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Religion’s fair game if it motivates politics

Thanks to Linda Ward Selbie for the link

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.

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