In a column I wrote in October 2009, "Quitting the Conservatives", I mentioned that one of my reasons for fleeing the conservative movement was the increasing pervasiveness and dominance, carried over from the Reform movement, of social conservatism heavily imbued with right-wing Christian fundamentalism.
A party dedicated to blindly doling out tax cuts and stroking the outsized egos of corporate masters was becoming more comfortable with theocracy.
There's been a lot of God Talk and Politics in the media in the past few days. On Monday, Toronto's mayoral candidates were hosted by the Toronto Area Interfaith Council. Right-wing candidate Rocco Rossi declared that "city hall has left God". Which god, Rossi didn't say. The candidates attempted to out-righteous each other, some embracing the idea of an official interfaith week or day.
On Tuesday, Marci McDonald's "The Armageddon Factor: the Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada" was released. Based on her 2006 article for the Walrus, McDonald explores the rise of the Christian right, its influence on the Harper government, and how we should be aware of the impact Christian theocons are having on Canadian society.
Christian fundamentalist treatment of abortion and gay pride
Also earlier in the week was the Conservative government's announcement that funding for Toronto's gay pride parade was terminated. Conservative messaging went into high gear, declaring that last year's funding of roughly $400,000 was merely part of two-year stimulus funding with year one going to urban festivals and year two to rural shindigs. Except the junior Minister who doled out the cash to Pride Toronto in 2009 was punished by no longer being able to give out grants. The Conservatives have rarely tried too hard to conceal their contempt for gay pride and one suspects Conservative motives are founded in an effort to please their right-wing Christian base.
The same might hold true for the Harper government position on abortion. Refusing to include it in a maternal health package for developing nations is not a refusal based on sound evidence, but on ideology. Ignoring the thousands of women in Africa who die as the result of botched back-alley abortions, for Harper and co, their policies are predicated on evangelical zealotry.
Evangelicals and the Harper government
Evangelicals, although a statistically small group, punch far above their weight thanks to cronies in the Harper government. These include Deputy Chief of Staff Darrell Reid who denounced abortion and same-sex marriage while president of Focus on the Family in Canada; Conservative MP David Sweet, former CEO of the right-wing Christian Promise Keepers; and Conservative MP Maurice Vellacott, who believes in young earth creationism and has been involved with the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada and Focus on the Family. Federal Science Minister, Gary Goodyear, has avoided questions on evolution for, according to him, religious reasons.
Charles McVety, the voice of evangelicals in Canada, has boasted about having a hotline into Harper's office. And recently McVety flexed his special interest muscles and frightened Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty into abandoning an updated sex-ed program for Ontario schoolchildren; a program lauded by many health professionals and parents. Incidentally, McVety calls himself "Dr" although his "Doctor of Ministry" is not from an accredited institution. His BA and MA were "earned" at Canada Christian College, a school that once had its right to grant degrees revoked, until McVety, head of the CCC since 1993, got the evangelical and conservative MPP Frank Klees to pass a motion giving the CCC degree granting authority once again. What's sinfully rich about the latest McVety scheme is that he, representing a special interest, decried the influence of "special interests" in the development of the sex-ed program. McVety, like many of his flat-earther, civil war re-enacting brethren, never lets the facts get in the way of an argument.
The growing influence of the Christian right in Canadian politics is leading toward a narrow and exclusive view of society. We are foolish and naïve if we presume this group will never have the clout held by their cousins in the US. According to Marci McDonald, they are becoming savvier users of social media and often launch op-ed and letter writing campaigns in the mainstream media. If those opinions many would consider wickedly intolerant and brimming with hate appear often enough, it gives the impression that these are more mainstream than fringe.
Role of religion in the public square
What about the role of religion in the public square? Canada does not have a formal separation of church and state, but many Canadians seem to appreciate a more inclusive and secular approach to policy, law-making, and governance. But the debate held by the Toronto Area Interfaith Council indicated that the mayoral candidates were largely amenable to having religious groups more involved in public policy.
There's a difference between listening to the voices of religious groups and allowing them to directly influence policy or deliver public services (I oppose the publicly funded Catholic school system in Ontario, but that's a discussion for another post). The former is part of any healthy democracy, where each of us, individually or part of organizations, participate in the public arena. I may not like what you have to say, but I support your right to say it. The latter is undemocratic. Just as progressives bristle, and rightly so, at corporate influence on government policy, we should have a similar reaction when an unrepresentative, unelected group exercises the levers of power.
One in four Canadians aren't religious and most of this 25 percent don't believe in supernatural, omniscient deities. Yet our federal government, recently the Ontario government, and to a lesser degree Toronto's future mayor, act is if we humanists, freethinkers, atheists, agnostics, naturalists, etc don't exist.
A theocratic state?
It's not just those of us who aren't religious who should be concerned. For those who are religious, I suspect many of them have no desire to see a theocratic Christian state, based on the laws in the Pentateuch, take root in Canada.
McVety and his cheerless band's vision for Canada, one embraced by some in Harper's caucus, is one of intolerance. It is a dark ages notion where superstition reigns, where other beliefs and no beliefs are scorned, slandered and openly loathed, and where progressive causes and social justice are stamped out under a theocratic boot - exactly the kind of society, when found in some middle east nations, that gives evangelicals the vapours.
This twisted vision of Canada must never become a reality.
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