Spirituality and Idle No More

Reading and watching some of the reports, articles and websites reveals just how complex and important the place and role of First Nations in Canada is. As the Idle No More website promotes, “Indigenous rights and [their] responsibilities” are a social reality that has to be addressed, complex as it is.

As a Canadian, I have hope that respectful dialogue and action will come out of the Idle No More movement. Our country has enough diversity in leadership and culture to exact some progress (so long as we aren’t driven by the opinion of online commenters on news blogs - sheesh!). Yes, much more can be done to address the complex issues that range from honoring treaties to honoring children. But I think there is cause for hope that something will be done.

Unrelated to the continuing news of the Idle No More movement, I’ve been doing some reading this week in the area of First Nations’ religion and spirituality. The parallels are striking.

Canada values multiculturalism and tolerance of a diversity of religious viewpoints. But as I argued in a previous post, such tolerance doesn’t always equal understanding. Canada's First Nations are a clear example where misunderstanding occurs on all levels. Rhetoric on all sides of the debate reflect stereotypes that only exasperate misunderstanding and conflict. For any progress to come out of the Idle No More movement, understanding will be essential.

At face value, one could say the debates are primarily social and political, be it addressing First Nations' governance, treaty regulation, or the overall social well-being of communities across the country. The issues are “secular” - that is, spirituality has nothing to do with it. And for some, on all sides, this is likely true.

Yet only a glimpse into First Nations’ spirituality quickly reveals just how spiritual the issues really are. As a Stó:lō member recently commented in an interview on the CBC, it’s directly because of his “spiritual and cultural connection to the natural world” that he is passionate about the Idle No More movement. The current issue absolutely has to do with spirituality. A big difference from how Canadians usually do politics.

No doubt many Canadians hold a modern secular perspective that treats the world as an object. We look around and ask, “How will this place best serve our needs?” It's a pragmatic approach to the earth. Native spirituality, on the other hand, asks a different question: “How can we cooperate with this place?” The earth is no mere object, but a subject to which we relate. Pragmatic concerns are accompanied by relationship to the spiritual realm. This is clearly a major difference in worldview, one which lies in the background of much of the Idle No More debates.

Any solutions and progress, then, requires all sides to discuss and debate these foundational questions of meaning and spirituality that too often remain in the background of our complex social issues. Again, as a Canadian, I have hope that such respectful engagement is possible. So long as we all know this: our tolerance must include learning and relationships. Only with mutual respect can we expect a Canada with mutual progress.


Anonymous said...

Shockingly stupid revalation in second-last paragraph which states 'secular perspective' "treats the world as an object". What total nonsense!

David Warkentin said...

I would be interested to hear how a purely secular view treats the world. If not as an object, how? But alas, you've given no contact information. Sorry, but anonymous dispute isn't helpful...

Anonymous said...

The assumption is that godless means a purely objective lovelessness, or that God (Great Spirit) is necessary in compassion/empathy. The exact opposite is true. Search any secular/atheist/freethinker site you wish if you want refrences. Anything by Carl Sagan would be a great start.

David Warkentin said...

Thanks for the follow-up - feel free to share your name (any effort to overcome the impersonal nature of online discourse is much appreciated).

Yes, I am making assumptions. My concern is not with bright individuals like Carl Sagan and others, but with the majority of people who take a completely pragmatic - selfish even - approach to life in the world. Their only motivation seems to be immediate personal benefit. You could call it popular secularism.

I'm not convinced "the opposite is true" when it comes to compassion/empathy for others or the world (I think all people have the ability to display these characteristics). Personally, I find the belief in a broader perspective (i.e. God) to be far more motivating than than morality as strength I must exhibit myself. Connection to others and the world is an extension of ultimate reality.

Doug Taylor said...

Sure, you can find evil in either the faithful or the secular. The base question is whether or not one can be good without God and the answer is an emphatic YES. I find equal or greater empathic motivation without the necessity of an amaginary sky-friend thank ye very much. I find any and all religions to be offensive. I merely have one less god than you, and thus greater liberty and compassion.

Anonymous said...

immaginary that is..

Doug Taylor said...

The paragraph in question perfectly illustrates exactly what the faithful do best...articulate division. As if that is helpful.

David Warkentin said...

Hello Doug, thanks for stopping by.

Just to clarify, my point wasn't that non-religious folks don't have goodness or desire goodness. But surely we can't all goodness is the same either. We need to have engaged discussion on how there are different motivations for goodness. Articulating difference doesn't have to lead to division.

Too often in disputes like the current one of First Nations in Canada, division is all that is articulated with little or no understanding that there is a fundamental difference in worldview.

Let's engage our differences and seek common ground - love and goodness is a good place to start! - instead of just writing off opposing views.

