Tolerance of ethnic and religious diversity is one of the highest goals of Canadian society. In institutions like the military and corrections, our government provides spiritual counseling, via chaplaincy, for many spiritual backgrounds. But not all backgrounds. What has been lacking is chaplain support in these institutions for the spirituality of non-believers, the spirituality of the non-religious. Our government is failing to support the spirituality of those we might call Humanists.
A sister organization of CFIC’s — Humanist Canada — has built a program to ordain Humanist chaplains to provide the spiritual support and counseling that is mandated by the Canadian government’s commitment to support every background. As unlikely as it might seem, Humanist Canada’s chaplaincy program has recently provided the Canadian Armed Forces with its first Humanist chaplain. We are thrilled that via Humanist Canada’s chaplaincy program, Marie-Claire Khadij has become the first Humanist chaplain in our Armed Forces.
There have also been Humanist chaplains placed on campuses to support students of higher education. Tremendous news. CFIC applauds what is an excellent and essential move by the Canadian government to fulfill its mandate of supporting and counseling folks regardless of their background. But these moves are not without their detractors.
Canada’s Chaplain General has handed down an instruction concerning public ceremonies. He wrote, “For some, prayer does not play a role in their lives. Therefore, it is essential for chaplains to adopt a sensitive and inclusive approach when publicly addressing military members.” This is perfectly in line with a mandate that members of every spiritual background — even the non-religious — are supported and not alienated.
Yet this instruction has been criticized as discriminatory to traditional religious backgrounds, in particular Christianity and related faiths. However, members of such faiths continue to be afforded their particulars in non-public or specifically targeted ceremonies. This should suggest no serious reason for worry. After all, god is — as we’re always reminded — everywhere. It’s high time he were generous enough to make some space for others.
It is perhaps a surprise that there isn’t a major move to block non-religious chaplaincy on the basis that these individuals are non-religious and therefore don’t require spiritual support. We are thankful that this resistance to Humanist chaplaincy hasn’t taken the form of denying the ability of the non-religious to have a spiritual component of their lives. The religious might ask: How can someone who doesn’t have a god or a god-based ideology experience the beauties of spirituality? The answers are countless and will be different for every non-believer.
At a packed concert by a favorite artist during the performance of a favorite song — when the entire arena or stadium together belts out that much-loved chorus — that sense of grand togetherness can be spiritual. Outside the city on a camping trip, looking at the night sky — taking in the spectacular vastness and beauty of the galaxy, marveling at what we’ve managed to figure out about the universe, and impossibly considering all that we don’t yet know — that awe can be spiritual. And with Remembrance Day coming up, let’s not ignore the swell you might feel in your throat when reminded of the sacrifices made by young men you never met who risked everything to storm a beach. That gratefulness, too, can be spiritual.
If one doesn’t need a god or a religious ideology to experience spirituality, then one doesn’t need a god or a religious ideology to warrant spiritual support. Traditional chaplaincy will continue as it always has. But it’s time for a new and more inclusive paradigm that ensures the same support for those who believe in god as it does for those who do not. The religious do not hold exclusivity over spirituality. Chaplain support needs to be rolled out to all.
There is much work to be done. Other populations covered by Canadian institutions — e.g., Corrections Canada, law enforcement, first responders — are not offering chaplain services for the non-religious. Humanist Canada is in the midst of offering its chaplaincy program to Corrections Canada, in the hopes of soon — following the example of the Canadian Military — providing the proper spiritual support for all faiths and for lacks thereof.
CFIC is thrilled to support our sister organization in this important work. If you’d like to help place Humanist chaplains within Correction Canada, please voice your support for Humanist Canada’s chaplaincy program to Bridges of Canada, which “provides a continuum of therapeutic care to people who are currently incarcerated or in transition from incarceration.” Let’s get non-believers included in that continuum of therapeutic care.