In Canada, we know the old, old story well. It’s a story we love to tell because we know its true. It’s the secular story, of how religion is finally the casualty of the forward march of human enlightenment, ushering us into a non-religious, bias-free and objective space to live. It’s a story hummed in choruses of John Lennon’s Imagine, peddled over unexamined water-cooler conversation and perpetuated by caricatured conventional wisdom of religion.
Trouble is, its bogus.* The popular story of secularization is a myth. It’s what Charles Taylor calls a subtraction story where the secular space we have is the distilled good of a society that has jettisoned belief, superstition, and religion.
The secular story is insisted upon with increasing vehemence. Methinks the secular Emperor protests too much. And as, Jamie Smith notes, the brash, loud, aggressive secularism we see may likely be the last gasps of an imploding worldview.
While vocal secularists protest too much and too loudly, many people remain quietly living out their faith, and with verve, in this secular age. I saw glimpses of this vibrant faith reality the other night at the launch of Faith in Canada 150. Held in the lobby of the CBC broadcast center in Toronto, Faith in Canada 150 is an initiative celebrating the role and telling the story of faith in Canada. It builds on the words of the first Prime Minister Trudeau, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who declared that “the golden thread of faith is woven throughout the history of Canada from its earliest beginnings up to the present time.” It’s a winsome reminder to a nation that loves to tell the old secular story that there is another story.
The keynote address was given by Kevin Vickers, former House of Commons Sergeant-at-arms who is hailed as a hero for ending the attack on Parliament Hill on Oct. 22, 2014. Vickers talked of a mostly unseen quiet life of faith lived out in the world of law enforcement. He told how his faith enabled him to be a man of peace, how as a homicide investigator he treated the worst of offenders with human dignity, how prevention, education, compassion, empathy, and facilitation are vital tools in law enforcement, and how enforcement is last tool you want to pull from the policing toolbox. He told one story of policing an aboriginal conflict in New Brunswick, ordering a few pots of coffee to be sent to the warriors, and when no progress was made, at the end of his rope for what to do, he sat in a vehicle with the warrior leaders. All he could think to do was pray the rosary, and strangely he found them responding and praying with him. Then as he talked about the attack in Ottawa by Michael Zehaf-Bibeau, he spoke of regret, wishing he never had to do what he did, and then of saying a prayer for Michael, and for his own forgiveness.
If it wasn’t for the brazen public nature of the violence, you and I would likely never know the name of Kevin Vickers. But that wouldn’t mean his life of faithful service would not exist. His daily, faith-motivated service would still be very much woven into the fabric of his country. All we would know was the common goodness of the ordinary common good we enjoy everyday.
He lived out the simple scriptural wisdom of 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12:
“Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.”
Isn’t that such contrarian goodness – nothing showy about a life of faith. In following Jesus, there’s no room for theatrical religion that seeks to justify your existence by how big the audience or how great the applause. Jesus has a blunt word for that – hypocrisy. Instead, Jesus calls people to simply live out faith, modestly and unobtrusively, working mostly behind the scenes.
The beautifully hopeful realization for me was that the CBC lobby was filled with people like Kevin Vickers – people of faith placed within Canadian culture and society (most in significant places and influential positions) but largely unknown, hidden from the public eye. They were CEO’s and homemakers, musicians, professors, therapists, and accountants; people in business, media, law, the arts, government, entertainment, social services, education, engineers, development workers, investment brokers, and so many more. A handful you might recognize but most of them you would never spot on the street. Yet all quietly living out their faith, weaving together the common good we call Canada.
There’s the dilemma for people of faith living in a culture that tells the old story of secularism – how do you respond and remind people of the living faith tradition that has made Canada what it is without then resorting to self-promotion?
Of course, that doesn’t mean you say nothing, hiding your light under a bushel. But mostly, it is found in leading “a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior.” (1 Timothy 3:2).
That sort of faithful living should also bring steady encouragement because you really don’t know how many of God’s people are at work as salt and light, preserving and conserving, building and growing, for the good of all. Those people are far more than you think.
* I’m not here denying what Charles Taylor names as Secular3, the reality that we do live a time when belief in God is not axiomatic.