Rosemary Ganley The Peterborough Examiner December 16, 2021
I have a recurring dream. In it, five of Canada’s best leaders talk from the heart about the fact that their dedication to the public good and their courage in sticking with it, comes from their religious faith/spirituality.
They would have spent time pondering this question. I can nominate some I’d love to hear from: MP Rob Oliphant, of the United Church of Canada, Governor General Mary Simon of Inuit spirituality, Prime Minister Trudeau from the Catholic social justice tradition, Minister of National Defence Anita Anand, who is a devout Hindu, and Families Minister Ahmed Hassen from Islam.
I’ve long felt that religious values play a large role in societies. But upfront public discussion of them is not considered polite, nor relevant to today’s issues. The modern feeling is that religious views are private. Open discussion of them would lead to polarization and division. So a vast, important cultural space is left unfilled. And we are the poorer.
Newspapers used to employ religion editors, universities had departments to study them all. But now, conversations about the values that underlie behaviors are too explosive to encourage. Courses about world religions in secondary schools are spotty and often taught by unqualified teachers. A qualified teacher would have extensive training and an attitude of critical appreciation.
That deficit in modern democracies, widespread religious illiteracy, leaves a lot of room for extremism to take over, the worst face of religion. Take a look at the American case. Separation of church and state is claimed, but in the absence of civil and moderate exchanges, where learning and understanding are paramount, the discourse has been hijacked by the far-right. Craziness abounds, as in the case of vaccinations, conspiracy theories and nastiness. All religion gets a bad name.
If we had more religiously literate citizens, including those who belong to none at all, we could conduct a civil debate about whether public funding for Catholic schools serves the common good, and whether the properties and incomes of churches, synagogues, mosques and temples should be subject to tax, and whether a teacher may wear a hijab.
I recently saw a provocative remark, “In early Palestine, Christianity was a community of believers. Then it moved to Greece and became a philosophy. Then it moved to Rome and became an institution. Then it moved to Europe and became a culture. Then it moved to America and became a business.”
There haven’t been enough people who knew basic teachings to prevent this sad trajectory, but it is one worth studying.
Religion, says Daniel Maguire of Marquette University, has a “renewable moral power.” When we are trying to create a good society, we need this moral power. One of the best Canadian public voices on religion has been that of Michael Coren of Toronto. Now an Anglican priest, he speaks frankly of his conversion to progressive values.
In Glasgow during the climate conference, the international ecumenical faith community had an important presence. They led prayer vigils, were members of official delegations, joined marches, delivered petitions, spoke on panels and organized side events. The Pope sent a powerful message, following his brilliant “Laudato Si” letter five years ago. Before the meeting, 40 other faith leaders issued an unprecedented appeal, which hung, framed, between the main plenary halls on the Scottish site. It read “United for our Sacred Earth.”
Eighty-five percent of the world’s people belong to a religion. Help in this great challenge of climate crisis will come from them, activated by their various faiths.
We call on the national media networks to facilitate such a conversation. It would inspire listeners, increase respect for our diversity and perhaps even improve politics. At the local level, we would love to hear from those who live very generous lives and can articulate why. Say, Reem Ali, Drew Monkman, Sheila Howlett, Larry Gillman or Jim Russell.
"Gleanings" is Rosemary Ganley's new book. You can purchase directly from the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or from >Amazon<