Which Religious Values?

“I’m glad Karen Klein and Max Sidorov taught us to be kind, but viral Internet charity is too rare. It’ll never replace the common currency of religious values that need to be rediscovered.”

  • From “Religious values, not Web charity”, by Lorna Deuck, Globe and Mail.com, Last updated Thursday, Sep. 13, 2012 06:05PM EDT

I truly appreciated Lorna Deuck’s piece on the need for a look at society’s values and expressions. In many ways, it is hard to disagree with her argument that we would rather not use laws to establish moral norms. However, in that same vein, her solution – the growth or use of Religious Values – is actually worse than the use of laws, regulation and government action. Growing up in Toronto, I had the privilege of seeing various religious traditions. My own story is one of hopping between religious. I was baptized as an Anglican and went to schools with large Catholic and Jewish populations. Therefore, it is easy for me to see that the doctrines held by many religious beg many questions, let alone how they intersect and react in a pluralistic, modern society.

The Anglican Community, for example, has had a hard time dealing with a number of issues. Just look at the same sex debate.  In 1992 an Anglican priest, James Ferry, was brought before a Bishops’ Court for being in a same-sex relationship. Ferry was stripped of his licence and “inhibited” from functioning as a priest.  While, Rev. Ferry was not doing anything criminal – for homosexuality was decriminalized in 1969 – Rev. Ferry found himself on the ‘outs’ of our society because he broke a religious rule.

What is most interesting, in 2006, was that the person who prosecuted Rev. Ferry, Archbishop Terence Finlay, was himself disciplined by his successor for assisting in a same-sex wedding in a Toronto United Church. For the Anglican Community in Canada this is a debate that has gone on for over thirty years and this is just the start.

However, the Anglican Church is not alone; for the United Church of Canada has also gone through the same lengthy debate on the issue homosexuality. In both cases, bishops and synods have broken communions and parishioners have left churches. All of this is due to a changing attitude toward homosexuality within society. For instead of listening to Ms. Deuck’s words:

Islamic hadith echo Christian and Jewish scriptures that contain a basic anti-bullying message: ‘As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don’t do to them.’

Religions have largely fought societial changes. Therefore, instead of following the Golden Rule, many institutionalized religions have tried to keep homosexuals to the side of society.

This point can be made more clear by seeing the reaction of Ontario Catholic Community to the creation of student groups known as Gay Straight Alliance Clubs. The Archbishop of Toronto, Cardinal Thomas Collins, argued against the Ontario government’s plan to introduce an anti-bullying bill that would allow anti-homophobic clubs be called “gay-straight alliances.” Cardinal Collins argued that the legislature should not “micromanage” the naming of student clubs and in fact should allow Catholics to come up with their own “methods to fight bullying, and provide personal support to students, as long as they attain the common goal of a welcoming and supportive school”. (Toronto archbishop opposes gay-straight alliance bill, CBC News, Last Updated: May 28, 2012 5:31 PM ET)

In some ways, I am sympathetic to the Archbishop’s point. The problem has been though that large sections of the Christian community have been unwilling to deal with the challenge of bullying especially as it deals with gender or orientation-specific issues. Joanne McGarry, executive director of The Catholic Civil Rights League of Canada as an example, said that “Nobody is in favour of bullying,” McGarry told The Catholic Register. “(But) we challenge the emphasis on gender and orientation (in Bill-13).” (Catholic Civil Rights League challenges anti-bullying Bill-13, May 17 2012, By Erin Morawetz, The Catholic Register.com) Or put differently, she tried to differentiate between forms of bullying. For speaking for her organization on the issue of homophobia, she said “we don’t think the term has any place in legislation.” With such a viewpoint, how is it possible for such a person or organization to create an anti-bullying framework that includes an anti-homophobic component? I would argue that it is impossible. Therefore, one could argue that the simple reason why a Legislative Response was chosen could have been the unwillingness of Catholic community to deal with the issue. In these cases, Government action has always been the answer.

As a black Canadian, I know all too well the wrongs which have been committed against the Afro-Canadian and Afro-American Community. For many of us, the case of Brown v. Board of Education is seen as a beacon of light along the dark path of reaching equality. For that case moved the concept of Equality to the top of the political agenda in Canada and the United States. It is one of the cases that guided our Supreme Court’s in arriving at its landmark decision on Reference case known as Reference re Same-Sex Marriage [2004] . It is one of the reasons why anti-gay bullying is a matter of conversation today. Therefore, to say that Religious Policy Tools are what is needed is a fallacy; for policy tools based on religious persuasions just don’t have the flexibility of Secular Policy Tools.

