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Category: Guest Posts

My Day Of Remembrance: 28 November 2021

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A week and a day ago, many of us — trans and gender-variant people, along with our allies — participated in Transgender Day of Remembrance. A now-annual commemoration, it was first observed a year after Rita Hester was found brutally murdered in her Boston apartment — twenty-three years ago today.

This year, hundreds of TDoR commemorations were held all over the world. Nearly all of them, including the one in which I participated, involved, among other things, each participant reading the name of a trans or gender-variant person killed during the past year. I was given the name of Iris Santos, about whom I knew nothing until I read her name and the date of place of her murder (23 April 2021, Houston, Texas) to the crowd.

As important as TDoR commemorations are to me, I have not participated every year. Reading the name of a complete stranger who could have been me always leaves me trembling from a storm of emotions: sadness, grief, fear, rage — and, even at this late date, guilt — among them. They stay with me long after the commemorations have ended. You might say that in some way I “adopt,” if not by choice, the victim whose name I’ve read. Sometimes it’s more than I can deal with.

While people normally feel sadness and grief over someone’s death, especially if they were close to the deceased, my guilt comes in part from knowing that I am old enough to be Ms. Santos’ grandmother — and that I could have been one of the names read rather than one reading her name. She was enjoying a meal at a picnic table when an unidentified suspect approached and shot her. Iris was “so young with so many things to look forward to,” according to Tori Cooper, the Human Rights campaign director for community engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative. In that sense, and in the way she was brutally murdered by someone she didn’t know, Iris was like too many of us: Researchers at UCLA Law School’s Williams Institute report that trans people are four times as likely as cisgender folks to experience violent crime (including homicide) and most of those victims are, like Ms. Santos, trans women of color.

Another factor in my guilt — and rage — comes from knowing how too many other trans- and gender-variant people die — and how I almost became one of them. Although I cannot fault the organizers of TDoR, the commemorations leave out one group of victims that also are a disproportionately large — and unmentioned — part of our community.

According to Williams Institute researchers, “transgender adults have a prevalence of past-year suicide ideation that is nearly twelve times higher . . . than the U.S. general population”. In other words, between TDoR gatherings, trans adults are twelve times as likely as other Americans to have thought about taking take their own lives. Oh, but that’s not the worst news: “the prevalence of past-year suicide attempts is eighteen (italics mine) times higher than the U.S. general population. In other words, if one member of a group of 100 randomly-selected American adults has tried to take his or her own life during the past year, 18 members of a group of 100 trans folks has tried to end theirs.

Now, I know that the purpose of TDoR is to raise awareness of how too many of us are victimized through the hate and brutality of others—and that homicide is, unfortunately, one of the few crimes that can be verifiably linked to hate and violence. We cannot always know what was on the minds of trans, or any other, people who kill themselves: They don’t always leave notes recounting the personal, familial, professional, and societal rejection and exclusion they too often have faced—let alone the fears they might have, especially if they are young, at the prospect of living at the mercy of such prejudice.

If someone ends their life, or tries to, because they do not know how to deal with their gender identity and wish to express it — or, more precisely, the possible costs of doing so — it is generally known only to the victim themselves and, perhaps, someone to whom they confided. I know this because I tried to kill myself, in part because I simply could not imagine how I could live as the person I have always known myself to be — and because of two other people, one of whom I loved and another who might have become a friend.

(Herein, I will use male or female pronouns because during the time the people I’m about to discuss lived and died, “they,” “them” and “their” were not in use as gender-neutral pronouns and, therefore, the people I’m discussing used pronouns that reflected the gender to which they were assigned at birth.)

His body was found three days before Christmas. He — and I — were only a couple of years older than Ms. Santos was. Though we didn’t meet until our sophomore year at university, we had lived, it seemed, parallel lives: We were altar boys who attended Catholic schools in blue-collar urban communities. We played sports and did many other things expected of male children of our milieux—and a few things that weren’t. Oh, and while there were whispers about our sexuality, before and after we met, most people “read” each of us as cisgender heterosexual (or, at least, bisexual-trending-toward-hetero) males. I won’t say anything about my looks, but my friend — whom I’ll call Keri — was handsome-bordering-on-gorgeous in a young Antonio Banderas sort of way.

