Canada's secular ideals: Are they contagious?

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Canada's secular ideals: Are they contagious?

Will Canadian secularism spread south of the border?


Canada's turn from being distinctly Christian to decidedly secular may hold lessons for its more religious neighbor, the United States.

By Douglas Todd, Religion News Service



VANCOUVER, BRITISH COLUMBIA - In Denys Arcand's Oscar-winning 2003 film, "The Barbarian Invasions," an aging priest laments the decline of Christianity in heavily Catholic Quebec.

"In 1966," the priest says, "all the churches emptied out in a few weeks. No one can figure out why." That scene, said American religious historian Mark Noll, essentially sums up the religious history of Canada.

The decline may not have happened quite so rapidly as Arcand's film suggests. Still, Canada's turn from being distinctly Christian to decidedly secular has caught the attention of historians such as Noll, who wonder if there are lessons for Canada's more religious neighbor to the south.

Noll, one of the United States' most prominent religious historians, who recently moved from Wheaton College outside Chicago to the University of Notre Dame, tackled the question "What Happened to Christian Canada?" at the recent meeting of the American Society of Church History.

In the 1950s, Noll said, the vast majority of Canadians took seats in the pews. A Gallup Poll from the era found almost seven of 10 Canadians attended church once a week, far more than Americans at the time.

But in just half a century, the rate of Canadians' weekly attendance has dropped to 20 percent, while in the United States, the weekly rate is strong at roughly 35 percent.

The reasons are legion

Noll argues that the de-Christianization of Canada was brought about by a wide river of historical developments that began in the 1960s, including declining British influence, high immigration, federal policies that embraced multiculturalism, the Second Vatican Council, the creation of a new Canadian Charter of Rights, globalization, sexual liberation, gay rights and more.

Noll -- a Christian who said he admires Canadians' civility and cooperativeness -- maintains that most Canadian Christian denominations actively promoted this rupture with the past.

In a country that operates in a more "top-down" manner than the United States, Noll said Canadian church leaders embraced many of the secular social values and government programs that indirectly led to Christianity's erosion.

Noll pointed to the fact that Montreal's World Exposition in 1967 contained no sectarian symbols, even though it was held in a province where more than 70 percent of the population regularly attended church.

Instead, Noll said, Montreal's "Expo 67" marked the beginning of the Canadian government and other societal leaders spreading a rhetoric of universal multicultural tolerance.

Aside from secular trends, Noll theorizes that Canada's Roman Catholics and Protestants also contributed to the drop-offs in their own churches, in large part because they stopped treating each other as enemies.

After the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) modernized the Catholic Church and thawed relations with other churches, there was less reason for French-speaking Catholics or English-speaking Protestants to maintain their sectarian identities. Without an external enemy, he said, loyalty to an institution can wither.

At the same time, Noll pointed to the provocative thesis by historian Nancy Christie that the United Church of Canada, the largest Protestant denomination in the country, declined in part because it promoted the secular value of personal freedom -- including sexual freedom -- above public morality.

The Anglican Church of Canada, for its part, waned as a result of decreasing British influence and internal strife, Noll said. Meanwhile, Canada's evangelicals have remained a small minority (less than 10 percent of the population) because they continue to see themselves as outsiders.

Beyond internal church dynamics, however, Noll argues that the sweep of larger forces was probably more important in weakening Canadian churches, shifting Canadian culture away from Christian-based "conservative communalism" to a "liberal communalism." As a result, Canada looks more like the thoroughly secular countries of Europe than does its closest neighbor.

Why is the U.S. different?


So why didn't a similar rapid process of de-Christianization take hold in this country? The answer lies in part in U.S. Christians' competitive streak, Noll said.

Instead of being communitarians who support any efforts to aid the common good, many conservative American Christians promote individualism, voluntarism and a kind of spiritual warfare.

Entrepreneurial U.S. Christians see themselves locked in a battle for supremacy, including against their own government, Noll said. It's helped them maintain their market share. But that hasn't been the case, Noll said, with Canada's more cooperative Christians.


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We can only hope it would

We can only hope it would happen...


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I have never been prouder to

I have never been prouder to be a Canadian

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From the

From the article.

Quote:

After the Second Vatican Council (1962-65) modernized the Catholic Church and thawed relations with other churches, there was less reason for French-speaking Catholics or English-speaking Protestants to maintain their sectarian identities. Without an external enemy, he said, loyalty to an institution can wither.

