Reverend Gretta Vosper is a unique individual in the history of Canadian freethought insofar as I know the prior contexts of freethinking in Canada’s past in general, and in the nation for secular oriented women in particular.
Vosper is a Member of The Clergy Project and a Minister in The United Church of Canada (The UCC) at West Hill United Church, and the Founder of the Canadian Centre for Progressive Christianity (2004-2016), and Best-Selling Author.
I reached out about the start of an educational series in early pages of a new chapter in one of the non-religious texts in the library comprising the country’s narratives. Vosper agreed.
Here we talk about the reasons for Canadians being less statistically likely to be fundamentalist than Americans.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Looking at much of the religious demographics of the world, in terms of adherence to particular beliefs, especially in comparison to the United States of America, Canadians seem more ordinary and moderated in personal faith positions and assertions. Why?
Rev. Gretta Vosper: That is a locked and loaded question, using terms far more familiar to Americans than Canadians. Using it because belief is so central to so many people that addressing beliefs can become a very fractious undertaking. But that, of course, is what we’re trying to do.
I’ve been reading Atheism and Secularity, Volume 1, Issues, Concepts, and Definitions, edited by Phil Zuckerman. It includes chapters by researchers who explore issues central to the understanding of belief and the lack of it. It is filled with interesting data, much of which supports the idea that high levels of religious belief correlate to a deficit of social progress, or a low rating on the “Successful Societies Scale” (SSS). Repeatedly, the author of the The Evolution of Popular Religiosity and Secularism,” Gregory S. Paul, exposes the many social deficiencies that countries experience when they fail to transfer programs providing social benefit from the purview of religious organizations to government. Without the stability provided by government programs, individuals and families are at greater risk of chaos as the result of financial or health challenges. And, he argues, they hold to religious claims as a self-soother, a coping mechanism.
Provided with comparatively low levels of government support and protection, [Americans] of even the middle class are at serious risk of financial and personal ruin if they lose their job or private health insurance… These high-risk circumstances and the strong variation in economic circumstances help elevate rates of social pathology and strongly contribute to high levels of personal stress and anxiety. The majority are left feeling sufficiently insecure that they perceive a need to seek the aid and protection of a supernatural creator, boosting levels of religious opinion and participation. The nation’s good score in life satisfaction and happiness is compatible with a large segment of the population using religion to psychologically self-medicate against high levels of apprehension.[i]
It is important to remember that as Western countries arrived at a point in time when their economic welfare was plentiful, most of those countries began investing in the social framework and programs that increased social wellness. The United States did not. Instead, they embraced laissez-faire economics at a cellular level, each person responsible for his own economic health, each family living the life they deserved whether it was wealthy or destitute. If you didn’t reach for and achieve the American Dream, it was your own bloody fault and enjoy your just desserts.
Read the above excerpt again and you can imagine a very strong correlation between the need for the “ruling class”, if you will, to maintain the narrative of a divine, interventionist being who would sort it all out in the end. Not that I’m suggesting that there is a top-level conspiracy, but for those who live in the top one or two percent and who are or have the ear of those in power, there is absolutely no reason to dismantle that story. It works for them because their sole responsibility toward those who are constantly scrabbling to survive and turning their lifeblood over to the elite in doing so, is simply to remind them to pull up their socks. Maintaining the illusion of belief is an enormous and significant element of the social ills in America.
If you look at what is currently happening in the US under the Trump administration, it gets both clearer and more disturbing. Those Trump panders to, from his appointment of Betsy DeVos, a woman with no experience in or with the education system in the US, as Secretary of Education to his recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, are all white, evangelical Christians. But their acceptance of Trump’s presidency remains a moral paradox. How could they support a man who admits to sexually molesting women, who lies constantly, who treats people with contempt, and who does not honour the Christian’s deepest responsibility: to love one another and to bring about justice for the “anawim”, the little people, those who are marginalized, ignored, and tragically unable to save themselves? The only way they could do that would be to completely ignore their own belief system, in my opinion. And the only reason they would do that publicly, is if they were prepared to lose the privilege and power they have achieved.
Canada is not a perfect
country. As I write, a scandal is burning its way through the government. But
Canadians chose to go the other way when wealth grew to the point that
providing education, healthcare, supporting the arts, building up public
institutions and infrastructure were possible. The higher the government
involvement in those very public and often universal benefits, the faster
belief in a theistic deity disappears. Canadians do not need that deity
anymore. Americans do. It is as simple as that.
[i] Gregory S. Paul, “The Evolution of Popular Religiosity and Secularism: How first World Statistics Reveal Why Religion Exists, Why It Has Been Popular, and Why the Most Successful Democracies Are the Most Secular.” in Atheism and Secularity, Volume 1, Issues, Concepts, and Definitions, Phil Zuckerman, ed. (Denver: Praeger, 2010) p. 163.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
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