“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  . 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.