Pope Francis and the Argentine generals

Pope Francis and the Argentine generals
Pope Francis and the Argentine generals

Pope Francis has completed his first days in office. Much has been made of his frugal lifestyle, his apparent simplicity and his sense of humour. Those are admirable traits and it is also refreshing to hear a religious leader talking about solidarity with the poor rather than the prosperity gospel preached by so many. On the other hand, virtually every knowledgeable commentator cautions that we should not expect changes to the hierarchy’s conservative doctrinal positions on matters such as birth control, the ordination of women or of married men. Francis may prove to be a humble man and a pastoral leader, but the substance of the message likely will not change as much as the manner of its delivery. The media has gone overboard in covering the selection and installation of a new pope. It is great television – the backdrops of St. Peter’s Square and the Vatican, the suspense, the white smoke, the pope’s first appearance on the balcony. But now at least some journalists and commentators are getting down to work, as they should, to tell us more about the man who has been elevated to this position of prominence and power. Continue reading Pope Francis and the Argentine generals

Preston Manning’s talk fest hits Ottawa

Preston Manning's right wing talk fest
Preston Manning’s right wing talk fest

Ron Paul is a Texan who has made three marginal runs for the American presidency and who is also considered by many to be a godfather of the Tea Party movement that has driven the Republican Party to the far right. The Huffington Post reports that Paul’s campaign in the Republican primaries in 2012 foundered “when newsletters published under his name back in the 1980s and ‘90s were found to contain anti-gay and racially-charged statements.” Paul says that he did not write those comments even though he acknowledges they appeared in his literature. Paul is a headline speaker at a conference of the Manning Centre for Building Democracy about to occur in Ottawa. Paul has already held forth in a series of Canadian interviews in which he says he opposes public health care and all gun registries but wants to see the Keystone XL Pipeline built as soon as possible to deliver Alberta oil to Texas refineries.

Preston Manning and his wife Sandra created the Manning Centre in 2005 to act as a training ground for conservative politicos and a think tank and advocacy arm for conservative causes. Each year Manning holds what he calls a networking conference in Ottawa. Often the guest speakers are those such as Ron Paul, who for the most part have narrowly missed prominence, and others who have now left prominence behind them. A speaker in the latter category this year is former Australian Prime Minister John Howard. Continue reading Preston Manning’s talk fest hits Ottawa

Pulpit and Politics, a review by Ron Dart

My recent book book Pulpit and Politics has been reviewed in the Clarion Journal of Spirituality and Justice, an on line publication.  The reviewer is Ron Dart,  a professor in the Department of Philosophy & Politics at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford, B.C. You will see that he recommends the book and is pleased that it deals with religion as an authentic force in public life, rather than dismissing it out of hand as is commonly done in secular academic analysis. He criticizes me, though, for being soft on religious progressives while being hard on religious conservatives. Also, he disapproves of my describing the current reality in Canada as one of competing religious ideologies, one progressive and the other conservative.  Continue reading Pulpit and Politics, a review by Ron Dart

Conservative pundits diminish Breivik’s Norwegian victims

By Dennis Gruending

The flat of NorwayOn July 22, Norwegian extremist Anders Breivik set off a car bomb in downtown Oslo that killed eight people. Then, dressed as a policeman, he traveled to a nearby small island and used a semi-automatic rifle to massacre 77 members of the Labour Party’s youth wing who were attending a summer camp. Now the dead (many of them just teenagers) have been buried. Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg has been unequivocal in saying that Breivik’s unspeakable actions will not change Norway’s commitment to democracy and tolerance. However, many media commentators, columnists and pundits on this side of the Atlantic have conspicuously lacked Stoltenberg’s vision or grace. On his syndicated talk radio program, the notorious Glenn Beck compared the young Norwegian victims to Nazis. As New York Times columnist Timothy Egan described it, Beck said the summer camp attended by the Labour Party youth “sounds a little like, you know, the Hitler Youth.” Continue reading Conservative pundits diminish Breivik’s Norwegian victims