Although I tried to do the “dude” stuff, I felt an aversion to most members of the male gender. Keri, though, stood outside of that in a way I could not articulate at the time. I did not see him as I saw other men or boys, which is probably the reason I loved him. I also — if you’ll pardon a hackneyed expression—felt his pain. He felt trapped, as I did, and I now realize he knew it.

Which is why he called me the day before his body was found. I don’t remember exactly what he said as much I recall only a desperation in his voice. Occasionally, I hear echoes of that plea in others, but at the time it was unlike anything else I’d heard: It could have been my own. I think Keri knew that, and that I would show up at his place within minutes of our conversation.

He expressed a hopelessness, a despair I had never heard before — except from myself. “I can’t be who I am,” he lamented.

I could have said the same for myself. He knew that, even though I hadn’t. To this day, I wonder whether that was why he called. Did he want to hear me say, “Yes, I am a woman, too”? It would be years, decades, before I would. Instead, I held him in one of the longest embraces of my life and whispered, “Whoever you are, it’s wonderful, and I love you.”

As sincere as I was—I rarely used the word “love,” and perhaps will never say it often enough–it must have seemed like a platitude, at best. I was trying to console him in the way people try to comfort each other when they can’t, or won’t, truly experience another person’s pain. Much later, I realized that I could have truly loved him, or anyone else, only if I had been willing or able to acknowledge and act upon the truth about myself.

Still later, I realized that I didn’t “kill” Keri by not “saving” him that night. Although he might have lived — another fifty days, another fifty years? — had I given him what he — and I — needed, I came to understand — with the help of the therapist and social worker who worked with me during the first three years of my gender-affirmation process—that what killed him was the hatred, whether or not he experienced it directly, of the world around him. As Miguel de Unamuno wrote, Hombre muere de frio, no de oscuridad : People die, not from darkness, but from cold. The world, specifically, the human race as he knew it, was simply too cold for him, for anyone. He was frozen out.

In short, he was murdered by the world in which he lived, just as Iris Santos was by a random stranger with a gun. I could say the same for someone I met just before I started my gender affirmation process. Fran (not her real name) had lived with her boyfriend who, as she told me, “is the only person who truly loved me.” Her family — who included, I suspect, at least one person who sexually abused her—rejected her, ostensibly for her “choices”: She’d spent years recovering from, and relapsing into, addiction that lessened the pain of the work she’d been doing to support her addictions.

She learned of my gender affirmation process second- or third-hand: Someone had seen me “cross-dressing.” At first, she expressed disapproval — which, I sensed, wasn’t entirely her own. But she would ask me incisive questions about my “change”: What led me to it? How do I see the person I hope to become? How are my family, my co-workers, other people, treating me?

Finally, she confessed, “I admire you.” When I demurred, “I’m only doing what I need to do,” she said, “Well, I wish I could have.” She was about the same age as I am now which, she claimed, is “too late” to live the life she wished she’d had: as a man, with her boyfriend. “He doesn’t know I’m really I’m a gay man.”

Not long after, Fran washed down a bottle full of pills with another bottle of vodka.

She, like Keri, died from the darkness. In other words, she was murdered. Although I understand the purpose of Transgender Day of Remembrance, I really wish I, or someone, could have read their names, just as I pronounced that of Iris Santos a week and a day ago.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The Tyranny of American Christmas

happy christmas

Guest post by Karuna Gal

The English Puritans of the seventeenth century, when they were in power, outlawed the celebration of Christmas.”What a bunch of killjoys they were!” I thought, when I first learned about this in history class. “Who would be so harsh and mean-spirited as to actually cancel Christmas?” Although I don’t share the Puritans’ Calvinist theology or politics, I feel like a latter-day Puritan when it comes to having to submit to the relentless tyranny of American Christmas, this unholy season whose real God is mammon.

