They say to avoid discussing religion and politics. Well, I’m not afraid to write about politics, and now and then address religion, especially when they intersect.
These days, religion seems very political, unfortunately for mostly negative reasons. Media pays much attention to the influence of radical Islam in some terrorist movements, or as inspiration to lone lunatics. Sadly, this fear spills over to the wider mass of non-violent Muslims desiring nothing more than to live their lives in peace, who see their religion not as a call to dominate those of other faiths, but merely a path to connect with a higher power. It worsens when members of a competing faith, such as Christianity, try to assert religious superiority not only in spiritual realms but in the domestic political arena, with policies such as shunning our duties toward refugees fleeing violence, or trying to ban all Muslims from entry, as suggested by a leading American presidential candidate.
Therefore, it is encouraging that local Christians, working together through Simcoe County KAIROS, embrace their faith in an inclusive rather than exclusive manner. This Easter will mark Barrie’s third annual Good Friday Ecumenical Walk for Justice. Beginning and ending (with soup & bun) at City Hall 1 – 2:30 pm on March 25, marchers will visit many “stations of the cross” in Barrie, each relating to the struggles of dealing with poverty, homelessness, or marginalization. Some places are where the vulnerable risk feeling voiceless or oppressed, such as City Hall, a police station, or the courthouse/jail, while others are places they receive support, like the David Busby Street Centre, Elizabeth Fry Society, or a church participating in the Out of the Cold program. I am encouraged that Spirit Catcher is one of the stations, recognizing our First Nations and their faiths which faced great repression over the centuries. At each station, the walk will emphasize ways that “Christ is crucified today”, relating scriptural accounts to modern-day social injustices Christ would speak to, were He among us now.
Yet while some use faith to justify compassion and others to justify hatred, there are also those who feel people can be ethical, moral and compassionate without faith, relying instead on reason. Known as Humanists, they can be good without God. The Central Ontario Humanists Association (COHA) has spearheaded a great opportunity to learn more about that concept with “#GodDebate: Does God Exist?” at 7 pm on March 30. Respectfully debating on the “No” side will be COHA’s president Shawn Conroy, while arguing God’s existence will be the Rev. William Haughton of Collier Street United Church, which is hosting the event (thus giving God the home-field advantage). This isn’t a knockdown winner-take-all fight, no-one will be crowned winner; instead, it will be an opportunity for people of traditional or eclectic faiths, or no faith at all, to explore, share and discuss their own ideas and those of others. Visit event site http://bit.ly/GodDebate2016 to submit questions.
While I am not a believer, and don’t think scripture is divinely inspired, much less infallible, I do believe that great moral writings persist through history when they offer enduring insight on the human condition, whether that be the plight of the homeless or how to show compassion toward refugees from another land. With that in mind, I look forward to both of these upcoming faith-based local events.
Published as my Root Issues column in the Barrie Examiner as "Faith-based events will spark talk"
Erich Jacoby-Hawkins is the vice president of the Robert Schalkenbach Foundation.