America, it’s thrown up the petty tyrants of P.C. world. In Russia, it spawned a nightmare regime that was lavishly praised by intellectuals the world over while it lived, but whose infamy is immortalized in works such as Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago.
From Adam’s free will to Sinai’s Commandments to Jesus’s promise, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,” intellectual freedom and the rule of law are enjoyed by the human race as the gift of God. And whenever those who deny God’s supremacy achieve supreme power themselves, intellectual freedom and the rule of law are the very first things they steal from everyone else.
Casting Out God
I’m glad Robinson’s proposal to delete God from Canada’s charter was hooted down. But it’s too bad that another country besides our own must contend with secularizers who won’t rest until they’ve saddled their countrymen with an establishment of irreligion.
Secularization affects our culture in ways big and small. Take the folk-rock classic, “California Dreamin’,” written by John and Michelle Phillips and released in 1966. It tells of a man in some cold, wintry Northeastern burg who’s longing for the warmth of Southern California and struggling with his conscience because he’s tempted to desert his woman to get there.
All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day
I’d be safe and warm if I was in L.A.
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day
Stopped in to a church I passed along the way
Well I got down on my knees and I began to pray
You know the preacher likes the cold, he knows I’m gonna stay
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day
All the leaves are brown and the sky is gray
I’ve been for a walk on a winter’s day
If I didn’t tell her I could leave today
California dreamin’ on such a winter’s day
Only, in the official lyrics, “began to pray” is rendered “pretend to pray.” Never mind that on the original Mamas and Papas recording that’s been heard many millions of times by countless people all over the world, Denny Doherty very clearly says “began” and is echoed that way by the rest of the singers. Early covers by Bobby Womack (1968), the Rebels (’68), Jose Feliciano (’68), and Lee Moses (’71), for example, say “began,” too. And “began,” not “pretend,” is in the past tense, as would be consistent with someone who “stopped in” to a church and “got down” on his knees.
But try to find a modern cover of the song—Susan Wong, (2010), Diana Krall (’14), and Ellie Drennan (’15), for example—that doesn’t say “pretend” or “pretended” instead of “began.” Even John Phillips himself, in a new version of the song released in 2001, the year of his death, says “pretend.”
So what’s the story? We have it, and it comes from John’s co-writer and then-wife, Michelle.
In 2008, that quintessential California girl shared her recollections with Geoff Boucher of the Los Angeles Times:
Michelle Phillips remembers 1963 as a year of bone-chill and profound homesickness. The Long Beach native, then 19, had married John Phillips in late 1962 and the two had shuttled off to New York to seek fame with their folk group, the New Frontiersmen. “We were staying at the Albert Hotel, near Washington Square. It was a fleabag. I had never seen snow before, I had never been to the East Coast. I was miserable.”
One blustery day, the couple were strolling by the marble spires of St. Patrick’s Cathedral. “I wanted to go in just to see what it looked like, but John wouldn’t go with me,” Michelle recalled. “He had been sent off to a parochial school when he was 7 and, well, he just had very strong negative feelings about the church. So I went in alone.”
A few weeks later, the couple was working together on “California Dreamin’.” John had gotten the first verse down right away, Michelle said. “I added the next few lines about the church”—including “began to pray.”
“He hated it,” Michelle said. “Just hated it. But he didn’t have anything better.”
It seems John was pushing a little passive-aggressive alternative right from the beginning, however. “We were on the road after the song was a hit,” Michelle said, “and I was doing a sound check with Cass [Elliot], and I sang the lyric. She looked at me and said, ‘Wait, what did you say? I thought the lyric was ‘I pretend to pray.’ That’s how she had been singing it all along!”
(Listen again to the original version. Are the girls saying “began” or “pretend”? Hard to say, since one of them is singing it one way, and the other, the other.)
Pop singers must have less use for praying than they once did, for John Phillips’ aversion to church seems to have won out. All our latter-day California dreamers apparently have no idea that someone who wanted to leave his wife would enter a church, get down on his knees and actually pray about it.
Consequences Beyond the Silly
The pronoun follies may be bizarre, and secularist obsessions such as that one are certainly regrettable. But they are not the worst of what the agenda of irreligion has in store for us. No, there’s something much, much worse.
Here’s another story out of Canada in which intellectuals north of the border bear an unlovely resemblance to their American cousins.
Last year saw the death at age 68 of career criminal and celebrated writer Stephen Reid. Of his final offense, a bungled 1999 bank heist and shootout in Victoria, British Columbia, the Associated Press wrote: “A man who wrote a best-selling novel about his past as a bank robber and married a leading Canadian poet is back behind bars,” adding that Reid “had become a respected figure in local literary circles.”