American Christmas tyranny produces “existential dread” as Christopher Hitchens put it: having to deal with week after oppressive week of the Christmas season.

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There is pressure to buy and to consume as American capitalism, already on steroids, flexes its
overdeveloped muscles while wearing a Santa suit or an angel outfit. And you feel the pressure keenly, no matter what your religious stance is.

People watch Hallmark Christmas shows or old classic Christmas movies ad nauseum, and you can’t escape hearing Christmas music everywhere you go. When I was a little kid it was the height of bad taste to put your Christmas decorations up more than a week before Christmas Day. This year I saw that someone put their Christmas decorations up on the day after Halloween. (The Nightmare Before Christmas movie may be pointing out how the Christmas season seems to begin at Halloween now. I
wish Jack Skellington had taken over Christmas permanently — nobody would want the presents he brings. But then again he’s been co-opted by Disney, which sells Nightmare Before Christmas merchandise on their website.) And need I mention the insane number of Christmas light displays, sucking up enormous amounts of electricity, and all the waste produced by discarded packaging and wrapping?

When a close family member died years ago I did not put up a Christmas tree or decorate for Christmas after his death. I was surprised to discover that I was relieved to have a good excuse not to “do Christmas.” There were no more Christmas trees for me in the years that followed. I gave away all my tree ornaments and most of my Christmas decorations, keeping the Christmas decor at a minimum. Sure, I’d listen to Christmas music a bit and would be with the family on Christmas Day, but I kept away from the madness of getting and spending and rushing around that seemingly possessed everybody, even Christians. What I did seemed to be much more appropriately “Christian.”

One time, during the Christmas season, I went to the mall to buy a few boxes of candy. After I did, I thought it might be fun to sit on a bench and watch the Christmas shoppers. Were any of them enjoying themselves? Nope! I saw nothing but long faces and hurried walking. The only person who was smiling was the musician playing his electronic keyboard in front of Sears. With Christmas looming, and maybe being forced to spend money they didn’t have, no wonder the shoppers all looked so grumpy. So much for the joy of the season. My experience as a retail clerk during the Christmas season also was quite instructive in this regard. Some of the rudest and most unpleasant people I’ve ever encountered seemed to “come out of the woodwork” then, and make us retail clerks miserable.

Churches, charitable and religious organizations milk Christmas for money. I’d bet that the ministers and priests of all Christian denominations are watching the Christmas collections plate or basket closely, hoping for a good Yuletide haul. How interesting that churches and corporate America work in tandem to push Christmas as a way to bring their fiscal year to a satisfying and lucrative conclusion.

For a tonic to American Christmas tyranny, join the Reverend Billy and the Church of
Stop Shopping
for some pointed musical commentary about consumerism, and then put up a Festivus pole on December 23rd, raising a glass (or several) of spiked eggnog to the memory of those dour old Puritans, who maybe weren’t all wrong about Christmas excess.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

The Time My Southern Baptist Grandma Had Whiskey

jack daniels whiskey

Guest Post by ObstacleChick

Before I became a mature ObstacleChick, my mom and I lived with her parents and her maternal grandmother just outside Nashville, Tennessee. My grandparents were active in their local Southern Baptist Church: my grandfather as a deacon on the Buildings and Grounds Committee, and my grandmother who served sometimes in the choir, as a Sunday school teacher, as a Women’s Missionary Union teacher, and on the Pastor Search Committee. We attended church services three times a week (twice on Sunday and again on Wednesday evening). When my grandfather wasn’t working, he was doing something at the church, helping people in the community, or hanging out at the local gas station/convenience store connecting with more people to help in the community.

