Is ‘Diversity’ Being Used Ironically to Cancel Beliefs and Ideas?

By T J Martin

Although I have known many as friends, neighbours, teachers, even beloved family members, I am not a Catholic—either by training or faith. I have attended Catholic services, both in small churches and venerable cathedrals such as New York’s Saint Patrick’s where I marvelled at the beauty and reverence of Christmas Mass.

I have watched white-robed priests offer Communion and altar boys swinging incense from chained censers. I have lit votive candles to honour those departed. I have felt my spirits lift and my cares fall away in the midst of such palpable devotion.

But never once have I felt threatened by it!

Diversity, inclusivity, tolerance are words much in vogue these days, especially during the winter holidays when goodwill somehow seems more tangible than at other times of the year.

The Nativity proclamation, “Peace on Earth! Goodwill to Men!” did not quantify, sift, separate, or divide amongst men. Or women. Divine goodwill extends freely to all, everywhere—not just to those with whom we agree or who validate positions we hold dear.

Why then should a simple statue, erected to fulfil a promise, inspire ire, outrage, and protest?

Northern California’s Mount Shasta rises a majestic 14,179 feet above sea level. When clad in winter white, the mountain is a sight to behold. Like the lenticular clouds that frequently form and swirl at its summit, mystique and myth have always shrouded the landmark peak.

More often than not, Mount Shasta along with its lesser twin Shastina have been viewed as sacred by mere mortals. The indigenous Klamath people believed the mountain to the abode of the Chief of Spirits, Skell, who left heaven to dwell on its summit. From there, Skell tossed burning rocks and lava at the God of the Underworld, Llao, a metaphorical nod to the mountain’s volcanic origin.

Non-native mythology swirls around Shasta’s lofty summit as well. In his 1899 volume A Dweller on Two Planets, Frederick Spencer Oliver speaks of the Lemurians, survivors of a lost continent, living in lavish subterranean tunnels and occasionally encountered walking the surface, clad in white.

In 1904, British prospector J.C. Brown allegedly discovered a cave eleven miles deep, harboring a village replete with gold, shields, and mummies. Some years later, founder of the Saint Germain Foundation, Guy Ballard, claimed to have met the Foundation’s eponymous saint while hiking on the mountain, leading to the sect’s belief in the I AM, Ascended Masters believed to inhabit Shasta to this day.

The mountain is even mentioned in UFO lore as the destination of Lemurian motherships which travel shrouded in Shasta’s lenticular clouds to visit their underground city!

However, the shadow cast by Shasta’s mythological past is not quite deep enough to reach today’s ski community, many of whom are incensed by plans to erect a twenty-foot tall statue of the Virgin Mary at the top of Douglas Triple, one of Mt. Shasta Ski Park’s longest downhill runs.

The Ski Park is a privately owned business operating on leased Forest Service land. Along with installing and maintaining the considerable infrastructure and equipment essential to make downhill skiing possible, an admittedly “more personal” project was recently announced on the Ski Park’s Instagram page:

“We have been working on another big project this summer, though this one is more personal than the installation of the Gray Butte lift that was achieved last summer, or the remodel of the bar and deck prior to that. We are in the process of building a 20 ft tall Virgin Mary Statue at the top of Douglas…. The installation of this statue is very important to our owner as this was a shared goal with her late husband and business partner, Ray Merlo. They have dedicated their resources to improving the Ski Park over the last few years and in the words of Robin Merlo, this statue is a promise fulfilled and a true representation of the dedication to family that we all value so much here at the Ski Park. The goal is not to focus on any one religion but to acknowledge and honour the beauty and spiritual power of the mountain we all love so much.”

Immediately and predictably, an online petition was posted on by a member of Shasta’s local ski community, extolling the joys of skiing on the mountain but demanding that Park owners “cease and desist,” claiming:

“The religious icon currently under construction threatens to alienate members of our diverse community who do not share the same religious beliefs. Local gathering places, whether private or not, should remain neutral spaces that promote inclusivity and respect for all visitors.