Secular Policy Tools that have been developed by Canadian Society allow us to co-exist and even thrive. Let us take the complex question of religious clothing and garb. When I was young, a Sikh man fought to wear his Turbin and still be a member of the RCMP. When the Courts addressed the issue, they asked one question: why was this Sikh man treated differently? Why could he not wear his Turban on the job as many Christian might wear a cross? Many answers were given but Courts did not find any of them to be compelling. From their point of view, as long as the person in question could do their job safely and keep to their religious beliefs, they should be allowed to do so. Courts and Legislatures have increasingly shared this opinion. Therefore, we find that the Kirpan, Hijabs and Turbans are becoming a part of our society. Or put differently, our “secularness” allows everyone to find their place. This is why the RCMP now has an official Turbin as a part of its uniform. This is why Kirpans are found in schools and why woman wear Hijabs to work. Our society in the last twenty years has only become richer due to this diversity.

This is why Irshad Manji, a Lesbian Muslim, can speak so prominently within our society. This is why Don Meredith can be both a Reverend and a Conservative Senator. Our secular nature allows for all Canadians to discuss policy issues and not blinded by their religious needs. If that was not the case, Prime Minister Martin, Chretien and Trudeau would not have pushed for the decriminalization of Homosexuality and/or the Approval of Same Sex Marriage. For all three of them were Roman Catholic and received a lot of argument from their Church for their actions.

Therefore, one can see that not all elements of Religious Institutions are restrictive. In fact, some elements are laudable. For example, I do believe in the Golden Rule. It is as Liberal a belief as Caring for the “Other”. However, not all Religious teachings are so open and understanding. For example, let us look at the status of woman. Orthodox Judaism, Catholicism and Islam do not allow woman to be Rabbis, Priest or Imams. While, Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Anglican and other Protestant Churches do. Does this mean we should re-evaluate the role of woman in our society based on religious views? If that is the case, then how do we prioritize them? Canadian history has taught us that this is a foolish endeavour. This is why the British North America Act provided some guarantees to Catholics and Protestants when they were the minority.

In my mind, while Religion can be the start of Morality, it should not be used replace Human Judgement. While Religion has provided us with the inspiration for Art, Architecture and Music, it has not been without fault or without contradiction. Therefore, while, we can acknowledge its value, Religion should never be the basis for Public Policy.

One thought on “Which Religious Values?

  1. Understandable sentiments, but like contemporary secular liberals overwhelmingly, you’re using terminology defined so as to make your conclusion self-evident. In this essay “religion” means ‘practices of private identity’. Then you argue religion should be kept private… Not that you’re wrong, but there’s a circular tautology here that I’m not sure actually convinces.

    Otherwise, I’m not sure what we mean by “religion” as contrasted with other concepts here, e.g. “Morality” or “Human Judgement”, art, etc. Historically, the term “religion” is a synonym for “community”, in terms of shared literature; shared obligations. Morality, conscience, and art respectively are all three inclusive elements of religion as the umbrella-term was meant in Middle English and other Christian languages – at least up until the Enlightment. e.g. to Oliver Cromwell, if he visited today’s North Korea, communism would obviously be an example of an exotic godless “religion”… and metaphorically, but directly. (Buddism and Confucionism, arguable, have no supernatural “god” or “gods” per se either.)

    Since the Enlightment, we’ve been using the terms ‘science’ and ‘education’ to mean the same thing we used to mean by “religion” – except as materialistic equivalent. So today, DPRK insists Marx was writing “science”… meh. Ne bottles, old whine. The difference is that these new terms ratify mainstream majority rejection by the West of the tenets of Christianity that no longer command consensus here, redefining them by lexical shift into an intellectual ghetto of privacy, that policy makers *by definition* need no longer need pay much of any attention.

    That’s a political choice by society, but it’s a subjective one. Take abortion: there is no way to ‘prove’ when human life per se begins one way or another: some say conception, some say birth. Which opinion is “religion”? Well, the one we disaggree with, of couse. But both are equally subjecfive. Some opinion is influenced by the Tora; some influenced by The Handmaid’s Tale: both are subjective poetic literature, both usefully but hardly decisive. We can argue against the view of evangelicals in the Conservative caucus, for example, but we cannot deny their legitimacy in bringing their perspective in parliament, and the more we attempt to do so the more arrogant liberals appear in the eyes of the working class.

