A NATION OF FAITH © David Watts 21/03/2010

To call Canada “a nation of faith” seems to fly in the face of facts and invites two objections.

Secularists can object to the attempt to introduce religion in public life: at what they see as a breach of the principle of the separation of church and state.

Religious believers may object this does not correspond to their experience. They see themselves as a minority in an indifferent mainstream. To extend belief gratuitously to their country as a whole seems both inaccurate and a debasing of their own convictions.

Both objections arise from a confusion of “faith” with religion or a particular tradition. To differentiate the two, we can cite this description of faith from the New Testament:

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for: the conviction of things not seen…”

This line has a two-fold significance for Canada. To begin with, it describes the exploration and development of our country to a tee:

It describes the journeys of peoples east across the Bering Bridge and west across an uncharted Atlantic, with no clear sense of where they were or where they were going.

It describes the long search, by those who landed on the east coast, for a western sea, based only on reports and rumours from first peoples.

It describes the end of that search in words written by a Northwest Company explorer on a rock by the Pacific: “Alexander Mackenzie, from Canada by Land, July 19, 1791.”

It describes the vision of the Pilgrim Mothers of New France who came from the Old to build the New World’s first hospital on an island at the meeting of two great rivers.

It describes Fathers of Confederation who met to join four eastern colonies in a federation they hoped would stretch to the Pacific, adopting “dominion from sea to sea” as their motto.

It describes spanning the continent by rail without sufficient funds by a nation of three million people and mostly empty space.

And it describes the passage of every newcomer who set out with little more than the clothes they wore, leaving homeland, friends and families behind to build new homes in a new land.

This description of Faith continues in the words: “People who speak thus make it clear they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country …”

These words from Chapter 11 of the Letter to Hebrews, are the motto of the Order of Canada, inscribed around the shield on the Canadian coat of arms above “dominion from sea to sea.”

These ventures were undertaken without assurance of success or feasibility studies, with cost overruns, against overwhelming odds. The faith behind them is a stronger motivator than the balanced budgets, bottom lines, escape clauses and guarantees of those who consider themselves “responsible.”

Yet without such conviction, faith or recklessness—take your choice—we would not be here.

Truly Canada is a Nation of Faith!