Dennis Gruending to publish book on Pulpit and Politics

Pulpit and Politics by Dennis GruendingThose of you who follow my blog will wonder why I have not been posting for the past number of weeks. In fact, several of you have contacted me to ask about it. The truth is that I have been taken up with the final edits of a book that I will publish in October. It’s called Pulpit and Politics: Competing Religious Ideologies in Canadian Public Life, and Kingsley Publishers of Calgary will release it. The themes and details that I deal with in the book arise largely from this blog, which I have been writing since late 2007. Actually, many of you have contacted me with constructive criticism about the blog and have provided ideas for stories that I might pursue. Many of those suggestions have made their way into the book but it goes well beyond the blog. I have revised the material, updated and added to it, and the book will also contain a detailed index of names and organizations as well as a comprehensive reading list.

I have been struck over the past few years by the growing competition between religious progressives and conservatives for power and influence in Canadian politics. This is an historic rivalry and one that will become even more pronounced now that Stephen Harper has won a majority government, partly through the efforts of religious conservatives. Their political agenda is anchored in opposition to abortion, same-sex marriage, publicly funded childcare, a dislike of many social programs, and a general suspicion of government. Since its inception in 2006, the Harper government has courted conservative evangelicals, along with certain Catholic and Jewish voters, to join a political coalition that would change Canada into a leaner and meaner state, albeit it one with more prisons and a larger military.

The book will look closely at the political ideology and tactics of religious conservatives, but that is only half of the story. I will also report on efforts by religious progressives who are struggling to have their voices heard on issues of equality, justice, human rights, and peace. This is an effort that plays out on Parliament Hill, as well in church basements, synagogues and temples. It is not merely a topic of casual interest; the consequences for our future are potentially dramatic. Religious faith informs political decisions about the division of wealth in our society, education and race relations, immigration, respect for democracy, foreign policy, and environmental issues, to name just a few.

The book will also examine religiously inspired ideas and events elsewhere that are having an impact in Canada. We cherish our reputation as a peaceable kingdom, but we are not immune to religious fundamentalism, even extremism. The bombing of Air-India Flight 182 bound from Toronto to New Delhi in 1985 killed 331 people, making it the most widely felt terrorist attack in Canadian history. It was planned and executed by Sikh religious extremists living in Canada. There are no tranquil islands in an increasingly globalized world of ubiquitous jet travel, round-the-clock news feeds, and secured Internet chat rooms. Canada is not an island, particularly given its tradition of engagement abroad and its increasingly ethnic and religious diversity. It is for these reasons (in addition to natural curiosity) that on my travels and in my reading I pay close attention to the links between religious faith and public life in other countries as well as my own.

I have watched this drama unfold from my base in Ottawa, and I have also participated in it: as a writer, a director of information for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, and later as a Member of Parliament and a blogger. There is a fine body of research and writing in the United States and elsewhere about the importance of understanding the motivation and tactics of religious groups involved in public life. Far less attention has been devoted to the topic in Canada. I am determined that Pulpit and Politics will help to fill this gap.

Pulpit and Politics will sell for $22.00 and will be available (in October) from Kingsley Publishing or Alpine Book Peddlers.  It will also be available as an ebook. I hope that you will consider buying a copy for yourself and perhaps another for a family member or friend. I’ll let you know when Pulpit and Politics becomes available. And now, I will get back to writing for my blog. I promise.

Election 2011, political and religious polarization

By Dennis Gruending

Jason Kenney and Msgr. Patrick PowersStephen Harper won his long-coveted majority government in the 2011 federal election, receiving just under 40 per cent of the votes cast by the approximately 60 per cent of eligible Canadians who bothered to show up. An exit poll of 36,000 voters conducted by the Ipsos Reid company on May 2 yielded some predictable results based upon the religious affiliation of voters, but it also served up some surprises. One thing to note is that 55 per cent of Protestants voted for the Conservatives, a number far higher than the number of Protestants who supported other parties. This is not a surprise because evangelical Protestants in particular have provided strong support to the Conservatives in a string of elections.

