Tag Archives: faith

Tory Puts Faith in Wrong School Plan

By Jason Menard

When it comes to faith-based education, Ontario Progressive Conservative leader John Tory has the right idea – just the totally wrong way to implement it. To meet the needs of an increasingly multicultural Canada, we have to embrace the thought that less is more.

It’s time to bring religion back to schools – but not in the traditional way. To meet the needs of its students, the public school system should offer a mandatory faith component that exposes children to all the world’s belief systems. We can easily make do with what we have, we don’t need to add more – especially when through addition of schools we’re actually subtracting the exposure our children have to each other’s cultures.

Already we’re facing a funding crunch for our two existing school systems. Both public and Catholic school boards are forced with dealing with changing demographics, dwindling attendance, and outdated buildings. The addition of public funding for more faith-based institutions won’t help either financially or socially.

Tory’s argument is that by validating faith-based education through the auspices of public funding, we’ll be creating an environment where all religions are blessed by the approving scepter of government finance. And while that’s fine for us adults, how exactly does that filter down to the kids?

In essence, this plan would stop kids of different religions from interacting. Children will be placed in their own corners and prevented from mixing with others. And, more importantly, they’ll be prevented from learning.

The way to fix this problem isn’t with more public funding of faith-based education – it’s with less. And that starts with the elimination of the Catholic school board. By consolidating the resources currently duplicated across two school boards, our educational system would be able to better manage resources, combine efforts, and use existing facilities to cope with shifting demographics.

We live in a secular society that’s growing increasingly multicultural. To offer taxpayer-funded services for one religion and not the other isn’t right. However, that doesn’t mean you just eliminate the one religion. Rather, you create a system that embraces the teachings of religion – all religions.

Religion should have a place in schools – and this is coming from someone who doesn’t believe in any one religion. But despite my lack of belief, I fully understand and support the idea of exposing our children to all the world’s religions. Not only will this open their minds to new ideas and experiences, but it will help them understand the people around them.

A public school system with a faith component would have a greater impact on global acceptance of religion than Tory’s validating-by-separating agenda. When students learn why their friends mother wears a hijab, or why their friend can’t mix meat and dairy, that makes it seem less strange. Our religious and societal differences no longer become fodder for mockery, but they become aspects of intrigue and respect.

In addition, students will see that despite the various differences and belief structures found in religion, the underlying message of all is basically the same – and that’s about being good to each other and being the best person we can be. By experiencing a faith class where that message is reinforced by exposure to the world’s religion, our children will be able to grow up in a world where our religious differences don’t matter as much.

Unfortunately, ignorance breeds mistrust and fear. Unless one is exposed to a religion, some of the practices, clothing, and imagery can seem odd. And kids deal with things they don’t understand by shunning them. However, imagine the benefits of having one public school system, where children of all faiths come to learn together and share their personal experiences. Then there would be no need to fear the unknown, because we’d have a better understanding of each other.

Then, just maybe, those kids can teach their parents a thing or two about tolerance.

Of course, there will be those who want their children educated in an environment that’s solely focused on their own belief system – and that’s their right. It’s also their obligation to pay for that privilege. Again, we live in a secular society – our obligation to our children is to teach tolerance, not make equal educational services available to all.

It’s a new world with an ever-changing demographic. The days of the Protestant/Catholic school board split are long gone – today’s Canadian mosaic is richly woven with threads from many different races, cultures, and religions. What better way to foster understanding and respect for each other than by learning about the very things we hold dear – our beliefs and our culture.

Sometimes less is more. We don’t need more publicly funded religious-based schools – we just need to reallocate the resources we have now in a way that makes sense for today’s children.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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God Should Never Be An Editor

By Jason Menard

In this culturally diverse world where oceans can be spanned with just the click of a mouse, what obligation do we have to ensuring cultural sensitivity – and where is the line between commentary and cruelty drawn?

This is a question that has arisen again with the publication of editorial cartoons in the Danish newspaper Jyllands Posten. The cartoons, which depicted the Islamic prophet Muhammad wearing a turban shaped like a bomb with a lit fuse, have drawn the ire of Muslims around the world and has led to violent demonstrations.

Let’s move beyond the paradox that is Muslims reacting with violence to a cartoon that was designed to depict them as a violent people. Let’s look at the issue of responsibility. Islamic law forbids any depiction of the prophet Muhammad in order to prevent idolatry. But should we expect a newspaper in a non-Muslim country to adhere to the beliefs and tenets of another religion?

The answer is yes – and no.

