Religion in the Ranks is a study of religion in Canada today. It attempts to examine and document the various forms and place of religion in one modern Canadian institution: the Canadian Forces. My selection of the military as the focus of this study is significant on a number of levels and begs some explanation.
First of all, the Canadian military, although relatively small in comparison with other forces around the world (there are approximately 100,000 members in Canada's military compared to a total force of nearly three million in the United States), is perhaps the most prominent way we are known to others in global society. In their various roles as peacekeepers, combatants, and humanitarian aid and disaster relief providers, military personnel represent Canada wherever they go in the world. A number of studies point to the growing concern that young people in Canada are becoming 'illiterate' about world religions (Bibby and Posterski 1985; Seljak 2005; Sweet 1997). It is ironic that one of Canada's primary institutions, facing volatile religious elements elsewhere in the world, is composed largely of young people with very little knowledge about the beliefs of others. Furthermore, as Canada becomes increasingly pluralistic, their lack of understanding about religion will pose increasing difficulty for those within the CF who must work closely with others who are active in a faith tradition. Along with the possibility that they may not share the values and religious heritage of many of their peers in the ranks, there is significant likelihood of discrimination and harassment owing to differences in values and customs stemming from religious beliefs.
As with other Canadian institutions, the military is subject to all legal and policy obligations for the protection of religious rights and freedoms. And, as in other areas of Canadian society, there is increasing evidence of religious diversity among military personnel (although, because the military does not compile statistics on religious affiliation, precise data is not available). Unlike in other institutions, however, because personnel agree to subjugate their personal rights to the security needs of the nation, religious rights and freedoms may not be as easy to ensure in all situations at all times. As a result, both religious practitioners and providers have had to be adaptable in order to accommodate their personal beliefs and practices into military life. Learning more of the experiences of those who have found ways to participate fully while also remaining true to their personal values is helpful for other contexts where rules and obligations are pitted against rights and freedoms. The most obvious examples in this category are prisons, detention and rehabilitation centres, and institutions dedicated to the service of the aged, or the mentally or physically infirm.
A third reason for examining the Canadian Forces is that, unlike the majority of Canadian institutions where public expressions of religion have been minimized or removed altogether, our military retains a very public religious presence through its chaplaincy branch. The chaplaincy is unusual in a number of ways that I examine in chapters 2 and 3, but perhaps most significantly because of the integral role chaplains play in facilitating both institutional objectives and the rights of individuals. Inevitably because of this, analysis of the chaplains and the chaplain branch makes up a significant portion of this research. As with my previous point above, insights into the military chaplains' role can help us to understand and identify other ways of serving special-needs populations in Canada and providing for the rights of those obliged to live in institutions.
Finally, studying religion in the military is remarkable because of the concept of unlimited liability. I examine this idea in chapter 4, but, essentially, unlimited liability refers to a member's commitment to put his or her own life in jeopardy (or take the life of another) in the course of duty. This reality of military obligation gives us the old adage 'there are no atheists in foxholes,' which comes to us from an era when religion held greater prominence in society. Sociological interpretations of statistics on religion in Canada show that many people today realize their beliefs differently from their grandparents and imply that, for many people, religious identity has become a means of expressing culture (Bibby 2002, 79-88; Bibby and Posterski 1985; Statistics Canada 2004a). While the vast majority of military personnel are from regions of Canada where Christianity is the dominant religion, their youth (17-24 is the average age range of new recruits) and the fact that they are predominantly males make them among those most likely in Canada to identify themselves as having 'no religion.' These secular young men join the CF for various reasons, including opportunities for adventure, camaraderie, education, and good pay, as well as a sense of duty and a desire to uphold Canadian values and interests. Despite these advantages, the inherent risk of military duty remains significant.
In 2003 Lieutenant General Romeo Dallaire published his book Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. In this book, Dallaire describes his experiences as the leader of a UN peacekeeping mission during the 1994 Rwandan Genocide that, despite his vast command experience, affected him so profoundly that he made several attempts to take his own life following his return to Canada.
I found his frequent use of religious language to describe his experiences somewhat surprising. His repeated description of the genocidaires as 'the devil' seemed an unlikely description coming from someone of such important standing in a modern secular Canadian institution. Reading his story gave me cause to wonder if religion might not take on increased significance for Canadian military personnel facing dangerous and disturbing missions. I wanted to know if religion takes on greater meaning when personnel are away on a mission and whether religion might, as implied by Dallaire's repeated references to it in his book and speaking engagements, represent a resource for coming to terms with traumatic experiences.
Given this environment, even if statistics and surveys on religion in the military had been available (they were not), it seemed more plausible that the best way to learn about the religious interests and insights of the largely secular, duty-bound, yet adventurous young people who make up the Canadian Forces would be to ask them directly about their personal religious and spiritual interests and their opinions about the role these beliefs play in relation to their military duties and in the CF in general.