Pop quiz: what church does Stephen Harper attend? Or, if you can’t answer that, what faith (other than a deep and abiding belief in his own Eternal Correctness) does our prime minister adhere to?
Answer: I don’t know. I know he’s a generic Christian, because that’s where the power lies, but other than that, I don’t have a clue. And I really don’t care, unless he’s a Scientologist, in which case, I would care. But otherwise, it’s his or her business.
Religion, on the larger national scene, plays a minor role in Canadian politics. Religion is hugely important in some individual ridings in Canada, where specific ethnic or religious groups are clustered (Brampton, Ont., for example, is 32 per cent South Asian, and the election battle in the federal election this year was described in The Economic Times from India as “Punjabi versus Punjabi”), but on the larger national scene, religion hardly registers. Was Michael Ignatieff a religious man? Is Jack Layton a churchgoer (if not, this might not be bad time to start; he can use all the help he can get)? But again, don’t know, don’t care.
South of the border, however, religion plays an increasingly large role in politics, particularly on the bizarre Republican side. Not only do most Republican candidates profess to be Christian (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but major players adhere to a borderline fanatical brand of Christianity.
Take Michelle Bachman, the current flavor of the month for the Republicans. I still don’t think this far right-wing wing nut has a real chance of winning the nomination, but she’s certainly getting a lot of attention (which must be driving Sarah Palin — formerly the prettiest girl at the nutbar ball — crazy with jealousy). Bachman is over-the-top Christian, backed by Christian activists who would be called fanatics if they were from another faith. She has railed against homosexuality in language that makes it clear she thinks being gay is the devil’s work.
Another major contender, just entering the race, is Tex. Gov. Rick Perry. (It is a tribute to Perry, I suppose, or a symbol of just how weak the Republican field is that the words “former Texas governor” isn’t enough to destroy his candidacy.) Perry is so religious, he makes the Pope look like an agnostic. Just last week, Perry hosted a huge, all-day prayer gathering for “a nation in crisis” (I’m assuming that was the U.S., not Somalia). The gathering was sponsored by a group called the American Family Association (previously known as the National Federation for Decency), a group which condemns homosexuality and argues that the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom only applies to Christians.
Imagine, if you will, Stephen Harper closing his eyes in evangelical fervor, praying for the soul of Canada. While in the U.S., this kind of extremist won’t hurt your election chances, here it would kill your career faster than you can say ‘Michael Ignatieff’.
Now, I’m not saying being religious is a bad thing. I’m OK with my politicians being religious if they feel the calling, and OK if they are agnostic or atheist. I just want them to be honest, fair, and competent (a tall order, I know). Frankly, I’m glad we don’t know the religious affiliations of our political leaders. Unless they’re into voodoo or, worse, Scientology, a political leader’s religious affiliation, or lack of, is of no interest to me.
Let us pray (can I say that?) that Canada never goes down that unholy path.
For more on Michelle Bachman, check out