Obviously Jyllands Posten has to consider the fact that some of its readership will be Muslim and should treat them with the same respect that they would any other religion. To imply that all adherents to a religion are violent is stereotyping at its worst – and certainly wouldn’t be accepted if the image was of an avaricious person of Jewish decent. Given that, we can question the sensitivity, but not the motivation of the paper.

In their attempt to make a commentary about a certain sub-section of a religious group that bastardizes the teaching of the Quran, they unfairly painted all Muslims with the same broad brushstrokes. However, their depiction still falls into the realm of commentary.

It is when other right-wing papers decide to reprint the cartoons as a show of solidarity to freedom of the press that the line is crossed into cruelty. It is one thing to publish something that offends a segment of your readership without knowing – it is something different entirely when you do so knowing that a segment of the population has already expressed their displeasure. It is especially heinous when you choose to publish them for no other reason than to incite anger. The publication of these editorial cartoons in these papers was done only to support the rights of free speech – not to further any sort of coverage in their own publication.

And there is the greatest transgression. Yes, free speech is paramount, but that right to free speech carries with it an even greater responsibility to use it wisely. In this case, one could say it wasn’t done.

The decisions on what to publish and when is not always easy, and I can draw upon personal experience to relate to this issue. Many moons ago, when I was editor-in-chief of a daily student publication, I was faced with a similar response to a decision I made. And while I stand behind the principles of my decision today, I see that my zealousness for protection of freedom of speech was not tempered by my understanding of human nature – and the need to do right by the people I was mandated to serve.

At the time, we were blessed to have a talented daily cartoonist, who created a strip called Horowitz. In one panel, he created the image of the Christian god, watching Highway to Heaven, and on the phone with Allah. To paraphrase the text, the Christian god said, “Hey Allah, it’s God. Have you started your world yet? No, me neither.” And the caption read something like “despite what’s believed, God in fact slacked off for six days and crammed on the seventh.”

The initial publication of this cartoon drew mild controversy, of which I was aware when I chose to publish it again during my tenure at the helm of the paper. And that’s when all hell broke loose. Despite doing everything I could my year to be inclusionary to all groups, I was branded as anti-Arab through this one action.

My decision was prompted by two things: one, I thought the comic was damn funny. And, two: I wanted to assert the rights of the press over the tenets of a religious belief. While I still believe I was morally in the right to do so, looking back on it I can see how I neglected the needs of a significant sub-section of my readership.

The fact is that the paper I worked with had an obligation to represent all groups on campus, no matter what their race, religion, or creed. But, by the same token, I was not beholden to them to define my editorial stance by their beliefs.

It is unfair for any one religious group, be it Christian, Jewish, Muslim, or other, to expect a secular publication to obey the laws of its faith. Newspapers are secular in nature and must remain so to maintain their objectivity and credibility. That being said, while they must push the envelope and challenge their readership, they must understand the sensitivity of certain issues.

Certain religious groups forbid the spelling of the word god in print. Others demand the absence of all imagery because of the worship of falls idols. The fact of the matter is that the media must remain outside these rules – they are not above of below, but the media is separate and must remain so.

But in our increasingly diverse world, we must strive to be more respectful and more sensitive of other people’s beliefs. That doesn’t mean we must kowtow to their religious tenets, but we should make more of an effort to understand. And, on the other side, religious groups must realize that their laws do not necessarily apply to everyone on the planet, nor should they expect everyone to abide by their rules.

It’s a matter of respect – and both sides must respect the other if we’re to move forward as a global community. If we wish to continue to enjoy freedom of the press and freedom of religion, we must ensure that we use those freedoms wisely.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Happy Holidays the Perfect Way to Say Merry Christmas

By Jason Menard

To some the phrase Happy Holidays has turned into an epithet insulting of those who celebrate the “true” meaning of Christmas. Yet, what they’re missing is that this sentiment, expressed in two words, ideally reflects what the Christian ideal actually is – a celebration of love, acceptance, and joy.

We live in a multi-cultural society. And we are increasingly exposed to a wide variety of faiths, belief systems, and religions. To respect their existence and appreciate their lives isn’t succumbing to political correctness, but rather embracing the best of our humanity.

The utterance of Happy Holidays does not diminish the meaning of the season. In fact, by showing respect, love, and appreciation for all the peoples in this world, one could argue that we are finally following those Christian edicts of loving thy neighbour and doing unto others as you would want done to you.

We need to get over the Christian-centric hand-wringing and lamenting about the commercialization of Christmas and the need to be all-inclusive. Despite what the song says, there is ample evidence to suggest that Christ wasn’t born on Christmas Day.

