Longhurst: Secular, not faithless

May 8, 2017 by

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This year is Canada’s 150th anniversary. The government will host celebrations to mark the country’s heritage, cultural diversity, citizenship, social contract, respect for pluralism, official languages and reconciliation with indigenous peoples.

John Longhurst

Longhurst

Religion, and its contribution to the making of Canada, didn’t make the list.

The folks at Cardus, a Canadian Christian think tank, think that is an oversight. But rather than write petulant blog posts in protest, they decided that if the government isn’t going to celebrate religion, they’ll do it themselves.

Faith in Canada 150 is the result. Through events, research, conferences, the sharing of stories and other activities, Cardus is inviting people of faith in Canada to celebrate the role religion has played in Canadian history.

“When you start exploring the history of Canada, you come face-to-face with faith all the time,” said Cardus president and CEO Michael Van Pelt. “Hospitals, universities, charities and other services — so much of this country is built on the religious traditions of Canadians.”

Even a cursory look at Canadian history shows that “the undercurrents of religion are stronger than many people think,” Van Pelt said.

Cardus elaborates on this theme on the Faith in Canada 150 website.

“For more than 450 years, faith has shaped the human landscape of Canada,” it says. “It has shaped how we live our lives, how we see our neighbours, how we fulfill our social responsibilities, how we imagine our life together.

“This is the story that Faith in Canada 150 will tell. It will allow us to say, ‘Here is Canada. Here is why faith matters.’ ”

I think Cardus is on to something, and not just from a historical perspective. Canada today is a thoroughly secular country, but religion still plays a vital role.

Take economics. It might not be the first thing that comes to mind but perhaps is a way to catch the attention of political leaders and policy­makers.

A recent Georgetown University study found that religion in the U.S. is worth $1.2 trillion a year — more than the combined revenues of the top 10 U.S. technology companies, including Apple, Amazon and Google.

Researchers arrived at that figure by calculating the value of things such as religiously owned or supported health-care facilities, schools, day cares, charities and media, along with businesses with faith backgrounds such as kosher and halal food markets and direct spending by religious organizations and congregations.

In 2015-16, Cardus did a more localized study in Canada, researching 10 Toronto congregations’ economic value. It came up with a figure of $45 million in local impact.

And then there’s the role people of faith play in supporting charities. According to Statistics Canada, people who are more religiously active donate more often and to more charities, make larger gifts and volunteer more time than those who aren’t as involved religiously.

Of course, money isn’t the only way to measure the impact of religion in society. But these days, with so much emphasis on the economy, it might one way to clearly demonstrate the importance of faith in Canada — right now, and into the future.

Maybe through Faith in Canada 150, that story, and many others, can be told.

John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.


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