The Armageddon Factor: notes

May 17, 2010

I’ll upload more notes as I go.

Notes for a review of  The Armageddon Factor, by Marci  McDonald, Random House. 2010

The separation of church and state enshrined in law is an American concept.  Because our country was not populated by refugees who believed they were fleeing religious oppression in the manner of the pilgrims to the Thirteen Colonies, we have never had laws like the First and Fourteenth Amendments in Canada.  In the United States for members of the religious right to assert their power over government they have to bypass the constitution, but not in Canada.

In fact, the orderly history of Canada relies upon a strong tradition of churchmen exerting a benign influence over government.  Schools, universities, and hospitals were started by churches until well into the twentieth century.  In Quebec the Catholic Church controlled the province until the Quiet Revolution of the 1960’s.  Over 2 million acres of clergy reserves in Ontario left the Anglican Church an economic power of great influence. p. 52

On the prairies the desperation of the Depression gave rise to the J.S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas radio ministries and demands for compassionate treatment from government.  The Social Gospel movement became the CCF and later the NDP.  Canadians have this populist movement to thank for Canada’s system of medicare.

Bible Bill Aberhart in Alberta founded the Social Credit, a right wing populist group.  After Aberhart’s death Ernest Manning took over, hosting the Back to the Bible Hour while serving as Alberta Premier for a generation.  His son Preston founded the Reform Party which later morphed into the Canadian Alliance and the Conservative Party of Canada.  53

Same-sex marriage legislation in Canada was a great defeat for the religious right, their Alamo, if you will.  In its aftermath the movement evolved and strengthened, determined never to allow a defeat like that again.  The strident theo-conservatives from the United States moved north, responding to invitations from individuals in Canada seeking to profit from their fundraising expertise and image.

Ralph Reed is widely credited with engineering George W. Bush’s White House victories.  Charles McVetey of Canada Christian College 81 invited him to Canada and the American Republican influence gave new intensity to the the organized activities of Christian evangelicals.  As Reed told his audience in Toronto, “Democracy is often a game played by a motivated few:  in the nitty gritty of grass roots organizing, it can take only a handful of citizens to commandeer a nomination contest.”   76

Preston Manning reinvented himself after losing the helm of the Canadian Alliance.  Although he remained loyal to the party and to those who had supplanted him, embodying the Christian tradition of his upbringing,  he apparently realized that his straightforward approach to politics would no longer work, and so he opted for a much more covert approach to leadership. His Manning Centre for Building Democracy now trains Conservative party operatives using the twin metaphors of the serpent and the dove.

McDonald likens the Conservative legislative strategy to that of the anti-slavery activist M.P. William Wilberforce in the 2006 film Amazing Grace.  Frustrated for two decades in his efforts to end the British slave trade, during a war with France he engineered a “patriotic” bill, the Foreign Slave Trade Act, which forbade trade with the French.  It slipped through the British Parliament before the pro-slavery elements twigged to its real intent:  by  barring British slave merchants from selling their human cargo to French plantation owners  in the United States, they had effectively outlawed two thirds of the slave trade and destroyed its economic viability.  98

Apparently inspired by the film, Preston Manning repeatedly showed clips from it in his presentations and urged evangelical activists to study Wilberforce’s strategy “backward and forward,” counseling them to employ both his patience and his subterfuge.  98.

“If Harper’s sly circumvention of Parliament (on the issue of grants for Canadian films) bore an amazing resemblance to that of Amazing Grace — right down to undercutting the commercial viability of the Canadian film industry — it was no accident.” 98

Rocking the Vote:  Faytene Kryskow.

Self-styled prophetess and cheerleader for the charismatic Christian right, Kryskow’s activities as a youth organizer have garnered significant media attention and free passage through the corridors of power of the Harper Government.  An energetic pro-life campaigner who counts among her mentors  Stockwell Day,  she has outlasted more lurid performers of her crowd who have fallen to scandal and become a force on Parliament Hill.

One of her projects involved writing a short history of Canada from a Christian perspective.  She sent copies to every senator and parliamentarian.  Perhaps inspired by her historical researches for the book, she once rented the Dominion Chalmers United Church “trumpeting it as the site where the nation’s first prime minister, Sir John A. Macdonald, ‘got saved.’”

In fact the church was not built until after his death and the man wasn’t known for his religious beliefs, but  Kryskow doesn’t seem much inclined to let a lack of facts get in the way of a good story, which might reflect upon her frequent claims of divine inspiration.

Ken Epp, an Edmonton backbencher, sponsored a private member’s bill in 2008 to protect the rights of the unborn in murder cases.  The bill passed, in part due to a snowstorm which kept voting opposition members away from the house.  Kryskow and her crew burst into cheers in the gallery.  When the bill died without a third reading when Harper called an election, Kryskow blamed Harper’s betrayal of her cause for his sudden decline in popularity, the same way she tied drops in the stock market and the Canadian dollar to each successful move by pro-gay legislators.

What’s scary about Kryskow is not so much her visions or her flexible concepts of veracity, but rather the unfettered access she and her gang have to Parliament Hill and Stockwell Day.  Her motto of “kicking major devil butt p. 174” says a lot.

Remember when comedian Rick Mercer played the trick on Stockwell Day, getting Facebook kids to ask him to change his name to “Doris?”  Our Faytene did one better, swamping a CBC 140th anniversary poll — which asked for teen’s fondest wish — with 9500 votes for the abolition of abortion. 169

Chapter 7:  The Joshua Generation

Styled upon the successful Patrick Henry College in Virginia, Western Trinity University is a small British Columbia Christian school which was founded in the 1960’s with a view to producing a generation of Christian leaders for Canadian government.  With the opening of the Ottawa Laurentian Leadership Centre in a renovated mansion, its students have a base from which to work as interns on Parliament Hill.  Harper’s government members have willingly accepted these interns. “At least thirty of the centre’s young Christian soldiers have won jobs in Ottawa’s permanent policy-making apparatus and every semester produces new recruits.” 244

MPs Chuck Stahl and Diane Ablonczy  are Western Trinity alumni.  Jared Kuehl went straight to Harper’s office after graduation.  Mark Penninga became spokesman for Focus on the Family Canada, then founded the Association for Reformed Political Action.

Before he was prime minister, Harper railed against the liberalism of the civil service and Trinity Western is not alone in attempting to help him reverse that tilt.  More than a dozen well-regarded Christian colleges and universities now exist in this country, and the Conservatives are quietly fostering their growth.  When economic stimulus funds were being doled out, Harper funneled more than $26 million their way, including $2.6 million to Trinity Western – a windfall that was announced by Conservative MP Mark Warawa, a TWU alumnus himself.  245

“In today’s society, there are important issues and Christians have a role to play.  I think our students are already influencing the thinking of government.”  Don Page,  Dean of Graduate Studies, TWU.  245

McDonald steps outside her normal role of historian in the book when she recounts a morning visit to the Laurentian Leadership Centre.

Only weeks earlier the National Post had run a flattering, full-page profile of the Laurentian Leadership Centre, celebrating it as a new haven for the “sharpest edge of intellectual evangelical Christianity, but on the day I visit there is little evidence of that acuity.  If this is history filtered through a biblical worldview, it is a version that seems hopelessly skewed by conservative bias and a marked disregard for the facts.  When students refer to the Toronto Star as “the Red Star” and deride Canada as a “welfare state,” I feel as if I’ve stumbled into the ornate clubhouse of some fresh-faced relics from the Reagan era.  242

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