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Guest post: Canadatheism: The Northern Perspective

This is a Guest Post by Jon, a reader from up North who wanted to shed some light on atheism in America’s Hat. Er, I mean Canada. He writes over at his fiction blog, Our Man Jonesy. Take it away, Jon:

Canadatheism: The Northern Perspective
(Or: “Fundamentalism in Canada has been cancelled due to snow”)

Greetings from the frozen wastelands of Canada! While Jen’s away, I’d like to give you a general feel for atheism as it exists in the land of hockey and maple syrup. Those readers actually from Canada: feel free to sit back and talk amongst yourselves while I toss off pearls of Canadian stereotype to keep the Yanks entertained. If you’re from elsewhere, just play along for now and you’ll be able to tell your cocktail/hookah/opium den chums about how much you know about about foreign cultures.

If you’re living in the ‘States, you’ve probably heard of us before. We’re the place that everyone threatens to move if the Republicans win another election. A lot of us speak French, we use the metric system, and if you ask us, it’s not actually that cold out. And how’s the religion like out there? Well, it’s pretty mild, actually . Fiercely mild. If general polling is correct, up to a third of us acknowledge ‘No Religion’, and in a country with the population the size of the state of California, that’s rather an accomplishment, if I may be so bold. It’s at the point that the leader of the opposition party (Michael Ignatieff) can say things like:

“Some people will have no difficulty thinking human beings are sacred, because they happen to believe in the existence of God the Father and believe He created Mankind in His likeness … Far better, I would argue, to forego these kinds of foundational arguments altogether and seek to build support for human rights on the basis of what such rights actually do for human beings.”

Yeah, baby. That said, Canadian politics is a morass of apathy. Our parliament has been prorogued for the second year running, and our current head of government is a rather Christian individual. Nonetheless, we’ve really only got a few problems when it comes to openly displaying our ability to say ‘Godless’ in both official languages.

First, I’m going to blatantly appeal to stereotype here and point out the general level of pathological politesse present. We’re rather polite about others’ beliefs, and their prerogative to go on believing. We go so far as to apologize for how polite we are about it. One of the big reasons why religiosity is less of a visible factor in Canadian politics is that we’re a mostly pluralistic nation. It’s not just that we have the French Catholic crowd occupying Quebec, or the Spiritual traditions of our Aboriginals; Canada also has the largest immigration rate in the world. While a lot of it is from the East Asian countries- Vancouver, our Westernmost metropolis, has jokingly considered adopting Mandarin as its second official language- we also have a not-inconsiderable level of migration from the Middle East. The difficulty arises when the more hard-core religiosity they bring comes in conflict with our own “well, if you must, I suppose” social etiquette. We’ve shrugged off the attempts at Sharia law time and time again, but at the same time, we’re far from making minarets illegal architecture. One of the central reasons why we’re so at odds to talk against fundamentalist dogma in Canada is because we seldom talk about religion at all.
Another foot-hold for stronger theism in Canada is that our populace is scattered. We have a fraction-of-a-million people each in Montreal, Vancouver, and Calgary, as well as Ottawa and Quebec City; Toronto features an above-average population of 2.5 million. The rest is rural, and far from unreligious. Non-metropolitan religiosity is more notably strong in those populations living outside those few cities, to say nothing of the populated Maritime provinces. Even excluding that, only Vancouver might be said to be predominantly atheistic. Toronto’s comparative migratory draw results in a higher population of transplants from religious areas, and Montreal has, as one of its prime attractions, a huge frigging cross on its namesake hill.

But what, then, supports the noticeable secularism in Canada? I would strongly implicate the disenfranchised Anglicans that made up a lot of Early Canada. Come on- we founded a church on divorce. Why carry on the tradition if we’re on another continent entirely- though, in reality, we’re still technically headed by the British monarchy, and have a person appointed to represent it. Perhaps more relevant is that level of politesse I keep harping out about (sorry if it’s bothering you); perhaps one of the reason for the separation of church and state is precisely the ‘I’m okay with it’ pluralism that has such a hold on Canada; perhaps letting go of the gun-grabbing dogmatism that has infected other states just lets you see all the sides with equal fairness– and in the end, you get the conclusion that theism is a rather silly idea from the get-go.

…I mean, SURELY it can’t just be the [amazingly] good Canadian beer keeping everyone in a state of paralytic drunkenness, preventing extremism of any kind. The comparative poor quality of American beer might well be keeping you folks in the ‘boisterous’ stages of intoxication, thus giving rise to Megachurches, rednecks, and the frank need to satiate one’s pastorly urges with some crystal meth and pay-per-screw man-love. Just a theory. Get better beer, America.

For other Canadian Atheist Resources:
Center for Inquiry: http://www.cficanada.ca/
http://www.skepticnorth.com/

Nota Bene: The author will not, contrary to stereotype, apologize for a belief in the general superiority of Canadian beers. There are, however, some notable American beers.

(American) Ed.: And there are some terrible Canadian ones.