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J.J. McCullough

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Media Bites: When it Comes to Politicians, How Religious is too Religious?

Posted: 08/06/2012 8:08 am

When it comes to politicians, how religious is too religious? If you answered "at all," then I'm sure you'd get along well with Lawrence Martin, the beloved Globe and Mail columnist whose Tuesday editorial about the religiosity of our prime minister was the talk of pundit-town this weekend.

Larry's basic thesis was that the PM might be an evangelical Christian nutcase hellbent on imposing the theocratic horrors of his cruel and righteous God upon Canada, or he might not. We just don't know -- "Mr. Harper is quiet on the issue" he notes suspiciously -- so let's just assume the former, since that's more fun.

And speaking of cruel and righteous...

This sort of conspiratorial thinking from godless liberals is pure "suburban bigotry" rages Michael Coren at the Sun. Clearly that hack Martin is so blinded by his own anti-Christian paranoia he hasn't even bothered to notice that "Harper isn't very religious," he writes. I mean,  ask "anybody who has worked with him," the PM is a climate change skeptic and general anti-science crank for "entirely secular" reasons. So relax!

In Saturday's National Post, Chris Selley agrees. "Politicians believe all sorts of stupid things for all sorts of stupid reasons," he says. Rationality long ago ceased to be the currency of public policy in this country, so don't pretend like Christians are the only ones standing in the way of a Vulcan-esque utopia governed by cold, beautiful logic. Even if the PM could be outed as a fanatic fundie, writes Aaron Wherry, pressing the point further on the Macleans' blog, would "anyone think differently" about the guy?

Fat chance! I'd say around 97 per cent of us finished drawing conclusions about Harper's fundamental goodness/evil sometime around 2003. Forget outing himself as an evangelical, I'm not even sure a literal face-peeling robot reveal would move the polls much at this point.

The most interestingly fierce aspect of the anti-Martin backlash, however, was sparked by the columnist's passing quip that "being Catholic does not necessarily mean one believes a communion wafer is literally the body of Christ." This was supposed to be Larry's gentle sop to tolerance; a concession that hey, even members of the world's most humourless religions can be perfectly palatable so long as they don't get too deep into all that hocus-pocus crap.

Well, everyone quickly responded that no, Larry, you actually do have to believe in the Doctrine of the Real Presence to be a Catholic. That's kinda the whole point. Selley, Coren, and a guy named Charles Lewis, who writes for the National Post's "Holy Post" religion section (which is apparently a thing that exists) made much of this throwaway line and the apparent abundance of spiritual ignorance it revealed in a man professing to know everything about the dangers of faith.

These labels you're throwing around do matter, says Lewis, and in the same way a dude who doesn't buy into transubstantiation isn't a real Catholic, if "Mr. Harper rejected most evangelical teachings he would not be an evangelical or a Christian."

What we need, in other words, is some hard evidence definitively proving what the PM actually believes, God-wise, before we go around calling him this-or-that.

And isn't hard evidence what non-religious folk are all about?

***

When chatting about media stuff to ordinary, non-column-having civilians, a complaint I frequently hear is that the press doesn't "follow up" on stories nearly enough. An event or controversy breaks and there's some initial burst of sensationalistic coverage, sure, but what about the conclusion? Why don't we ever hear how these controversies end?

In the media's defence, one explanation for this phenomena -- with political stories at least -- is that Canada's governing process has become so impossibly convoluted and drawn-out that a lot of controversies, for all intents and purposes, never do end.

Kelly McParland provides a good example of this in the National Post, where he notes that one of the sexiest crises of our current zietgiest -- the furious, federation-tearing, inter-provincial war over the future of the Northern Gateway pipeline -- may take a full three years to get anywhere near a definitive conclusion.

Indeed, his accompanying timeline, rich in far-off deadlines with several possibly game-changing elections sprinkled throughout, really highlights how much of the breathless coverage of the project to date -- the war of words between the two lady premiers, the Native protests, the partisan gossip, the hilarious idea that the pipe could possibly be re-routed through the Northwest Territories -- has just been a lot of myopic headline-filler over non-events that will probably have relatively little impact over whether the thing ultimately gets built.

With this in mind, a little skepticism would probably be justly directed towards pundits like Postmedia's Stephen Maher or the Star's Tim Harper, who've been going around lately spouting one-liners like "you could smell the brake pads burning" on Gateway simply because jolly ol' James Moore said some nasty things about the corporation in charge last week.

Fine, maybe Moore is a "senior minister" in the Tory government and maybe his comments signal the "toughest tone to date" or whatever, but who knows -- within a couple of years maybe there'll be no more James Moore. Or Tory government. Or need for oil at all, following Robo-Harper's 2014 reveal of the secret energy source that powers his people.

What you can be super sure there absolutely won't be, however, is an end.

 

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