November 2019

Interesting Facts About Religion in Canada
Quebec recently put a law into place regarding religious expression in public, so it may prove valuable to learn some facts regarding religion in Canada.

Quebec recently put a law into place regarding religious expression in public, so it may prove valuable to learn some facts regarding religion in Canada.

A few months ago, the Canadian province of Quebec put a new law into place regarding religion. The regulation states that no public employees are allowed to wear or display items of religious significance. This move has caused a lot of criticism from the people, with many arguing that the law seems to specifically target Muslim women who are required by religion to wear head coverings while in public. The law has also started a dialogue about religion in Canada and unearthed some interesting facts about how people identify on a religious level.

Take a moment to explore these facts on religious worship in Canada. A little insight may be able to provide you with a greater understanding of current controversial laws and regulations.

Religion Is Less Present

One of the most interesting discoveries unearthed by recent conversations is that religion does not seem to be important for many people. According to a number of studies conducted throughout 2018 and 2019, roughly 64% of adults polled stated that religion seemed to be less important than it was 20 years earlier. Overall, the individuals who provided information for the studies felt that public life was no longer dictated by religion in the ways that it had been when they were younger. The studies do not, however, include facts on whether citizens feel this shift is good or bad.

Christianity Is Still the Top Religion

Recent years have seen a number of news stories centered around the growing Muslim population in Canada. While certain regions may have higher numbers of followers of Islam, the overall consensus is that Christianity is still the predominant religion in the country. A vast majority of citizens identify as either Christian, Catholic, or Protestant. While other religions are growing in popularity throughout Canada, these studies suggest that less than 8% of the population identifies as Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist.

No Opinion

Interestingly, a large number of citizens seem to not identify with any particular religious movement. Studies suggest that there are growing numbers of individuals who refer to themselves as agnostics, atheists, or totally not connected with any religious group. In 1971, only 4% of Canadians identified as religiously unaffiliated. As of 2018, that figure has jumped to 16%. Overall, it seems younger Canadians are more likely to turn away from religious groups than the generations before them.

Few Restrictions

Some nations, like the United States of America, are known for religious troubles. In America, the “separation of church and state” has caused endless laws and regulations to be implemented in order to keep these entities apart. Canada, on the other hand, does not have the same history. Despite the new regulations banning religious symbols, Canada has very few government restrictions on religion. In fact, most organizations are willing to cater to religious individuals.

One example of this comes from the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Years ago, the organization changed its uniform policies on religious grounds. According to its bylaws, members of the police are required to wear hats while working. As Sikh men began to apply for the job, an issue arose. Sikh men are required by their religion to wear turbans. To avoid any problems, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police granted Sikh men the ability to wear turbans instead of hats and still be considered in uniform.

Shifting Attitudes 

Religious attitudes in Canada have changed greatly over the last few decades. With new laws being put into place dictating when and where a public worker can display religious symbols, it is important to understand some facts about religion in Canada. In order to help create an environment that is more inclusive to all, give yourself time to understand the current religious landscape in your country.

Jewish Perspectives on Mental Health
Religions haven’t always handled mental illness with compassion and kindness, but how do modern Jewish Canadians deal with such challenges?

Religions haven’t always handled mental illness with compassion and kindness, but how do modern Jewish Canadians deal with such challenges?

The Canadian Mental Health Association states that one in five Canadians is impacted by mental illness each year. With Canada’s estimated 392,000 Jewish people comprising about 1% of the population, many Jewish individuals will also face mental health challenges. Religions haven’t always handled mental illness with compassion and kindness, but how do modern Jewish Canadians deal with such challenges? Answering this question requires an overall look at mental health in Canada and Jewish perspectives on the issue from both the past and present.

Mental Health Issues in Canada

Mental health in Canada is a complex picture. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) estimates around 8% of adults will suffer from major depression and 5% with suffer from anxiety disorders. Even direr is the CMHA’s revelation that at least 50% of Canadians will have experienced mental illness by age 40, but nearly half of individuals dealing with anxiety or depression never seek professional help. While these figures are disturbing, they’re due to many factors, including lack of access to care, stigmas surrounding mental illness, and fear of discrimination.

Historical Jewish Perspectives

My Jewish Learning explains that classical Jewish texts encompass a wide range of viewpoints on mental illness. The Tanakh contains several Hebrew words that are often translated as “madness.” One key word from Deuteronomy is “shigaon,” an antecedent for the modern Yiddish term “meshuggeneh” that means “crazy.” This state of mind is framed as divine punishment for failing to heed God’s word. The Talmud discusses concepts such as mental competency in legal contexts, and the word “shoteh” denotes someone who is severely detached from reality.

On the other hand, it’s been suggested figures such as King David, Job, Hannah, and Elijah may have struggled with depression. These individuals are usually depicted in a more compassionate light. Chabad mentions the term “machalat hanefesh,” which refers to mental illness and is translated as “illness of the soul.” While it may not accurately reflect the involvement of the brain and body, this phrase can describe the depths of suffering that people experience.

Fighting Stigmas, Finding Answers

Nearly every religious or cultural community contains negative beliefs about mental illness. Some examples in contemporary English words include “crazy,” “idiot,” or “nutcase.” Dr. Neal A. Lester at Tolerance.org breaks down how these are damaging and ableist, describing the ways in which they can potentially dehumanize people with mental health struggles.

While similar stigmas exist within Jewish communities, there also seems to be a greater overall openness towards mental health challenges and solutions. My Jewish Learning discusses a few studies revealing that Jewish people tended to exhibit more positive attitudes towards counseling, psychotherapy, and other forms of professional mental health assistance. The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism published the Reform Movement’s position on mental health, which calls for several objectives in government, synagogues, religious schools, youth programs, and communities to help those with mental health challenges:

  • Destigmatizing mental illness
  • Training and education
  • Greater community support
  • Better access to housing and care
  • Ensuring fair treatment, safety, and legal rights of mentally ill prisoners
  • Ending workplace discrimination
  • Increased focus on prevention and treatment

Changes are occurring within Orthodox Jewish communities as well. One key objective is removing harmful stigmas, which can lead to isolation and secrecy. Advocacy groups are taking the lead, such as Relief, which researches providers and offers referrals, and Chazkeinu, offering peer-led support for Jewish women.

Chemlah: Compassion and Mercy

While stigmas surrounding mental illness still remain, many Canadian Jewish communities strive to eliminate them and help those impacted receive the assistance they need. “Chemlah” is a Hebrew word that can reflect compassion in a divine sense, especially towards those who are vulnerable. Such compassion is essential to bring about understanding, support, and healing.