I have been reading Kathy Shaidle's blog
for years now. Most of the time she provides a great portal to some of the most interesting and outrageous material on the blogosphere. Every now and then she says things make me cringe, that I wish she wouldn't say because they give her enemies ammunition against her. But most of the time, I admire her courage, her willingness to be herself, whether she is venting her anger, or telling us what she really thinks in a way that shatters the often absurd fortresses of political correctness.
I don't know Kathy well--a couple of meetings over lunch in Toronto, some telephone conversations, some of which led to this profile.
But I know her well enough to dismiss the accusations that float around that she is a racist or hates Muslims, even if she hates certain behavior carried out in the name of Islam. I abhor racism of any kind and if I knew Kathy judged people on the basis of their skin color or background and not the content of their characters , I would shun her.
I think Kathy Shaidle is among the most gifted Canadian writers alive today. Those who read her blog regularly, and there are thousands of us, are only getting a glimpse of her prodigious talent. In other words, if you have enjoyed FiveFeetofFury
or Relapsed Catholic
, then you will be blown away by her e-book Acoustic Ladyland
or her earlier book God Rides a Yamaha
. Her essays shine because they are written by a poet. Their images will stay with you. They will entertain you, perhaps shock you and make you think. They will help you to see with an artists eye yourself. If you are a writer, they will spark a good envy that makes you want to try harder to be a better writer yourself.
Over the years, Kathy has held down a full time job while delivering one of the most interesting, creative blogs I know of. I imagine her providing all her great links with one hand one the keyboard and the other combing her hair, putting on a little mascara, or fishing for those tiny subway tokens needed for her long commute. In other words what you see on the blog is Kathy "off the cuff," not Kathy the perfectionist poet, who chooses her words with devastating precision and polishes her work until it gleams. She can't focus totally on her writing even today, because she is job-searching. If you are a daily reader of her blog, you owe it to Kathy to regularly contribute to her tip jar
and buy her books, not only for yourself, but for your friends. Kathy's never going to get a government grant to allow her to write full time. It's up to us to make it possible.
Kathy has the mind and the heart of an artist. She sees things that others don't see, or, if they do see them, lack the ability to articulate it. She has the craft to draw us into her vision, and make us go, "aha!" "yes!" And like all great poets, she is a lover, not a hater. When she is angry, it's because she is brokenhearted by a sense of betrayal. Betrayed love.
She's the kind of friend who will tell you the truth if you ask her, "Does my butt look fat in this dress?" On a more serious level, she's friend enough to tell you if your ideas are stupid and will lead you to terrible consequences down the road. Friend enough to risk losing your friendship with hard truths, no matter what your race or religion. When the shoe fits, she is as hard on her own Catholic Church and her working class background as she is on Islam or Scientology or silly New Age beliefs.
She can come across as a rather equal opportunity misogynist---but it's love that motivates her. Not the sickly sentimentality masquerading as love that leaves Teddy bears at shrines for celebrities, but a love that has been tested through great suffering. Kathy has suffered in ways that most of us can only hope we will never have to. She's earned the right to speak to us the way she does, especially when she blasts away at foolish self-pity and today's cult of victimhood. Her suffering has made her deeply compassionate, though you might miss that if you see only her prickly exterior. She would be the first to put out a call for prayer if something tragic struck even one of her her enemies on the blogosphere.
She looks at her church, her country, her culture, her political leaders and "minds the gap" between how things should be and how things are. She's not afraid to point out those "third rail" issues that few people dare write about. But she knows that change won't come until there is an acknowledgment of what's wrong, until we are face head on the truth about how we are ready to get on a train to a terrible destination. She is trying to blow up the tracks for our handcarts pumping merrily to the hell. She is dynamite for the roads to hell that misguided good intentions have paved.
Which leads me to the reason why I started this post. Frequently, I find Kathy laugh-out-loud funny. Dangerous for your keyboard if you are drinking coffee at the same time. You do, however, have to be able to get the jokes. Or understand some of her seemingly outrageous headlines. Sometimes that means clicking through the links.
And more often it requires a degree of awareness and literacy.
Several days ago she drew one of those laughs with this headline:
"...and blow up all Israeli citizens, and deliver us from Mark Steyn -- oooops, did I say that out loud??"The sheer nerve and god-like genius that is Mohammed Elmasry strikes again.
To get the joke you would have to know who Elmasry is and what he said on the Michael Coren show about all Israeli Citizens over 18 being legitimate targets for attack.
You would also have to know that Elmasry's the president of the Canadian Islamic Congress and the author of the human rights complaints against Maclean's Magazine for running an excerpt of Mark Steyn's book America Alone.
But there's more. You would have to know that Elmasry provided a new prayer to replace the Lord's Prayer that Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty seems to think must be removed from the confines of Queen's Park. You also have to know the Lord's Prayer, which is why the "deliver us from Mark Steyn" line is so funny.
I had a sobering thought though. How many people 30 and under in Canada know the Lord's Prayer?
How many would see how funny Kathy's riff is? If I had the time I would go out and do one of those surveys they do on television and ask some young people to say the prayer and see what happens.
When I went to public elementary school in the United States back in the 1950s and early 60s, we still said the Lord's Prayer every morning. My fifth grade teacher Miss McDonough, a scary spinster with a balding egg-shaped head, used to read from the Bible every day. I could not wait to get to school the day Moses was going to see God for the first time. What happens now? The greatest work of literature in the world is in effect banned from public schools. The overarching Story that defines our civilization is scarcely even taught in many churches these days.
The vast majority of Canadians self-describe as Christians, but most probably do not know what the Christian faith teaches if Jason Cherniak
is any example.
I've got some homework for all of you. Even if you don't believe in God or Jesus, if you live in North America or Europe or the United Kingdom, find out about the Christian faith. Take an Alpha Course.
Go to a Bible-believing church this Sunday even if you feel like a cultural anthropologist. Keep checking churches out until you find one that you feel could teach you something about the underpinnings of your culture. Acquaint yourself the The Bible.
The whole Bible, and not just the feel-good, health and wealth stuff. The Old and New Testaments. The least you can do is be a Christian atheist like the late Oriana Fallaci.
And today, I'd like you to read Pope Benedict XVI's Regensburg address.
The pope said:
In the light of our experience with cultural pluralism, it is often said nowadays that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was an initial inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures. The latter are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that inculturation, in order to inculturate it anew in their own particular milieux. This thesis is not simply false, but it is coarse and lacking in precision. The New Testament was written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit, which had already come to maturity as the Old Testament developed. True, there are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures. Nonetheless, the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.
And so I come to my conclusion. This attempt, painted with broad strokes, at a critique of modern reason from within has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age. The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: we are all grateful for the marvellous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and for the progress in humanity that has been granted to us. The scientific ethos, moreover, is - as you yourself mentioned, Magnificent Rector - the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit. The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self-imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide-ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith. Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world's profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. At the same time, as I have attempted to show, modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology. Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based. Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought - to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding. Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: "It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being - but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss". The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur - this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time.