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Religion not the only source of division

Written by Ray Pennings

July 2, 2010

Having been singled out in a recent Holy Post blog by Justin Trottier, it is only appropriate to provide a response. It would be easy, even tempting given the girth of the rhetorical pitches he has thrown, to swing for the fences. I choose instead to offer the other cheek.

Mr. Trottier and I agree that religion can be, has been, is and will likely continue to be a subject of division between people. Where we disagree is in understanding that it is just one of many tools used by human beings over the course of history to assert their desire to dominate. Other causes similarly abused to cause strife include differing views on trade, economic systems, ideology, pride, social justice, freedom, secularism, culture, language, etc. Honduras and El Salvador have gone to war over a World Cup qualifying match and the Trojan wars were caused by a dispute over a woman – Helen of Sparta, or Troy. None of this, of course, is reason to build barriers to prevent the participation of economics, ideology, women, football, freedom or social justice within the public square.

That cleared up, my argument is not religious. It is sociological and based, not on faith, but on reason and empirical data collected by agencies such as Statistics Canada. Theists punch far above their weight when it comes to contributing to charities both financially and in terms of volunteer hours. Why or if this will forever be the case may be debated. That it is currently the case is not debatable. According to the Canadian Centre for Philanthropy and Statistics Canada, the 32 per cent of Canadians who are active in their belief make 65 per cent of the nation’s direct charitable donations. Mr. Trottier may believe as he says that this is because they are funding purely evangelical causes such as, one presumes, the construction of clean water filters in African villages or the feeding and housing of the hungry and homeless at institutions such as Inn From the Cold, Mustard Seed and the Salvation Army, but the truth in this area remains inconvenient to his argument. Even in the purely secular donations sector, that same 32 per cent of believers donates 42 per cent of the $2.1 billion raised annually. Trottier and others need to consider whether their belief system is blinding them to the reality of empirical data.

All of this would be neither here nor there if it not for the fact that this 32 per cent – the civic core of Canada’s “giving” sector – is declining by 1 to 2 per cent annually. As it declines, and assuming the trend continues, only one outcome can be reasonably assumed – that financial support for Canada’s charitable institutions will decline along with it. Assuming that the need for services such as food and housing – offered both by secular and faith-based institutions – is unlikely to disappear, only two outcomes are possible. One is that the needs of the hungry and homeless will not be met; the other is that the burden of their care will shift to the state. One has then to simply ask the very rational question of whether it is more efficient for society to have these needs met by a $30,000-a-year Salvation Army soldier with a degree in social work or an $80,000 a year government employee with a degree in social work. This is to say nothing of the other enormous contributions made by the physical infrastructures of theist institutions to the social infrastructures of society such as the use of their facilities as day cares, seniors’ centres, Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, etc.

I do not deny that people who share a non-theist belief system contribute. They are responsible for 35 per cent of Canada’s total contributions, after all. So far, however, there is insufficient data to inspire confidence that as the theist-active “civic core” described above declines, a new “civic core” with a non-theistic moral code will emerge to pick up the slack.

As Partis Quebecois leader Bernard Landry who as Premier of Quebec led one of western society’s most vigorously non-theist societies was quoted as saying in Brian Lee Crowley’s Fearful Symmetry:

“The revolution (of the 1960s) changed so many things in such a short period. We made a break with Catholic morality and have been trying to build an ethical and moral code that is not linked to religion . . . and we haven’t found a good way to do that.”

The rational approach in a truly open society tolerant of Mr. Trottier’s beliefs and mine is to ensure the physical and intellectual contributions to the charitable needs of society is recognized and supported by public policy. The people served do not deserve to be the collateral damage of an intellectual assault on the people who serve them.