Saturday, October 10, 2009

Stephen Harper and the Exploitation of Religion

In the continuation of the article from the Walrus, Stephen Harper and the Theo-Cons, it reveals how Stephen Harper carefully crafts his faith based messages to appeal to both the moderate Christians, and the extreme. Author Murray Dobbin had noted that Harper had a knack, when writing Reform Party policy, for making his points ambiguous enough that he kept out the extreme elements, while not exactly keeping out the extreme elements.

But just as the Council for National Policy has to now approve of all Republican leaders, if you are a player in the Reform-Conservative movement, you must be approved by Charles McVety. He not only holds the votes of the Christian Right in Canada, but he also holds the purse strings.

It has been said that he was behind the cancelling of a national child care plan, the raising of the age of consent and the implementation of Canada's new censorship laws.

In the video above, he met with the most powerful cabinet ministers, including Rob Nichols (Justice) and Stockwell Day (Security). But we also know that he was an invited guest of Jim Flaherty at his reading of the budget and has unlimited access to Jason Kenney.

Charles McVety is head of the Canadian branch of Christians United for Israel, and like most of the Reform-Conservatives, believes that every word of the Bible is true, and that our constitution should be based on that book and that book alone.

If you polled Canadians you would probably find that a large portion would profess to being Christian. But if you polled Canadians and asked them if they believe we should annihilate all Muslims, put the Jews and a boat and force them to go to Israel, where they accept Christianity or die; the numbers would be significantly lower. But sadly, that's what McVety believes, and sadly, McVety holds a special place of honour within the chambers of the Reform-Conservatives.

More from the Walrus magazine article: Stephen Harper and the Neo-Cons

Harper has been so careful not to reveal his faith that many voters were stunned when he capped off his election-night victory speech with “God bless Canada.” Was it a slip of the tongue—a case of rhetorical exuberance swamping his celebrated intellectual cool? Or, as some critics insisted, a shameless aping of every American president within recent memory, no matter their political stripe? Even New York Times correspondent Clifford Krauss noted that it was “an unusual line in a country where politicians do not customarily talk about God.”

In fact, Harper had already used the tag line as opposition leader, and he wasn’t the first prime minister to do so. On February 15, 1965, Lester Pearson jubilantly roared out the same benediction as he hoisted Canada’s first red and white maple leaf flag over the Parliament Buildings. “It’s just ridiculous to think that this is some novelty that was learned by watching Republicans on television,” scoffs Preston Manning. “This is a country that used to end every public meeting by saying, ‘God Save the Queen.’”

As pundits pondered the significance of Harper’s taste in exit lines, one thing seemed clear: a politician known for attempting to control his party’s every public utterance had chosen to invoke what National Post columnist Warren Kinsella dubbed “the G-word.” If, as suspected, Harper was sending a message to the country’s estimated 3.5 million evangelicals—not to mention the 44 percent of Canadians who tell pollsters they’ve committed their lives to Christ—what was he trying to tell them?

In his pre-election chat on the Drew Marshall Show, Harper managed to work in an undisguised plug: “I always make it clear that Christians are welcome in politics,” he said, “and particularly welcome in our party.” That invitation has not gone unnoticed. As Janet Epp Buckingham, director of the Evangelical Fellowship’s Ottawa office, notes, “In the last election, the media was pointing out that evangelicals are scary, and in the election before that the Liberals were doing quite a bit of fear mongering. It’s such a relief to have a party that says, ‘You guys are welcome here.’” (No one suggests that all Evangelicals are scary, only those from the Christian Right and Christians United for Israel)

That relief translated into votes. According to an Ipsos-Reid poll in April, 64 percent of weekly Protestant churchgoers—the vast majority of them evangelicals—voted Conservative in the last election, a 24-percent jump from 2004. For the first time in the history of polling in Canada, Catholics who attend church weekly also shifted a majority of their votes from the Liberals to Harper’s party. While the Ottawa press corps has been preoccupied with Harper’s ability to keep the most blooper-prone Christians in his caucus buttoned up, he has quietly but determinedly nurtured a coalition of evangelicals, Catholics, and conservative Jews that brought him to power and that will put every effort into ensuring that he stays there. Last spring, when Ontario premier Dalton McGuinty could barely wangle an hour with him, Harper made time for dozens of faith groups, including a five-woman delegation from the Catholic Women’s League which hadn’t managed to snare a sit-down with any prime minister in twenty-four years.

“Smile if you’re a so-con,” ran a headline in the Western Standard above a photo of the meeting. “Canada’s traditional Christian groups can’t say enough good things about the Tories’ social policies so far.”

Harper’s agenda turns out to be hidden only to those who don’t know where to look. Within weeks after the election, the first leak about his upcoming legislative package outlined a plan by Justice Minister Vic Toews, one of the most conservative evangelicals in his cabinet, to raise the age of sexual consent to sixteen from fourteen.

The media greeted the scoop with a barely concealed yawn, but the Evangelical Fellowship, which had been lobbying for years on the issue, recognized it as a custom-tailored bulletin. Says Epp Buckingham, “We took it as a message that we were being heard.”

Borrowing a page from Bush’s White House, which boasts a deputy responsible for “Christian outreach,” Harper has installed a point man for the religious right, among other groups, in his government, under the title “director of stakeholder relations.” But evangelical activists know that a more direct route to the prime minister is through his parliamentary secretary, Jason Kenney.

After the election, many in the Ottawa press corps were astonished when the Calgary loyalist who served as a critic in every recent Reform/Alliance shadow cabinet didn’t win a portfolio. But these days, Kenney may have more clout than any minister, playing emissary to groups with whom Harper doesn’t wish to leave prime ministerial fingerprints, above all on the religious right. Despite being a Catholic, Kenney is a regular on the evangelical circuit, turning up at so-con confabs and orchestrating discreet meetings with the boss. “Jason,” says one Ottawa insider, “has a lot more influence than you might think.”


The problem for those of us on the left, is that we are viewed by Reform-Conservative supporters, especially from the Religious Right, as all being secular. That couldn't be further from the truth. But since this group has politicized religion, it has become like an 'us against them', when in fact, we all share some common ground. Just like the Religious Right, there is a Religious Left.

Wikipedia describes this Religious Left (or Christian Left) as "a spectrum of left wing Christian political and social movements which largely embraces social justice and a counter-point to the Christian right which largely embrace social conservatism."

They go on to say that the most common religious viewpoint which might be described as 'left wing' is social justice, or care for the poor and the oppressed ... Supporters of this might encourage universal health care, generous welfare, subsidized education, foreign aid, and government subsidized schemes for improving the conditions of the disadvantaged.

The Christian left believe in private prayer. According to Matthew 6:5-6:"And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

In his book The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right, Rabbi Michael Lerner claims that the political left "often sees religion not merely as mistaken but as fundamentally irrational, and it gives the impression that one of the most important elements in the lives of ordinary Americans is actually deserving of ridicule." and "The Left's hostility to religion is one of the main reasons people who otherwise might be involved with progressive politics get turned off."

Stephen Harper can craft his messages in such a way that it would appear he is tolerant of all religious thought, when it fact, he clearly belongs to the judgemental, and espouses the right-wing philosophy of eradicating social programs.

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