Getting Over Our Fear of Religion will Enrich City's Diversity
City Hall came close to the divine a couple of times last week. Last Monday, the Toronto Area Interfaith Council hosted a mayoral debate, where the candidates proposed ways to increase faith in the life of our city.
A few days later, we were debating whether to allow shopping on statuary holidays. Someone suggested we keep Christian holidays sacred, and controversy seemed to break out immediately. We have to stop panicking every time we talk about faith, especially Christianity, and start embracing it as part of our diversity.
We can start with George Smitherman's suggestion of calling a Christmas tree a Christmas tree. We are supposed to now call it a holiday tree so we don't offend anybody or make them feel left out, but it has the opposite effect on me! As a Christian who enjoys celebrating Christmas, I don't feel welcome to publicly acknowledge and celebrate my beliefs in this culture of political correctness. I (and I'm sure many others) would enjoy seeing other symbols like menorahs in public spaces as well.
There was also a suggestion of having an interfaith day or week. Rob Ford and Joe Pantalone said they wouldn't know how to be fair in acknowledging all belief systems, but I think this misses the spirit of the idea. Our faith is an important part of who we are as individuals, and we should use it as an opportunity to learn about and celebrate with each other.
This sounds so elementary, and yet we won't do this because we're too afraid to offend someone. We talk about tolerance, but that has a connotation of reluctance. We really need to start talking (and thinking) in terms of acceptance - maybe even enjoyment!
At the mayoral debate, Smitherman proposed bringing together faith groups to help the city's less fortunate, such as the homeless and those struggling with addiction. I think this is an excellent idea that brings out the best of what many beliefs have to offer. Many faith groups (and their smaller study groups) volunteer to help others.
A great example of what can be done when people work together is the Out of the Cold program. For this program, different venues, including places of worship, take turns offering homeless people safe shelter and a warm meal.
If the city were to develop and co-ordinate more of these initiatives, our help could be spread around and it would cut down on administrative issues for organizations. We would also be creating services for the countless individuals who currently fall between the cracks.
Many people acknowledge a spiritual side of themselves, and the sooner we stop being afraid to talk about it, the sooner we will be able to see the best in each other and enrich our diversity.