Modernization and Religion in the CF

Some of the hallmarks of life in late modernity include the differentiation and bureaucratization of society, secularization, the rise of pluralism and the privatization of religion, individualism, and the sub- jectivation of experiences, as well as access to a variety of alternative ways of viewing the world through global culture and modern technological advances. All of these elements are evident in Canadian military society. Furthermore, all of these aspects of late modernity influence the role and nature of religious identity within that society.

Differentiation and the bureaucratization of Canadian society (including military society) resulted in the increasing separation of roles for religious and public life in Canada. Religious authorities lost their ability to impose beliefs and values through public institutions such as government and schools. In part these developments occurred in order to 'modernize' Canada in response to the demands of democracy and modern economies. Not surprisingly, many of the Christian values of both the French and English communities formed the basis of the new, putatively secular 'Canadian values' established in Canadian laws and institutions.

Differentiation occurred at the same time that many Canadians were leaving the traditional religious institutions in which they had been raised. While some of these people continued to hold on to their traditional religious identity in their private lives, they became increasingly reluctant to identify themselves publicly with a formal religious organization. In other cases they abandoned religious affiliation and belief altogether or joined different religious communities. This period of secularization and privatization of religion further de-emphasized the public role of religious authorities in Canada and elevated the rights and freedoms of individuals over traditional religious authority.

Even as numbers of Canadians departed the churches, Canadian society became more religiously diverse owing to increasing immigration from non-European countries. Furthermore, increasingly sophisticated technological advances and accessibility of international travel meant that members of religious minorities in Canada had less need to assimilate than in previous generations. As a result, many recent immigrants actually became more committed to their religious identities than they had been in their home countries and organized broad community initiatives centring on mosques, gurdwaras, and temples. Canadian commitments to multiculturalism and religious freedom as well as visible evidence of religious diversity in Canada further undermined the traditional religious influence of the Christian churches. At the same time, these developments highlighted the need for laws and policies to ensure the inclusion of members of these and other minority groups. Given that the Canadian Forces - and especially its chaplaincy - had been organized around an assumed common Christian identity (split as it was between Protestants and Roman Catholics), this diversity continues to represent a new and real challenge.

The effects of the broad social developments of modernization can be seen in the role that religion plays in the Canadian Forces. The differentiation and bureaucratization of the forces marginalized religion to one formal sphere, that is, a chaplain branch governed by policies to ensure efficiencies, maintain standards, and ensure equality for its members and those they serve. Secularization and privatization of religion meant that fewer military members were engaged in formal religious communities at the same time that religious pluralism contributed to the increasing presence of members of religious minority groups. Ironically, this meant that there was greater evidence of religious identity (through the accommodation of the uniform for religious minority personnel) at the same time that formal participation in traditional Canadian churches by others in the ranks began to wane. This will mean that conflicts over religion in the CF will no longer pit the Christian majority against religious minorities; rather, it is more likely that conflicts will centre on the demands of religious people in the face of a pervasive secular culture that ignores religion or believes that it should remain a wholly privatized affair.

Religion in the Canadian Forces then, like religion in Canada, is a product of the late modern social context from which it stems. It is differentiated, for the most part, from other aspects of military life. It reflects the secularization of wider Canadian society and gives evidence of privatized notions of belief even as numbers of participants belonging to a variety of religious communities increase. It relies first and foremost on individual and subjective interpretations of belief to govern behaviours, establish values and morals, and cope with the harsh conditions of military service.

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