This is a spiritual season, as an entire genre of storytelling has been created to point out. Find your family, be generous to others, eat well and follow the traditions, but don’t sweat the size of the tree, Charlie Brown.
Most of us can unite around such simple precepts, whether in the celebration of Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year’s or just a few extra days off. But life goes on, and the headlines reveal the rifts between our best intentions and our actions. With this in mind, members of The Globe’s Faith Exchange panel convened to discuss the spirit of the season.
Lorna Dueck has been reporting on Christian practice in Canadian life for the past 20 years. She is an evangelical Christian and host of the TV program Context with Lorna Dueck, seen Sundays on Global TV at 9:30 a.m. ET and Vision TV at 12:30 p.m. ET.
Sheema Khan writes a monthly column for The Globe and Mail. She has a master’s degree in physics and a PhD in chemical physics from Harvard. She is the author of Of Hockey and Hijab: Reflections of a Canadian Muslim Woman.
Peter Stockland is director of media services for Cardus, a think tank that seeks to renew North American social architecture. He is also publisher of Convivium magazine, which explores the role of faith in our common life. He writes a regular column for The Catholic Register.
Rabbi Howard Voss-Altman has been serving Temple B’nai Tikvah, Calgary’s Reform Jewish congregation, for the past 10 years. He is a community leader in the areas of human rights and civil liberties.
Moderator Guy Nicholson is an editor in The Globe’s Comment section. He professes no religious beliefs.
Guy Nicholson: Thanks for joining us, panelists. My hope for today’s discussion is to find spiritual questions with a seasonal theme in the stories we’ve been following this year.
A wide-ranging debate has broken out over the philosophy and practical implications of Canadian foreign aid. Meanwhile, domestic charitable giving has increased marginally after years of stagnation and decline. Individually, what do we get from giving?
Sheema Khan: I think we gain a lot. We learn to loosen the yoke of selfishness and greed, and gain in humility by the reminder that these worldly possessions are bounties from God, and that value lies not in the possessions themselves but how we share them. In Islam, the worthiness of deeds is determined by one’s intentions, and the highest intention is to seek the pleasure of God alone. So when Muslims engage in acts of charity, we are often reminded to purify intentions (so as not to seek credit, glory, thanks etc.), and to pray that the Almighty accepts our humble deeds.
Howard Voss-Altman: In Judaism, we are commanded by God to give as a matter of principle. Giving – to the poor, the aged, the orphan – is a religious obligation, regardless of our own personal health and welfare. So even when our crops are not as abundant, and even when our bank account is not quite as fruitful as we would like, we are still required to give. It is the act of giving that is essential, and it reminds us that we are all connected to each other, in community with God.
Peter Stockland: What do we get? Nothing. I think that’s the point. If you’re giving to get, you’re negotiating.
Guy Nicholson: Peter, if we get nothing from giving, why do we do it without being compelled?
Peter Stockland: We were all given a random gift. It’s called life. To me, that creates a bond with others – I wouldn't say a compulsion, though – to willingly pay that gift back, as we are able, for as long as we have life.
Howard Voss-Altman: I like the idea of compulsion – “commandedness,” as we say in Judaism. If I feel a sense of obligation or requirement, giving will become habitual, a part of my daily or weekly routine. Such giving keeps me connected with the larger community, and creates a sense of interdependence that is critical to positive and just relationships.
In response to Peter’s claim of “nothing,” our giving creates the possibility of a more just, more compassionate world. A major reward, don’t you think?
Peter Stockland: No, I don’t think that’s a reward. I think it’s an effect. I think it’s a good. But not a reward. Again, that’s bargaining.
Howard Voss-Altman: I don’t quite understand. How is giving – as a religious obligation – some sort of bargain? Is the implication that our “covenant” with God is a “bargain”?
Lorna Dueck: We get a better world, in the macro and within ourselves. Christianity promotes giving at Christmas because, as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, we get a chance to imitate God’s gift of a vision for a better world. This whole area of giving has become conflicted because of the consumerism that runs against Christian ideals, but there still is something of great virtue that emerges through the act of unselfishness. I think if we had to make all our giving anonymous, we might get closer to the benefits of giving.