Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of July 16, 2001
Journalist interviews Christians
The Future of Religion: Interviews With Christians on the Brink, by Bob Harvey, Novalis Publishers, Toronto, 2001. 124 pages.
Review by WAYNE HOLST
Special to the WCR
Ottawa Citizen religion editor Bob Harvey recently interviewed eight Canadians, an Englishwoman and an American on topics relating to the future of religion, with particular implications for Canada. This book is a 10-chapter compilation of the resulting newspaper articles Harvey produced.
Each personality offers something both sobering and fascinating. It is refreshing that Canadians are the majority of those portrayed.
Harvey spoke with Anglicans, Baptists, Roman Catholics, some evangelicals, a Mennonite, a member of the United Church of Canada and a freelance monotheist. He met instructors, writers and activists - all genuine searchers.
Harvey betrays his evangelical Protestant roots in his questioning, but he is himself a wide-ranging and open Christian seeker. Those he interviewed helped to expand his personal awareness and can help ours as well.
The resulting slim and sprightly book is a light sampler. There is little by way of overriding structure serving to hold the pieces together. Nor does Harvey provide a summary assessment. The exchanges tend to just "hang there."
Harvey might have reworked this project into a more nuanced, helpful book. Some of the facts are dated (such as the names of certain Canadian and American political figures). These might have been omitted by the editor or better explained.
Several typos mar the text. Author and editor could have handled the task more professionally for the reflective readership they hope to reach.
That said, the book is still worth reading. The best way to approach the book is to extract at least one pivotal idea from each contributor. Summaries of only a few will have to suffice.
Victoria Matthews, Anglican bishop of Edmonton, acknowledges that feminism has shifted the image of God as male, reinterpreted the Bible and shaken up the institutional Church. Women's ordination in many denominations is having its effect.
Janine Langan, a philosopher living in Toronto, regrets that the centuries old partnership between the Catholic Church and art had broken down. Even though our Church seems drab, it still holds up in its dusty way essential counter-cultural truths.
John Stackhouse of Vancouver assumes we won't eliminate religion but that our multifaith society requires we drop references to God from the Constitution. "Decisions should not be made on the basis of any one tradition but by democratic vote."
Will Sweet of Antigonish is a churchgoing Catholic who affirms the need for religious institutions and the role of the hierarchy to supply the brakes and caution in society. "Religion is not a solitary affair. It provides structure and connection for people."
Canadian spiritual life is maturing. Religious systems are mutating. Cognitive religion is giving way to experiential forms of spirituality. People are questing for meaning and are either locking into fundamentalism or opening to non-parochial options. Alternative faith forms are emerging.
There is a breakdown between the Christian and the artistic tradition. Feminist principles are shaking up the institutional Church. There are growing opportunities for effective local and global peacemaking. It is possible to be both biblically conservative and ethically radical in terms of social justice.
Modern democracies must provide a level playing field for the operative belief systems in their societies. Religion will continue to offer the tradition, connection, community and authority that can help to guide our ethical choices as a society.
There are significant kernels of insight here that require further exploration in a popular, more substantive presentation on the future of religion.
(Rev. Dr. Wayne Holst is a writer who has taught religion and culture at the University of Calgary.)