Worshipping at the church of Tim Hortons
The idea Canadians have replaced doxology with doughnuts is less Timmy than tinny
MARK STEYN | May 03, 2006
The other week, the Toronto Star assigned Kenneth Kidd to do a big story on Tim Hortons as an icon of Canadian identity. This was a couple of days before that odd incident with the fellow going into the men's room and blowing himself into a big bunch of Timbits, so nothing tricky was required, just the usual maple boosterism. And naturally the first thing Kidd did was call up the Canadian media's Mister Rent-A-Quote, Michael Adams, the author of Fire And Ice and American Backlash, and a man who can be relied upon to provide some sociological context to the lamest premise.
Mr. Adams evidently thought about the old doughnut-chain thing for a nanosecond and then slotted it effortlessly into his grand universal theory about the difference in American and Canadian "values." Canadians are communal and gregarious, while Americans are paranoid and cowering in terror behind the gates of their stockades. "Americans aspire to independence," he told the Star's man. "Their model is to drive out of town, Gary Cooper with Grace Kelly, and get on their ranch and she's in the kitchen and having babies and he's standing at the ranch gate with a gun, saying, 'no trespassing.' "
Really? Is that in the director's cut? No matter. This turned out to be just the sort of thing Kenneth Kidd needed for the piece and he ran with it: "Canadians, by contrast, are far less fearful," he decides. "Americans now increasingly use churches as their replacement for a sense of community lost to long working hours and lengthy commutes."
I don't know if, in the course of their research, Messrs. Kidd and Adams ever visited any "communities" -- in, say, New England, or old England, or Belgium, or Slovenia, or even Canada. But, if they did, they might have noticed that you drive through the outskirts of the "community," past the various "dwelling units," and arrive at the centre of the "community" -- often called a "village green" or a "town square" -- and smack dab at the centre of the centre you'll see a big building with a cross on it, and perhaps a sign saying "St. George's Parish Church. Consecrated 1352." Nonetheless, undaunted, two grown men are willing to argue in the Toronto Star that Americans have to make do with going to church because they've lost all sense of community.
But not in Canada. "We don't go to church as much on Sundays," says Adams. "We go shopping and we go to Tim's." Gotcha. Americans are forced to worship Christ, whereas Canadians are free to worship crullers.
"Timbit Nation," as the Toronto Star headlined it, belongs to a thriving genre of journalism: the feel-good story that's somehow very demoralizing. It's less Timmy than tinny -- hollow and rather sad. I yield to no one in my admiration for a glazed maple cream doughnut, but I'm not sure I'd regard it as sufficient replacement for the entire Judeo-Christian inheritance. And with the best will in the world, standing in line at a Tim's one Sunday morning a couple of months back, I couldn't detect any great sense of community: as slow-moving doughnut lines go, it was not unpleasant, but nor was it an exercise in national affirmation. As a viable thesis, that and a buck'll get you a cup of coffee.
But in a fast-changing world we can all use confirmation that the changes are working out -- especially when, as in the preference for doughnuts over doxology, they involve the rejection of age-old certainties. Freakonomics, by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner, is an apparently permanent presence on the Maclean's bestseller list mainly because of one central proposition: according to the authors, the legalization of abortion in the seventies accounted for up to half of the reduction in U.S. crime in the nineties. If you accept one of the central locutions of the abortion lobby -- that every child should be "wanted" -- this feels true: to quote the bumper sticker the columnist Nicholas von Hoffman liked to drive around with a few years back, "The fetus you save will grow up to mug you!"
And that's correct in a very basic way: almost all crime is committed by young men. If you were to abort all babies, there would be no one to hold up the convenience store in 20 years' time. On the other hand, there would also be no one to man the convenience store. The devil is in the details of trying to find the balance between those two points.
