Presenting a Secular Perspective at a Catholic Conference
The Cardus Institute is “a non-partisan, faith-based think tank and registered charity dedicated to promoting a flourishing society through independent research, robust public dialogue, and thought-provoking commentary.” Its employees are primarily Catholic, and its mission is to “translate the richness of the Christian faith tradition into the public square for the common good.” In other words, though both CFIC and Cardus seek to improve Canadian society, our goals are diametrically opposed — CFIC supports reason, science, and secular values, while Cardus seeks to inject more Christianity into our culture.
Last month Cardus held its third “Decretum Symposium,” and I was invited to be a speaker on the topic of human dignity, from a secular perspective. (If you’re interested, you may read my prepared remarks and my summary of the meeting .) I felt, to borrow some Biblical imagery, a bit like Daniel thrown into the lion’s den. Though I believe strongly in the mission of CFIC , it is not my profession, and it is one of several interests I pursue in my (relatively scant) free time. Attendees at this conference, however, put their faith (primarily Catholicism, though there were representatives from other religions present) foremost in their lives.
I was surprised at how defensive many people were — they felt that being a believer is taboo in Canada today, and that they are a small group of believers pushing back against a rising tide of secular practice and non-belief. It was an interesting parallel to some conversations I’ve had with CFIC members, who feel similar about being “outed” as an atheist.
Nonetheless, there is one key way in which CFIC and Cardus could not be more different: resources. While both are national organizations, CFIC depends entirely on volunteers to do our good works. Cardus has dozens of employees, including Andrew Bennett, former head of Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom (with whom CFIC worked to ensure the rights of non-believers were respected alongside those of persecuted religious minorities) and Ray Pennings, whose name I first encountered nearly a decade ago when I started writing on secular topics (I rebutted a couple of his published articles ). CFIC operates on a shoestring budget, dependent on memberships and many small donations to keep the organization solvent; the symposium was held at the Rideau Club, one of Ottawa’s most prestigious (and, I assume, expensive) locations.
I respect Cardus for inviting me to their conference. It was a good faith offer to give attendees the opportunity to learn about how secularists approach topics of morality and ethics from a considered, grounded philosophical worldview. And I thank the members of CFIC for their efforts to promote reason, science, and secular values. It will take our continued efforts to ensure these continue to be the basis of public policy. It is always worth remembering that intelligent, well educated, highly connected, and well-funded people and institutions are working diligently to promote a very different agenda.
This article appears in the November 2019 version of Critical Links.