Secondly, the NDP did well among Catholics, winning 39 per cent of their vote, compared to the 30 per cent of Catholics who voted Conservative and 16 per cent who voted Liberal. The NDP vote rose dramatically in Quebec where a large percentage of people identify as Catholics even if they seldom attend religious services. It is highly likely that those people were voting primarily as Quebecois who were not impressed by what they saw in the Conservative, Liberal or Bloc Quebecois parties. It is unlikely in this case that they were voting based on strongly held religious preferences.

Continue reading Election 2011, political and religious polarization

Canada celebrates Israel: Christian Zionism and the election

By Dennis Gruending

Stockwell DayOn day 12 of the federal election campaign Stephen Harper was in Markham, Ontario wooing immigrant voters. That same evening in Ottawa several hundred people gathered at a church called the Peace Tower on Bronson Avenue not far from Parliament Hill. There they pledged fealty to the state of Israel and praised Stephen Harper as that country’s Canadian benefactor. The event, called Canada Celebrates Israel, was one of four that occurred in Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver within a few days in early April. The rallies featured three Israeli politicians who are members of the Israeli Knesset Christian Allies Caucus, as well as a cast of fundamentalist Christians from Canada. The four events received virtually no coverage in the mainstream media but an Ottawa-based student newspaper did a look-ahead piece in March. In that story one of the tour’s organizers said it was an outreach effort to Jewish and Christian communities to show support for Israel, but it certainly was not political.

Perhaps. But the Conservatives happened to be well represented. Jim Abbott brought greetings on behalf of the federal government. Abbott was the longtime Reform, Canadian Alliance and later Conservative MP for Kootenay-Columbia but has chosen not to run again in the 2011 election. Stockwell Day, the recently retired minister of the Treasury Board, had been billed as a guest speaker at the Ottawa event, but instead he provided a message on videotape. Day was available in person at the Canada Celebrates Israel event in Montreal on the previous evening. The Canadian Jewish News reported on it and described Day as giving “a strongly pro-Israel speech” which earned him a standing ovation. The newspaper described part of his speech as follows: “Day earned wide applause when he said Israel, as a Jewish state, has ‘an aboriginal right to exist’ and that the Hebrew scriptures, written as far back as 1,000 years BCE, provide historically accurate evidence of the Jewish presence in what is now Israel.” Continue reading Canada celebrates Israel: Christian Zionism and the election

Demographic winter and the religious right

By Dennis Gruending nonie_darwish_250.jpgRecently I received an email message urging me to read and then pass it along if I want to save Western civilization. The subject line said: Joys of A Muslim Woman: A MUST READ. Actually, it was not about joy at all but was an alarmist rant against Muslims. It was also an example of a recent fetish about “demographic winter”, which has become a favourite preoccupation with the religious right in the United States and to some extent in Canada. The message that I received provides material drawn from an author named Nonie Darwish.  She is of Egyptian heritage and her father was a senior officer in the Egyptian army until the Israelis killed him in 1956. Nonie moved to the U.S. in 1978 and became an evangelical Christian. She has written several books and has become prominent on the right wing lecture circuit and media. She is also founder of a group called Arabs For Israel and director of another called Former Muslims United.

One of Darwish’s books is called Cruel and Unusual Punishment:The Terrifying Global Implications of Islamic Law. Her American publisher describes it as “a wake up call to the Western world.” The book blurb continues as follows: “Nonie Darwish presents an insider’s look at sharia and examines how radical Muslim laws are destroying the Western world from within . . . Heed this warning: sharia law is attempting to infiltrate Western culture and destroy democracy.” The viral message I received contained much the same admonition. Continue reading Demographic winter and the religious right