Monday, August 25, 2008

"Come All Ye Roman Catholics That Never Went To Mass"

A sordid episode, with a distinctly unpleasant American smell about it, in which Stephane Dion nevertheless handled things honestly, although naively and unconvincingly, and was also wrong: “You see, the Catholics can be relied on to vote Liberal, always, but the Protestants much less so. It’s very difficult to get them to vote for us. I am a Catholic.”

In the last federal election, according to pollster Ipsos Reid, it was only the Protestants who attend to their peculiar rituals every dang week who were demonstrably inclined (64 per cent) to vote Conservative, and the equally preoccupied Roman Catholics were also inclined (42 per cent) to vote Tory, outnumbering the Catholic weekly-mass-goers who voted Liberal (40 per cent).

But even setting aside the foolishly broad sweep of the "Catholics always vote Liberal" assertion, the hubbub raises two points: It illustrates how different we are from the Americans, and it also illustrates how similar we are to Americans in a way that we rarely concede.

Since they started electing their presidents in 1789, the Yanks have elected 43 presidents, allowing only one Roman Catholic (JFK) to do the job, and they killed him. We Canadians have elected 22 prime ministers since Confederation 141 years ago, and nine of them have been Roman Catholics - both Tories and Liberals.

Unlike Americans, Canadians never thought it necessary to erect a constitutional wall of separation between church and state, but generally, we've managed to do at least as good a job of keeping the two apart. Our Catholic prime ministers have tended to be at least nominally anti-clerical (going all the way back to Wilfrid Laurier) and unlike American presidents, all of our Protestant PMs have been, em, normal, until the current bloke. Stephen Harper is the first evangelical prime minister we've ever had, while the Yanks have elected an astonishing assortment of oddballs: Three presidents were from the "Disciples of Christ" church, Richard Nixon was a Quaker, and there was a Jay-Dub in the White House (Eisenhower, who didn't want anyone to know) and Congregationalists as well.

George W. Bush is an evangelical Christist, but evangelicalism is by no means an exclusively "right-wing" phenomenon in America. Jimmy Carter was an evangelical too, and he believed in UFOs for good measure. In Canada, Christian influence in politics is neither a recent nor an American trend. The most overt Christian influences in Canadian politics have come as much from the socialist left as the "Christian right," and it goes back aways. Among the founders of the Cooperative Commonwealth Federation (the forerunner of the social-democratic New Democratic Party), there were many Christian socialists and "social gospel" types, like the CCF's founding grandpappy himself, J.S. Woodsworth This tradition has persisted in the NDP, right up to Bill Blaikie, for instance.

Whether it comes from either the left or the right, I'm with Mr. Dedalus, who says to the priest, in James Joyce's Portrait of he Artist as a Young Man: " I'll pay your dues, Father, when you cease turning the House of God into a polling booth."

But then, I would say that. Having grown up in a devoutly Papish household, I share in a healthy aversion to anyone making speeches of any kind from the pulpit, preferring instead a safely half-literate priest engaging in sacramental ugubugu to his heart's delight, flouncing about with incense, mumbling to himself (Latin was the best), performing a weird conjuring trick with vague ritual-cannibalism associations, and otherwise shutting his big yapper. Notwithstanding my deep and abiding respect for Comrade Hitchens, whose antitheism I condone, there is no better cure for a hangover of a Sunday morning, let me tell you.


Blogger James O'Hearn said...

God love 'im, that wee Stephane lad.

You know, I would say this ranks as the most alienating slip of the tongue since George H.W. Bush's "You People" comment to the NAACP back in 1992.

This is one Irish Cathlic whose pencil has never marked an X for a Liberal politician...ever. NDP, PC, Alliance, Independent, even Reform, yes, but Liberal? No.

A big enough gun ain't been invented that would make me want to do that.

2:33 PM  
Blogger Craig said...

C'mon, Terry. What evidence do you have that Harper is an evangelical?
He doesn't strike me as particularly religious. Indeed, he rarely (if ever) talks about faith.

2:17 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...


I think you'll find that Harper is more openly Christian than any prime minister since perhaps Diefenbaker, but that's beside the point. I'm not putting forward any peculiar claim about Harper's religion, and I'm not claiming any more about it than i'm sure Harper would. Harper's a member of the Christian and Missionary Alliance church. It's an evangelical denomination:

2:32 PM  
Blogger bp said...

Having grown up in the United Church, where my mother's a minister, I can say that politics is definitely alive and well within the very left-wing culture (including a loud and annoying counterculture culture) of the church.

They are enormously proud of their Bill Blaikie, for example, who I knew personally in Winnipeg and is universally lauded as a sincere and honourable politician.

Many of the United Church's political types are Naomi Klein-philiacs and a little bit crazy (example), but they also include an openly gay minister in Toronto who just won his riding's Liberal nomination and was a top Ignatieff leadership campaign advisor.

6:42 PM  

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