'Cause You Gotta Have (an opinion on) Faith

By Navneet Alang

If religion has always been a part of “multiculturalism” in this country, over the last decade it’s become one of its defining issues. We all know the reason, of course, and there seems little point in again going over the fallout from that sunny September morning.

But if this city and Canada at large often did a better job than most at accepting people of all faiths, that comfort has frayed a bit over the past few years. Immigration Minister Jason Kenney now feels comfortable using the term “barbaric” to describe certain views. Others call for the end of funding for Catholic schools after the controversy over Gay-Straight Alliances. All the while, instances of religious discrimination continue.

At the same time, religion remains a vibrant, central part of life in this city, sometimes especially so for those looking to hold on to the cultures and values they or their families left behind. Inevitably then, things have gotten a little more tense. How we talk about religion has become fraught and shot through with mistrust and misunderstanding, and things like Minister Kenney's blunt speech aren't terribly helpful.

It’s not, of course, that any particular practice or viewpoint should be beyond critique. Rather, if we’re looking to foster understanding between people, how we talk about religion should be more nuanced that simply “your faith is fine, unless we have to confront real difference.” The kind of rhetoric that demonizes one ideology as it celebrates another can often harden and sharpen the divisions between people, rather than achieving an opposite, far more positive end.

More to the point, the conversation about religion needs to stop being one about a vaguely secular middle and all those cuh-razy religious people at the edges.  For a lot of people, faith is far less about certain clothing, symbols or rituals and much more about how they see the world. Religion, culture and the real differences between us are messy and complex, and like it are not, are an intimate part of this city. Simplistic binaries that map atheism onto modernity and belief onto backwardness aren’t helping anything either, and certainly do nothing to further dialogue.

So this week on The Ethnic Aisle, we’ll be on about faith, spirituality and what religion means to different people. True to our mission, we hope you get some perspectives you haven't heard before, or simply haven't heard enough. And of course, we'll give you space to have your say, too. Follow along!