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The Changing Face of Religion in the Canadian Forces

The role and nature of religion in the Canadian Forces is changing in keeping with developments in broader society. The types of missions they undertake and the experiences they undergo during these missions cause military personnel to reflect on both their personal values and the Canadian values they are sent to support. These values motivate personnel to engage in humanitarian aid efforts, and participate in projects to fight 'evil' with 'good.' Privatization of religion allows people to take what they want and reject other aspects of formal religious traditions. Personnel use these resources to help them overcome the alienation of working within a large, impersonal, bureaucratic institution. They also use them to address the sense of anomie they might experience on a deployment to a region where their own values are challenged. Religion in the military is a resource that some people rely on to help them perform their duties with greater integrity, duty, and efficiency.

Individualistic interpretations of religious meaning and purpose allow military personnel to conform their religious identity to the military ethos. At the same time, it can be a source of alienation and difference that sets believers apart from their secular peers. Despite policies intended to improve the experiences of minorities in the CF, many religious personnel still feel discouraged by the ways in which their religious beliefs set them apart from their peers. Evidence that Canadians have little knowledge about religions has serious implications for the military, given that ignorance about religious beliefs has the potential to cause inadvertent discrimination against religious minorities. On an interpersonal level, ignorance about religions can feed intolerance and lead to misunderstanding within a unit. On a grand scale, it has the potential to create significant difficulties and misunderstandings with potentially deadly results for personnel commissioned to serve in countries where religious belief is central to the culture.

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