Monday, November 07, 2011

Pulpit And Politics: The Book

With the ascension of the federal Conservative Party, there have been two important attempts made to measure the influence that religious voters--especially those associated with The Religious Right--wield over the Harper government.  One of these is Marci McDonald's The Armageddon Factor; the other is Dennis Gruending's recently released Pulpit and Politics.

Of the two, I think I prefer Gruending's effort better.  For one thing,  The Armageddon Factor seems a book researched where Pulpit and Politics seems a booked lived.  Gruending, an ex-MP and one-time Director of Information for the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops, moves easily over his subject, and  seems intimately familiar with the large cast of characters that make up the nation's community of religious activists. 

It is this familiarity, perhaps, that gives the book its second advantage; Pulpit and Politics seems less prone to the kind of overstatement that McDonald has been accused of.  Yes, socially convervative groups have sway with the current government, far more than during previous Liberal regimes.  Nevertheless, their ability to do real harm to the nation is limited; Pulpit and Politics readers will note that almost all the bones thrown to Religuous Right voters over the past several years have involved relatively minor foreign policy issues.  Efforts to promote family planning in the 3rd world, for example,  have been eliminated or scaled back or order to appease Pro-Lifers.  No attempt, on the other hand, has been made to defund or eliminate abortions services here in Canada.

Gruending also tells the story of religious progressivism in 21st century Canada; indeed the book is  sub-titled "competing religious ideologies in Canadian public life".  This part suffers from the fact that the subject matter is, frankly, depressing.  The federal Conservatives have treated their religious critics in the same fashion as their secular ones: as people to be derided, organizations to be defunded.  For example, Gruending spends several chapters over the fate of KAIROS (Canadian Ecumenical Justice).  This organization was deprived of federal monies for either--depending on the Minister speaking at the time--opposing the unrestricted development of Alberta's tar sands or insufficient zealotry in the cause of Israel.  Gruending narrates well the story's various twists and turns, culminating in the now legendary "not" that was inserted, by goodness knows who, into CIDA's memo to the minister approving KAIROS funding.  But its a head-shaker, and leaves the reader marvelling at just how low the current government is willing to stoop when they feel the public is paying attention to other things--off watching hockey or at the cabin or doing whatever the public does these days to avoid thinking too much.

(Although, as an aside, I'm happy to note that KAIROS is still out there, fighting the good fight--albeit on a shoe-string budget.)

As for the book's structure, Gruending starts off with several "big picture" essays setting out the demographics of religious Canada: who are the players, who votes for who, and so forth.  This done, he plunges right into the various skirmishes that make up Canada's version of The Culture Wars.  Its inside baseball stuff, and perhaps this will limit the book's broader appeal.  Nevertheless, if that's the level of coverage you are looking for in your political reading, and if how those of faith interact with the Canadian political system interests/concerns you (and I would argue it ought to), Politics and Pulpit  should be on your reading list.


Christian said...

Good post, BCL. I would argue the reason we have harper as prime minister, is precisely because most voters ignored the "inside baseball stuff".

jane smith said...
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Unknown said...
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