Every Religion Needs Its Symbol – Secularism Has Chosen the Peace Tree

What is the Peace Tree?

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If you are a parent with a child in a public school and have not heard of the Peace Tree, just give it time; for good or bad it will soon be at your school. The Peace Tree movement was founded by Canadian filmmaker Mitra Sen, inspired by her award winning film The Peace Tree. In 2006, Toronto Mayor David Miller proclaimed June 1st as Peace Tree Day, and it has been gaining momentum since then as more cities and school boards adopt similar observances. The irony is that while our government continues its agenda to build a “secular” society and maintain a “secular” school system, it is incorporating its own religious imagery in order to do so. The Peace Tree symbol is now becoming a visible presence in our public schools.

As Christians, what should be our response to the Peace Tree? In particular how do we guide our children through Peace Tree activities at their school? As parents, I think it wise that we first educate ourselves so that we may guide our children. So, in what follows I want to ask and answer some questions so that we may be wise in how we act. (cf. Col. 4:5)

First, I think we should acknowledge what might be good about the Peace Tree, or at least the idea behind it. The fact is that as Canadians we live in a diverse society, with every “tribe and nation” represented. I think that’s a good thing and it is one of the features of Canada that I enjoy. It also provides us with daily opportunity to make disciples of “all nations”…literally. That we as a nation are making efforts to live together peacefully, despite our differences is also a good thing and, I will point out, was a Christian value long before it was a Canadian one. So, can we affirm efforts to teach children to live together in peace and mutual respect? Absolutely, for Jesus taught us to “love your neighbour as yourself”.

There is, however, an element that should concern us greatly, and that has to do with the underlying philosophy behind the Peace Tree. Remember Paul’s warning: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends upon human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.” (Col 2:8) We must constantly remind ourselves that ideas do not exist in a vacuum. They always come from somewhere, and where they ultimately come from is a view of reality that would purport to be truth. The danger then comes from uncritically embracing ideas because by doing so we inadvertently run the risk of embracing their underlying philosophies. So, what is the “philosophy” that stands behind the Peace Tree?

Here is a clue from the Peace Tree Day website. It’s founder Mitra Sen developed the idea for the Peace Tree when she “realized that all the Festival of Lights including Diwali, Hanukkah and Christmas had their roots in one faith and that there needed to be a festival that shared the roots of every culture and faith.” Immediately we see that the foundational idea behind the Peace Tree belongs to some form of Eastern mysticism which affirms a single source for all faiths. The image of the Peace Tree itself comes from this quote by Ghandi that can be found in various places on Peace Tree literature.

‘Even as a tree has a single trunk, but many branches and leaves, there is one religion – human religion – but any number of faiths.’

This may be a good place to remind you of a principle that I will repeat over and over again. There is no “secular” space. All space is spiritual space and the idea of creating a spiritually neutral society or school system is patently false. Perhaps without even knowing it, our public schools are in fact now teaching a time honoured Hindu doctrine. Now, the extent to which this teaching is “pushed” may vary from school to school. One of the tricky things about Eastern mysticism, especially when depicted in a symbol like the Peace Tree, is in nailing down exactly what people (i.e. teachers, school administrators, etc) mean by it. The important question Christian parent’s need to ask is, “what do my kids think it means?” So, to the extent that your own children are made to participate in Peace Tree activities, you should take time to talk about it at home so that they may be equipped to think critically at school. Here are a few questions and talking points to bring to the supper table or pillow talk before bed.  Their appropriateness may vary depending on the age and  maturity of your child.

1. What does the Peace Tree mean?

  • This question will help you see what message they are getting at school and how your own school has incorporated the Peace Tree as a symbol.
  • Some schools use the Peace Tree only to highlight cultural differences, like country of origin, customs, dress, food, etc.
    • In these respects we can affirm how interesting God has made the world by filling it with such variety.
  • Be listening, however to see if the “all religions are essentially the same” idea is being promoted. If it is, help them see that this cannot be true by reminding them of what Jesus has said.
  • e.g. – In John 14:6, Jesus says that he is the “only way” to God the Father.
    • But, Islam says that only obedience to the Quran leads to Allah (God).
    • Many Hindus believe that our spirits (atman) are identical with the “Great Spirit” (Brahman) so that truly we are indistinguishable from “God”.
    • Jews deny that Jesus was in any way the Messiah, and that the way to God is still through obeying the OT Law.
  • What is important is helping your child to see that saying “all religions are essentially the same” is false because they teach totally different things about God, and in many cases teach the exact opposite of each other and of what Jesus said. How then can religions that teach the opposite thing be teaching the same thing? They can’t…even kids can understand that.

If you don’t feel prepared, or feel that your child is not yet ready to make the kinds of critical distinctions necessary in order to see the false ideas behind the Peace Tree, you may be wise in asking for your child to be excused from Peace Tree activities.

2. How do you feel when you see Jesus’ Cross on the Peace Tree with all the other religious symbols?

  • In some schools, religious symbols aren’t even depicted on the Peace Tree; rather things like country flags and cultural symbols are highlighted, again focusing less on ‘faith’ diversity and more on ‘cultural’ diversity.
  • If religious symbols are displayed, however, use that as a time to discuss why the Cross of Jesus is different than the other religions.
  • See if your child is experiencing any confusion about what’s being taught around the Peace Tree. If they are, encourage them to try and put that confusion into words and then help them work through it.  If you don’t feel equipped to answer all their questions, affirm the importance of asking (“that’s a great question”) and tell them you will have to give it some thought.  Then, contact your pastor or even us here at Prepared to Answer; we’d love to help.

Do you think it’s right that we celebrate other religions?

  • This is a big and important point that I will write more on soon because it gets to the very heart of the Peace Tree message.
  • It’s one thing to learn about another person’s religion in order to understand it, but entirely another to enter into “embracing” or “celebrating” it.
  • Unfortunately, Peace Tree initiators do not recognize the hypocrisy in encouraging children to celebrate the observances of other religions.
  • For now, help your children understand that we should not participate in celebrating other religious traditions because those traditions actually mean something.  Here’s an example from Christianity to help illustrate:
    • Communion: Christians would never invite a non-Christian to celebrate communion because of what it represents. (i.e. My faith that Jesus’ giving of his body and blood paid for my sin). If a non-Christian thinks that is false, then inviting them to take part in communion would be asking them to participate in a lie? (i.e. Acting on the outside in a way that says they believe in Jesus, when in fact they don’t). Even more importantly, it would be causing them to sin. (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27)
  • Likewise, if we participate in a religious celebration of another faith, three things are taking place. a) We are acting as if we believe something that we think is false, which is a deception. b) We are denying that the act itself means anything, which is at the very least insulting to those for whom it does mean something. c) We are sinning against Christ by participating in the celebration of false gods. (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:14-22.

More than ever we need to listen to God’s Word and pass on His wisdom to our children. Living faithfully as a Christian in our pluralistic society can be difficult. But I am reminded often that the cultural climate of 21st century Canada is so similar to that of the 1st century Mediterranean, and that Christ has given us all we need for life and faith in any generation.

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