Grandma was a strict complementarian who ran the household on a hierarchical structure. She considered Grandpa to be the head of household, and thus we were all instructed to obey him. Grandma’s mother was next on the totem pole as we are supposed to “honor our father and mother that our days may be long upon the earth”. My mom and I were somewhere way down the line, and Grandma considered herself to be the obedient servant. Grandpa did not subscribe to the complementarian plan, and he taught me that I should prepare myself to become a financially independent person, but he did not spend a lot of time arguing with Grandma’s sincerely held beliefs unless she tried to ban TV again. That’s when he used his executive privilege to ensure that he could watch his favorite sports teams and WWII-era movies.

Grandma’s sincerely held beliefs were often dictated by the latest culture wars that she heard about on Christian radio. I think she meant to be as obedient to what she thought God wanted from his creatures as she could possibly be, but she had a long laundry list of what was considered appropriate and inappropriate behavior. For example, she would not play any games with a regular deck of cards because she believed that decks of cards were tools of gambling. Grandma would not consume alcohol in any form, and she didn’t even want to patronize a restaurant that served alcohol. She never went to the movies and only watched the news on television. Substitute swear words were omitted from her vocabulary. Christian media were the only media sources that Grandma partook in (except for the evening news).

When I was 15 years old, I had pneumonia and Grandma had tuberculosis. You can imagine the amount of coughing that was happening in our house. Both of us were prescribed cough medicines, but nothing was working well. My grandfather was at his wits’ end, so he went to the store and brought home a bottle of whiskey, some lemons, and honey. He proceeded to make his family’s cough suppressant concoction from these ingredients plus a heavy dose of sugar, and he told Grandma and me that he wanted us to try it because it had worked when his grandmother (who by all accounts had been a skilled healer) gave it to him and his siblings. I thought, cool, I’ll be able to find out what whiskey tastes like. Grandma, however, was incredibly distressed. She was caught between the two sins of consuming alcohol and disobeying her husband. Unable to decide which was the greater sin, she told Grandpa, “I am only taking this because you’re my husband and I am supposed to obey you, but I do not agree with consuming alcohol.” I am pretty sure that was the first night in a while that anyone in our house got a good night of sleep as Grandpa’s home remedy soothed the coughing beasts. I guess after a good night of sleep, Grandpa took pity on Grandma and did not ask her to use his cough concoction again. Of course, I continued to use it despite the fact that whiskey tasted nasty, even with copious amounts of lemon and honey. My mature ObstacleChick version made with Fireball is much tastier and works better (in my opinion) than the over-the-counter cough syrups. I wonder which Jesus would have preferred?

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

How I Missed Hale-Bopp

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A Guest Post by Ian

I recently discovered a podcast called Here Be Monsters. I was trying to find a funny story I had heard a couple of years ago on public radio. The story involved someone dressing up as a Sasquatch and a dog called Motley Crüe Jon Bon Jovi. It’s an entertaining story that you can find here.


I really enjoyed re-hearing the story and thought there might be some other stories I’d enjoy, so I started listening to random episodes. I enjoyed some, while others didn’t really catch my interest. But the presentations were excellent and I loved the audio quality. The sounds are very crisp and the music is relaxing.

Fast forward a couple of weeks, and I’m listening to an episode about Marshall Applewhite and the Heaven’s Gate cult.

In the story, they talk about the Hale-Bopp comet. For those who don’t remember, or who weren’t born then, Hale-Bopp was a new comet that was bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, and it was visible for 18 months. This was during 1996-1997. The Heaven’s Gate cult thought a spacecraft was following the comet and most of them committed suicide, thinking that was the way to leave their bodies behind and join the spacecraft.

