Saturday, January 21, 2012

Office of Religious Freedom (Canada)

Opponents Criticize the Office 
The swirl of criticism around the creation of the Office of Religious Freedom (ORF) distracts from the more important issue of the role of religion in world affairs.

The ORF will be a branch of the Foreign Affairs Department. Foreign Affairs Minister, John Baird has said the office will promote religious freedom; he has not said how the office will accomplish this. The Canadian government's evasiveness on just how an ORF would promote religious freedom calls into question the authenticity of the government regarding this challenging task. 

The ORF is being criticized for other reasons. Some see it is a ploy to curry favor with Evangelical Christian voters, further a right wing Christian agenda, and promote Judeo-Christian traditions. Others argue that the office will violate the separation of Church and State.

Religious Freedom is a basic and inalienable human right
There is no argument that the state needs to be concerned with violations of human rights. Article 18 of the Universal Charter of Rights and Freedoms recognizes religious freedom as a basic and inalienable human right. When human rights are under attack, the nation state has a moral obligation to intervene. When a nation state orchestrates, participates in, or countenances human rights abuses, that moral obligation shifts to the international community. We are our brothers and sisters keepers.

The promotion and protection of religious freedom is within the purview of secular, liberal democracies. The equality and dignity of people are at stake when nations restrict religious freedom, or tacitly approve of religiously motivated hostilities. Secular democracies tend to ignore the importance of religious freedom at the peril of global stability.

Loss of religious freedom increasing
Religious minorities around the globe are experiencing a loss of religious freedom. In 
its report, “Restrictions on Religious Freedom,” the Pew Forum notes that government restrictions on religious beliefs and practices, and religiously motivated social hostilities are on the rise. (The Pew Forum is a non-partisan organization that explores the role of religion in world affairs.)

Between 2006-2009, restrictions rose in 23 countries. There was social or government harassment of Christians in 130 countries, Muslims in 117, Jews in 75, Hindus in 27, Buddhists in 16, and Other in 84 countries. 

Government restriction of some religious practices is not necessarily a bad thing. When a religious belief or practice infringes on another individual’s basic human rights, governments should intervene. Canada ranks low on religious restrictions but Canadian law restricts polygamy because it harms children and women. Constitutional rights or laws that protect religious freedom must never allow those freedoms to cause harm to others.

Restrictions become a cause for concern when a government violates the spirit of Article 18. If a government favors one religious group, officially recognizes one religion, defers to religious authorities in matters of policy or law, interferes with the independent operation of religion, and either encourages or permits social hostilities against religious minorities, it violates the inalienable right to freedom of religion.

One third of the world’s population lives in the 23 countries with rising religious restrictions. Civil conflict in some of these regions of the world, notably the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, has significantly impacted the foreign policy of Western nations. Given the sheer number of people in the regions most affected with religious restrictions, there is the potential for escalating conflict. Western nations would be prudent to consider religious freedom in foreign policy development.

Canada has a proud tradition of championing human rights, of which religious freedom is one. On its website, the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade does not even list the promotion of human rights as a priority for 2012, despite the creation of the ORF. This raises the question, “How important can the ORF be?” 

The Canadian government appears disingenuous. The office looks like optics, rather than a genuine attempt to promote religious freedom, thereby helping to create a more stable world community.

Relevant Links:

Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Freedoms

Article 18.

  • Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

For the Forum's report,  "Rising Restrictions on Religion," visit:

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Writing our personal history in 2012

History is more than the study of the past
When I was in high school, I took History 12.  I had a logical reason for enrolling in the course. I was very good at the Humanities, and less competent in the hard sciences like Physics.  I wanted to round out my transcript with a serious course that would also boost my GPA and balance out the less brilliant grades in sciences.

At that time, I viewed history as a series of events that had happened long ago and mostly far away.   History was the study of the past. Even if the adage, ‘history repeats itself,’ was correct, I was not living in historic times.

As I’ve grown older (and maybe a little wiser), I realize that every year has its historic moments.  The year 2011 was packed full of significant events. Events such as the assassination of Bin Laden, the death of Momar Gadhafi, the revolutions in North Africa, the sovereign debt crises in Europe, Jack Layton and the Orange Crush, and the Occupy Movement galvanized our attention. These events pointed towards political, economic, and social change. The passage of time will determine their historical legacy.

We live our lives against the backdrop of historical world events
Against the backdrop of historical world events, each of us lives out our own personal history.  Most of us are bit players on the world history stage, but we are the authors of our own story, and the stars of our daily life. It is a common response as a new year begins to reflect on the previous year, and to turn our attention to improving our performance. We make resolutions that we hope will have a positive impact on our personal histories.  The New Year is a time when we collectively think about writing our history for the coming year.

New Year's Resolutions
New Year’s resolutions commonly focus on self-improvement through doing things and the setting of goals. The most common resolution is to lose weight.  Other popular resolutions are to improve fitness, save money and reduce debt, quit smoking, spend more time with family, learn something new, and improve work-life balance. Resolutions are geared towards improving our appearance, health, status, finances, knowledge and relationships.

"Fat and Slim Ladies" 
"Quit Smoking" 
"Piggy Bank" 

Most of us are not very good at sticking to our New Year’s resolutions, and we make many of the same resolutions year after year. The average life span of a New Year’s resolution is 6 weeks, while 30% of people abandon their resolutions before the end of January.  Many of our resolutions fail because history repeats itself; “old habits die hard,” and new habits take determination and support in order to develop.  Counselors note that people fail to achieve their resolutions because they set unrealistic and broad goals, and rely on their own efforts instead of asking others to help them stay on track.

I think there is another reason why resolutions have a short life span. Resolutions revolve around our ego.  A certain amount of ego spurs us to strive for greater things. It can motivate us to make beneficial changes in our life. But, too much ego can make us arrogant, and arrogance hinders spiritual growth. Placing our resolutions in a spiritual context shifts our focus away from doing things to becoming the person we are created to be.

Spiritual transformation is more than self-improvement
Spiritual growth involves more than self-improvement, and achieving goals.  The task of spiritual growth is to assist the individual in becoming holy. Growing in holiness is a slow process that transforms us at the deepest level of our being. Transformation does not happen suddenly in a “Eureka!” moment of conversion. It takes place over the course of a lifetime as the individual edges away from imperfection towards perfection, from brokenness to wholeness, from sinfulness to holiness. Sanctification is never the result of our own singular efforts; it is a humble response to the grace of God, who offers us a share in divine life.

When we formulate our New Year’s resolutions, we ask ourselves, “What do I want to accomplish in the upcoming year?” Transformation prompts us to ask the more fundamental question, “Who am I?” This question helps us discover our deepest identity, which ultimately lies in our relationship to God. Our identity determines our actions and our view of life. “Who am I?” shapes the writing of our personal historical legacy.

PHOTO CREDITS: Courtesy of the following artists and
"Piggy Bank" by graur razvan ionut 
"Quit Smoking"by zole4 
"Fat and Slim Ladies by africa 

Happy New Year

New Year's Message

Happy New Year to everyone.  I hope you had a blessed Christmas season, and I wish you a happy and healthy New Year.  

Thank you to all those of you who have taken the time to visit my blog in the past year.