Sunday, April 30, 2006

Freethinker Sunday Sermonette: Oh, Canada

Sunday. Reading the news.

Polling in the US and Canada in the last year or two provides a snapshot of attitudes of the electorates in each country regarding religion and politics. Since the questions were different in the Canadian and American polls it is hard to compare them directly, but it is interesting to see the effect on Canadians of American views on the subject.

Earlier this month, Kevin Phillips summarized in The Nation results of several national polls in the US. More than 60% of "conservatives" and "republicans" (two separate -- but equal? -- categories) believe that a political leader should rely on religion when making policy decisions (Source: ABC/Washington Post poll, April 2005), with the figure for "democrats" and "liberals" in the low to mid twenties.

Canada just elected an evangelical Christian, Stephen Harper to lead their government, so it's interesting to look at their attitudes. According to a poll by CanWest News Service this month, 63% of respondents said they'd vote for an evangelical Christian "even [sic] if they liked the party and its views." (down from 80% ten years ago) but 68% said they'd vote for a Muslim or atheist candidate as well (down from 74% and 72% ten years ago). These are clearly different questions than posed to Americans, but comparing responses to the same questions within Canada shows slippage for identifying religion and politics. Canadian analysts suspect the US scene has something to do with it:
Mr. [Andrew Grenville, a senior vice-president of the polling firm Ipsos Reid] speculated that nervousness about American politics -- more so than the "Harper factor" -- is responsible for Canadians shying away from politics with religious overtones.

"One part of it is probably the Stephen Harper factor, but I don't think he has been really wearing his religion on his sleeve, nor really embraced strong moral stances that can be traced back to religious belief," Mr. Grenville said. "It's the U.S. example that has really turned people off."

The religious right in the United States is considered to be largely responsible for sending President George W. Bush back to the White House in 2004.

Moreover, the invasion of Iraq, which Canada did not support, was widely regarded to be infused with religious overtones.

"I wonder if we're being reactionary when we hear George Bush spouting off Bible verses along with rhetoric around his war?" said Richard Ascough, a religious scholar at Queen's University in Kingston.


In Canada, there was also a slip in the belief Christians should get into politics to protect their values, with only 39 per cent agreeing with the idea, compared with 46 per cent a decade ago.

There was also a five per cent drop -- to 40 per cent from 45 per cent -- in the number who believe it's essential for Christian values to play a major role.

Mr. Grenville said he believes there's been a bit of a backlash against the divisive political debate in the last couple of years over same-sex marriage.

"To me it suggests a growing divide in Canadian culture where religion can become that wedge that pushes people apart," he said. (Ottawa Citizen)
So the news from Canada isn't all bad, despite electing a religious rightwinger to lead them. And the same Canadian article suggests the backlash is happening in the US as well:
Americans who were surveyed also appear to be less inclined than they were a decade ago to vote for a leader who is an evangelical Christian, even if they liked the party and its views.

Only 64 per cent would do so, compared with 78 per cent 10 years ago. The results also suggest Americans would be more likely to vote for atheists or Muslims as leaders than they would have been in 1996.
Someday future generations will look back on this era as some kind of weird Dark Age that gripped the country before the sun shone again. I hope it doesn't come complete with a modern version of The Plague.