October 1998
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Canadian Content Part IV: Religion

By John Hansen

Religiously speaking, Canada has many things in common with our neighbour to the south. The major religion in each country is Christian and we tend not kill each other over religious differences, as other nations do. Canada, on the other hand, is majorly Roman Catholic where the U.S. is Protestant and there isn't the tradition of tent revivalism that exists in the U.S. as well, although it exists.

One Protestant sect up here is my own church, The United Church of Canada, which is basically an amalgam of the Congregational and Methodist Churches. As Canada's largest Protestant domination, the United Church has attracted its share of controversy over the years.

First it came to the decision to ordain openly gay ministers (it was up the congregation to accept them or not). Then, some more liberal churches began performing same-sex wedding ceremonies. More recently, our Moderator (a combination spiritual head and administrator) openly questioned the divinity of Jesus Christ. In his view, maybe Jesus was just a really nice guy. In effect, the United Church is actually an agnostic church.

This isn't to say we don't have our share of charming kooks like, say, Heaven's Gate or the Branch Davidians. Canada is no stranger to bizarre cults. Most recently, several Canadian members of the Solar Temple cult were found dead of an apparent suicide pact ordered by their leader Joseph di Mambro. He decided his child Emmanuel was born of immaculate conception and was therefore the Christ-child. When another couple named their kid Emmanuel, he declared him to be the Antichrist and had the family killed. In the words of their deputy leader Luc Jouret, "Liberation is not where human beings think it is. Death can represent an essential stage of life." And how.

Another less hazardous cult is the Raelian Religion. This French-born cult has a beachhead in Quebec and are run by a kindly gentleman named simple Rael. He teaches us that aliens told the story of the Bible to ancient man but as they were primitive, they worshipped the aliens as gods. How does he know? The aliens told him, of course. They also told him that we were created using DNA from scientists from another world (a key plot point in 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'), they'll be needing an embassy, and that Rael should have his way with the ladies of the cult. Some religions never change.

While we don't have the Pat Robertson's 700 club channel, Canada does have an interfaith TV station called Vision. This channel, while including televangelists (they pay the bills), tends to open up their airwaves to every minor religion under the umbrella term "spirituality." This can include updates on Zoroastrianism, Hindu religious programming including updates from Bollywood, and, every Halloween, Pagans telling us how Halloween is their holiday and that they're sick of being called Satanists - who, by the way, are the only religious group NOT represented on Vision. Did I mention they run "Highway to Heaven"?

While statistically speaking Canadians are less fundamentally religious than Americans, we do have our moments of religious fervour. We just fervour more quietly.

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