Perhaps more importantly, the construction appears to be happening in one of the most beautiful natural vistas at the top of Douglas. Patrons … appreciate the natural beauty and spirituality for what it already is, without intrusive religious icons disturbing the environment.

We ask the owners…to cease and desist…”

One must wonder what the original Klamath people would think, seeing automated lifts transporting payloads of brightly clad skiers high onto the slopes of their sacred mountain.

Do petitioners posit that ski lifts, lodges, parking lots, and concessions do not defile whereas a spiritual icon would, especially on a mountain long synonymous with the otherworldly?

If not hypocritical, their outcry certainly seems situational, based on preference rather than logic.

Each year, Carnival revellers in Rio de Janeiro party to excess beneath the serene gaze of Christ the Redeemer, a 98’ tall statue installed atop Corcovado Mountain. So venerated is this 92-year-old icon—consecrated in 2007 as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World—that it recently was bathed in a lighted projection of Brazilian soccer star Pele’s #10 jersey in commemoration of his death one year ago. Now, that’s inclusivity!

And what of the pyramids in Egypt? Thousands of years old, they are physical symbols of the religious beliefs of the pharaohs for whom they were built, stone by stone. Enduring and seemingly timeless, these ancient structures are protected as venerated UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Recent protests at the pyramids were in no way were about the pyramids; rather, protestors gathered at these ancient monuments to draw attention to the current plight of war-torn Palestinians.

Another oft-photographed World Heritage site is India’s Taj Mahal. Commissioned in 1631 as a mausoleum for his beloved wife, it became the final resting place of Emperor Shah Jahan as well. Today, the white marble minarets and domes of the Taj Mahal are deemed “the jewel of Muslim art in India and one of the universally admired masterpieces of the world’s heritage.”

One must wonder what percentage of its yearly 7-8 million visitors are not Muslims yet nevertheless find themselves able to appreciate its beauty and universal significance.

Stonehenge. Notre Dame Cathedral. Hagia Sophia. The Parthenon. Even Woden’s, Thor’s and Freya’s Days, also known as Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Both our geographical and cultural landscapes teem with such vestigial symbols of shared culture and spirituality.

Of course, a snow-clad, newly-installed interpretation of the Virgin Mary comes nowhere near the iconic stature of Christ the Redeemer, the Egyptian pyramids, or the Taj Mahal.

But is not the difference more in scale than in kind? Were not these famous sites initially expressions of love, honor, spiritual belief?

Is our current fascination with “diversity” being used, ironically, to smooth over our differences, to cancel beliefs and ideas not our own? Are we becoming so self-absorbed that we can and will no longer tolerate the “other”? And do we thus circuitously respect only ourselves, our personal preferences, the echo chamber of our own beliefs?

Do we ride a manufactured ski lift to the top of the mountain only to criticize a fabricated statue when—in nature—neither would exist?

Would we—if able—cancel ideas, statues, traditions, history, even people for our own convenience and pleasure?

Where does such intolerance end?

Not well, according to history.

The equanimous and soothing lyrics of a much-loved Beatles song come to mind. Although many interpreted otherwise, writer Paul McCartney revealed the words sprang from a nighttime visitation not from the Virgin Mary, but rather from his own mother, Mary, who had died years before. The wisdom and comfort of her words, resonate still:

Let It Be

When I find myself in times of trouble
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be

And in my hour of darkness
She is standing right in front of me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be

And when the broken-hearted people
Living in the world agree
There will be an answer
Let it be

For though they may be parted there is
Still a chance that they will see
There will be an answer
Let it be

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Yeah, there will be an answer
Let it be

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be

Let it be, let it be, let it be, let it be
Whisper words of wisdom
Let it be

And when the night is cloudy
There is still a light that shines on me
Shine until tomorrow
Let it be

I wake up to the sound of music
Mother Mary comes to me
Speaking words of wisdom
Let it be…

And with The Virgin Mary and Mount Shasta in mind, a brief paraphrase:

…Let her be, let her be, let her be, yeah, let her be
There will be an answer…
Let Her Ski!

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