Eighteen months is a long time to be able to see a comet, but I never saw it, because I didn’t know about it. The only time it came into my small world view was when the members of Heaven’s Gate committed suicide. You see, at that time, my family didn’t have a TV, get the newspaper or listen to the news on the radio. The only time I heard news was when something big happened. Usually, the pastor would mention something he heard about on the news, or another member of the congregation, who had a TV, would say something, and then it was always filtered through the lens of Calvinistic philosophy. The big news stories were always talked about with the smug assurance that God had ordained everything that happens and that sinners were always getting their just rewards. I look back and find that disgusting. There was no compassion and no understanding, just black and white judgment. Heaven’s Gate was mentioned because they were “lunatics” who were preordained to this fate and further proof that we were the only ones with the true gospel. What I have come to realize over the years is that I missed out on so much news, which becomes information, from my mid-teens through my mid-30’s. Admittedly, a lot of the news was bad, but it was news. All of it was information that I could have learned from. I might have made better choices in my life, if I had more knowledge of the world around me. I watch Netflix documentaries now, and I can’t believe all that passed me by. Granted, I have lived my whole life in Alaska, so many national news stories didn’t always make big headlines here, but the stories were there. I just had no clue. Sometimes, when I discover a missed story, I feel like an explorer finding a new ocean or mountain. I’ll be amazed that this huge thing was here, and I just now found it.


And, the little bit of news I did follow was always looked at through a very critical lens. All news had to fit into my church’s narrow view of the world. Waco, Ruby Ridge, Elian Gonzalez, these were huge things talked about in my church, but the focus was always on the wrong thing. We feared the government because we thought they were going to put us all into concentration camps due to our beliefs. Maybe too many of us had watched the A Thief in the Night series, because we were all describing the kinds of scenarios shown in the films. The bigger picture was that ego and bad decisions ruled the day in these tragedies. The government didn’t care what we believed; the church I attended then still exists, although it has moved locations and is much smaller. In the early and mid-90’s though, we were sure Janet Reno had her personal eye on each of us.

By downplaying the news and filtering what we did know, the church was able to keep us uneducated. If I’m uneducated, how can I know to question anything? I felt stupid, because I would get to work, and people would be talking about things that I had no clue about. (For the younger generation, the Internet was in its infancy in this time. I couldn’t just Google it.) And, by constantly bashing the government and “taking a stand,” how many churches brought unnecessary federal, state, and local attention to themselves? If you complain the government hates you long enough, you’ll become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So many IFB/Calvinistic/Southern Baptist-type churches get by right now by just being quiet. The federal government knows they don’t follow all the rules, they know tax evasion is going on, they know church board members use offerings as their own personal incomes, etc. The government just doesn’t care. It has too many other things to worry about, until they become something to worry about. Meanwhile, church members are being fed the story the pastor wants them to hear and never question anything.

Because of the church, I had warped views of events that happened, and it has taken years of looking into things for myself to figure out what the real tragedy in the stories was. Because of the church, I missed an 18-month chance to see a historic comet. a comet that will be forever linked, in my mind, to tragedy and not to how cool it would have been to see with my naked eye. Because I missed so much, I made sure I talked about current events with my kids, even when I was still a believer. I don’t want them to turn 40 and find out about a major event that they missed while watching Netflix.

bruce-gerencser-headshot

Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

You can email Bruce via the Contact Form.

Your comments are welcome and appreciated. All first-time comments are moderated. Please read the commenting rules before commenting.

After The Rocket, The Church Flamed Out

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A Guest Post by MJ Lisbeth

Maurice “Rocket” Richard is revered by people whose grandparents weren’t born when he played his last National Hockey League (NHL) game in 1960. (That is a pivotal year in this story.) Possibly the only US athlete to attain iconic cultural status in his own country—and the world—as Richard enjoyed in Canada, especially in Quebec, is Muhammad Ali.

His younger brother Henri—“Pocket Rocket,”–while not as much of an idol or even as prolific a scorer, nonetheless followed his skate-tracks (is that the hockey equivalent of footsteps?) into the captaincy of the Montreal Canadiens and the Hockey Hall of Fame.

Four Hall of Fame goaltenders played behind “Pocket Rocket” during his twenty-year career. One of them was “Rogie” Vachon.