That brings to mind the case of Jack Henry Abbott, a killer lionized in American “literary circles” as an American Solzhenitsyn for writing a book about prison life. With the sponsorship of Norman Mailer and others, Abbott obtained parole—and promptly committed another murder.
Then there is the ex-con Eldridge Cleaver, whose book Soul on Ice was required reading for leftists in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The book posited rape as an act of liberation.
And when kidnappers invaded a young woman’s home, knocked her down, bound and blindfolded her, carried her off to their hideout, and further tormented her until she gratified them by “joining” their demented string of bank robberies, shootings and bomb plots—that gang drew cheers from the Left.
The kidnapping of Patricia Hearst, recounted in painful detail in her memoir, was a classic of left-wing lunacy. Here’s how it came down: On Feb. 4, 1974, a squad of college-town radicals led by an escaped convict named Donald DeFreeze broke into Hearst’s Berkeley apartment. Brushing her boyfriend aside, they tied her up and dragged her screaming to a waiting car, clubbing her with a rifle butt and spraying the neighbors’ homes with bullets along the way. As the gang drove off, DeFreeze kicked her and told her, “Shut your mouth, bitch, or I’m going to blow your f—ing head off.”
This was the Symbionese Liberation Army, vanguard of the people’s revolution. The SLA had already murdered Dr. Marcus Foster, Oakland’s first black school superintendent, for being a “collaborator” in “Fascist AmeriKKKa.” Hearst was their next victim.
At their hideout, the SLA kept their prisoner in a padded closet. They informed her she’d been “arrested” as the daughter of “a corporate enemy of the people”—that would be Randolph Hearst, son of the legendary media magnate William Randolph Hearst—and was being “held in protective custody” under “the Geneva Convention governing prisoners of war.”
She would later describe how this convention was explained to her: “As long as I behaved myself, I would not be mistreated; but if I dared to make a sound or to try to escape or even to touch the closet door, which would be locked, then I would be strung up from the ceiling—like a dead pig.”
She also told how, while blindfolded, she was treated to continual lectures about the SLA’s success in organizing prison inmates “to join the revolution to overthrow the fascist capitalists and imperialists who were now running the country. The SLA had set up a vast organization, led by an army of trained combat units, to bring about the revolution . . . The SLA also had marvelous new programs for the new world to come. [They] went on and on explaining the SLA to me until I could barely stand hearing them anymore. I wanted to scream at them, ‘Oh, shut up,’ but of course, I did not dare.”
Hearst was raped and otherwise abused. She was given statements to recite for release to the press condemning her parents and expounding SLA doctrines. Determined “to get out alive and to see them all sent to jail for a long, long time for what they were doing to me,” she feigned agreement with her captors, accepted the nom de guerre “Tania,” and participated in their subsequent crimes.
Security cameras filmed her helping rob a bank in San Francisco, and the SLA released a photograph of “Tania” holding a carbine and posing in front of their hydra-headed logo. SLA fans made the photo into posters with the words, “We love you Tania” or “Shelter them” added, and the posters were displayed in college-town coffee houses and at kiosks and bulletin boards on campuses around the country. (I saw one at the University of Washington in Seattle.)
Then, on May 17, 1974, DeFreeze, also known as Cinque Mtume, “General Field Marshal in the United Federated Forces of the Symbionese Liberation Army,” was killed along with most of his command (five people) in a fire following a shootout with police in Los Angeles. (The fire is seen in the image atop this article.)
The dead included four of the five people shown in a famous FBI “Wanted” flyer. The other is Patty Hearst.
By then thoroughly brainwashed and fearing she would be punished or even shot on sight for having “joined” the SLA, Hearst went into hiding and continued to assist the group’s remnant in further robberies, bombings, and ripoffs. Eventually, she was arrested, tried and convicted. Ironically, her sentence was greater than those meted out to her surviving SLA captor-comrades. But on February 1, 1979, at the urging of private citizens and public figures ranging from Ronald Reagan to Cesar Chavez, President Jimmy Carter commuted her sentence and had her released from prison. And in 2001, she received a full pardon from departing President Bill Clinton.