The point of my post, and the paragraph in question, is to simply recognize that a secular perspective widely held in Canadian culture is very different than a First Nations one. This should be common sense, but rarely is recognized. I haven't even ventured into the question of better or worse - let's just start by acknowledging the fact difference exists. If all sides understand this difference, maybe there can be some mutual understanding and even progress. If all sides simply state their position louder or more forcefully (as all are prone to doing), we just perpetuate the division without ever addressing our differences with mutual respect.

Doug, could such a perspective lessen any of the offensiveness you find in religion?

Douglas T. said...

Hi David, Well, not really. Secularism really means the separation of Church and state, and regarding first nations I would ignore the minor theological differences and insist also that progress is impossible as long as 'spirituality' is involved. As long as one is trusting active participation or gaining motivation from a sky-god, you may expect the same old problems to persist. Whether you weild a cross or an eagle feather, pray over revolving beadwork or dance in a circle, to me it's all wishful thinking and applied superstition. There is a better way forward.

D.T. said...

I believe the fundamental world views you speak of are in fact an illusion. Let's face it..the 'common ground' you speak of is belief and trust in dogma, specific costuming/architecture/props, and ceremony. Unfortunately,the common ground I'd seek is Secularism itself..and for the time being I expect we will remain the minority. Sad. Best, D.T.

David Warkentin said...

Thanks for clarifying Douglas (are you also D.T.? - I'm assuming you are, but am unsure...).

I can accept your point of view towards religion and find it helpful to have you articulate it even if I disagree on some of your points. Your frustration with religious folks displays a consistency with your view of reality. If I miss that, I run the risk of writing you off.

I also agree on the separation of church and state. But I don't think that means individuals or groups (e.g. First Nations) can ignore or put aside their spiritual beliefs. I'm not asking for all out acceptance of a spiritual worldview, whichever one that may be (mine is Anabaptist Christian). I just think we need to take the time to understand why many people - intelligent, well-meaning people - accept the role of spirituality in their lives and in the world.

The common ground I'm seeking is understanding.

And then from understanding we can begin to have the debate on whether or not one specific worldview (e.g. secularism) is a worthy common ground. I think parts of it - separation of church and state - are necessary in a culture as diverse as ours. Other parts - especially the desire to drop all religion - are refusing to accept all of the good religion has and will continue to offer (I make this statement realizing all worldviews - secular or religious - carry much baggage and must address the gross misinterpretations of their values throughout history).

From a secularist viewpoint, is understanding a worthwhile starting point to seek common ground? Especially, as you admit, religion doesn't seem to be going away anytime soon?

Doug Taylor (D.T.) said...

Sure why not. But let's dump the stereotypical nonsense around secularist being somehow less caring about the earth. But if it turns out that the common ground is more superstitious mumbo-jumbo(religion)then hope for progress is futile. A secular perspective does not objectify the planet...not even close. It's similar to saying that all priests are pedophiles...it may be true that thousands of them are, but it's a big brush.

David Warkentin said...

I take your caution against stereotypes. Good point (although I'm a little puzzled at the subsequent trend to offer belittling descriptions of religion - "superstitious mumbo-jumbo.").

That said, behind your clarifying comments that secularists can and do care for the earth - and I would argue religious folks as well - is the fact that there is a great variety of motivations to do so. Mine is out of a sense of calling and living out my life as God intends it. For First Nations, and many other religions, the motivation is harmony with the gods/ultimate reality that the earth represents. For secularists, the motivation is the logical reality that sustainability is required. If we take the time to listen and respect our various motivations, I think the common ground (care of the earth) is far more attainable than writing one another off in the many different ways that we tend do.

D.T. said...

Well..fair enough. I sincerely hope that some day you discover that the calling you refer to is generated in your own brain. God commands you no less or more than Thor, Ra, Great Spirit, etc. etc. Perhaps the 'ultimate reality' is that any notion of supernatural being(s) is illusion. No David, secular motives are NOT necessarily sustentacular. As consumers we are ALL complicit in many resource extraction issues. I may just as easily point out the problems around the non-secular concept of Manifest Destiny, ot the Biblical imperative to 'subdue the earth'. To me, the dark instructions of the church and the perpetual myths of indiginism are equally destructive.

D.T. said...

indigenism that is..

David Warkentin said...

To clarify, I pointed to sustainability as positive motivation to care for the earth. As a secularist, do you have other motivations?

And I definitely share your point about the shared complicity in environmental destruction. The way in which Christians have twisted biblical teaching to justify destruction is deplorable.

D.T. said...

I suppose I interpreted your requisite sustainability as a growth imperative.