Early Christian leaders were smart and decided to roll a number of existing festivals into one. Roman Saturnalia, Celtic Yule, and pagan solstice celebrations were all smushed together to make Christmas accessible to all! For followers of a religion that adapted existing celebrations to make its own more palatable, there seems to be a bit of irony in how they’re lamenting the change and evolution of the current notion of Christmas.

Each of us celebrates the holidays in our own way, regardless of what faith we have. And not one religion or belief holds more capital than others. Nor can wide-sweeping generalizations be made. Some Church-going Christians are eagerly anticipating the arrival of Jolly St. Nick, while some of the harshest of Atheists lament the commercialization of the season.

Yet, the great thing about life is that no one can force you to believe in something you don’t want to. If you hate the commercialization of the Christmas season and it offends your Christian sensibilities, you are more than welcome to look away. Embrace and celebrate the season as it means to you. The last time I checked, Wal-Mart wasn’t opening up outlets in Churches, so you have refuge from the retail! Conversely, those who don’t ascribe to the Christian beliefs should also be free to enjoy this season free from guilt or preaching.

One can choose to focus on the negative of the season, or one can embrace all the good that the holiday season has to offer. It all depends on the point of view you choose to take. If you are going to only focus on the negative, then your enjoyment and appreciation of the situation will be diminished. And once you start noticing the bad, that’s all you’ll be able to see. Instead, wouldn’t it be nice if we could start noticing the good, regardless of our faith.

No matter what God you choose – or chose not – to pray to, what this holiday season does is bring out the best in people. Families and friends who have spent the year apart come together to celebrate each other. Acquaintances are renewed, gifts of appreciation are given, and the warmth of the soul heats up this rugged Canadian winter. Wouldn’t it be a wonderful gift to us all if we could look past our own individual prejudices and see that, overall, the world is filled with a little more love, a little more happiness, and a little more warmth at this time of year.

If one takes a look at the religions of the world, there are themes that are common to all belief systems. And the biggest may be the idea of love. Whether it’s loving your family or those around you, most people will agree that this world would be a better place if we embraced this concept of love.

So as my Catholic wife and my non-denominational self prepare to celebrate the holidays, we’ll appreciate and answer our son’s questions about the nativity and share in our daughter’s reading of a Hannukah story. The greatest gift we can give to them – and the world – is the gift of tolerance, love, and appreciation of everyone’s beliefs and uniqueness.

Christian, Jew, Muslim, Atheist, or any other religion – peace, love, happiness, and acceptance are truly things that we can all celebrate at this time of year.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Faith-Based Funding an All or Nothing Proposition

By Jason Menard

A group called the Multi-Faith Coalition for Equal Funding of Religious Schools is demanding that the Ontario government provide financial support for all religious education system – but what they’ve done is open a Pandora’s Box which may result in the final separation of Church and State when it comes to education.

As it stands now in this province you have the existing Public and Catholic school boards. Grandfathered in from time immemorial, or Confederation in 1867, the Roman Catholic school board has been guaranteed funding. And now, as our communities change so too must we look at what’s fair in a new light.

Because we’ve always done it is no longer a valid argument. To deny one faith the right to have their religion-based education system funded smacks of discrimination. In fact, in 1999 a United Nations committee found that Ontario was violating the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

So, in this case, equality is the right thing to do – but there are two ways to get there. We can either provide funding for all religions to establish school boards and run educational systems – or we can cut off the flow of money to the Catholics.

While in a perfect world we’d be able to offer across-the-board-funding, the fact of the matter is that we don’t have the necessary resources to be everything to everyone. Which makes the choice clear – one publicly funded school board open and accessible to all, and those who want their children educated in an alternative system will have to foot the bill on their own.

In this country, the only two types of school boards that should be funded are ones based on language – English and French, befitting our status as a bilingual nation. We are a secular society and, as such, our government has no place in defining its practices – or funding programs – based on religious beliefs.

Maybe, at one time, it made sense to offer a separate Catholic school board due to the religious demographic makeup. But increasingly Ontario is benefiting from an influx of immigrants – many of whom are representatives of a wide variety of religions. By choosing to publicly fund one religion over another, we are in fact tacitly affirming their second-class citizen status. But it’s not just enough to cut off funding and wash our collective hands of the teaching of religion in the classroom – that would be depriving our children of a valuable learning opportunity. Instead, we need to get creative with our education system and work towards developing a curriculum that meets the needs of today’s reality and anticipates the requirements of the future.

Instead of guaranteed funding for one religious system, the Ontario government, and those of all provinces around Canada, should redirect those resources towards the creation and implementation of a new program in our school system – the teaching of faith.

