Making the case for public faith

Craig Savage has noticed a recent trend in attitudes toward faith in North American culture excluding it from the public sphere.

I have noticed a recent trend in attitudes toward faith in North American culture that troubles me. That trend is the exclusion of faith from the public sphere. “Faith is a private matter,” this line of thinking goes. “I don’t care what you believe, just keep it to yourself,” would also sum it up well.

In fact, when a political figure suggests that religious belief influences how they govern, some people cry foul. Professional athletes–such as football player Tim Tebow—who use their fame to promote their beliefs are often the target of scorn and ridicule. To be sure, many would also celebrate such public professions of faith, but the trend in Canada seems to be in the other direction.

While there is legal protection for such expression under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, social norms and trends have great influence to encourage or discourage religion in the public arena. From how citizens vote to how corporations spend their advertising dollars, we determine together what kind of expression will be heard by a wide audience.

However, driving faith underground as a private matter would stifle so much of what makes it meaningful to billions of people around the world. Christianity, for example, makes bold claims about the very nature of humanity and the world—how could that not affect our public lives?  If there truly is a personal God who cares about how each of us lives and even intervenes in our affairs, serious people of faith will make reference to that reality.

A corollary to the “keep it private” argument is that sharing faith for the purpose of recruiting others into it is inappropriate in today’s society. Efforts to gather more support for a faith movement are at times met with suspicion at best and outright hostility at worst.

So why do so many believers insist on sharing? Because faith helps people. Faith helps us cope with the difficult realities of life. Faith helps us aspire to something higher than ourselves.  Faith helps us to care for our family, our neighbour, and our world.

And yes, faith gives us hope of a life beyond this one. Even if no particular faith is your cup of tea, most of us would agree with the positive values that faith encourages, such as the worth of the individual and care for others above self.

Let me address one final objection to public faith. “I am all for good values,” this argument says, “but why can’t you just leave the religion part out of it? There are plenty of people who want to do good without bringing God into it.”

But why would we want to stifle beliefs that inspire people to help others? On the contrary, I believe we must encourage spiritual expression that builds up our communities.

One thing I have learned over the last three years in this small town: there are more needs than people to fill them. So if there are genuine people motivated by their faith to do some good, then let’s celebrate that!