Religion is in trouble around the world, but particularly in Canada.
According to a “Globe and Mail” report of Friday November 24,
An Ipsos Reid online poll released Friday said 52 per cent of 18,192 global respondents believe deeply held religious beliefs promote intolerance and division in the world.
On the other hand, 48 per cent of the respondents from 23 countries said religion provides the common values and ethical foundations that diverse societies need to thrive.
Of the 1,000 Canadians who took part, 36 per cent said religion was a positive influence while 64 per cent — almost two-thirds — said religious beliefs promote intolerance.
Ipsos Reid said the online panel included respondents aged 18-64 in Canada and the United States and 16-64 in all other countries. The respondents were polled between Sept. 7 and 23.
At the very least, we religious people have an image problem.
How did we religious Canadians ever allow our public profile to deteriorate to the point where 64% of Canadians identify us as a force that promotes “intolerance and division in the world”? What dark shadow lurks in our history, or continues to operate in our religious communities today, that makes it possible for us to be perceived as a predominantly negative force in the world?
It is tempting to argue that the nearly 2/3 of Canadians who reject religion because they view it as a force that works towards division and intolerance, are simply using this ill-founded conviction as a means of avoiding the personal life-changing demands that usually accompany religious conviction. Or, we religious people who view ourselves as enlightened and tolerant, might argue that the negative view of religion results only from the aberrant religious attitudes and practices of those we label as “fundamentalist.” Or we may dismiss the entire discussion by suggesting that, of the 1,000 respondents to the Ipsos Reid poll, a self-selecting group of disporportionately anti-religious people chose to respond.
These arguments strike me as moving dangerously close to the arrogant attitude that has so often brought religion into conflict with the generally more tolerant culture that prevails in Canada today. Of even more concern, such a line of thought makes it impossible for religious people to hear the truth that may be present in the bleak vision of religion held by many Canadians.
What lessons might we people whose world view is deeply imbued with religious conviction learn if we listen carefully to the negative beliefs about religion that are apparently held by 64% of Canadians?
If we listen carefully to the feelings about religion expressed by many people, we will probably discover that much of what they believe about religion is true. We have often painted a dark, negative view of the world. We often demonize those who disagree with us and blame the evils of the world on godless atheism, or at least, shallow materialistic secularism.
As Christmas approaches, it is almost certain that in many Christian churches, congregations will be subjected to a sermon in which the preacher rails against the absence of Christ from the holiday season.
It is popular among Christians at Christmas time to wear buttons demanding “Keep Christ in Christmas!” Why do we assume and insist on declaring that, because people do not choose to attend formal worship in a church, they have necessarily banished Christ? What possible advantage can we gain by condemning the way the majority of people in our country choose to celebrate this holiday season?
Might we not be further ahead if we were to try to find Christ present in Christmas whether overtly identified or secretly present? How might non-churched Canadians respond if we in the church were able to affirm the presence of love, light, and truth in every celebration of this festive season?
Why is it so difficult for religious people to discern the presence of the Divine, simply because it does not bear the name we have chosen to use as the symbol to signify its presence?
The image of religion in our country might improve if we were more determined to listen deeply to the world around us and find those places where the hidden presence of God is hinted at, rather than condemning people who seem to us uninterested in discerning that reality.