10/12/2012 08:01 EDT | Updated 12/12/2012 05:12 EST

Harper's Not the Only One Taking Cues From God


It's no great revelation to suggest the politics of the Conservative Party of Canada are steeped in religion, and that the Prime Minister and a number of his most prominent political allies are motivated by a religious ethos in their official capacities as national rule-makers. The Tories' mixing of politics and religion -- most recently manifested in the abortion motion vote in parliament, Vic Toews' cutting of funding for non-Christian prison chaplains and MP Rob Anders' opposition to transgendered people getting to choose which bathroom they are permitted to relieve their bowels in -- don't suggest religious vigour has overrun political debate in this country but reinforce the fact the two go hand in hand. Religion is politics, and politics religion.

It is entirely nonsensical to require that religious people abide by their belief exclusively in the privacy of their own homes, because religion is much more than a private manner. In the first place, religion manifests itself in communal prayers and gatherings at least as much as it does in individual action and contemplation, if not more so -- Christians, Jews, Muslims and Sikhs may differ on what day of the week they attend services, but all agree these gatherings are central to their traditions.

And that is not the extent of religion in public -- for so many church, mosque and synagogue-goers, belief and tradition determine where they live and gather, who they marry, even with whom they work. Requesting of these people that they mute religion when it comes to politics -- any public realm for that matter -- displays a failure to comprehend just how all-encompassing religious belief is, and the impossibility, if one is religious, of turning belief on and off depending on the context.

On the other side, really, what is politics if not religion? Groups of people, often large groups of people, organized by and devoted to specific worldviews. Immense rule books that define an action or ideological stance to take on every conceivable incident in human life. Party conventions where all gather to worship the leader and empower his disciples. How is that any different from religion?

As for the particular accusation that the Harper Conservatives have established religion as a basis from which to establish and alter policy, there's no denying it. But I highly suspect the Christian right isn't alone in aspiring to have the power to decide where trangendered people are allowed to pee and poop, and it is most certainly not the only religious sect hell-bent on controlling the abortion debate. (Toews's bizarre cutback, on the other hand, is purely a play to Christians since the sensible thing would have been to chop all chaplain jobs and let missionaries and zealots from every conceivable religious group take up the task of ministering to prisoners free of charge, which they obviously would be happy to do.)

Further, the mixing of religion and politics by politicians is hardly confined to the right in general -- the number of Liberals and NDPers who don't go to church or some other religious equivalent is dwarfed by the number who do. Even at the far-left end of the spectrum, where anti-religious, hippie atheists are most likely to find themselves, there's Elizabeth May, who one day aspires to be a minister.

Every major national party will attempt to woo ethnic voters with like-minded candidates and boondoggles designed to show sympathy for religion and traditions (for politicians, mixing religion and politics doesn't exclusively mean incorporating one's own particular religion when the right photo op with another religious group, preferably involving the wearing of traditional costumes, presents itself). If the conflating of religion and politics is a crime, everyone's guilty.

Unless it's not a bad thing to begin with because religion and politics have a lot in common. Whichever way you slice it at the core what we're talking about is believing in something, so whether one believes in god or in this or that political movement, basically it's the same thing. And that's why it's fairly common, not some great tragedy, that we believe in both at the same time.

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