If you’ve read any of my previous posts, you might think that my longtime fandom of hockey—and, in particular, the Canadiens—is incongruous. How I came to that is the story of another article, which I may or may not write, altogether. But that, or the fact that the NHL season begins this week, is not the reason I’m writing this article. Rather, the three players I’ve just mentioned are emblematic of another development I’m about to describe.

Henri “Pocket Rocket” played his first Canadiens, and NHL, game thirteen years after Maurice “Rocket” first donned la sainte flanneleThirteen-and-a-half years passed—and six other siblings were born to Mme. Richard—between the days Maurice and Henri first opened their eyes to the world. Vachon was called “Rogie” by everyone he knew because his birth name was a mouthful for almost everyone else, whatever language he or she spoke: Rogatien Rosaire Vachon.

Now tell me, how many people do you know named Rogation Rosary? For that matter, unless you’re, say, about my age and were raised in a Catholic community, how many families have you known with eight children?

In the milieu in which the Richard brothers and Vachon were born and raised, however, such things were normal.

In the 1950s—when Rocket’s career was at its apogee, Pocket Rocket’s was being launched and Vachon was idolizing them—the province of Quebec, which includes its capital city of Quebec as well as Montreal, was probably the most Catholic part of North America. An older co-worker on one of my first jobs described Quebec City as “the second Vatican” because he saw so many priests and nuns walking its streets. And two of Montreal’s nicknames were the “la ville au cent clochers” and “la cite des saints”: the city of a hundred spires and the city of saints.

In that sense, Montreal, Quebec City, and the province of Quebec hadn’t changed much since French settlers first arrived in the 16th Century. The French royal family and aristocracy were Catholic, as was most of France, so charters to set sail for, and claim, the New World, were given only to Catholics. The Huguenots, Protestants who were about 15 percent of France and were more educated than most French people—and who thus comprised most of the merchant and professional classes as well as most of the country’s technocrats—were not allowed to claim lands for the French crown. So, from the day French colonization began, Quebec, like other French colonies, was a Catholic stronghold.

Because most of Quebec outside of the eponymous city and Montreal was rural and agrarian until the 1950s, the language and culture didn’t change much as it did in, say, Paris, Marseille or Strasbourg. Quebecois who didn’t live in the capital or in Montreal were unlikely to encounter, much less marry, anyone from outside their culture or church. That meant that the province remained culturally and religiously conservative, even by the standards of the Pre-Vatican II church and McCarthyite America.

It also meant that the Church exercised control over institutions, and the daily lives of people, in ways that are unimaginable to most contemporary Canadians or Americans but would be familiar to the Irish of a generation ago. The church was in charge of everything from schools at every level, nurseries, orphanages, and most social services. That meant, among other things, that young people who defied the Church’s prohibition against pre-marital sex used “Catholic birth control.” It also meant that girls were discouraged from pursuing more than the most basic education unless they were going to be nuns or serve the church in some other way.

The type of education offered, and its unavailability to girls, dovetailed with the Quebec church’s ideology of la revanche des berceaux—the revenge of the cradles. Encouraging people to have lots of kids was not new to Quebec: the Church has done it from the day it began. In Quebec, though, as in Ireland, it came to be seen as a way to keep French language and culture—and the rural way of life—from being subsumed by their British conquerors. The Church itself also served this purpose, as it did for the Irish and Polish, as it was one of the few institutions that had help from the outside world.

As a result, Quebec’s population grew far more rapidly than the population of its neighboring provinces. Further fueling that centuries-long baby boom, if you will, was immigration—mainly to Montreal, and most of it Catholic: Irish, Portuguese, Italian and Polish. One notable exception to this pattern was the Jewish immigration from central and eastern Europe which, as in the United States, came at around the same time as the Italians.

In the 1920s, when Maurice Richard was born, rural areas of his native province had some of the highest birth rates in the world: around 7.5 per Quebecoise, or about 39 per 1000. Today, such fertility in industrialized countries is found only in some ultra-orthodox religious communities like the Hasidim. Birth rates in Quebec, and the rest of Canada, fell somewhat until the 1950s but remained higher than in the developed countries of Europe. At the end of the decade, however, events would conspire to change the size and structure of families, and Quebec society, as quickly and dramatically as would happen in Ireland a generation later.

