On this Good Friday, when all North Americans (and many others in the West) get a statutory day off - a privilege not extended to any other faiths, yet some Christians still say they feel like victims of unfair treatment - I'm reflective upon the role of religion and faith in our society.
Canada is a country of great moderation, secularism and pluralism I am proud to call home. I'm glad to say the vast majority of Canadians decades ago threw off the shackles of social conservatism. Debates about women's rights, abortion, same sex marriage, equality and many others seem to be completely settled here. Attempts to revisit those questions invariably go nowhere, even though an unhappy few still unsuccessfully try to champion those old causes. More often than not, they do their own causes more harm, like when anti-abortion activists circulated postcards recently to try to hurt Justin Trudeau.
Most Ontarians recently responded with shrugs and "It's about time!" to the long overdue school curriculum revamp, despite cries of opposition from religious fanatics, who mostly misrepresented the changes to try to attack them. Some social conservatives continue to make noise against it with the help of some misguided Conservative leadership candidates, but it seems Ontario's tenacious premier Kathleen Wynne will be more than happy to face them down. These days, siding with secularism and pluralism in Ontario is a political winner.
Am I complacent now in Ontario? It's hard not to feel a little secure when we re-elected our openly lesbian premier last year. There has been much progress. But of course, instances of homophobic violence and discrimination do still occur. But it does seem that homophobia in the culture continues to decline. The culture shift seems to be permanent.
That's why when I look at other countries like the U.S. or Brazil which still debate these questions, I am confident that eventually they too will achieve the kind of peace that we have mostly won here in Canada.
Why has Canada progressed this far, while pockets in America and other countries still resist full equality?
The answer is simple: Religion. Fundamentalist or conservative religion to be precise.
To me, religion is like a drug. And not all drugs are bad. Caffeine is a drug. Sugar is a drug. Red wine is a drug. Money is a drug. Marijuana is a drug. Heroin is a drug.
Of that list, I'd only advise against trying heroin. Why? Because it seems heroin can't be enjoyed in moderation. It's an "all-in" experience, and one that easily becomes addictive.
To me, fundamentalist religion is like heroin. It's "all-in". Followers of fundamentalist religion - be they Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or whatever - are so desperate for some kind of perceived salvation that they cling to sets of beliefs that "guarantee" it. Of course, those sets of beliefs often compel them to do strange things, wear certain clothes in public, and also impose their values on others, like recently in Indiana and other U.S. states. Sometimes, those beliefs are so extreme that they turn believers into murderers, like we saw this week in Kenya.
What is the cure for these fundamentalists? I'd say moderation and skepticism.
I grew up in a Roman Catholic family. My parents were so-called "smorgasbord Catholics." Sure they believed in the basic concepts of the Catholic faith involving Christ being the Son of God, who came to Earth to show humanity how to live and how to face death, with a glimpse of eternal life, etc., etc. But their faith was fluid. It allowed for skepticism. It evolved when my parents learned new things or read new ideas, like 'The Pagan Christ.'
Such an open-minded approach to religion is just fine, in my books. Sure, you can attend mass every week if it gives you a sense of community and ritual. I can appreciate such needs. If you also refuse to impose your religion on others, then I think that's wonderful. These are people who are using the drug of religion in moderation. They are healthy. And there is much good that religious people can do in this world, including helping their fellow human beings.
I am not a religious person. I am agnostic. I decided long ago that all organized religions were inherently corrupt and fallible. Adherence to any one religion is misguided, in my estimation. I simply cannot tolerate the injustices still rampant in most of them (including the discrimination of the Catholic Church.) I don't judge those who still need a religious outlet in their lives, but only if they oppose discrimination and embrace real equality for all human beings.
While I've embraced the secularism of our society, there's no doubt that my religious upbringing formed a foundation for my beliefs. I'm not some boat flailing in stormy waters without a sail. I do think there is much good in the story of Jesus Christ as a role model. But I consider the story to be fiction. Like all religious stories about saviours.
My firmest spiritual belief: human beings can never know the absolute truth of the universe.
Religions try to offer that absolute truth to their followers, but the dogma they provide is mostly false.
Sure, it's healthy to learn about various religions and ideas. Perhaps even follow one or two from time to time. But it's best to allow your beliefs to continue to evolve with new experiences and information. And not tie yourself to one religion for life.
In the mean time, I find it best to borrow from the Christian tenet: love your fellow human beings as yourself. That's an idea I and all of us can most definitely live with.