Acceptance, Not Armoured Bears, Threaten Faith

This is written as a response to an article in the November 26, 2007 edition of the University of Alberta student newspaper, “The Gateway” entitled “Armoured bears don’t threaten faith” by Ryan Heise.

As a regular reader of the Gateway, I have read a fair share of ideas that are a little thought and controversy producing pieces, but thought I would add a little to the mix myself. I was reading the Editorial entitled “Armoured bears don’t threaten faith” by Ryan Heise in the November 26 edition. Although he raises some valid points, I think he has been rather simplistic and one-sided.

I think my biggest issue with Heise’s conclusion that religion should be a private affair. Having lived in France for two years, I would like to refer to it as an example. In 1905, France passed a law that brought about separation of State and religion, but it did much more. The State was declared “laïque“, which roughly translates as “secular”; it was declared illegal to discuss religion (or politics, for the matter) at your place of employment. Religion was declared, in effect, to be a private matter. Interacting with the French, it is interesting to see the transformation that has taken place over the last three generations. To generalize broadly, people our grandparents age are strong in their Catholic faith; people our parents age are often Catholic in tradition only, attending church for events like baptisms, weddings, and funerals only; people our age often can’t be bothered to ask the question, they were baptized Catholic by their parents but have little more to do with the Church after that. Would this not be a proselyting atheist’s dream come true? If anything, my experience in France has taught me that when religion is declared a private affair having little or no place in public life, religious sentiment among the masses quickly fades.

That being said, I think what we need is tolerance, not to shuffle religion out of our public lives. But tolerance is not the same as acceptance. If we go to the definitions, we find tolerance means “the capacity for or the practice of recognizing and respecting the beliefs or practices of others,” while acceptance is defined as “Favourable reception; approval” or “Belief in something; agreement.” In short, what we need in the world is respect, but we also need to be willing to make judgment calls about the things around us. In academic endeavours, it is readily accepted that some work is of higher merit than others, and the marks given out are expected to represent that. We need more of that same evaluation when it comes to the moral issues in our lives — a willingness to declare one thing to be of worth and another to be rubbish, and the respect that allows others to consider the same situation and come to another conclusion, and then agree to disagree if required.

But do not let not my words be misunderstood — I am not condoning or even suggesting that everything your aforementioned “Christian groups” do is in line with my beliefs. Instead, what I am suggesting is that conversation is an important one to society as a whole. And I would much rather the discussion take the form of heated words, rather than the violence and terror that other groups have resorted to.

Modern society has brought us many wonderful things, but I think we have lost a great deal if our religious beliefs cannot be publicly displayed and defended. I think of the words of General Omar N. Bradley, a World War II general, who said

We have too many men of science; too few men of God. We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Man is stumbling blindly through a spiritual darkness while toying with the precarious secrets of life and death. The world has achieved brilliance without wisdom, power without conscience. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we know about peace, more about killing than we know about living.

My hope is that we become “men of learning” during our time here, that we not forsake the spiritual learning that we brought with us to university, and that both may be a strength to us and serve us well as we leave these halls of learning.

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Avatar for Ryan Heise
Ryan Heise on

Hey Minchin.

I appreciate the well-thought-out response. I could argue your opinion that my editorial was “simplistic,” but you’re surely entitled to your opinion of my work. I do, however, wholly admit it was one-sided, as it was intended to be.

I think you raise a valid point that dialog and tolerance of religion is important to society, and I completely agree. What I meant by religion being a personal endeavour is that other people’s opinions should not serve to shake your faith. And, on the other side, you should not feel compelled to thrust your faith upon other people because you believe it to be law.

If a group of people want to openly discuss religion, that’s fine. But the discussion of religion is not necessarily the practice of it. Two atheists could have a discussion of the pros and cons of Islam. They are having an open dialog and, hopefully, showing tolerance towards the topic, but neither are practicing any form of religion.

The actual practice is what I believe should be a private endeavour. If it were, I think we would have significantly less flare ups like the ones over The Golden Compass.

Again, thanks for a really intelligent and well thought out response. It’s nice to know that there are readers that think very critically of our content.

Ryan Heise
Deputy News Editor :: The Gateway.

Avatar for julie
julie on

Wow! I hope I grow up to be good at writing things like you just did! I agree with you and am impressed!

Avatar for Nathan E Fosyth
Nathan E Fosyth on

I’ve read the His Dark Materials trilogy and thought it was interesting. I had to ask myself what is the difference in what I believe, and what the Author appears to think religious people believe.

I can understand how Mr. Pullman would feel that religion is oppressive, but i firmly disagree. I also feel that if Mr. Pullman could see things from my point of view, he might be more respectful towards what myself and others hold sacred, even if he might not hold them sacred himself.

The danger I think is in taking our own point of view for granted. When we feel that our way of looking at thinks is the only rational way, we people we disagree with as stupid or irrational. This miscomprehension does more to divide humanity than anything else.

Understanding why others feel/think/act the way they do does not mean that you have to abandon your own views. What it does require is confidence in your convictions and a sincere respect for other people. We must refuse to feel threatened by people we feel are disrespectful.

So Armored Bears are not the problem. It is the failure to understand, the failure to communicate that threatens faith and peace.

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