The issue of religion in the school system is a touchy one for many. There are those who would love to see a return to the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer in the public system and the distribution of those little red New Testaments. And that’s truly a fine proposition – as long as they’re accompanied by little blue Talmuds, little yellow Qurans, and a rainbow of texts outlining the belief systems from around the world.

We need to stop focusing on one religion at the expense of another. Atheist, agnostic, Christian, Buddhist, Islamic, Jewish, or whatever — we all will benefit from a generation that has grown up learning about each other’s religions, beliefs, or lack-thereof. Intolerance and hate breed from ignorance. Understanding the shared concepts of religions, in addition to where they differ, will bring us closer together as a people.

And, by teaching faith, we are in fact bringing out students closer together. We would enable students with different religious beliefs to share their stories, their particular practices and rituals, and their history with their classmates – opening them up to a greater world of understanding. In addition, beyond learning the respective tenets of the various belief systems, our students would be able to explore the nature of faith and why it has existed since the earliest humans. An examination of why certain people believe will help gain insight into the human character.

The world around us is changing rapidly. And, as our world becomes increasingly multi-cultural, a learning system that embraces all belief systems from Atheist to Zionist would help our next generation learn about tolerance and prepare them for an increasingly integrated society.

We are less segmented and our cultural fabric is interwoven with threads from a variety of races, creeds, and religions. And not one thread is more important than another – which is why, in an all or nothing proposition, the Ontario government must choose nothing at first, and then work to develop a public program that includes all for the benefit of everyone.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

A Secular Society Means No Sharia

By Jason Menard

In our attempt to be good Canadians, we have gone too far in Ontario by considering the incorporation of Shariah tribunals to settle family disputes in Muslim relationships.

One of the sacred cows we have in this country is that everyone should be allowed the freedom of religion. We encourage all who come to this great land of ours to retain their individuality and we welcome the cultural mosaic that is woven from this inclusionary belief. However, that acceptance of others’ cultures, religions, and beliefs stops at the moment it contravenes the accepted law of the land.

As we have seen with the same-sex marriage debate, marriage is a secular institution, no matter how much religious groups wish to believe otherwise. As such, the institution of marriage is bound and governed by the laws of our land, and its moral compass is guided by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

So if that’s the case, why should the dissolution of marriage fall under a different set of circumstances? If marriage is secular at its root, why should divorce be any different?

We all like to quote the late Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and say that the State has no business in the bedrooms of the nation. But the State has every right to assert its presence in its boardrooms and courthouses. Unfortunately, the government has painted itself in a corner with past precedent. Since 1991, the Province of Ontario has allowed Christian and Jewish families to practice religious arbitration. To deny the use of Sharia tribunals would reek of discrimination.

The answer to all of this is to eliminate all faith-based resolutions from our mediation practices.

We have a separation of Church and State in this country and we need to reinforce that belief by eliminating the existence of religious influence in its practices. This is not to denigrate any one religion, but rather to ensure fairness and equality for all, as is defined by the Canadian Constitution and Charter of Rights and Freedoms. We need to assert that being Canadian comes with a set of expectations for all. Being Canadian means adhering to the laws and conventions of the land.

Being respectful of other people’s faith does not mean we have to compromise the integrity of our Church/State divide. This is not a country that is ruled by Islamic, Jewish, or Christian law, so we are under no obligations to accommodate those practices in our legal and governmental systems.

By adhering to our Constitution and our Charter, we are not denying rights to anyone. We are defining what it means to be Canadian. If a person wants to live in a place where Sharia law is enforced, then that is their prerogative. But nowhere does it say that, to avoid the spectre of discrimination, Canada has to be that place.

The fact of the matter is that we have, as a society, shown a preference to Christian and Jewish institutions. But with the rise of a Muslim population and an increasing understanding and sensitivity to their needs, we have to understand that our past practices just don’t cut it in today’s reality. That’s why the practice religious arbitration, established by the NDP government, must be abolished. We can still support these services as a society, but without the decisions being binding upon our Court of Laws. Should a family choose to go to faith-based arbitration on their own as a part of the dispute resolution process, then that is their prerogative. But in our secular society there is no place for religious decisions to supersede the laws of the land.

There are many Canadians who are religious, but religion does not define Canada. We need to accept that the matters and teachings of faith are welcome in the homes, churches, synagogues, and mosques of this country, but we must draw the line at their presence in our courthouses.

The rhetoric spouted by some of the issue’s opponents goes too far. Aligning Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty with the Taliban is inflammatory at best and obstructionist at its worst. This idea of incorporating Sharia mediation is not an error borne of malice – it’s an error on the side of being inclusionary, especially when past precedent is factored in.

