Religious Freedom vs Freedom from Religion

Article excerpt

THE DISCUSSION that has swirled around the remarks the primate, Archbishop Michael Peers, addressed to a New Year's Day congregation in Ottawa actually reflects a malaise that goes much deeper than a concern over separation of church and state. It points to a vacuum in moral leadership that extends across the breadth of society and raises fundamental questions of where people might seek guidance in the face of life's more difficult issues.

As is often the case in such things, the primate's remarks were amplified and interpreted through commentary, both in the secular press and on the Anglican Website. The argument Archbishop Peers actually made, using as an illustration the secular nature of the remembrance ceremony on Parliament Hill that followed last September's terrorist arracks, was a cultural one. He argued that it is futile and nonsensical for a state to attempt to remove from culture its deeply ingrained articles of faith for the sake of ultimately giving offense to no one.

"I think," Archbishop Peers said, "there is at work a naive view of how our society ought to live. Secularism according to some contributors to this debate will bring unity and strength to our country by removing from its life the potential divisiveness of religion. This kind of thing, I think, would prove to be not only a suppression of the pluralistic reality but also a folly of the worst sort for society. If we think that we can achieve unity by suppression of knowledge of and respect for religious diversity, then we will never understand our world."

Nor, he might have added, will we ever understand our own needs in dealing with the complexities of the world, for to exist and to survive thoughtfully and sensibly at the dawn of the 21st century is something no one is equipped to do in a vacuum. The world is simply too fast and its rights and wrongs too muddled into shades of grey for that to be feasible.

It does not require the age of Methuselah to recall a time when things were different and when guidance seemed much more readily available and much more palatable than it is today. Within the memory of many is a time when religion and religious leaders held much greater moral and political sway than they do today; a time when certain political leaders were so trusted and so regarded that they merely pointed a finger in a given direction and there, the people marched; a time, indeed, when newspaper editorial pages could go a long way towards influencing the results of elections.

It is useless to decry the end of those things and it may be totally academic to debate, as many did in the aftermath of Archbishop Peers' remarks, whether the world is a better or a worse place for their absence. …

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