Sunday, November 7, 2010

On Religion

There are a few areas I split from what I consider traditional Canadian conservatism. One of the bigger ones is religion.

Religion has had an undeniably huge role in the development of the Canadian identity and psyche. The striking split down the middle of our founding cultures, English Anglicans on one side and French/Scots-Irish Catholics on the other, defined our society and politics. So it's not surprising that Christian conservatives, all of us romantics, usually embrace religion as another facet of Canadian nationalism.

I was born a Roman Catholic in the Irish-Canadian tradition. I'm from a family of five with an extended family that I can't be bothered to count at the moment. I was raised in a Catholic community in Ottawa, largely french. Went to a Catholic school. Attended Mass at least weekly. Served as an altar boy. All that good stuff. I was a good Catholic right through the first couple years of my undergraduate degree.

Yet as I aged my relationship with the Church changed in a strange sort of way. From real faith and devotion I moved away from the religion itself and came to identify more with the community than the faith. It had nothing to do with the scandals or past sins of the Church. Horrible though the abuse scandals are, they have yet to touch me or mine personally. Other historic misdeeds are important to recognize and acknowledge, but they don't change anything about the faith or traditions of the religion. Rather, I turned away from the faith because I got to know the history of Christianity and the Catholic Church. Any religion depends on a certain amount of mystery and myth. Tracing the development of a church unfolds the mysteries and washes away the myth. You're left with historical facts. You're left not with sacred practices and divine instruction, but with practical policy and political goals.

There's another part to it, a problem that most atheists have with religion. It's the simple "How could a billion Hindus/Muslims/Buddhists be wrong?" The realization that, because of simple flukes of geography and history, more than three quarters of the world's population is doomed.

I'm not a militant atheist. I'm grateful for the role that religion played in my early life. Some of the greatest experiences in my life continue to involve the Church or Christianity in some way. An Irish Mass in the Gaeltacht, a Semana Santa procession in Galicia, Handel's Messiah at the NAC. Stuff like that makes it tough to hate religion. Honestly, I'm still not sure how I'm going to approach the issue when I eventually have children. Chances are they'll be raised liberal Catholics like my girlfriend and I were.

I posted the video "Science Saved my Soul from Religion" yesterday because it showed just how awesome life is even without religion. Winged angels, burning bushes, and hell have nothing on the unfathomable size and mysteries of the universe. Atheism doesn't have to be shallow compared to religion.


  1. Scottish heritage in Canada is not just Catholic. There were plenty of Protestant Scots.

  2. My Scottish ancestors were Presbyterian

  3. Protestant, presbyterian, catholic etc. Same shit, different imaginary friend

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  5. Yes, but the above were the three broadly defined founding cultures. I supposed I could have said "Protestants" instead of English Anglicans, but the role of the high Anglican Church is pretty important.

  6. Not to trivialize the Presbyterian role of course.