"Canada's newest church is extreme liberal fundamentalism!" a rogue e-mail raged in my inbox yesterday afternoon - and before deleting it I suffered a twinge of self-recognition.
Watching Progressive Conservative Leader John Tory dodge and weave relativistically while defending religious schools on television had already brought out my inner fundamentalist. When he later burbled into approval of teaching crackpot creationism in Ontario public schools, I was ready to spark up the auto-da-fé.
Until then, I was prepared to listen to the debate and consider all views, albeit without believing. But that's impossible now. Intentionally or not, Mr. Tory has called the forces of secular humanism to arms. A nice fellow, but he must be crushed. Let fire and brimstone rain about his head.
What's this that now appears in the inbox? A "Statement of Clarification" from Tory headquarters, asserting the Conservative Leader didn't mean what he said a few hours earlier about "other theories" of evolution being taught in schools.
But backtracking won't work now that he has us on his trail. The struggle for universal, secular education is one of the key narratives of the native democracy that emerged in this city long before Confederation.
When Premier Dalton McGuinty defends public education as the essential common ground of a divided, pluralistic society, he steals words from the mouths of Egerton Ryerson, William Lyon Mackenzie and the early Reformers who valiantly assaulted the religious establishments of their day. When John Tory confusedly seeks to re-empower those vanquished minorities, he awakens a sleeping giant.
None of us zealots will go to the wall to defend the academic quality of universal public education. As Mr. McGuinty and other alarmists understand, it is the fear of losing social control that binds Ontarians, especially Torontonians, to their public schools. Like any religion, orthodox secular humanism requires rigorous indoctrination. There can be no room for fundamental dissent - no other tribes, religions or magic competing with basic principles of science, democracy and human rights promulgated in our schools.
We may seem quaint or even backward to the rest of the world, but we are a deeply secular people who have placed all our faith in civic institutions, especially our public schools. Upholding them is a sacred duty, and the slightest threat to them is apt to provoke a hysterical response.
The mystery is why our conservatives, from the Family Compact on down, insist on threatening. They began with the Catholic school system, the existence of which marks the regrettable limit of our native creed's historical influence, but are now moving to unite every enemy against us. Electoral violence is the only appropriate response.
Another mystery is why conservatives, for all their talk about abiding values, are so willing to discard the only values capable of uniting an otherwise deeply divided society. Multiculturalism is dangerous, they say, but not so much as the secular ideology we rely on to Canadianize so many immigrants.
Secular faith informs us that Toronto-style multiculturalism, subjected to the powerful influence of universal public education based on liberal-scientific principles, is a powerful form of integration. In that account, schools are the essential catalysts of our success. Paying immigrants to retreat to their own ghettos threatens everything.
So here we are again, back on the barricades, but reluctant and angry, unwilling to parley. A truculent majority can be an ugly thing, as Mr. Tory seems determined to discover.