What do Democrats Barack Obama and Joe Biden, and Republicans John McCain and Sarah Palin, have in common?
All four candidates for U.S. president and vice-president have made it clear, exceedingly clear, they’re proud Christians.
None is willing to follow the wishes of many annoyed Canadians and refrain from ending speeches with “God bless America.”
Religion, specifically Christianity, plays a much bigger role in American politics than it does north of the border. God talk just can’t be avoided down there — thanks to the overwhelming Protestant presence.
And even though it’s not unethical by definition to invoke a Supreme Being from a political stage, the practice can be manipulated. It can even be abused for demogoguery, through suggesting, for instance, questionable wars and policies reflect “God’s will.”
That doesn’t mean the word God doesn’t ever sneak into Canadian politics. Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is quiet about his loyalty to the evangelical Alliance Church, will sometimes talk of his faith, carefully. Harper has also been known to declare “God bless Canada.”
Former Liberal PM Jean Chretien, a Catholic, occasionally mentioned God, including in this novel way: “God gave me a physical defect [a facial tic] . . . but I accepted that because God gave me other qualities and I’m grateful.”
Still, there are many fascinating reasons Canadian politicians are much less inclined than their American counterparts to, as typically skeptical Canadians might put it, “play the God card.”
I’ll cite a few of them.
The most obvious is the rising strength of white evangelical Protestants. They make up one out of four Americans.
They feel divinely motivated to convert others to their Jesus, and some are ready to use politics as part of that. Seventy-eight per cent of conservative white evangelicals voted for George W. Bush in the past two presidential campaigns. It made all the difference.
Conservative politicians north of the border don’t have this huge religious voting advantage because fewer than one out of 10 Canadians belong to evangelical churches.
And while many evangelicals quietly support Canada’s Conservatives — half of Harper’s caucus of MPs are evangelical — most don’t have any illusions they can openly bring most Canadians onside with their beliefs.
Canadians are like secularized Europeans that way. Of the world’s industrialized countries, the U.S. is the most religious and most Christian.
It wasn’t always this way.
In the early 20th century, Canada had a much higher percentage of the population attending churches than in the U.S., as North America’s leading historian of religion, Mark Noll (an evangelical), writes in A History of Christianity in Canada and the U.S.
Beginning in the 1950s, however, Canadian church attendance dropped off dramatically, as it did in Europe. At the same time, however, U.S. evangelical churches began to become more appealing, particularly to the middle classes.
The trend has caused many U.S. evangelical leaders to become carried away and aggressively declare theirs is a “Christian nation” — and always has been.
A few atheists have their panties in a twist once again, this time fussing that an atheist leader wasn’t invited to speak at an Aug. 24 interfaith service that’s part of the Democratic National Convention.
The service will feature Christian, Muslim, Jewish and Buddhist speakers. The official reason for the interfaith services is “to honor the diverse faith traditions inside the Democratic Party,” which could easily include atheists. If they aren’t welcome, it’s probably because they’re rude.
This column has advocated religious liberties for atheists, citing case law that defines atheism as just another religion – as in just another unproven and forever unprovable belief. This column has applauded a federal court ruling that forced prison wardens to allow prisoners an atheist study session. The court allowed the study session for the same reason wardens allow Bible study meetings: atheism is a religion, therefore subject to protections and restrictions of the First Amendment.
From the objective, legalistic standpoint of government, one belief is no more valid than another. Therefore a belief in creation – or an original intelligence, Jesus, Buddha, or the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” – is no more valid in the eyes of the law than the odd belief that nothing could possibly exist beyond what our embryonic state of scientific discovery has seen in our relatively primitive microscopes and telescopes. The humble and intelligent scientist understands that what we have proven about time and space is a microscopically small body of knowledge relative to the endless size and never-ending expansion of all that exists. To rational thinkers, atheism seems a sad and shallow belief. That’s because great scientists understand that, metaphorically, they’ve discovered little more than the drawings on the walls of a cave. They don’t know what’s beyond the cave or how it began. As Albert Einstein said: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind. … a legitimate conflict between science and religion cannot exist.”
Yet an amazing number of atheists have taken to confronting and insulting believers of other religions. They pretend that atheist beliefs are proven true, while others are proven false. They refer to other religions as “irrational,” and “superstitious.” Their approach to ministry is overbearing and rude. They engage in confrontation, with disregard for persuasion. It’s as if they’ve watched too much “American Idol,” where Simon Cowell briefly made it hip to be the bully.
Consider the righteous indignation of Becky Hale, founder of Freethinkers of Colorado Springs: “By reaching out to people of faith, they have shown the back of their hand to those who do not believe,” Hale told The Gazette.
In other words, if I’m not invited to your party then you’re bad. Even the name of Hale’s group is insulting. It implies that people of other faiths are something other than “free thinkers.”
No, Ms. Hale, nobody gave your group the back of the hand. You simply weren’t invited to a private party for “believers.” While the law considers you nothing other than a “believer” – clinging to a belief that no higher power could exist – those who organized the party don’t likely see you that way.
Hale, by her own admission, fancies her club as something other than a group of believers, calling it a group of “those who do not believe.” So why invite yourself to a party of believers, Ms. Hale?
Boulder atheist Marvin Straus accused Democrats of “pandering” for the religious vote. How dare they reach out to people who believe in God? There oughta be a law!
Hitler imagined a world without Jews. The Freedom From Religion Foundation rented a billboard near the Colorado Convention Center that says: “Imagine No Religion.”
Imagine a world with no religion and one sees a world without the Golden Rule, devoid of most charities, hospitals and great universities. One sees hurricane recovery zones, minus all the chartered planes and buses full of churchgoers giving their time and money to rebuild homes. How many children are fed and clothed by atheist charity organizations? Approximately none.
Imagine no religion and one sees a world ruled by atheist tyrants – Pol Pot, Albania’s Enver Hoxha, Stalin and Mao, to name a few – who have murdered tens of millions in modern efforts to cleanse society of religion.
American Muslims, Baptists, Jews, Christians, Buddhists, Mormons, Quakers, Amish, etc., don’t erect billboards saying “Imagine No Atheists.” They don’t advocate government force to cleanse atheist expressions and teachings from the public square. They don’t imply that atheists are “irrational,” even though atheists claim absolute knowledge. They don’t advocate theft and desecration of atheist property, even though an atheist hero in Minnesota stole and destroyed the Catholic Eucharist.
Democrats will nominate a Christian gentleman who respects others. It’s likely they didn’t invite atheists to their faith service because they didn’t want embarrassing guests. Atheists might bring pseudointellectual proselytizers, who are intolerant, self-aggrandizing and rude. Atheists should fund universities and hospitals. They should feed and clothe starving kids. They should act more like Christians and Jews. If they do some of that – if they contribute to a diverse humanity – they might get better party invites.