It’s hard to fathom the mentality that could applaud the brutal victimization of a helpless young woman. But not only did the SLA have its radical cheering section, it actually drew recruits as its crimes brought notoriety. One such person, Kathleen Ann Soliah, went into hiding after Patricia Hearst’s arrest. Living within the law in St. Paul, Minnesota, she became a wife, a mother, a performer in community theater and an activist in—what else?—“progressive” politics. But in 1999, Soliah was found out, arrested, and sent back to California for trial on charges she planted bombs under police cars during her SLA days. (The bombs were defused with no casualties.)
This turn of events gave us all a chance to see if anyone ever connected with the SLA would ever show any shame for its vicious, death-dealing mania. Initial indications were none too promising. Far from turning from her in horror, Soliah’s friends in Minnesota put up the $1 million bail for her, and Soliah’s smirking public reunion with these people was anything but a study in remorse.
To give Soliah her due, she comes off fairly well in Patricia Hearst’s memoir. As Hearst tells it, Soliah was a sympathetic character, drawn to the SLA as much by friendship with one of the fallen comrades as with infatuation with “the revolution.” The villains of the piece are DeFreeze, who to his captive was mean, merciless, phony, arrogant, revolting—a “horrible man”—and Bill and Emily Harris, who assumed leadership after DeFreeze and the others died, and who Hearst believed were “just plain evil.” And Soliah, in her life as Sara Jane Olson of St. Paul, was by all accounts a good neighbor—a “model citizen,” “quite progressive,” a “wonderful gourmet dinner party host” who “goes about working for justice in an unjust world” and “has demonstrated through years of social actions and potluck that she is rehabilitated.”
Minnesota State Senator Sandy Pappas, a Democrat, asked, “Don’t they have any real crimes to fight? We were all going to protests then.” And for theater director Lynn Musgrave and many other Minnesotans, the clincher in Soliah’s favor was that she was “a pacifist and liberal Democrat who supports gun control.”
As well she might. For on April 21, 1975, Soliah saw for herself what a gun in the wrong hands can do. Soliah was helping rob the Crocker National Bank in Carmichael, California, when Emily Harris shot and killed one of the customers. Hearst writes that the victim, “the mother of four teenage children, was Mrs. Myrna Lee Opsahl, and she had gone to the bank that Monday morning to deposit the collection of the Carmichael Seventh-day Adventist Church. When she was brought to the hospital, her husband, a surgeon, had been summoned to the emergency room, and there on the table, he had found his wife dead.”
Soliah/Olson was all set to fight her “persecution” in court, but then some bastard named Osama bin Laden came along and queered the deal for her. In a December 2001 Washington Post column titled “Baby Boomers’ Sunset,” George F. Will wrote:
Never remorseful and now self-pitying, she said she was eager for a trial but could not get a fair one because Americans were so wrought up about terrorism and had become pro-government. So she pleaded guilty in a bargain that would mean a milder sentence. Then she walked out of the courtroom and told the media she was innocent. She did not feel guilty.
The judge, unamused, set another hearing, at which he told her a guilty plea is not mere prelude to a press conference. She again pleaded guilty, in a pouty way, saying, well, okay, she technically did aid and abet the bombing attempts. But later her tender conscience again told her she must ask the judge to disregard her second guilty plea. … The judge [refused and] said: “She pled guilty because she is guilty. The facts show she is guilty.”
The following year, Olson was given a prison sentence of 20 years to life. Will notes that Ronald Reagan “won California’s governorship, partly because of his promise to clean up ‘the mess at Berkeley.’ Of which Olson was briefly a part, thereby contributing to the rise of the right. Such are the tricks history plays on frivolous dabblers at the making of history.”
Rebelling Against the “Sins of God”?
Even all that SLA looniness is topped by New Left figure Jerry Rubin, the anti-war Yippie who would later turn yuppie. After some cretinous cult slaughtered actress Sharon Tate and others in 1969, Rubin paid its leader a jailhouse visit.
“I fell in love with Charlie Manson the first time I saw his cherub face and sparkling eyes on national TV,” Rubin burbled, adding that when he met Manson in person, “his words and courage inspired [me] . . . and I felt great the rest of the day, overwhelmed by the depth of the experience of touching Manson’s soul.”
Another in the Manson fan club was Weather Underground terrorist Bernadine Dohrn, who in later years would, with her husband and fellow Weatherman Bill Ayers, help launch Barack Obama into politics. Of the Tate massacre, Dohrn chirped:
Offing those rich pigs with their own forks and knives, and then eating a meal in the same room, far out! The Weathermen dig Charles Manson.
