A 2017 Canadian survey depicts an “almost perfect bell curve” of degrees of religiosity. At either end are about 20 per cent of Canadians who are die-hard non-believers and 20 per cent who are committed believers. Photo by Michael Swan

Peter Stockland: Faith is alive and well in our mainstream

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  • May 11, 2018

Calls for reinvigorating religious public life within our seeming secular monoculture have traditionally relied heavily on morally grounded arguments.

But Ray Pennings has noted in a series of public talks over the past few months there’s a far more straightforward way to make the case. It’s called truth in numbers.

Pennings, executive vice-president of Cardus, points to Angus Reid polling for the Christian think tank showing, first and foremost, that the very idea of Canada as one vast northern expanse of secularism is a myth. On the contrary, hard data compiled from surveying Canadians during 2017 depicts an “almost perfect bell curve” — in Pennings’ phrase — of degrees of religiosity. At either end are about 20 per cent of Canadians who are die-hard non-believers and 20 per cent who are committed believers.

“What has happened is (secularists) have appropriated to themselves the 60 per cent in the middle as if they are all non-believers,” Pennings told the annual Civitas conference recently. “The more accurate read would be to say religion is in the mainstream of society.”

The bulk of Canadians in the familiar middle, in other words, have more in common with the religiously committed 20 per cent than they do with the group of die-hard non-believers.

This has real-world effect in areas such as education where polling shows “80 per cent of the population … fit in categories with majority support for either full or partial public funding of religious schools. The only group in which a majority said ‘no’ to any funding at all is the 20 per cent non-believers.”

The primary objective for Canadians of faith, Pennings argues, is to “reclaim the narrative” of Canada as not just a pluralistic, but very much a religiously oriented, country. It is certainly not the country it was in the past when houses of worship were bursting at the doors with worshippers. Neither is it the arid wasteland for faith that has been conjured up by those with a vested interest in pushing religious belief out of the picture.

Indeed, active evidence of that is the concerted political pushback from the country’s faith communities to the federal government’s misbegotten Canada Summer Jobs attestation. What Justin Trudeau’s Liberals clearly assumed would be a minor regulatory modification last December, provoking at worst a short-lived outcry early in the New Year, has turned into a full-on, enduring fiasco that will unquestionably extract a price of some measure at the polls.

In part, that’s because the government has bungled the file and chosen to grow stubborn in its ineptitude. In part, it’s because of strong and effective leaders within religious communities who have refused to back down in the face of government intransigence.

At least as much, however, it’s because Canadians of all traditions — and of varying degrees of religious commitment — have resolutely lined up alongside those of deep faith to protest the self-evident injustice of the Canada Summer Jobs attestation. There lies an aggrieved sense of infringement of the integral meaning of being Canadian. The offence is seen as being not just against one’s own religion, or against a religion not one’s own, but against the very nature and reality of religiosity within our national life.

In a recent article in the Canadian Jewish News, Rabbi Chaim Strauchler, spiritual leader of Toronto’s Shaarei Shomayim Congregation, went so far as to compare the response to the bravery of Allied soldiers in a German prisoner of war camp who stepped forward en masse to declare themselves “all Jews here” to protect their Jewish comrades.

“By becoming allies to Canadians with ‘wrong’ beliefs, we will make clear that our government should judge all of us based on the content of our character and actions, not by the form of our beliefs,” Strauchler wrote.

His call comes not from the finer points of moral postulating but from the existential reality that Canada is a country where faith is too deeply embedded to be discounted simply for the sake of political expediency. Or as Pennings might say: we have the numbers; let’s use them.

(Stockland is publisher of Convivium.ca and senior fellow with Cardus.)

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