Is God taboo for Quebec’s public figures?

MONTREAL, QC-When the Montreal daily La Presse set out to interview Quebec celebrities about God and faith for its Easter Sunday edition, it had to contact more than 50 musicians, artists, business leaders, athletes and politicians to find a scant dozen willing to go on the record.

Italian writer Antonio Monda's recently released book Do You Believe?, which features interviews with American cultural leaders about their faith, inspired the project. Getting Quebec celebrities to be as expressive as Americans proved to be a little more difficult.

Quebec singer and actress Isabelle Blais spoke of fond childhood memories of a faith now diluted into a wider respect for other religious traditions and wonder for the unknown.

Former Montreal mayor Pierre Bourque also spoke of early childhood faith now reduced to occasional attendance at high holidays.

"There are things I learned from Christianity, others from nature, my studies and my travels," he says. As for life after death "what remains when we are gone is the contribution we have made to society. I can't define what happens after, but I know we do not live for nothing."

According to University of Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby, Blais and Bourque are typical of one third of Quebecers who occasionally attend weddings and funerals, rarely participate in religious services and yet declare themselves firmly Catholic.

"When surveyed in other Canadian provinces, these types of people would tell us they have no religious affiliation," says Bibby.
Several respondents openly took on the tough challenges to faith.

Andrée Russo, a Quebec court judge whose controversial rulings favouring troubled children led to her 2006 resignation, reflected on the link between her faith and the hardships she witnessed.
"I had my doubts, after leaving the nuns, but I found faith again when I saw children who had been trampled, neglected, but who still managed to believe in something… I am a practicing believer, but I don't go to mass every morning. I am just as comfortable in a synagogue or a mosque."

A chemist by training, Jean-René Dufort is a science correspondent for several Quebec radio and television stations, and his articles demystifying science are widely read.

"I don't remember ever believing in God," Dufort told La Presse. "Scientists tend to ask for more answers than religion can provide…I like the definition one young participant at the Bouchard Taylor commission provided: 'Religion is a wheelchair for the mind.' For me, those who believe need reassurance, something to give them hope. I do not need to believe in some eventual reward for doing good."

According to the Pew Foundation, Dufort is among eight per cent of Quebecers who identify themselves as atheists, compared to seven per cent of Canadians and just over one and a half per cent of Americans.

The most overt declaration of faith in the La Presse article came from Haitian-born world champion boxer Joachim Alcine who has repeatedly credited God for his July 2007 victory. As for his faith, Alcine said, "I am not a believer, I am more than a believer. I respect the teachings of God…Everything is in the Bible. You can judge the value of a man by his faith."

One explanation for the apparent taboo on public affirmations of faith came from Laval University theologian Gilles Routhier.

"Quebecers have always lived in a homogenous society. During the '50s Protestants and Jews lived in parallel systems. And now the public consensus is that we rejected religion during the Quiet Revolution. We have never had to define ourselves, to define our faith, to define our faith in contrast to the faith of others. And faith has become a private dimension that we do not discuss in public, both because we do not want to break the consensus and because we don't need to affirm our convictions to anybody else."

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