Friday, March 19, 2010

Silence in the face of evil is evil -- a joint piece

Canada is a nation rooted in faith. The preamble to our Constitution expressly recognizes "the supremacy of God" and all versions of our national anthem evince a trust in Providence. Contrary to public perception Canada has no laws dictating the separation of Church and State. Six in ten Canadians describe themselves as moderately or highly religious. The very language of everyday life reflects cadences and concepts from Scripture.

Yet Canada has avoided the religious conflict and much of the intolerance seen in other nations. To at least some degree we believe Canada's tolerance is a result of the broad inclusion of all faiths in the Canadian mosaic and the expression of those faiths publicly. Canadians know, at least in general, what their neighbours believe and can see the divine reflected, albeit perhaps through a glass darkly, in other’s faith traditions.

The work of respectful religious engagement is an essential element of Canadian tolerance. Bus Stop Bible Studies is one such case in point. By posting short, pithy ‘Bible studies’ inside buses on several of Canada’s transit systems, this evangelical Christian organization brings Scripture into people’s daily commute. They intentionally do not post any ‘hell, fire and brimstone’ messages, focusing rather on Bible verses that focus on God’s love and redemption. Significantly, now in their fourth year of operation and after more than one half-billion individual impressions, the transit companies have received fewer than ten complaints from the public.

Following the controversial Atheist Bus Campaign, Bus Stop Bible Studies has just launched their next major initiative. Posting forty displays with attention grabbing graphics on the sides of Toronto’s streetcars, twenty different God and life questions are asked, for example, “God, why am I here?” The public is directed to a website to find a Christian perspective and engage in an ongoing dialogue.

But evangelizing is not enough. It is true that Christians, Jews and Muslims do not believe the same things about God. There are material differences between different faiths and those differences will inevitably inform believers as to what God calls them to do in society. But that does not mean that believers are to stay in their houses of worship and otherwise remain silent. Martin Luther King marched with Rabbis and Priests; and they all marched as believers in the equality of humanity. A serious engagement of religion in society does not lead to a wall of separation between religion and secular culture. People of faith must speak out and act because of, and not in spite of, their faith.

That speaking out can be difficult. Canada is tolerant of religious differences but not so tolerant of religion in the public square. Speaking out is not without cost; that said, there are things that must be said and we, though of differing faith backgrounds, see one issue that must be addressed.

In Canada, despite our wealth and freedom, the First Nations largely live in a separate world where disease, poverty and abuse are standard. To take one dreadful but telling statistic, the suicide rate for young aboriginal men in Canada is six times that of the general population. Ignoring the apartness of the First Nations is not possible for the believer. Finding people to blame is no solution; working to a solution is. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said "Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act."

Believers must not be silent in the public square. Religion is the rock upon which social justice is founded:

"Deut. 15:7. If there is a poor man among you, one of your brothers, in any of the towns of the land which the LORD your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart, nor close your hand to your poor brother; but you shall freely open your hand to him, and generously lend him sufficient for his need in whatever he lacks."

It is time for Canadian believers to focus their efforts on working together to build as just a society as can exist in our times.

James Morton is a lawyer at Steinberg Morton Hope and Israel LLP with aboriginal and Metis clients in Ontario and Nunavut. He teaches evidence at Osgoode Hall Law School. David Harrison is president of Bus Stop Bible Studies and Board Chair of DayStar Native Christian Outreach which serves native communities located around the Great Lakes..


Anonymous said...

"Canada is a nation rooted in faith."

Are you kidding?

Wow. You really must be in the farthest left part of the field bud.

Canada is probably the most corrupt,intolerant,ignorant,culturally deficient,militarily inefficient,country on earth.

Canadians have no spine all the while watching the "progressives" in the country take it over.

From the justice system, to the education system, to the tax system, to the human rights commission system, to the university system, the country has been polluted with far left university educated individuals who all get paid to do work that entitles no physical labor.

These "progressive" lawyers and university professors want to tell us how to live,without ever living.

It's amazing how people on the left get paid to never work, but to tell us all "how to live".

Canada needs to be overthrown.Literally.Toronto to start. The city is a disease.

It's spreading all over the country.

James C Morton said...

Well, I don't know -- most people I know are believers -- not all traditional mainline faiths I'll grant you -- but believers still.

But thanks for taking the time to read and comment.

kathleen said...

I think you article is very apt.

Anonymous said...

When you tell me how great your god or religion is, you're telling me that my spirituality isn't as valuable as yours. So, I tell you to take your bible, and the kids you're dragging around the neighbourhood with you to intimate that you're someone a caring parent, when what you're doing verges on child labour,and stay off my property. And when your kids corner my kids as school and tell them they're going to go straight to hell because they don't believe in god, then I think the parents of those kids are bigots. Keep religion OUT of the public square. The most moral people that I know are atheists. The people least worthy of trust are evangelical christians. I'd say you can look at our current government for a fine example of an evil that needs to be confronted -- keep religion OUT of the public office, and frankly, off my bus.

James C Morton said...

my point is a little different -- if you are spiritual or whatever, apply that in your progressive politics! it's not just conservatives who have faith -- in fact, scriptures (all of them, read any) spend a lot of time on poor and oppressed

Downes said...

> Canada is a nation rooted in faith.

No. Canada WAS a nation rooted in faith. But with 4 in 10 Canadians no longer religious (by your own statistics) we cannot say that faith is any more a foundational value in this country.

What has allowed Canada to remain peaceful and harmonious is that, for the most part, we have managed to keep matters of faith out of the public sphere. We were founded from the very beginning with a potentially divisive Catholic-Protestant split, and in more recent years have seen large influxes of Muslims, Hindus and Jews. And, of course, atheism has risen dramatically in recent years.

The purpose of public policy, at least in this our peaceful and diverse society, is to enable people of many faiths to interact together under a single legal and social framework. This very much means that no particular religion can or should have the means to impose its particular view on society.

This is not to say that people can not or should not live and represent their moral and spiritual values. Nobody has a problem with that, not even the atheists.

Rather, it means that if you advocate "policy x" because your religious views compel you to do so, your advocacy of "policy x" will have to be on the basis of its own merits, not because "Canada was founded based on the principles of religion y". Indeed, people - excepting those of your particular creed - will find such a tactic (in this country, at least) divisive and an attempt to seed racial and religious disharmony.

To advocate otherwise is to emperil the basis on which this country was founded, a basis that enshrines freedom and diversity of race, language, faith and opinion.

Play the religion card with great caution. You may be religious; I don't care. But when you try to cram religion into government, I get very very upset.

Harold Jarche said...

As Stephen says, "Play the religion card with great caution."

I assume that as a self-described "progressive blogger" that you also feel than non-believers must not be silent in the public square either.

ck said...

Anonymous @8:05AM: From the justice system, to the education system, to the tax system, to the human rights commission system, to the university system, the country has been polluted with far left university educated individuals who all get paid to do work that entitles no physical labor.

So, in your ideal world, no one would have above a grade 6 education and all would be working on some chain gang?

Canada needs to be overthrown.Literally.Toronto to start. The city is a disease.

Overthrown by whom? Sarah Palin, a Military junta? Pope Benny? Al Qaeda?

For everyone else, Here is some scary reading:

Something I've been suspecting long before that Manning Center conference.

KENT F. said...

Let all nations examine themselves....I believe you will find evil in every nation on earth....but that being said their is also good....although the Prince of the AIR has a strong grip on the whole earth and those who strive to be righteous resists him.

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