The Supreme Court’s TWU ruling met with much protest. Photo by Deborah Gyapong

Glen Argan: Building Canadian paradise requires faith

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  • July 4, 2018

Several years ago, a friend who had immigrated from the former Soviet Union told me, “Canada is the greatest place on Earth. It is a paradise.” While I felt flattered on behalf of my country to hear those words, I also wondered what in our country made him so effusive.

Knowing what I do about my friend, I can say that, for him, Canada offers the freedom and the economic opportunity to fulfill one’s desires. Those are big pluses, but they don’t make Canada a paradise.

In the wake of the July 1 Canada Day celebrations, Christians might ponder how to help our country become more like paradise. We have a duty to act publicly to help initiate God’s kingdom.

That Canada is not paradise was driven home by the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing provincial legal societies to deny accreditation to lawyers educated at the evangelical Trinity Western University. Students and faculty at Trinity Western, as a condition of enrolment, agree not to take part in sexual activity outside a monogamous, heterosexual marriage.

In the view of seven of the nine Supreme Court justices, this violates the right of non-heterosexual students to study at the university’s law school. For the Supreme Court, the establishment of moral norms on a religious foundation amounts to a form of discrimination. From a Christian point of view, the court ruling violates our freedom of religion and conscience.

Constitutional lawyer Iain Benson expressed it well when he told Canadian Catholic News that the Supreme Court has basically ruled that the Christian position on sexual morality violates the public interest.

In fact, the Christian position on a variety of moral issues is in the public interest. In a society where untrammelled personal autonomy is the rule, that leads to the victory of what St. Paul called the works of the flesh: “fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing and things like these” (Galatians 5:19-21).

I doubt if this is what the Supreme Court justices desire for Canada, but it’s the direction their decisions are taking us. Meanwhile, Christianity, in their view, should be kept in the closet, never to impinge on alleged individual rights.

Fortunately, enough residue of the Christian tradition still flows through the nation’s bloodstream to maintain public order. 

As well, the spark of divine life — a yearning for goodness — glows in the heart of every person. Yet it is the Church that breathes life into that spark by attuning our souls to that which is good and holy.

A good conscience involves neither rote obedience to moral rules nor revulsion at the sight of evil. Rather, our consciences, our lives, are formed by the extent to which we are drawn to the good. The person who focuses on entertainment, recreation and worldly goods has failed to form their conscience. Those who develop virtues, such as the love of God and other people, are not doing their own thing so much as contributing to the common good.

Here is where the Supreme Court is wrong, very wrong. The religious faith of those who fan the divine spark within is not some personal quirk but helps to make our society more like paradise. St. Paul again: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. There is no law against such things” (Galatians 5:22-23).

At least not yet.

One can understand the hostility toward Christianity. It has a long history of reducing morality to social conformity, of forming alliances with the powerful in society and of trying to strip Indigenous cultures of their vitality.

However, it is also the source of a goodness which is more than individual, which has helped soften the brutality which characterized pre-Christian societies. It has also been the source of our society’s freedom and respect for the inherent dignity of every person. 

Curiously, in the name of freedom, our freedom is now being undermined. Freedom is more than individual autonomy; it is what Paul called faith working through love.

Canada Day is a celebration of who we are. It should also be a time for a national examination of conscience. 

One question we face is: By raising individual desires above the common good, are we losing the ability to examine ourselves? 

(Argan is the interim editor of Living with Christ and was recently honoured with the Leslie K. Tarr Award for his contributions to Christian writing and publishing in Canada.)

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