Bridging the Religious-Secular Divide

geraldineBy Geraldine Guilfoyle
Published: April 28, 2015



LAST weekend, I met a Rabbi who was contemplating writing a book titled ‘If Religion is Dead, Why am I so Busy?’ She went on to explain that her office had a steady stream of callers, many of them with no affiliation to Judaism or any other religion. They came in search of meaning in their lives and for community. One can see why this perception of religion being dead is quite widely held. Many churches are struggling to stay open; the media has gone silent on the subject except for the recounting the horrors of fundamental extremism; and most of us are reluctant to talk about it. Peculiar thing that silence, considering the 2011 census listed 75 per cent of respondents as having a religious affiliation and many others stating they were not religious but spiritual. In our desire to have a state that does not play favorites, are we edging towards a harsher secularism that diminishes our public life by excluding the richness of religious and spiritual concepts?
Religion and secularism are often spoken about as a dichotomy. One is either religious or secular, or the secular is public and religion is private. We are all part of civil society. We each come with our own belief system whether it is religion with a capital noun such as Islam or Christianity, a less organized form of spirituality or as an avowed atheist. Each of us meanders through our daily lives making decisions on how we act, how we relate to each other, using some form of moral ethical compass to guide our steps. Our lives are a blend of the secular and the religious. On March 25, the Squamish Multifaith Association invited people to a conversation on this topic. Twenty-four people from diverse backgrounds and beliefs participated in a spirited and respectful conversation. Here are some thoughts from our first conversation.
What does religion have to offer the common good? Religion provides a framework for morals and values, creates harmony within a group, promotes fellowship, community and caring for others. It has been a major driving force for social services. It answers our need to explore the meaning of life; who we are, where we came from and what our purpose is.
What does secularism have to offer the common good? Secularism helps ensure fairness to all and is a basis for the practical functioning of society. It serves to protect human rights particularly the rights of minorities including religious groups. The United Nations Charter of Rights and Freedoms is a good example of this. Secularism has opened the field for scientific advance where it was blocked by religion.
How can we work shoulder to shoulder to foster inclusive communities where everybody can participate freely? Education is required. We need to have conversations about challenging subjects in safe places and in respectful ways. We need to change attitudes about having to be right – practicing true democracy where everybody has a voice. Let’s replace fear with curiosity and start taking an interest in each other. We can start by collaborating on common ground together.
The road to reconciliation with First Nations is an area of concern for all Canadians, one that requires justice, love and right relations. This is perhaps something on which we can all collaborate.
Want to join the conversation?


  1. Dave Colwell says:

    Secularism and Organised Religion are two ships that are, in many societies, side by side.
    You can hop over the gunnels if you wish, either way.
    You can take a pamphlet or two from the R ship to your S ship if you like and read it in private.
    But please don’t try commandeer the other ship!!! And that applies to BOTH ships!

    I think that this is how it should be.

    • Wolfgang W says:

      Trouble is, keeping themselves busy trying to commandeer each other, the crews of the two ships may fail to notice the iceberg looming dead ahead….