(an article for the September 1994 Deep Cove Crier)What is it that B.Cers really want most in life? According to the results of Project Can85, 95% of B.Cers say that freedom is very important. Other top values are happiness (93%), family life (88%), being loved (85%), friendship (85%), comfortable life (63%), and success (56%). Dr. Reginald Bibby, the well-known Canadian sociologist and author, recently wrote a very challenging book about the poverty and potential of life in Canada, entitled Mosaic Madness (Stoddart, 1990). Bibby suggests that "our current emphasis on choice in Canada has blurred the distinction between toleration and advocation. Our major institutions - the media, the school, government, and even religion - have been saying less and less about better and best possibilities. Young Canadians especially have been among the losers."
Bibby challenges us to re-examine whether or not we as Canadians still have enough common values to "glue us together" as a nation. In Canada, says Bibby, the time has come to address a centrally important question, both as a country and as individuals relating to each other in various spheres of life: if what we have in common is our diversity, do we really have anything in common at all? Bibby believes that "...excessive individualism and relativism may well be two of the most serious threats to social life in Canada." According to Education specialists Robert Patterson and Nick Kach, "...television, especially, has become the purveyor of values, beliefs and knowledge." 20% of our waking hours as Canadians is currently devoted to sitting in front of the TV set. And since Canadians give 60% of their TV viewing time to U.S. programs, we are more and more affected by the tremendous American emphasis on both individualism and relativism. Bibby argues that "such an imbalance in favour of the individual is putting a serious strain on relationships of all kinds. Friendships, marriages, family life, work ties, and local, national, & global citizenship are among the potential casualties."
Is there anything left that we as Canadians still commonly believe in, in our relativistic and pluralistic culture? Is everything really just a matter of subjective preferences and personal opinion? Bibby comments that "Relativism has slain moral consensus. It has stripped us of our ethical and moral guidelines, leaving us with no authoritative instruments with which to measure social life...we (have) triumphantly discarded the idea that there are better and best choices in favour of worshipping choice as an end in itself." If there is anything that tends to be deified in our contemporary Canadian culture, it is Choice. Choice is an important value among other values such as life, responsibility, truth, accountability, and well-being. But when Choice becomes absolutized as the supreme value by which all other values are measured, then Choice becomes a tyrant and an oppressor of our very humanity. The ancient belief was that "the truth will set you free". The new mythology is that choice will set you free. Our Canadian ancestors believed that there was such a thing as truth. Now in our pluralistic and relativistic culture, the concept of truth is seen as embarrassing at best, or even dangerous to our social well-being. As Bibby puts it, "An emphasis on ‘truth’ and ‘right’ is replaced by an emphasis on ‘viewpoint’ and ‘what’s right for you’...We have substituted the mindless acceptance of truth with the mindless acceptance of relativism."
Ingrown and Self-absorbed...
One of the more problematic consequences of moral relativism is pervasive social apathy. As Bibby puts it, "The message that the availability of options sometimes seems to convey is that it makes little difference what choices one makes." One of the direct results of this excessive individualism has been a dulling of our inclination as Canadians to care. Our personal giving as Canadians to charity is down from 1.1% of our income in 1969 to just 0.8% of our income in 1985. Our corporate business giving to charity is also down from 0.7% to 0.4% of profits. Although our self-image as Canadians is that of being caring and generous, our personal giving is only 1/3rd of American per capita giving, and our corporate giving per company is less than a 1/4 of American corporate giving. Interestingly enough, the most generous Canadians in giving to charity live in one of the poorest regions: Atlantic Canada. Why are Canadians as a whole becoming less generous and caring? Bibby holds that "Individualism gone wild accelerates self-absorption and eliminates compassion....In the face of rampant individualism, people across the country need to be reminded of an important basic fact: in order to experience well-being, Canadians need each other."
The True North Strong and Free...
We seem to be embarrassed as Canadians to affirm our heritage that unites us, our corporateness that defines us as more than just individuals. One by one we are stripping our Canadians institutions of their distinctive cultural heritage and identity. As a result, says Bibby, "what is left in Canada is a value system that contains nothing that marks it as exclusively Canadian. No history or heroes give it legitimacy." In this International Year of the Family, most media reports on the family seem focused on dismantling and redefining the family, rather than encouraging the "home team". As Bibby puts it, "Do we have any vision of the family life in Canada?...Do we have any dreams or have individualism and relativism made them obsolete?" Reginald Bibby holds that the answer to excessive individualism and relativism lies in the rediscovery of the balance between the individual and the group, and the need to pursue the best. Such issues are issues of ethics and truth, issues Bibby says that the churches need to wake up to and address. I believe that Dr. Reginald Bibby has given us a profound challenge as Canadians: are we to be a people that believe that truth will set you free or alternately that choice will set you free? Pontius Pilate cynically said to Jesus "What is truth?" Then he slaughtered Jesus and tried to wash the blood off his hands. My prayer for each person reading this article is that the truth will set us free.
The Reverend Ed Hird
Rector, St. Simon’s Anglican Church
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