In Search of Better Stories

What Caused Canada to Become Secular?


A review of the master’s thesis paper Secularization in English Canada in the 1960’s — By Steve Morris

Canada is a secular country. But it wasn’t always that way, In fact, it used to be an exclusively Christian country. What happened? Steve points the finger not so much at secularists for the change but actually at Christians. In the 19th and 20th centuries, Christianity faced a threat previously unseen, and more dangerous than any ancient persecution. Darwin had posited an understanding of a world without God. Religion seemed to be standing in the way of sexual freedom and the pursuit of pleasure. Abuses of power in religion had sickened many and modernism had embraced a natural explanation for historical events. Supernatural explanations had lost their credibility in the mainstream.

This was the atmosphere of the ’60s and it was proving toxic to traditional Christianity. If the faith wanted to remain relevant in this new society there would have to be significant adjustments.  The neoliberals were willing to make the necessary sacrifices to salvage Christianity. The key book in the ’60s that spelled out this new Christian way was entitled Honest to God in it the author dismissed all the supernatural stories as myth. He created a Christianity that would have a morality based on pragmatism. Love and freedom, not theology would be the two pillars on which this new Christian faith would stand.

Canadian magazines picked up on this “new way” and popularized it in the ’60s. There was very little counterpoint to this version of Christianity as it regularly found its way into these magazines. With convincing evidence, Steve suggests that it was exactly this watering down of traditional forms of Christianity that ended up destroying the soul of faith in the hearts of believers. In essence, the neoliberal movement which intended to save Christianity is actually what crushed it, and pushed it to the margins of society. Ironically, neoliberalism was the vehicle through which many in Canada came to legitimize unbelief creating the vacuum that secularism has filled.

The neoliberals bemoaned the state of the church “the last thing the church exists to be is an organization for the religious. Its charter is to be a servant of the world.” the complaint was that the traditional church, had become solely focused on itself as an institution, with its own language and traditions. I am far from being a neoliberal, but in this criticism, I agree. I disagree however with their solution. For the neoliberals, the way forward was to abandon the reason to serve and instead just serve. It’s enough to believe service is good and it’s what Christians are supposed to do. For conservatives the solution would be to emphasize the ultimate reason to serve, by looking at the true-life story of the ultimate servant, building out a culture of service from the source — from the 60’s forward, in measurable categories of “serving” it would be an interesting study to look at who has served the world more. Liberals who view Jesus as a myth, conservatives who believe Jesus to be real, or secularists who have no opinion about him. I suspect greater levels of service would be found in those who genuinely believe that Jesus came to serve us so that we can serve others.

If you would like to read Steve’s thesis Click Here, I highly recommend it.

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