The University of Ottawa, Institute of Canadian and Aboriginal Studies, put on what they called a conference and public event in May of this year entitled Restorying Canada: Reconsidering Religion and Public Memory in 2017. They invited several participants to present papers and/or speak at the event. The focus of the conference was religion and memory, with an emphasis on Canada’s Indigenous People. Topics included such subjects as Indigenous Schooling, Indigenous History, Restorying Islam and Judaism in Canada, and Canadian Atheists and Religious Nones. Margaret Atwood (CC OOnt FRSC), a respected Canadian author with many awards, was one of the invited speakers. As a humanist who writes about women oppressed by patriarchy and/or fundamentalist religion, one might expect her to be exceedingly negative toward religion in Canada. However, here is an excerpt from her speech entitled, “The Future of Religion in Canada: Utopia or Dystopia?”
"I sometimes hear the view that the world's ills are due to religions. Some people have that view. I do not agree with that view because atheist regimes have done a good job of oppressing and murdering people too. It is true that Christianity has got some dark moments. And it's had some dark moments in Canada. Dark moments of various kinds. But I don't think you can put that down to a religion. I think you can put that down to human beings behaving the way they unfortunately sometimes do - whatever religion or non-religion they may happen to have."
- Margaret Atwood, “Restorying Canada,” May 2017.
Now, Atwood is still a humanist and so we understand those words within that context, and it is refreshing to hear this statement from her. Contrary to some of her humanist and atheist contemporaries, she does not blame religion for all of the world’s ills and recognizes that human beings of all philosophical and theological varieties have a propensity for evil. Is that not what the Bible clearly says: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). These are important words for all people to hear. We are all quite capable of “behaving the way humans unfortunately do.”
Yes, Christians and the Christian religion must take responsibility for the residential school system that was so devastating to the Indigenous People of that time. Humanity in general must also take responsibility for the system. This is what makes government and religious apologies a necessary but difficult thing to do. The actual perpetrators of the system may or may not be available for the apologies; those who allowed the devastation to occur may or may not be available for the apology. Yet, the apology needs to be made to begin the reconciliation process.
I am encouraged by these humble words of Ms. Atwood. I pray that I may be humble as I consider my place in the big issues of public apologies.