I think I'm motivated by empathy and compassion, and the acceptance that our brevity should compel everyone to see that beauty and harmony is pervasive. We are situated in the very middle between the very large(cosmos) and the very small (atomic and sub-atomic) and REAL knowledge exposes the folly of faith and superstition.
Soo..are you not a Christian??

David Warkentin said...

I suspect I agree with you on many worthwhile aims for humanity - empathy, compassion, knowledge, etc... Where we differ, obviously, is whether or not such goals are purely intrinsic or find their source as part of a bigger reality. I prefer the latter, which for me is the presence of a loving Creator God. In fact, acknowledging such a relationship between myself and God is the context from which I explore REAL knowledge (which I understand for you would be a contradictory statement).

I'm curious what's behind your question of my faith. Can you elaborate?

D.T. said...

Simply the last line of previous post where you mentioned deplorable Christians.

Your loving creator God is my bloodthirsty destructive God. We probably agree that there are degrees of moderation among the faithful. If you are one who believes that the earth is literally 6M years old then I'm fairly sure our conversation is nearly finished. Creationism to me is the tipping point...the litmus test of nonsense. If you beleive that the biblical fables as actual historic accounts, then I think it only reinforces many of my points. God as placebo wore off for me in favor of facts, sceince, freethought and critical thinking. I believe that the love you speak of actually thrives most genuinely among atheists. Christian love for me has always seemed synthetic/dogmatic/ceremonial/rhetorical/punitive.

You've mentioned a 'bigger reality' a couple of times..as if it's not quite the same thing as a skygod. Why the distinction I wonder?

David Warkentin said...

I think any worldview, be it religious or not, must admit the shortcomings of its history. I have no excuses for the many times Christian history has strayed from faithfully following the way of Jesus. But I see this as the fault of bad interpretation and human selfishness (i.e. "sin"), not the fault of the religion itself (i.e. God/Jesus).

In terms of evolution/creationism, I don't think belief in God has to be contradictory to evolutionary belief. I accept that the Bible contains many different genres and must be read as such - the Creation account points to a Loving Creator, not an historical account of the mechanics behind said creation. Check out www.biologos.org to see that this not a minority position.

Interesting that for many N.A. Christians, "God as placebo" is likely their motivation. Or God/Christianity = "the good life." It's more therapeutic than life changing. But this isn't the message of Jesus, who modeled a way of suffering and struggle, who identified with the general struggle of humanity and declared that God is present in the midst of life's struggle. For me, Christianity is no placebo (escape from reality), but the very presence of God as we face reality. To me, this is a key nuance much of popular Christianity tends to ignore in the West.

And my reference to "bigger reality" is to keep the discussion in terms of religion in general. Personally, I believe the God revealed in the Bible and most fully in the person of Jesus to be the full representation of this "bigger reality." But I also believe other religions can contain some aspects of this truth as well to varying degrees.

D.T. said...

I veiw the Bible as a work of fiction, and a poorly written one at that. I recently had this discussion with someone else which led me to search some of the top juicy blood-curdling Jesus quotes. What a horrible, violent, hateful, vendictive character this man was. Lots of instruction on how to smite and slay. I won't share them here but anyone can find them on the interweb. I say 'no thanks' to the shackles and chains of religion(s).

David Warkentin said...

Many people people view the Bible as a work of fiction, I understand that. It's a collection of diverse genres that combine history, poetry, teaching, visions, etc...But to place our modern views of literature and logical explanation on a pre-modern record of two influential religious traditions (Judaism and Christianity) will no doubt lead to reject the book's usefulness. Yet I don't think our evolution of mind and culture (a good thing, yes) gives us a completely non-biased ability to judge the Bible's accuracy. Instead, I interpret the Bible, including passages of judgement by Jesus, within the worldview and intention of that time, not ours. To look at Jesus' life and teaching - an area which receives relatively strong support in many categories of modern research no less (history, archaeology, literary criticism)- and to suggest his character is evil and that he instructs his followers to do likewise is such a broad generalization that doesn't engage the complexity of Biblical interpretation (like in any field of historical and literary research)

I accept that complexity of history, genre, interpretation and wrestle with the implications of such an approach for my life. Yes, some folks blindly accept the Bible too literally and it shackles them. Yes, at times Christian history includes countless examples of chaining people instead of freeing them. But again, I suggest the problem isn't God, Jesus, or the Bible - it's our bad interpretation of it. I'll gladly rid the world of the "shackles and chains of religion(s)" - I just don't think one has to dismiss Jesus and the Bible to do so. Church as God intends is not church as history reveals. Sad, yes. But gives me hope that Christianity still has meaning and relevance, both personally and in the world.

Anonymous said...

Just reviewed our now five-year-old discussion. Many thanks to D.W. for the respectful ideas. Peace, D.T.

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