I am well into a personal memoir of a journey into unknowing. Here’s a peek at AN early note and forgiver the self-obsession
Prologue : Effortless Superiority
The arrogance of confident and effortless superiority moderated by significant personal insecurity and deeply rooted religious mythology defines he who is still evolving. I do not set out to sketch a chronology, and yet of necessity chronology will impose its own structures. Rather I hope to reflect on the major movements of my own time and place, and intuit that some of this will also reflect my generation across the whole of North America. Over time I have come to recognize that the segregated Roman Catholic culture which determined me had the same impact on so many others from New Orleans to San Francisco, from New York to Los Angeles and across all of Canada. Scratch deep inside Chris Matthews, the late Tim Russet, Stephen Colbert, Jerry Brown, Paul Martin and so many others and you will find an unexpected sameness. What stands out above all else is how that culture has been rejected and cast aside. The contrast tween then and now is not always as stark as is evidenced in Quebec, but it exists everywhere. Know too that while I emotionally miss some of it, I am absolutely delighted to see IT confined to the ash heap of history.
Born in the first year after the end of World War Two into that final great flowering of Roman Catholic triumphalism and authoritarianism, my life has been a sometimes tortuous pilgrimage from, through and beyond my intellectually sterile Recusant Anglo Irish inheritance. The birth certificate tells me I was born an English Colonial in St. John’s, Newfoundland , and much of that world view grounded my early life, notwithstanding our newly minted Canadian Provincial status. One does not just become an instant Canadian after many hundreds of years of limited independence, and while proud to call myself one, I never learned the words of our national anthem until late in my teens. In our remote corner of the barely civilized back end of North American, we were more emotionally attached to the British Crown and by dint of the triangular trade to the United States that we ever were to Ottawa or Toronto. I was also born into a semi occupied country at a time in our local history when the over powering and commanding presence of American Military bases had greater impact than our links to the larger Canada or to that little town on the Rideau Canal. I grew up among more American military uniforms than Canadian.
Neither had the Newfoundland of my youth totally rejected the “Fuhrer Princip”, and the Papa Doc who governed us for all of my youth was a type of national socialist, a man not much different from Stalin in attitude, if not extermination, with his five year plans for industrialization. Admittedly we had no gulag or murder, but we did see people exterminated in other ways, and one knew the wages of sin. The other class and religious structures of my 1950’s and early 1960’s were as equally fascist and authoritarian. It was a closed society, fear of rejection and retribution, political, religious and social, meant we were a people who went along to get along. Dissent was disloyalty, questioning was treasonous, and there were significant alcohol issues apparent not in my immediate family but in many of my friends. Underneath people fumed and school boys occasionally did radical things. I remember the journalist and military history Gwyn Dyer receiving the ‘Religion Price’ in his final year of high school, and learning later that he had smashed one of those god awful blue virginal statues he was awarded in protest. Blasphemy! The powers that be at the time pilloried him as emotionally disturbed and psychologically unstable, and he was identified as being “extra muros”, and indeed was put outside the walls. There were other such ‘bad weeds’. I learned my place very early on. I once asked a question to an Irish Christian brother teacher about the recently called ‘Vatican Council’, and was told dismissed it was not something I should consider asking. Intellectual curiosity was not sinful, but almost.
The Roman Catholic environment into which I was born was a very closed society, not that different from the Hutterites and Mennonites, who still commune in central Ontario today. We had Catholics History Books, Catholic English literature, and yes Catholic Science. The power of the clerical establishment was arbitrary and absolute. Life centred around Church and School, pretending as they did to be in control of all aspects of being and thinking. It was an apartheid society grounded in Christian denominational separatism, and pent up energies were often released in gladiatorial combats between denominations on various athletic fields. I was born and grew up in that madness, and forgive me, participated in, enjoyed and relished it. I became an apparatchik in training and remained as such on various levels until the early 1980’s. In time I learned that this closed Catholic society existed in similar manifestations in most of the United States and Canada. By chance I ended up at the age of 14 in school in Connecticut and discovered I was really quite at home in the exact same church dominated culture. The politics were a little different, but the Irish Catholicism which dominated all of North America was triumphalist and equally authoritarian. Many of us lived entirely centred in that Church ordered world, even unto graduation from Jesuit or other such Colleges and Universities. So what happened?