Many today think the world is getting better. In some respects, this is certainly true.
Technology continues to improve making our lives easier and more convenient. The spread of capitalism and free(er) markets across the developing world has managed to reduce global poverty from 36% in 1990 to only 10% in 2015.
A remarkable 130,000 people were brought out of poverty every single day during this time period.
A spiritual decline
All of these are very good things that demonstrate a clear material improvement. However, the spiritual side of things, particularly in the West, has taken a beating in recent decades.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that religious affiliation in has decreased substantially over the past 40 or so years. In Canada, in the year 1971, only a mere 4% of Canadians did not identify with any religion. Fast forward to 2011, and that number has jumped to 29%, according to Pew Research.
A decrease charity
This downturn in religion directly correlates with a decline in charitable giving and volunteerism in Canada. Studies have consistently shown that religious people donate more money and volunteer more of their time than their non-religious neighbors.
A Statistics Canada report from 2017 shows this to be the case, documenting Canada’s decreased volunteerism and charity over the past 15 years, particularly in the more secular provinces of B.C. and Quebec.
What is our Canadian identity?
In addition to our decrease in civic engagement, the question of our national identity is more and more up for debate, particularly after our Prime Minister dubbed Canada as a “post-national state” with “no core identity.”
While these sentiments may cause the average Canadian to bristle and even take offense, Trudeau’s remarks do reflect the current Canadian state.
We often hear from the more progressive Canadians, including our dear Prime Minister, that “diversity is our strength.” While this may be true, in the sense that greater strength can be derived from a greater amount of sources, it can only be of use if done under a set of common values or goals.
Lack of common values
What are these values exactly? Well, that’s a topic of intense political debate and one that played a big role in the last federal election.
While it is reasonable to expect a near constant debate around the periphery of these values, the larger problem is the lack of core purpose for the people of Canada as a whole.
Who are we as Canadians? What is our role in the world? What makes us unique? What common values do we all hold? Where do our rights come from? What responsibilities do these rights entail?
These were difficult questions to answer back in the early years of Canada already where a common Judaeo-Christian ethic was held. In today’s diverse and increasingly secular Canada, such questions are nearly impossible to answer.
A return to religion and responsibility
If we want to reach any sort of consensus on this important matter, a return to religion and a common purpose is needed.
The three Abrahamic faiths as well as Sikhism all stress the importance of charity and giving to those in need. A revival of these faith traditions would lead to a much more engaged Canadian citizenry and renewed sense of purpose and commonality among us all.
However, a return to a more religious Canada is not the only solution. For those Canadians who are skeptical of religion and feel this is not an option, even an increase personal responsibility and civic engagement would go a long way to improving our Canadian commonality.
The Peterson effect
Judging by the success of Canadian psychologist and lecturer Jordan Peterson, there’s certainly a desire for this increase in responsibility.
Peterson’s core message of “clean up your room” and getting one’s act together by “treating yourself as someone you are responsible for helping” has resonated with people both here in Canada and across the globe.
His message has gained particular traction amongst young people, especially men, who have been starved of any sort of moral guidance or purpose in their lives.
In a time where depression, anxiety and and other mental health challenges are on the rise in today’s youth, Peterson’s straightforward message of “you can be better than you were yesterday” carries a lot of weight in a world that tell teens that “they’re perfect just the way they are.”
Bringing it home
While these are broader trends throughout much of the Western world, they still hold true for us here in Canada.
All of us, religious and secular alike, would do well to increase our levels of charity and civic engagement, both for the good of our fellow Canadians and for our national identity and purpose as a whole.
A greater focus on the responsibilities we hold as Canadians, rather than the constant fixation on the various rights we have, will allow us to live a more meaningful and engaged life as citizens of this great country we call Canada.