Is Canada a Christian country?

Rev. Yme Woensdregt

Two weeks ago, I wrote about experiencing a deeper reality in life. Some people deny the presence of anything other than what we can see or touch or hear or smell. I went on to affirm that for me and many others, there is in fact a deeper reality beyond what our senses can experience.

At the beginning of that column, I promised that I would put down some thoughts about what many people call “the good old days” when more people went to church, and when Christianity was still very much an established religion.

That’s no longer true. We live in a much more secular society these days, and the church, like many other institutions, is no longer automatically trusted. In such a time, it’s only natural that people would long to find a sense of security in a time when it seemed that life wasn’t in such a constant state of change and flux.

In the life of the church, that time was called “Christendom”. Christianity was the established religion, and society generally expected that most citizens would attend a church of their choice.

If you search for “Christendom” online, you will find a definition such as this: “The word Christendom generally refers to the global community of those who adhere to the Christian faith, with religious practices and dogmas gleaned from the teachings of the Bible … Not all those who live under the general term “Christendom” are adherents of the Christian faith. The once–Christian European nations are still technically under what is known as “Christendom,” but, for the most part, biblical Christianity has been set aside in favor of secular humanism.” (www.gotquestions.org).

There’s a bit of wistfulness in that definition, a longing for the good old days when it was different.

When I use the word Christendom, that’s partly what I mean—that sense of Christianity being “in the air” all around us, and generally accepted, something almost as natural as breathing.

But there’s something else which is more problematic. Christendom also refers to the sense that Christianity is the established religion, that the Church has a powerful influence over social and governmental policy because it deserves to be at the table. The legacy of Christendom is found in such ideas as “Canada is a Christian country.”

I disagree. I don’t think Canada was ever a Christian country. And it most certainly is not a Christian country these days. It may have been true that more people practiced Christian faith in previous centuries, but government policy was never grounded in the faith of the gospel. All governments base their policies on economic, social, and other types of theory and practice. They have never based their policies on issues of faith.

And it is certainly true these days that we are not a Christian country. We honour many religions: Christian and Buddhist and Muslim and Jewish and atheist and aboriginal spiritual practices. As a country, and as citizens, we are in the process of learning to live together in all of these different communities with all of these different practices. As a multicultural society, we must learn to treat every religion with respect, and no religion as well. We cannot honour one religion over another as being somehow “best”.

And I am completely comfortable with that. After all, I never hear Jesus say, “Impose your beliefs on others” anywhere in the gospel.

I can think of a couple of practical consequences of this, though there are many. The so–called “war on Christmas” has begun again on facebook. A recent meme said, “We don’t say Happy Holiday in Canada; we say Merry Christmas.” The implication in this is that we are a country still in the grasp of Christendom.

My response was to post, “I will say Happy Holiday…or Happy Kwanzaa, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and other celebratory words at this time of year. I will not impose my Christian beliefs on those who don’t share them, and I will seek to be as inviting and welcoming of other points of view as I can be.”

A second instance. I remember the battles about Sunday opening of stores. People argued strenuously that we are a Christian country, and we need to honour the Sabbath. I am strongly in favour of taking a day off … but what we forgot in this battle is that not all Canadians are Christians. Jews take the Sabbath — which, by the way, is Saturday, not Sunday. Muslims take Fridays as their day of rest. Others take other days. It’s not just Sundays anymore.

It may feel like we’ve lost something in the process. Perhaps we have. But this new situation gives us the real and wonderful potential for learning how to get along with people who live and think differently than we do.

And I think that’s a very good thing to do.

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