    We can’t dodge religious debate by comparing religion to “race” etc. because skin colour is not chosen; certainly it’s unfair to hold people accountable for that. We can and do choose our religion, like any other system of thought, and we can and must be held accountable for its content. You may be raised in a particular religion, but if you discover it is wrong you have an obligation to switch to some other one (or start your own! 🙂 Yes, some religious appeal to scripture alone, and reject reason: such fundamentalist views are exactly the kinds of communities we may fairly discriminate against. Religion can and *must* encompass political pluralism and freedom of conscience within its agenda, and most modern religions clearly do.

    All religions are less than perfectly true, but some are much falser than others, and those cults should rightly be condemned and, where violent, even supressed by the state like any other criminal conspiracy. On the other hand, some religions emphatically embrace reason and “science” so far as rational, objective empiricism can take us, deny any conflict between faith and reason. One of these traditions is the established official state church we have in our Commonwealth (Anglicanism). Endorsing its most basic values, which are overwhelmingly shared with the values of the Pope, the Dalai Lama, Billy Graham, etc, is a reasonable sort of discrimination for the public to decide on. e.g. A morning prayer reading from various mainstream religious traditions is a wonderful thing to have in public schools. A turban is not a proper element of a Mounty uniform as an individual right: it’s proper because the content of the values it represents are an excellent fit for the RCMP ethos. We choose to endorse turban wearing, in addition to the crucifix on the typical town Cenotaph, and we have every right to do so. (The “Church of White Power”, or whatever such nonsense as I’m sure exists somewhere, is not a good fit. Why? Because the majority says so. Tough.)

    Adopting capitalist property ethics in law instead of communist ones is similar reasonable discrimination. You still have the right to advocate communism, run for parliament as a communist, etc. Only if you kill capitalists or advocate killing us, do you go to jail. Extreme religion should be in exactly the same constitutional position.

    The state doesn’t have to treat all communities of thought alike: the majority gets to negotiate some choices. I like smoking pipe tobacco: the majority disagrees, and even spends my tax money on TV adds condemning this lifestyle. Well, I guess that’s democracy for me, and democracy must precede our liberalism.

    If we are to have science-based policy, well… theology is a science. It is threatened by junk science on its fringes, just as Kevin Trudeau threatens medical science. He gets freedom of speech, but the FDA and Health Canada don’t have to give him equal air time, or avoid contradicting him.

    Catholic theology does not belittle women, nor LGBT people. Church management and Italian culture certainly does, but that’s a political problem for our religion, not a spiritual or scriptural one. The reason women aren’t “priests” is because they are “nuns”, and there’s no Catholic theological reason a nun can’t be Vatican Secretary of State and govern the church… it hasn’t happened for related reasons why there’s never been a woman PM of Italy either, and won’t be any time soon, or a gay Italian leader besides. In Canadian Catholicism, nuns have had plenty of managerial power, for centuries. Catholic theology about “sodomy” is a problem for LGBT but – like Sunni Muslim thought – no more problematic than for bankers and insurance brokers whose trade qualifies as the sin of “usury”. To the extent that religion as actually practiced is sexist or homophobic (and suspiciously, hypocritically banker-friendly) is a problem for the public to investigate the details and make informed, constructive criticisms… not label the presumed sexism as “religion” and somehow accept that religion won’t change. We’ve made a lot of progress in religious knowledge over the centuries – why stop now?

    A liberal politics in Canada has always been premised on liberal religion; a very public liberal religious culture at that. The Liberal Party, in particular, has always been the party of the Catholic Left, and the reason Canada’s Liberals were uniquely successful in the 20th century compared to other countries is that we are the only Commonwealth country with a Catholic plurality instead of Protestant. Gladstone’s Liberals of the UK were also the party of Catholic rights, and Irish Home Rule, but the minority proportion of Catholics in England made it inevitable that the Methodist Left of the Labour/CCF-NDP tradition would prevail there. It will never form government again unless it can recapture that keystone of the coalition.

    With a leftist Pope, now’s as good a moment as any.

    “According to Cicero derived from relegere “go through again, read again,” from re- “again” + legere “read” (see lecture (n.)). However, popular etymology among the later ancients (and many modern writers) connects it with religare “to bind fast” (see rely), via notion of “place an obligation on,” or “bond between humans and gods.” Another possible origin is religiens “careful,” opposite of negligens.”


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