Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Creeping Canadian Theocrats (Are Creeping Me Out)

About a year ago, while vacationing in Fort Lauderdale, I had the pleasure of meeting up with some of the members of FLASH (Fort Lauderdale Atheists and Secular Humanists) at Geronimo's.

State-Church Separation in the United States
For the first while conversation focused on everyone's situation, who we've come out to as atheist and how friends and family were reacting.  This is pretty normal for first-timers at these meetings I would guess. Most of the rest of the evening was spent talking about the mixing of religion with state in Florida and in the country as a whole.

During that evening one thing struck me. When it comes to state-religion separation, people seem to be either rabidly activist or strongly apathetic.  There isn't much in between.  People at the meeting either felt very passionately about defending the state-church separation or they really didn't seem to want to concern themselves with it at all.

I recently finished reading Attack of the Theocrats - How the Religious Right Harms Us All and What We Can Do About It on my beloved Kindle.  This excellent book got me thinking about State-Church separation and the threat of theocracy again.

State-Church Separation in Canada
One thing that became very clear to me at the FLASH meetup was my utter lack of knowledge about the entanglement of religion into politics up here in Canada.  When asked about the state-church separation situation up here in Canada, I found myself caught off guard. I realized that I knew more about the situation in the States and even in the UK more than how things are in my own country.

Although Canadian society seems to feel inherently more secular, with their secular Constitution, the Americans really have a leg up on us.  At least American secularists have a document to point to that sets up at least theoretical barriers between religion and politics.  Not so in Canada.  (In fact, Canada has a rather ephemeral version of the American 1st Amendment.)

Growing up, I was vaguely aware of state support for Catholic and Protestant school systems here in Canada.  I went to a Catholic school as a child in Ontario and I'm sure it was funded publicly at least in part. Here is a site for a campaign to defund religious schools in Ontario:

I have more recently posted about the Office of Religious Freedom that's proposed by the Harper Government (formerly the Government of Canada): Office of Religious Freedom? What!?!  This department isn't in place yet, but it's already looking pretty sketchy.  The current minister of external affairs has also done a marvellous job of ignoring persecution of non-religious people for religious reasons around the world.

I didn't have to look far to find a Canadian national party that has Christian values and laws embedded right into its platform for all to see.  This is the Christian Heritage Party (Wikipedia).  Apparently they're working hard to protect Canadians’ Charter rights and properly respect the separation of church and state. Underlining is my own to emphasize the hilarity of that statement.

From their Q&A:
Is the CHP trying to impose Christianity on those of other faiths?
Absolutely not! We’re politicians, not evangelists. Our purpose is to place ourselves under the authority and guidance of the principles of the Gospel – principles like justice, honesty, compassion, diligence, thrift and “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” 
The Secularist minority in Canada dominates four powerful institutions that shape all our lives: governments, courts, the public education establishment, and the major news and entertainment media. The best defence of the religious freedom and intellectual liberty of the minority faiths (which at 4% all together total only about 1/3 the 12% who are Secularists) is to make common cause with the 83% of Canadians who identify themselves as Christians.* We are thus a bulwark defending religious liberty – for everyone – against a militant Secularist juggernaut that seeks to exclude all faiths from the public square.
And then again in their party's Guiding Principles:
Christian Heritage Party of Canada Party principles are based on these Biblical ethics and are unalterable: 
We Believe: 

  • There is one Creator God, eternally existent in three Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ. 

  • The Holy Bible to be the inspired, inerrant written Word of God and the final authority above all man’s laws and government. 

  • Civil government to be under the authority of God. 

  • The purpose of civil government is to ensure freedom and justice for a nation’s citizens by upholding law and order in accordance with Biblical principles. 

  • Decision-making processes by civil government must not in any way contravene these Biblical ethics.
  • Well it sounds an awfully lot like a theocracy to me!  And take a look at some of their recent speak outs about issues:

    More of the Same: PM Defends Same-Sex “Marriage” - I think the inverted commas around Marriage pretty much speak for themselves. 

    What’s Wrong With Polls? Slavery. Women’s Vote. Abortion… - Slavery?
    "There was a time when, in most Western democracies, the majority opposed women voting. There was also a time when the majority believed it was OK for non-whites to be owned as property, and used as slaves." 
    This coming from the site that touts 83% of Canadians identify as Christian and who complain about how the judicial arm are lording their godless agenda over the majority. Of course the Bible has the final word on slavery and abortion. People (Christians and non-Christians) use their own ethics to determine whether these things are right and wrong, usually on a case per case basis. I'd be scared silly if Christians didn't use their own judgement to filter out the crazy bits of the scriptures when determining what is ethical behavior.

