The canada.com website recently posted an article titled “Most believe Canada is Christian: Poll.”
According to the article,
The survey, conducted for Canwest News Service and Global National, found roughly six in 10 Canadians (58 per cent) identified the country as Christian. Among those who believe in God, 61 per cent think Canada is a Christian nation, while fully 48 per cent of non-believers feel that way.
Okay, so that part is pretty straightforward. Later, it tells us:
Although 80 per cent of Canadians think “proper tolerance” is given to those who wish to practise religions other than Christianity, fully four in 10 don’t think Christians are given those same allowances by other faiths.
This is where it gets a bit fishy. Christians represent, by far, the biggest religious group in Canada, so, presumably, they also represent the biggest religious group interviewed for the poll. And it’s a whole lot easier to gauge whether your own religion is being marginalised or disrespected, than it is to measure whether you’re being sufficiently “tolerant” (not a great word) of other religions. So, while this paragraph seems to hint that Christians may be more tolerant than others, and that this is backfiring on Christians who are now finding themselves oppressed, I’m not sure that’s the whole story.
Alia Hogben, Executive Director of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women, makes a good point that perception is important, and that if Christians perceive that they aren’t being given “proper tolerance” by other religions, that’s a problem, and it’s sad. (Whether this is a result of actual hostility on the part of other religious groups, or of media portrayals of those groups as hostile might be another story…)
But, I also wonder what the effect is of the majority of Canadians perceiving that “tolerance” levels are just fine when it comes to how non-Christians are treated. Does this mean that things really are okay, or just that the majority of Canadians don’t realise that there are problems? As Hogben later says,
I agree that if children can’t sing Christmas carols anymore or we have to use the term ‘holiday tree,’ that’s going to the extreme. On the other hand, Christians should understand that all the major Canadian holidays are Christian holidays. For me, Easter has no meaning and yet . . . my children and grandchildren are given that enormous belief system through their (school) education.
In other words, a lot of people in Canada who are either Christian or non-religious from Christian backgrounds might not realise the extent to which Christianity is privileged, or, by extension, some of the contexts where non-Christians might feel marginalised (including, perhaps, the very fact that so many Canadians think of Canada as Christian.) Hence, possibly, a higher awareness of the instances where Christianity is pushed aside, and less attention to national and cultural practices that exclude followers of non-Christian religions.
There are a whole lot of other questions I have about the numbers given about “proper tolerance”… What percentage of the responders were Christian? How did the voting break down according to religious group? What the heck is “proper tolerance,” anyway?
I’m not trying to say that the results are wrong, or that it’s worth getting into some kind of competition over who’s most oppressed. And to be fair, the rest of the article actually did a pretty decent job of giving some nuance and context to the survey results. But I do worry that the kind of conclusions that might be easily drawn from the statistics mentioned, since it seems pretty easy to manipulate them into something that paints Canadian Christians as experiencing oppression despite being so open and welcoming, and Canadians of other religions as intolerant and ungrateful. I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more than that going on.