The Prime Minister is a member of the Alliance Church, more specifically the Christian and Missionary Alliance. The church believes the free market is divinely inspired and views science and environmentalism with what might be called scorn.
Alberta journalist and author Andrew Nikiforuk, a Governor-General’s award winner, sees the evangelical creed as being at the root of much of Conservative policy-making in these areas – religion is trumping reason, he says. Mr. Nikiforuk is a conservationist and a Christian social conservative who has spent “many pleasant hours in a variety of evangelical churches and fundamentalist communities.” He recently wrote an analysis for The Tyee, British Columbia’s outstanding online newspaper, which garnered a huge response. Under the headline “Understanding Harper’s Evangelical Mission,” the article carries a subtitle reading, “Signs mount that Canada’s government is beholden to a religious agenda averse to science and rational debate.” (Quote from Lawrence Martin's column, Globe and Mail, July 31, 2012, below)
Not only is the subject of Harper's religious convictions appropriate for public debate, it is also cause for serious public alarm. In fact, whatever the church to which he belongs believes, it is the question of authority and its use that crosses the line between the faith community and the public weal.
Authority, if it is perceived to come from God, through Holy Scripture, and from a literal reading of that collection of books, is neither debatable, nor errant. There is, to put it bluntly, no possibility of negotiation, debate, discourse or challenge to that authority, at least from the perspective of those adherents to that faith.
Whether the environmental movement and rational scientific research is scorned by members of the faith is a matter for those who participate in that faith.
However, whether or not public debate is at the core of the governance of the public weal is not open to foreclosure, and that includes both the conventional and the legal definitions of that word. We have a long-established tradition in Canada, articulated most recently by former Prime Minister Paul Martin, when he declared that he could not and would not impose his personal views on abortion on the law of Canada.
Mr. Martin himself is a practicing Roman Catholic, a church unalterably opposed to all abortions, and the public funding of those procedures.
Canadians expect a similar detachment not only of the dogma of faith institutions from the governance of the country but also of the processes and the deployment of authority from the public administration of the government.
Clearly, the current Cabinet operates as if all of its thinking comes from the PMO, and should anyone wish to remain in Cabinet, one must comply with the "gag" order that prevents public debate of even potential government policy. To discuss policy options in a public forum, by interested and informed citizens is the life blood of any democracy. If and when that process is thwarted, for whatever reason, including the religion of the head of government, the public must push back.
If and when the head of the Canadian government subverts the public's right to learn both the philosophy and the research behind a government policy, whether that learning occurs before, during or after the passing of a law, that head of government is abrogating his or her position as head of the government. Let's remember, the Prime Minister, and all of his ministers are "servants" of the public....they answer to the public, and in that process are "responsible to the public"....and so far, the public has not had access to either the philosophy or the research that supports the generation of public policy.
And, as for the "sacred" trust of "divinely inspired" capitalism, as a specific tenet of any faith, such a view is so fill of holes, from a religious perspective, that a fleet of trucks can and should be driven through the position, at the earliest possible moment. Capitalism is a form of economic activity, that, like any other, requires both serious monitoring and even more serious regulation. We are no longer living in a Darwinian jungle where the survival of the fittest, in economic and political terms, is the operative premise. We have long ago graduated from such tribalism, and become a fair more inclusive and compassionate society and culture, and, such graduation must not be declared invalid by some t wonky fundamentalist theology that says it knows that God supports capitalism. That verges on the kind of non-theology that is preached in Texas, to thousands every Sunday by a charismatic preacher by the name of Joel Osteen and his spouse.
There is also reasonable evidence that suggests that that kind of religion is partly responsible for the housing bubble, and the economic collapse of 2008.
Harper is not, and never will be, analogous to, or have the authority that is analogous to that of God.
Harper's government, by following the methodology (if not the specific tenets) of a fundamentalist, evangelical religion, is veering at uncontrollable speeds down a treacherous mountain road, politically speaking, and it is time the public held out a warning flag, before the country falls into a canyon from which it cannot recover. And should the flag have no impact in stopping the careening vehicle, the public, including the media, has to begin to construct both speed bumps and off-ramps so the public weal doesn't crash into the canyon of both self-righteousness and the darwinian jungle, in the pursuit of some phoney and unsustainable perception of God through the uncontested and uncontestable authority of the head of government.
By Lawrence Martin, Globe and Mail, July 31, 2012
Much has been made of the government’s muzzling of the science community, its low regard for statistics, its hard line against environmentalists.
Because Stephen Harper otherwise appears to be a clear-headed rationalist, there is some wonder about the motivation for these impulses, including the question of whether they are triggered by his evangelical beliefs. The Prime Minister is a member of the Alliance Church, more specifically the Christian and Missionary Alliance. The church believes the free market is divinely inspired and views science and environmentalism with what might be called scorn.
Alberta journalist and author Andrew Nikiforuk, a Governor-General’s award winner, sees the evangelical creed as being at the root of much of Conservative policy-making in these areas – religion is trumping reason, he says. Mr. Nikiforuk is a conservationist and a Christian social conservative who has spent “many pleasant hours in a variety of evangelical churches and fundamentalist communities.” He recently wrote an analysis for The Tyee, British Columbia’s outstanding online newspaper, which garnered a huge response. Under the headline “Understanding Harper’s Evangelical Mission,” the article carries a subtitle reading, “Signs mount that Canada’s government is beholden to a religious agenda averse to science and rational debate.”
Mr. Harper is quiet on the issue of his religion, and the media have mostly steered clear of the subject. After all, religion is a personal business. Many of our prime ministers have been of faith, and it has not been in our tradition to pry. (In retrospect, it would have been right for Canadians of the day to know about Mackenzie King’s table-rapping séances and spiritualism – they certainly seemed to affect his policy-making. But Mr. King’s devotion to the deities wasn’t revealed until he was out of office.)
While religious privacy is important, the evangelical movement is not a typical religion when it comes to politics. Its aggressive propagation of social conservatism and biblical fundamentalism has had a significant impact on U.S. politics and presidents such as George W. Bush. In the United States, a politician’s ties to the religious right are fair game – evangelicals represent something like a third of the American population. In Canada, where that number is more like 10 per cent, evangelicals have achieved nowhere near the notoriety, and Mr. Harper, restrained by public opinion, has not pursued a strong social conservative agenda, undercutting the notion that his government is beholden to theocons.
But the Conservatives’ positions on research, statistics, environmental assessment, pipeline opponents, climate change and so on leads many to wonder. In Mr. Nikiforuk’s view, “Republican religious tribalism is now Ottawa’s worldview.” He says Mr. Harper openly sympathizes with, if not endorses, evangelicals’ climate skepticism, their distrust of mainstream science and their view of libertarian economics as God’s will.
Not long after the Conservatives were first elected, Mark Noll, a church historian and one of the most influential evangelicals in the U.S., said he thought many Canadians would be upset to learn about the conservative beliefs of the Christian and Missionary Alliance. “They certainly are far less tolerant than, say, the United Church of Canada.” But the Conservatives’ image has not suffered much, if at all, from the affiliation.
Since Mr. Harper never speaks about his religious beliefs, much of what’s said about them is speculation. Just because he is an evangelical does not necessarily mean he holds to all evangelical teachings or even most of them – just as being Catholic does not necessarily mean one believes a communion wafer is literally the body of Christ. As for intolerant views, there are many religious denominations guilty of the same.
That said, given evangelicals’ strong ties to politics, the subject should not be left unexamined. The Prime Minister is under no obligation to tell anyone about his religious convictions. But if his government’s policy-making in important areas like the environment is being motivated by religious faith at the expense of reason, it is cause for debate.