Letter to the Vancouver Sun: Secular groups are also part of the Whole Society

BCHA President Sue Hughson's letter to the editor in the Vancouver Sun on Wednesday, March 25: Secularism aids dialogue; Only one in three British Columbians say they practise a faith

Some of the most “secular” countries in the world continue to have religious symbols on their flags, according to the Pew Research Center.

Re: We need a new conversation on religion and secularism in Canada, March 18

BC Flag

I was pleased to see Geoffrey Cameron and Karen Hamilton note the benefits of secularism in promoting tolerance, respect, science, and free thought. Unfortunately, they seem interested in perpetuating imagined dangers of a “harsh” and “strict” secularism. The dangers they choose are not the results of overzealous secularism but more symptomatic of religious sectarianism.

Pluralistic and multicultural dialogue is an absolute necessity for Canada to continue to grow and welcome immigrants from all cultures. These dialogues can only take place against a backdrop of shared secular values that transcend narrow belief systems.

Despite their claim, the role of religion continues to diminish in Canadian’s lives. Just before the release of the voluntary 2011 National Household Survey, (which asked for your religion, even if no longer practising), the BC Humanist Association poll asked British Columbians directly if they practise a religion. Only one in three said yes and only 15 per cent attend church on a weekly basis.

Despite claims of collaboration with secular organizations, none appear on the program for the Our Whole Society conference. The conversation about religion and secularism requires secular communities at the table.

DR SUE HUGHSON
President BC Humanist Association

Here is the complete text of the original letter from Sue Hughson to the Vancouver Sun before it was trimmed to the obligatory 200 word limit:

We were pleased to see Geoffrey Cameron and Karen Hamilton note the benefits of secularism in promoting tolerance, respect, science and freethought (“We need a new conversation on religion and secularism in Canada”, March 18, 2015). Unfortunately, they seem more interested in perpetuating imagined dangers of a “harsh” and “strict” secularism than engaging with organizations like ours that are actively trying to promote progressive secular values.

Despite their claim, religion is in fact playing a smaller role in Canadian’s lives. Just prior to the release of the voluntary 2011 National Household Survey (which asked what is your religion, even if you’re no longer practicing), we asked British Columbians directly if they practice a religion. Only 1 in 3 said yes and only 15% attend church on a weekly basis. Cameron and Hamilton present no evidence that young people are “exploring spiritual matters in new ways” or that secularism in Canada isn’t working.

Instead, the dangers they choose to warn us of are not the results of overzealous secularism but more symptomatic of religious sectarianism. Canada’s Residential Schools, which actively attempted to stamp out indigenous people’s cultures, were operated by the Catholic and Anglican Churches. And the continued biggest threats to world peace are ideologies that claim to have sole authority over the truth.

Pluralistic and multicultural dialogue is an absolute necessity for Canada to continue to grow and welcome immigrants from all cultures. But these dialogues can only take place against a backdrop of shared secular values that transcend narrow belief systems. These values come from the secular and humanist thinkers of the enlightenment who critically examined established doctrines and instead placed importance on the one life we know we have.

Finally, despite claims of collaborating with secular organizations, none appear on the program list for the Our Whole Society conference. I only received an invite to buy a ticket to attend three days prior to the event. Apparently it’s much easier to talk about having a different conversation about secularism when secularists aren’t invited to the table. 

Dr Susan Hughson
President, BC Humanist Association

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