    On the front of their site they have a link to this movie.  I found it scary. I find it extremely ironic that they brought up slavery in their speak outs while basically suggesting that abortion be outlawed or at least extremely controlled so that women can become enslaved reproduction factories to sustain and increase Canada's dwindling population.  Besides, women being denied reproductive rights will "help the economy" and reduce the need to accept immigrants into the country.  Immigration is after all bad for the economy.  Now I'm paraphrasing here, and they may not come right out and say it, but go ahead and watch the video below and see if you come to a different conclusion.  I'm open to alternate interpretations.

    Thankfully, they're slice of the popular vote has been dwindling from low to insanely low. I don't mean to be alarmist. But I believe the party exists mainly to start dialogue; to sort of lay the groundwork so to speak.  They can't win an election, but they can exert political influence.  They may be able to rally the Christian Right in Canada against the Conservatives and force them to paint themselves to cater more to the Christian Right agenda.  A possible parallel would be the Tea Party movement's' apparent effect on the Republican party in the States last year.

    Okay, please forgive me from even mentioning them in the same post but... American National Atheist Party.  Like the Canadian Heritage Party, they don't have any delusions of winning an actual election any time soon.  Instead their immediate goal is to exert as much indirect influence as possible and force politicians to state their beliefs when it comes to religion and state-church separation.  This is something the Heritage party is doing as well.

    In their PR, the NAP had to deal with some of the same questions the Christian Heritage Party is dealing with.  Below is from their FAQ.  The answers are interesting.
    Isn’t creating “The National Atheist Party” merely the mirror image of the theocratic politicians it opposes? 
    Is this party only for atheists? 
    Why is this “The National Atheist Party” instead of “Secular” or “Freethought?” I believe in the First Amendment but I’m not an atheist, do I belong here?
    Go to the site and read the answers. I more or less agree with them.  I also think that a secular society is not equivalent to an antitheocracy but will lead to a kind of atheocracy.  Such a system leaves matters of faith or lack thereof to the personal consciences of citizens which is desirable for all - religious or non-religious.

    But Has it Already Begun Here In Canada?
    Then there's the book by journalist Marci McDonald Amageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada.  I really want to read this book but it's not out for Kindle.  Being a Canadian book, I'm not sure if it will ever be.  I know it sounds silly, but I'm holding out.

    But I won't hold out for too long. I think I owe it to my country to read this book.  I will eventually break down and get it on dead tree, I suppose.

    What Have I Done Already?
    With the membership comes a subscription to their very entertaining
    newspaper Freethought Today.
    I've become a member of the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who have consistently stand up for the separation of church and state defending the 1st Amendment in the US.

    Let's face it, the more theocratic the States becomes the worse off the whole world is.  With the constitutional ideal of separation of church and state, America has this coded into its very DNA - not so with other countries.

    Also, in future, I plan to pay attention to what's going on closer to home by following and supporting the Canadian Secular Alliance.

    I believe that as Canada becomes more multicultural and the Christian percentage of population ultimate wanes, giving way to Muslims and Hindus, a secular government founded on humanist principles, detached from any particular church or creed is our only hope for a peaceful future in this country.


    1. The Christian Heritage Party...Ugh. Yeah, their guiding principles sound like a theocracy to me.

      1. Hi Adriana! Thanks for your comment. What gets me is how often in the site they try and say their party isn't just for Christians. Yeah right.

    2. Yeah, that video was scary. As for the lack of explicit separation between church and state in Canada -- look at how it's worked in the US. Things are worse than ever here. I'll take de facto freedom over theoretical freedom any day.

      1. Thanks for the comment Fuse! Good point. It is funny how places like the UK don't have an explicit declaration of separation but they are still much more secular. Maybe It's like some Bible-believers out there. If you have a text you're going to follow you can twist and bend it around to justify what you're doing. But if you don't go by one you need to actually reason out whether what you're doing is just every time and appeal back to common humanist principles. Just thinking out loud.

    3. Thanks for pointing me to the Canadian Secular Alliance. I am from Ontario and have asked to join the group. I am an atheist and my wife belongs to Focus on the Family (mentioned in The Armageddon Factor). She is religious and we get along by not having intense discussions about religion. These groups suck people in by their name - "family" sounds charitable but this group holds uncharitable views. Atheists should start selecting good solid emotional words for their movements as well. "Humanists" sounds too intellectual for a lot of people. I don't know ... maybe the "Family Love" group could work -- Dedicated to nurturing respect and free thought in the family unit.

      1. That's rough! Lucky for me, my wife and I started out very liberal and she's never been fundamentalist in any way. We've actually ordered some of the Focus of the Family stuff that was free on the web, I'll admit. Some of their stuff on fixing and maintaining a healthy marriage includes pretty sound lessons on budget planning. It would be useful if Humanist/Freethought/Atheist organizations provided these kinds of books and pamphlets for free. Not intellectual stuff but practical everyday stuff about communication in a relationship or how to plan and stick to a budget - how to get our of debt. Churches also help people live and they hand this stuff out for free. "Family Love" could get misinterpreted pretty fast! But I get what you mean.


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