The deep-souled Manson never gained entry into Manhattan’s elite salons, but Rubin’s Chicago Seven co-defendants did, as did the Black Panthers and other violence-prone “revolutionaries” of that era. Tom Wolfe was on hand to capture the moment, and publication of his wicked vignettes, Radical Chic & Mau-Mauing the Flak Catchers, was the Avant Garde’s first clue that the author of The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline-Baby and The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test was not on their side.
It’s particularly discouraging to know that the Left’s perversity about criminal violence didn’t start with the ’60s. Try out the liberal icon Clarence Darrow, who once defended a spouse killer with the wisecrack, “Well, it was his own wife, wasn’t it?” and who once told some convicts, “It is not the bad people I fear so much as the good people. When a person is sure that he is good, he is nearly hopeless; he gets cruel—he believes in punishment.”
Finally, consider Earl Shorris’s essay, “In Defense of the Children of Cain,” published in Harper’s magazine in 1973. It’s a review of John Gardner’s novel Grendel, which retells the Beowulf saga from the monster’s point of view. Shorris wrote:
History is too rich in prophets. The whine of doomsaying is in our daily life. We need writers who will defend us against the sins of God by revising the dream history of our kind. . . .
Cain, realizing the absurdity of the world, rebels; raging, he kills his brother. God refuses responsibility for the act and sends Cain out to be a fugitive and a wanderer, putting a mark on him to keep him from being killed before he has suffered enough to satisfy his tormentor.
Gardner cannot retract the curse, but he rejects the guilt, telling us that Cain and the children of Cain are the human sufferers of this world, the compassionate ones, those whose very being is the most intense. . . .
For a thousand years, the monster has been known as a “creature cut off from grace, grim and greedy, fierce and fell,” yet Gardner makes of that hairy, stinking, man-eating beast a sentient, bittersweetly witty, and altogether lovable being . . . the representative of the beings we would like to be. . . .
He eats Hrothgar’s thanes, chewing off heads and arms, biting bodies in half, watching the blood spurt from the remains of his truncated victims. Then the hero comes from across the water, from the land of the Geats: Beowulf. . . .
Poor Grendel, poor us; death is defeat, the prophets were right. Our own “blind hope” fades with the monster’s life force. Then, as if by magic, we are reminded that rebellion is also a way to die: Grendel ends defiant. . . .
Then let history be rewritten from a humanistic point of view, Mr. Gardner seems to say. . . . Then the children of Cain will have the courage to be, to rebel, to enter the forge of life and emerge defiant, free, and more merciful than the gods.
Here’s how Gardner’s “bittersweetly witty” Grendel overcomes despair with his “defiant” end: As he lies dying, the forest creatures gather around him: “They watch on, evil, incredibly stupid, enjoying my destruction. ‘Poor Grendel’s had an accident,’ I whisper. ‘So may you all.’ ”
When Grendel came out in 1971, Newsweek’s reviewer called it “clearly a necessary corrective because the poem is pure propaganda for the fat thanes who puffed the winter away, drunkenly boasting of their lineage, and persuading themselves (against all evidence) that the forces of darkness, of annihilation, could be kept at bay.”
Thus the intelligentsia’s enthusiasm for criminal violence was explicitly linked with contempt for its victims, a contempt that has by no means gone away. Can anybody say, “Deplorables”?
Writing a “corrected” Beowulf may seem a dubious project, but that’s nothing next to the sheer lunacy of Shorris’s take on Gardner’s book. “Evil, incredibly stupid,” indeed.
This business about how the “children of Cain” are the world’s guilt-free “human sufferers,” the ones “whose very being is the most intense,” is quite in line with Mailer’s comment on Abbott: that he showed how America’s prisons hold “the proudest, the bravest, the most daring, the most enterprising and the most undefeated of the poor.”
When Shorris’s “humanistic” sentiments appeared in something calling itself the mainstream press, America had just embarked on a crime wave that has yet to fully recede. At its peak, our per capita murder rate had doubled, theft and burglary had tripled, rape and robbery quadrupled and aggravated assault quintupled, all courtesy of “the children of Cain.”
In the 1996 movie “The First Wives Club,” a character, rebuked for some outrageous youthful transgression, responds: “It was the ’60s.” Have we outgrown that riotous decade yet? Many have. Indeed, most people never bought the nonsense peddled by Rubin, Shorris, and their like.
But then there are those who, even today, will rally around a convicted murderer like Mumia Abu-Jamal.
Aversion to God and infatuation with criminals. Those twin traits aren’t common to every “progressive.” But in America as in Canada, they are common enough to have made a comfortable home for themselves on the Left.