Social Cohesion in Canada
The Bahá’í Community of Canada brings together aboriginal, French- and English-speaking peoples, illustrating a level of unity and reconciliation among these three great cultures that Canada as a whole has long aspired to achieve. Despite the very real barriers between different languages and cultures, the Bahá’í teachings and Bahá’í community life offer ways of gradually overcoming these barriers, not only by providing the necessary instruments of a bilingual community life, but more importantly by affirming the fundamental Bahá’í principle that upholds the rights of minorities and safeguards the spiritual vitality and positive social values of each distinctive cultural element in the community.
Some 18% of Canada’s Bahá’ís are of aboriginal background, with a similar percentage of first- and second-generation immigrants and refugees. Beyond mere tolerance, the Bahá’í Community of Canada believes that true religion generates bonds of love and friendship among different Canadians, bonds that go beyond the more limited achievements of public policy -- however successful such policy is in breaking down walls of mistrust and ignorance. Religion is an essential element for sustained, long-term success in building unity, respect, and understanding between the great cultures of Canada.
“Social cohesion” and “social capital” are relatively recent social-policy terms, which have to do with the level of trust, unity, and bonds of reciprocity between people in society. The higher the social cohesion or social capital, the healthier the society and its citizens generally are; and religion has demonstrated its contribution to enhancing social cohesion and capital. Focused attention now needs to be brought to bear on furthering this pillar of Canadian social life.
In some ways, of course, Canada is an instructive model of how diverse cultures can get along while still retaining the attractive and distinctive qualities of their respective cultures. Nowhere has this challenge been more dramatic than in the relationship between Canada’s French-speaking, English-speaking, and aboriginal peoples. While there is much that we can be proud of, a great deal more needs to be done in achieving reconciliation and unity between the three great sources of Canada’s cultural identity and, beyond that, in allowing for the expression of all the many cultures that are a part of Canadian life. The enormity of this challenge is evident in the economic and social gaps that still exist between members of our dominant culture and Canada’s aboriginal peoples and in the continuing isolation that separates English-speaking and French-speaking cultural life, despite the best efforts of so many dynamic and imaginative citizens from Quebec and the other provinces and territories who have worked to create intercultural harmony and understanding.
Bahá’ís feel that religion must play its part in this important historical project of Canada. Properly understood and practiced, religion is the seedbed of those values and principles that inspire people to love and embrace others different from themselves, that teach the oneness of the human family, and that set before us standards of justice that respect the dignity of each citizen and allow for the solidarity and well-being of a nation.