But it’s an error nonetheless, and one that should be put to rest. Whether or not you believe that, in the end, we answer to a higher power, when it comes to the governance of our country, the laws of Canada should be the final word.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

You’ve Got to Have Faith

By Jason Menard

In a world increasingly divided by religion, perhaps we should be focusing on the spirit behind religion that has the power to unite us all.

We’ve seen our current global landscape rife with turmoil that’s, in large part, founded on religious differences. And we can’t even make the claim that this is an unprecedented event, because our world has been shaped over thousands of years by religious conflict.

At the same time as many of today’s North American youth have turned away from organized religion, religious fervour exists as a driving force in our world. Whether it’s recent reports of a Jewish soldier killing Arabs due to his opposition to the Gaza Strip pullout, or Al Qaeda leadership brandishing Islam as a weapon, or fears of the religious right dominating U.S. policy, our secular world is impacted greatly by the intervention of religious influence.

On a macroscopic scale, we find ourselves wondering if religions can truly co-exist on this planet. The challenges and the history seem so daunting that there often doesn’t seem to be a way to find a peaceful, harmonious co-existence. But hope for a better future is there when you look on a microscopic level. Despite our difference, we’re able to peacefully and happily co-exist amongst our friends of different faiths, so why does that grass-roots tolerance not trickle up?

I can’t ascribe to any more religion any more than I can sign up for a political party – I just don’t believe strongly in any one perspective that I would be willing to drink the Kool-Aid. However, while I can’t hold hard and fast to one God and one religion, the basic undertones and themes present in a majority of these religions speak to me not only on a spiritual level, but on an intellectual level.

Raised in a relatively Christian family, I turned my back on organized religion during high school and never looked back. While I respected others’ need to find solace in a God, I was unable to believe – or feel – that sort of presence in my life. But far from reject religion outright and entering into a hedonistic lifestyle without remorse, I chose to appreciate the underlying themes and messages that the Bible was trying to teach.

And, as I’ve aged, I’ve had the pleasure to learn more about other religions. I can proudly boast friends from across the religious spectrum: Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu – and I’ve tried to learn more about their lifestyle and appreciate their devotion. What I’ve learned is that while many of the religions of the world differ in their icons and dogma, they hold a basic common set of principles dear.

Essentially, what most of our world’s religions preach is the idea of being good people. Whether it’s doing good deeds to promote the glory of God or engaging in Shabbat or Ramadan observances to cleanse our souls, these actions are, at their very base, designed to improve us all as people. The Ten Commandments aren’t a revelation, they’re simply common sense.

As I age, I appreciate the words that the noted religious prophet, George Michael, once sang: “You’ve Got to Have Faith.” I find myself embracing the spiritual nature of humanity – one that is often defined by religion, but is not exclusive to religion. There is a spirit that moves us, and whether you believe it’s the Tao, Karma, or the will of a Creator, we’ve all been given this gift of life and we should be celebrating it, not squandering it.

Unfortunately, religious understanding seems to be a limited proposition. There are reasons that politics and religion are topics to be avoided in casual conversation. I have been told I’m going to Hell because of my lack of belief in a higher power, but – to be honest – if God’s going to punish me for not believing in him (or her) then that’s not a God I want to party with in the afterlife.

If I’m wrong, then I hope that whichever god greets me once I shuffle off this mortal coil will look at the life I’ve led. By no means have I been perfect, but I’ve tried – and continue to try – to be a good person, do right by my family, and appreciate others for who they are and what they bring to this global potluck.

On the other side, some of the so-called saved or chosen ones are the same that are killing in the name of their god, or discriminate against other members of the human race based on colour, race, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation. Essentially it comes down to the company you want to keep when (or if) we reach the afterlife. If I’ve got to spend the ever after with the same type of people I try to avoid on Earth, then I’ll choose to hang out in purgatory, thank you very much.

Yet, for the majority of us, we’re able to appreciate each other’s differences in beliefs. Other people’s beliefs are not something to fear, but rather something to learn from and appreciate.

Although I can be accused of over-simplifying deep-rooted issues, the fact of the matter is that we need to rebuild our relationships from the ground up. And there’s no better way of doing so than building upon the essential foundations that religion, spirituality, and belief offer – that of tolerance, compassion, and respect for humanity.

We have to start somewhere. And instead of destroying the world in the name of religion, we can choose to honour whatever god you believe in by making the world a better place to live through love, understanding, and appreciation for one another.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved