Unlikely Utopia: The Surprising Triumph of Canadian Pluralism

Michael Adams
Unlikely Utopia: The Surprising Triumph of Canadian Pluralism
Toronto: Viking Books. 2007.
Reviewed by Donald Goertz. May, 2008.

Unlikely Utopia is the fourth book by Michael Adams, President of the research and consulting firm Environics, best known for its polling. The book is the result of polling work done by Environics and a variety of other firms. All of the data in it has been presented in the larger media over the last few years. While Adams is not as popular in evangelical circles as the work of Reginald Bibby, his work is every bit as significant in that it is primarily focused on understanding social values. These provide another set of foundational issue and insights which do not show up in Bibby.

Adams reminds us of our natural tendencies as human beings to look at others’ experiences and apply them to our own. This is particularly true as it relates to multiculturalism. For example, we look at race riots in Paris, youth battling police in London, or violence on a beach in Sydney and assume that what is happening in these other western societies is inevitably going to happen in ours as well. He writes, "in today’s global media world, we don’t just have our bad news, we have everyone’s bad news — with pictures" (xviii). This has led to numerous articles, editorials and polls which suggest that Canadians have become concerned that our multicultural experience is not working. This sense of inevitability has led to calls from many quarters for a radical re-assessment and re-focus of our immigration strategy.

For leaders in the Missional Church this is a key concern. At the heart of an understanding of the Missio Dei is a belief that we have been given a ministry of reconciliation. This is seen on the ground when people who are historical enemies or naturally alienated are brought together. Paul speaks of the mystery of God’s will being revealed in the uniting of all things in Christ (Ephesians 1:9,10), of the death of Christ destroying dividing walls of hostility (Ephesians 2: 14-16) and, that in Christ all barriers are gone (Galatians 3: 26-29). This is not unrelated to multiculturalism, so the success of this venture is important to us.

Adams reminds us of the unique narrative that is ours. It was of interest to me to be reminded of what we actually mean by multiculturalism, as Adams’ quotes from Trudeau’s 1971 speech in Parliament outlining its goals (11). I do not think that many people today understand these as the foundational goals when we speak of our multicultural endeavour. These goals have been playing out on a highly specific landscape. While there are numerous countries which have a large national minority like the Quebecois, a number that have significant aboriginal populations, and many with sizeable foreign-born peoples, only Canada has all three (9). Taken together these make Canada’s history different than that of modern France or England. At present Canada has the highest immigration rate in the world, yet, in 2006, when asked what made them proud to be Canadian, respondents gave second place to multiculturalism; behind only our democratic structures (20). Adams reminds us that, for all of our problems, the 2007 GlobeScan survey conducted in twenty seven countries for the B.B.C. identified Canada as the most highly regarded country on the planet (3). The book is useful for Missional leaders in that it marshals large volumes of detailed data which outlines for us what is working. This allows us an opportunity to support and develop this.

Adams does not, however, avoid the problems. The book does identify the fears and concerns which are also present in the nation around immigration and the settlement of immigrants. It does this from both the perspective of the immigrant and the receiving culture. This is a valuable gift as it helps us to identify, name and explore issues that need our engagement if we truly hope to see the gospel lived out.

Unlikely Utopia also contains the results of the first large scale survey of Canada’s Muslim population. The data presented would be surprising to many Canadians. While nine out of ten Muslims were born outside of Canada, making this a very new community, it is also one which identifies itself very much with the country and its institutions, and increasingly so over time. This chapter is very significant for all of us, as the Muslim population is spread across the nation. The unfortunate thing about this section is that it does not differentiate by country of origin. One would suspect that there are significant differences for a Muslim immigrant from Pakistan, or Morocco, Indonesia or Niger. Adams uses Muslim as an overarching category with no differentiation around ethnicity or frequency of practice. I expect that this confuses issues of race and religion.

Adams’ book is well worth the read. It is both quick to get through and contains highly specific information. It is also a book which could be written in a third less space. While there are certainly many evangelicals who will grate at what they see as Adams’ overly liberal bent, it is essential that we get beyond this. Values are crucial. They shape how we act. The more we understand them, the better we will be able to live out the gospel in Canada in this time.