A defining moment in Western history was the Age of Enlightenment, a philosophical movement that dominated Europe in the 18th Century. During this period, thinkers challenged codified social and cultural norms in the name of skepticism and human reasoning.
It was a time which saw questions being posed against the status quo. Powerful institutions were critiqued for their sway and how they used it. The Church was among those institutions whose authority over society and politics was questioned thoroughly. These challenges helped to bring about secularism, the official separation of church and state, religion and government.
While Western liberal democracies continue to uphold the values of secularism as being a primary force encoded into their very structures, there remain a few eye-catching anachronisms.
On May 10, the House of Commons debated a motion calling to end the practice of the Speaker reading a prayer before each sitting day. The motion was sponsored by Bloc Québécois MP Martin Champoux, who suggested a “moment of reflection” instead. The next day, the motion was defeated by the Conservative Party and all but one Liberal.
Reasons given for votes against the motion included the priorities of Canadians being more focused on other issues such as social mobility, housing, affordability, economic inflation, and the war in Ukraine.
Fair enough. Perhaps now was not the best time to prioritize the daily prayer, but if not today, then when?
You can only kick a can down the street for so long before there is nowhere left to go, or you are forced to retread old ground. The question of the daily prayer may return with a vengeance one day. Until that day arrives, we can still critically examine the practice and its place in modern times.
The daily prayer has been read out in the House of Commons since 1877, but formally codified as standard procedure in 1927. Both years fall outside the accepted period in which the Age of Enlightenment occurred. Cementing the worship of one particular religion’s supreme deity as a norm following a massive intellectual movement that challenged said religion’s dominance over life does not sound overly enlightened.
Further bringing into question the necessity of daily prayer is the religious demographics of Canada. Not every Canadian is of any denomination of Christianity. In fact, a growing number of us are reporting a lack of religious affiliation and participation, something that MP Champoux cited that the House “respects the beliefs and non-beliefs of all parliamentarians and of the general public.”
This is not just an appeal to the diverse number of faiths that are present in this country, it is also a reflection of the increasing lack of influence that Christianity has.
The motion is not mandating atheism or antitheism when suggesting that the daily prayer be scrapped. Strawmanning like that drives the conversation nowhere productive. Culture and traditions evolve with society, albeit at a slower pace more often than not.
Eventually, some traditions reach a point where they become so archaic that they outlive whatever explanations were synthesized as justifications. Keeping the daily prayer to the Christian God in the lower house of a country that is no longer as beholden to the Church as it once was may very well soon lose the last of its own raisons d’être and be relegated to the historical annals.