The Armageddon Comes to Ottawa

August 21, 2010

While the role of the conservative Christian evangelical movement in shaping politics is generally considered far less pronounced in Canada than the US, that traditional view is being seriously called into question by journalist Marci McDonald who, in her highly controversial book ” The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada “, exposes the deep interconnections between various Christian nationalist organizations and high ranking officials in the Canadian government including, for example, President of the Treasury Board and Member of Parliament – as well as young earth creationist – Stockwell Day (who I questioned on secularism – briefly – in May at the National Prayer Breakfast, video coming soon). 

On September 22, CFI will launch its capital branch with a highly publicized reception and talk by Marci McDonald in Ottawa.  In anticipation of this important event, the Canadian Secular Alliance has published the following commentary on the rise of Christian nationalism in Canada: 

Armageddon or no Armageddon, Canadian Secularists Need to Remain Vigilant
Written by Anthony Philbin, Policy Adviser with the Canadian Secular Alliance

The publishing this May of Marci McDonald’s The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada, was timed to coincide with Canada’s annual National Prayer Breakfast (NPB) , which is appropriate, since the book seeks to link the obvious conservative Christian leanings of the Harper Tories to the rise and new-found political clout of evangelical end-time, or Armageddon sects. This echoes similar ideas expressed during the Bush era in the United States, for example that environmental policy was being driven by Christian ideologues who believed that by exhausting U.S. natural resources they could hasten the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

This ideology was reinforced by evangelicals like Reverend Jerry Falwell, who told his Lynchburg congregation during this period that global warming was “Satan’s attempt to redirect the church’s primary focus” from evangelism to environmentalism.

That ideas like this might one day find their way into our own policy positions represents a very frightening and distinctly un-Canadian prospect to many of us, namely the identifiably secular Canadians whose numbers have been growing significantly in recent decades as a correlation with participation levels in higher education.

Secularists include the less evangelical members of Canada’s religious communities, personally spiritual but non-faith-oriented individuals, and lastly atheists. They strongly support the right of all Canadians to freedom of religion and association, so long as these freedoms are not abused in order to breach the line Canada has strived to establish between church and state.

The significant growth of secularism in Canada is clearly reflected in the fact that there were fewer than 930 non-religious Canadians according to Statscan back in 1971, while in 2001 it counted 4.8 million or 16.5% of the Canadian population. A 2008 Harris-Decima poll supported this trend, finding 23% of all Canadians and 36% of Canadians under 25 not adhering to any faith. Though not all of this growing force in Canada may be so quick to accept the urgency that McDonald has imparted to her investigations of radical evangelical influence over our Tory government leaders, many of us do raise an eyebrow when we see passages like the following on the web site for the supposedly neutral NPB’s organizers, the Canadian Fellowship Foundation (CFF):  “…everything should be done in a low-keyed, behind the scenes manner. The main objective was to build relationships and this can be done most successfully in a personal, quiet, confidential way.”

Also available via the CFF site are descriptions of how the NPB has been consciously designed by the CFF to have no formal organizational structure. Some wonder in this regard if the objective here is to keep the event and its attendees immune to the requirements of our lobbying laws, despite the CFF’s obvious and concerted objective to see more specifically Christian values reflected in the positions of our MPs and Senators.

Before the CFF or any Canadians start thinking that our divisions of church and state need some adjusting in order to re-assert the proper role of the sacred in our policy frameworks, let’s remember for a moment what being a secular state has helped Canada accomplish.

As a relatively new nation, one composed of different cultures and faiths since its founding, Canada has helped to lead the world in determining the values and means by which increasingly mobile and racially-diverse 21st century populations can live in harmony and justice. Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, not to mention our once excellent international reputation for inclusiveness and progressive social policy, were accomplished not by making religious beliefs a force in public life but by clearly limiting their domination over discussions of ethics and public policy.

Secularists still do take exception to some deity-derived throwbacks that persist in Canadian public policy, notably tax breaks and other public subsidies for exclusively religious organizations, public financing for faith-based schools, and exemptions for some religious groups from various Canadian laws. While we’re at it, we’d also like to see the mention of a God disbelieved in by a quarter of Canadians removed from the Charter’s preamble.

The sole objective with all these efforts is to ensure that our public symbols and legal frameworks respect the democratic rights and cultural identities of all Canadians as equally as possible.

With each new “God Bless Canada” public sign-off by our minority PM, however, secular Canadians are forced to consider whether this symoblic gesture doesn’t reflect a much more ambitious, if hidden, agenda.  At least such a nod to the religious right has the effect of mustering a growing degree of vigilance and action towards reconfirming our nation’s pluralistic nature.

Also posted to the CFI Canada Blog