The dialogue in our country has two extremes, which are very vocal and divisive, and get lots of attention. But the quiet middle is where most of us live our lives,” explained Victoria City Councilor, Chris Coleman, painting a bell curve image of public thought to open a lively discussion on the relationship between spirituality, politics and the media last Sunday.
This well-attended function was one of a regular series of monthly forum events hosted by Christ Church Cathedral that looks at different issues our society is facing. The speakers on the panel were Hon. Carol James, MLA; Chris Coleman, Victoria City Councilor; Paul Bramadat, Director of the Center for Studies in Religion and Society, University of Victoria; Jack Knox from the Times Colonist; Jo-Ann Roberts from the CBC program, All-Points West; and myself as a regular contributor to Spiritually Speaking.
This point about the majority of us being in the middle of a bell curve became central to our discussion. University lecturer and researcher, Paul Bramadat, presented some interesting findings in light of this theme. In Canada, and in BC particularly, the number of those with no religious affiliation or upbringing is rapidly growing. We are looking at a second or third generation of “nones” for whom traditional religion is not a part of their culture, and who mostly don’t belong to the extremes either. They dwell in the middle part of the curve with most of those who are still active in faith practices and traditions.
Jack Knox agreed that the media tends towards reporting the more radical or controversial aspects of religion, and the extreme atheist criticisms of it. This gives the public only a very narrow lens to look through when regarding religion or spirituality. Jo-Ann Roberts said that she reads a lot of critical letters regarding religion, particularly of Christianity.
However, the Times Colonist's decision over three years ago to host Spiritually Speaking and to subsequently add the Faith Forum column to its print edition is a bright light. It shows tthat media and faith traditions can be successful and constructive in working together to build understanding, and that current issues can be discussed from a faith or spiritual perspective.
Carol James felt that there was a cyclic nature to these issues, and that at present people of faith have been shut out of any dialogue within government, in part because of the current sense of separation of church and state. However, there is a difference between religious interference in public policy matters versus a contribution to the conversation by people of faith.
Poverty, addictions, healthcare, the environment, energy use, immigration, First Nations issues and corporate ethics are all problems to which faith communities and others within the growing “nones” group can work together to bring more moderate perspectives to the table. To do that, the more effective we become in communicating, the better our voices will be heard.
Whether we have a religious affiliation or not, whether we believe in a supreme being or not, it is important that this quiet majority engages in the conversation about the direction our country is heading, rather than passively allowing the more extreme fringes of society to define that for us.
Roberts pointed out that many in the media are second-generation “nones,” and as such are unfamiliar with the history, culture or language of faith. Being more aware of that is important in how we communicate and tell our story. Additionally, we can always improve our skills in speaking confidently and knowledgeably in ways that interest the public, politicians and members of the media. Many people of faith are good listeners. What is perhaps needed is being comfortable with who we are, and having more confidence in speaking our thoughts from within our faith traditions.
Learning to speak with assurance, without becoming defensive or promotional is a step in the right direction. Deciding to no longer be silent is the biggest step of all. A healthy society needs all our voices.
Anna Bowness-Park is a Christian Science practitioner who writes frequently on the relationship between spirituality and health. You can read her blog at http://anna-bownesspark.ca or follow her on Twitter @bownesspark
You can read more posts on our multifaith blog, Spiritually Speaking HERE