Very interesting. This gels with my theory that the main reason evangelicals in the US throw such of fit over gay rights is because they need an enemy to keep the membership mobilized. This is readily apparent in the fact the Republican party brings up this issue every election.


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Hey

Thank you for this post, I found it esp interesting as I live in Canada and it makes perfect sense.

 

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I love that I am Canadian.

I love that I am Canadian.


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My ancestors, at least some

My ancestors, at least some of them, were Objiwe/Chippewas. You are trespassing on our land: Americans and Canadians.

That having been said (in jest, of course)... I will say this (with some seriousness): sometimes I wish I was a Canadian.


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Anyone notice that no where

Anyone notice that no where in our constitution (Charter Rights and Freedoms as it is commonly known) , there is nowhere in it that declares that there should be a separation of Church and State ? In fact it does recognize the "supremacy of God" . (not to mention showing up in the national anthem)

 At the same time our evangelical PM keeps his mouth shut for the most part on his faith. Probably because he is smart enough to know that bible thumping doesn`t fly here.

 The article failed to mention the Quiet Revolution in Quebec in the 1960s where the catholic church lost it's huge grip on Quebec society as the new wave of baby boomers came of age and started to modernize and secularize Quebec  . Federall .  A young justice minister from Quebec by the name of Pierre Trudeau announced that the government has "no business in the nations bedroom" way back in 1965 .

 

And there is where the great divide between us and the US started to grow bigger.

 

 

 

 

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ledbetter wrote: Anyone

ledbetter wrote:

Anyone notice that no where in our constitution (Charter Rights and Freedoms as it is commonly known) , there is nowhere in it that declares that there should be a separation of Church and State ? In fact it does recognize the "supremacy of God" . (not to mention showing up in the national anthem)

At the same time our evangelical PM keeps his mouth shut for the most part on his faith. Probably because he is smart enough to know that bible thumping doesn`t fly here.

The article failed to mention the Quiet Revolution in Quebec in the 1960s where the catholic church lost it's huge grip on Quebec society as the new wave of baby boomers came of age and started to modernize and secularize Quebec . Federall . A young justice minister from Quebec by the name of Pierre Trudeau announced that the government has "no business in the nations bedroom" way back in 1965 .

 

And there is where the great divide between us and the US started to grow bigger.

 

 

 

 

Look at the evils of excessive church and state entanglement during the Duplessis government in Quebec.


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Excellent point apostate,

Excellent point apostate, they were also strongly anti anything non-catholic, JWs were frequently thrown into jail.

 

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With regard to a political

With regard to a political comparison between the United States and Canada it is often forgotten (mainly by the people on the US side of the discussion) that Canada operates under a Westminster-style parliamentary government whereas the United States operated under a presidential republic model of government.

 Because of the distinct separation between the legislative and executive branches of government in the United States with the election of the President and Congress being separate, in order for the legislative body to have any degree of strength vis-a-vis the President, strong majority party Congressess are needed. Historically the strong two-party system developed in the United States because Congress would not be an effective check and balance against the President if we had multiple parties represented and the need to form coalition governments when no party had a majority in the Congress.

 The US system which has forced us to have only two viable political parties causes each party to have to appeal to a broad mainstream and to incorporate various factions under one umbrella.

 In Canada the government is formed from the legislative body. The party with the majority of seats forms a government. If no party has a majority, then a coalition is formed to form a government. The Canadian system has historically allowed for more tolerance of diversity and brought together people of vastly different points of view out of necessity to cooperate.

I think the radically different political models between the two nations is very much relevant to a larger cultural difference with regard to religion, morality and social views in the larger popular context.

In the United States the two major political parties are like rival criminal organizations. They both are in competition to control the crime activity in the territory. Whenever anyone else moves in and tries to challenge them, the two main parties will band together to prevent anyone else from getting in on the game. At the core, however, there is no real idealogical difference between the Democratic and Republican party. 

In Canada there are distinct idealogical differences among the various parties. The Bloc Québécois, Conservative Party, Liberal Party, and New Democratic Party are each fairly distinct with defined ideologies.

My observations have been that Canadians are generally more politically engaged than people in the US. Interestingly, however, election campaigns are much shorter. Here we have people announcing themselves to be candidates for President almost a full two years before the next Presidential election. Yet, at the same time, I think that the average American could not name his or her member of Congress or US Senators. Not that every Canadian could name his or her MP necessarily, but I think they would be more apt to vote at least.