Douglas Farrow, professor of religious studies at McGill University

Religion pushed to side in Canada, Faith in the Public Square conference told

By 
  • August 6, 2014

TORONTO - Canada's laws and courts promote secularism over religious and moral pluralism, a Montreal university professor said on the opening day of the Faith in the Public Square conference Aug. 5.

Douglas Farrow, professor of religious studies at McGill University, said that while the governments and judges of this country claim to be promoting a welcoming atmosphere for people of all faiths, and even those without faith, within the public sphere that is simply not the case.

“In our courts and legislation it is not the pluralism of dignitatis humanae (Latin for the dignity of the human person) that is operative, so much as a secularist or 'normative' pluralism,” Farrow told The Catholic Register. “The premise of the latter is that diversified experience, both on the moral and religious level, is to be valued in its diversity. While the former makes truth about human dignity the basis for generating the political conditions under which responsible freedom can flourish, the latter makes freedom and diversity the basis for generating the conditions under which human dignity can flourish.” 

Farrow continued by saying that this reality also pushes society into the “impossible task” of attempting to ground civil unity in secular plurality, that which unites humans simply on grounds that they are human. While the ideas may appear both sound and valid in theory at first glance, Farrow said the result is actually a suppression of true religious and moral pluralism, that which draws from all sets of beliefs, “by detaching people from their community.”

Farrow — who teaches courses covering Christian theology, morality and history — sees this as as “a kind of inverse Catholicism.” 

He called upon the Catholic Church to place critical pressure pushing for pluralism of human dignity rooted in respecting and embracing all faiths. 

“The Church must offer a strong critique of our society's habitual evasion or inversion of moral and religious truth,” he said. “It is impossible to love freedom without loving truth. It must also cultivate a new public conversation about human happiness; which is to say it must aim to break the secularist/pluralist stranglehold on public discourse and on political or legal reason.”

Despite the heavy and complex context of Farrow's address, Matthew Sanders, manager of special projects in the Archdiocese of Toronto, who assisted in co-ordinating the conference, said he was surprised by the flowing and engaging nature of the lecture. 

“What one would expect is a rather dry and painfully thorough analysis of faith in today's context was delivered (as) a down-to-earth and heartfelt expression of the speaker's deep set conviction that this world is better off with faith playing a prominent role in our culture," said Sanders. "Exchanges between the speaker and audience were genuine and surprisingly dynamic.” 

He continued by saying that the opening day of the Faith in the Public square, which also heard from Ryerson University professor Randy Boyagoda and Dale Ahlquist, president of the American Chesterton Society, was “overall a delightful first day.” 

About 50 people attended Farrow's private lecture at the conference hosted by the Archdiocese of Toronto, many of who expressed to Leslie Gyulay afterwards that the talk broadened their point of view on society, the government and law. 

"I have had people saying that it is challenging their own views and is a great learning experience," said Gyulay, who assisted at the conference. 

Comments (2)

This comment was minimized by the moderator on the site

It seems that for Prof. Farrow, religious freedom is not enough, and to attain full human dignity religious people must also have their beliefs respected by others. Sorry, but I can't respect religious beliefs, so those who hold them will have to...

It seems that for Prof. Farrow, religious freedom is not enough, and to attain full human dignity religious people must also have their beliefs respected by others. Sorry, but I can't respect religious beliefs, so those who hold them will have to try to be as dignified as they can without my help.

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Robert Canning
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The beauty of secular society is that EVERYONE can participate. Base your society on religious norms and you exclude everyone who does not belong to that particular religion or to religion, in general.

Fortunately, many of the "religious" also...

The beauty of secular society is that EVERYONE can participate. Base your society on religious norms and you exclude everyone who does not belong to that particular religion or to religion, in general.

Fortunately, many of the "religious" also recognise the benefits of a secular societ

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Robert van Leeuwen
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