The Freakonomics theory rang false to me. For one thing, the abortion era has seen a huge rise in crime in Britain, Scandinavia and most other Western jurisdictions. If termination of the "unwanted" pre-emptively clears the punks and hoods from our streets, why wouldn't London and Stockholm and, indeed, Toronto have also seen an abortion dividend?
The pro-abortion U.S. media were notably reluctant to question Levitt and Dubner's findings. A "woman's right to choose" is not as popular as once it was, and the abortion crowd seemed happy to take "society's right to choose" as a viable fallback option, notwithstanding the whiff of old-time eugenics about the argument. But in his splendidly lucid new book The Party Of Death, Ramesh Ponnuru conclusively demolishes the Freakonomics case. While its key evidence turns out to be based on a programming error, its plausibility in the marketplace derives from a more casual assumption -- that the 45 million unborn children aborted since 1973 would, absent Roe vs. Wade, all have been born. In fact, the legalization of abortion caused the number of conceptions to go up by 30 per cent, while causing the number of births to go down by only six per cent. "Many of the unborn children who have been aborted since Roe," Ponnuru points out, "would never have been conceived in the first place without it." And, given that it also largely ended the assumption of male responsibility for the carelessly conceived, as Ponnuru writes, "Abortion may not lead to fewer unwanted children; it may lead to the birth of more children who aren't wanted by their fathers."
The Party Of Death is a very tightly argued case: by halfway through, Ponnuru had made me realize he was pro-life for much better reasons than I am. Yet the book isn't about abortion per se, so much as "the politics of personhood." One consequence of abortion is that, in designating new life a matter of "choice," it made it easier to make judgments about which lives are worth it and which aren't. Down's syndrome? Abort. Cleft palate? Abort. Chinese girl? Abort. But it's foolish to think you can raise entire populations -- not to mention generations of doctors -- to make self-interested judgments about who lives and who doesn't and expect them to remain confined to three trimesters. The "right to choose" is now being extended beyond the womb: the step from convenience conception to convenience euthanasia is a short one, and the step from convenience euthanasia to compulsory euthanasia shorter still.
Commentators like Andrew Sullivan have attacked Ponnuru, somewhat hysterically, not for his book's argument but for its title. In fact, the author got it from Ronald Dworkin, a liberal legal theorist, pro-abortion and pro-euthanasia, but nevertheless intellectually honest enough to admit that these are "choices for death." They lead not just to literal death but to a societal and spiritual death, too. In The Cube and the Cathedral, George Weigel begins his lively dissection of "politics without God" with a bracing series of questions, including the following:
"Why do certain parts of Europe exhibit a curious, even bizarre, approach to death? Why did so many of the French prefer to continue their summer vacations during the European heat wave of 2003, leaving their parents unburied and warehoused in refrigerated lockers(which were soon overflowing)? Why is death increasingly anonymous in Germany, with no death notice in the newspapers, no church funeral ceremony, no secular memorial service -- 'as though,' Richard John Neuhaus observed, 'the deceased did not exist'?"
You really need a Euro-Michael Adams to answer those questions -- to point out that Americans' collapsing communities are driving them to flock to grim rain-swept cemeteries and huddle round burial plots of friends and family in the forlorn hope of recovering the lost sense of society obliterated by their paranoid Second Amendment fearfulness, while the Frenchman by contrast affirms his belief both in personal interconnectedness and collective responsibility by spending the weekend with his wife's sister at a nude beach on the Côte d'Azur, secure in the knowledge that his dead mother on ice in the meat locker back in town is the state's problem, not his.
I seem to have wandered a long way from the Timbit Nation, but not really: as the pieties of late 20th-century progressivism crumble like a stale cruller, their defenders take refuge in self-deception, trumpeting defects as virtues, to the point where a man cradling his coffee alone in a doughnut shop on a Sunday morning is a stronger affirmation of community than a packed church. Oh well. If there's an emptiness at the heart of the advanced social-democratic state, at least Canada's worshipping the doughnut; Europe's worshipping the hole.
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