In 1960, Quebecois elected a new Liberal provincial government headed by Jean Lesage. By that time, Quebec had fallen far behind neighboring Ontario in economic as well as egalitarian terms. Furthermore, the province’s economy was dominated by English-speaking Quebecers. Lesage believed that modernizing Quebec’s economy would not only make it more competitive with that of Ontario and other provinces, but would also help to preserve the distinctive culture of la belle province by freeing it from Anglo domination.

What Lesage initiated is often called “The Quiet Revolution.” It included not only economic reforms, but social ones: The Church would no longer have control over schooling. Instead, the government would take over and modernize the curriculum and methods while expanding the education system. With these changes came perhaps the most significant development of all: for the first time, females would be entitled to the same education, including post-secondary, as males. In 1961, 4.7 percent of women aged 20 to 24 had a university education. Three decades later, that figure had jumped to 27 percent. With that change came greater female participation in the paid workforce: from 15 percent of women of childbearing age in 1961 to 74 percent in 1991.

The most dramatic change of all, however, is one that’s inevitable whenever women have access to education: They have fewer kids and have them later. By 1987, Quebec’s women, whose mothers might have given them five or six siblings, were giving birth to, on average, 1.37 children. That is even lower than the birth rate in Scandinavian countries and on par with Italy, where there are fears of a “demographic crisis.” While fertility has crept up somewhat in recent years, it’s still below the accepted “replacement” rate of 2.1.

With that decrease in childbearing and rearing came another inevitable development. In 1958, two years before Lasage’s election, 85 percent of Quebec’s people identified as Catholics, and 88 percent of them attended mass every Sunday. While approximately three-quarters of Quebecers still identify themselves as Roman Catholic, as we have seen, such a number tends to be high because people continue to identify themselves, out of habit, by the religion in which they were brought up even though they no longer participate or believe in it. Also, sometimes the responses of people, especially children, are filled out for them by other people.

Church attendance rates give a truer picture: From 1986 to 2011, the proportion of Quebec’s Catholics who reported attending church monthly dropped from 48 to 17 percent. Today, the weekly attendance rate is estimated at 4 percent: even lower than in European countries like the Czech Republic and Estonia, which have some of the lowest rates of attending worship services in the world. And barely a third of the people say religion—any religion—is “important” to them.

And it doesn’t take a demographer or religious scholar to see that this decline in religiosity is a “feedback loop”: As women become more educated and less religious, they have fewer and less religious kids, who in turn have fewer and less religious kids.

So what does that mean for my favorite hockey team? Well, large, often impoverished families with few economic opportunities provided a steady stream of aspiring players. Even for the vast majority who didn’t get to don the uniform of Les Habitants, or any other NHL team, their salaries, meager as they were, earned on junior or minor league teams nonetheless helped their families. That immediate “fix” was a disincentive, in much the same way tips from a good night of waitressing or bartending are, from furthering their education, which could do more to help them and their families in the long run.

Now, with a drastically decreased birth rate, Quebec has a smaller talent pool to offer the hockey world. Moreover, young men in Quebec, no doubt influenced by parents who spent more time in school than their grandparents, are opting for more education. And new media, including the Internet, have introduced them to a world of possibilities beyond hockey rinks, where they would compete, not only with other Quebecois and Canadians, but with hockey players from the US, Sweden, Russia, Finland, Czech Republic, and other countries.

It is little wonder, then, three Montreal Canadiens legends, all of whom are enshrined in the Hall of Fame, had sons who didn’t become NHL players. And, chances are, their kids and their peers probably aren’t attending church. After all, there’s so much else to do in Montreal or Quebec City, even on Sunday morning!

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Bruce Gerencser, 64, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 43 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser