photo by Mike Crupi

Strike a balance between religious, secular

  • May 5, 2016

The notion of separation of church and state is an important foundation for a true democracy. It guarantees freedom of religion by favouring no religion over another. It is also the surest way of guaranteeing the expansion of religion when the state favours none and allows religion’s best instincts to make a real contribution to society.

An atheist or a radical secularist would argue that a decline in religious faith is a sign of progress. The logic is that it ensures that religion has little to do with how politics and government operate. In that kind of environment, the argument continues, there is no need for politicians to bow to religious concerns thus creating a secular utopia free of religious regression and repression.

Of course, places with no state religion can also create an atmosphere in which all religions are marginalized. Take Canada, for instance.

When is the last time a religious group won a major social battle in Canada, let alone be taken seriously? Not on gay marriage. Not on abortion. Not on euthanasia. We have no state religion but now have a state philosophy: a secular society in which the religious voice is ignored for the betterment of all of mankind, especially anti-religious bigots.

A few years ago, Ontario imposed gay-straight alliance clubs on Catholic schools — even though those schools had the means to deal with all sorts of bullying. No, the government said, that is not good enough. We want to see the word “gay” in there and the hell with your beliefs.

That battle was not so much about gays and bullying and clubs, but putting the Church in its place. All this occurs under a dark cloud that suggest: watch it or we will defund your Catholic schools.

In 2012 I did a story for the National Post about the push for gay-straight alliances. I was told by then broadcaster (and now Toronto mayor) John Tory that the Catholic view on preventing gay-straight alliances in religious schools was anathema to the our nation’s overriding ethos.

“I don’t understand how an institution can take this stand in the year 2012,” he said. “The values of the Catholic Church do not match public policy. But if they take public money they can’t have it both ways.”

It was as if Catholics never worked, never paid taxes, nor contributed to society.

We are at a point at which simple discussion about those things many of us find important is seen as a form of aggressive bullying. We are never seen as discussing but pushing our views down the throats of innocent secularists. We have already seen the consequences on university campuses where pro-life clubs are kicked off campus for their anti-abortion views.

So what to do? We must look to the United States to figure out how to crawl out of this mess before we are never heard from again.

In the United States religion has always flourished and continues to do so not only because there is no state religion but also because religion is respected — especially by those who seek public office. American politicians must take into consideration the views and beliefs of religious groups because that is what happens in a true pluralistic society. Some might call it pandering but I would it call it paying attention to a significant part of the electorate.

Many states have successfully battled euthanasia because religion is not relegated to the kitchen. Abortion is still being debated decades after Roe v. Wade.

The United States is not perfect and right now is in danger, not for the first time in its history, of twisting the Christian message for the worst political instincts: the fear of the other, hostility towards the poor and withdrawal from a world that gets more complex by the moment.

This will pass. Not by chance but because religion has the power to change views and hearts.

In 2010 Pope Benedict was in Britain for the beatification of John Henry Newman. He said then that a society without religion is in danger of falling into such ideologies as fascism and communism, and that a country devoid of secularism runs the risk of adopting theocratic intolerance and restrictions on true religious freedom.

Canadians must pay attention.

(Lewis, former religion editor at the National Post, is a writer in Toronto.)

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