I received an interesting email the other day, which I haven’t had a chance to write about until now. It read:
I’m an ex-Jehovah’s Witness. I left that cultic movement at the end of the 90’s after being a member for 6 years. I have become an atheist since. I have a bilingual web site against that cult : www.watchtowerlies.com
I was wondering if you should not create, you Canadian atheists, an atheist political party in Canada. Like “The Atheist Conservative Party of Canada”, to grab some votes from the conservative party of Stephen Harper. We know that that party is under the influence of christian fundamentalists and helps and funds cultic movements here and abroad(Canada’s Office of Religious Freedom that also supports the Jehovah’s Witness cult). Some right wing conservatives don’t agree with the religious/cultic point of views of the party.
What do you think?
The first thing I wanted to ask was if there was any evidence supporting the idea that Stephen Harper (the Canadian Prime Minister) supports religious cults. So I did some digging, and it seems the assertion does hold some merit.
As a man of religious conviction, Harper is no different than past prime ministers. Most of his predecessors have professed religious faith, though they’ve been careful not to let it drive their policies. Paul Martin personally opposed same-sex marriage, but eventually supported it as a Charter of Rights issue. Even Pierre Trudeau, who famously said the state had no business in the bedrooms of the nation, and who advanced abortion rights, was a devout Catholic.(Since then, Kim Campbell, an Anglican, has been the only non-Catholic PM before Harper.)But Harper is the first in recent times whose religion has become an issue, largely because it is seen to cut against the grain of mainstream Canadian social values. He is the first evangelical prime minister since John Diefenbaker, and the first ever to belong to the relatively obscure Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination.
Minister Baird, in an address to the United Nations said, “We don’t see agnosticism and atheism as being in need of defence in the same way persecuted religious minorities are. We speak of the right to worship and practice in peace, not the right to stay away from places of worship.”
In his address to the 2012 Religious Liberty Dinner in Washington DC, Minister Baird said, “We know that freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion.” This statement completely ignores comments made by the Supreme Court of Canada that freedom of religion includes freedom from religion. (Regina v. Big M Drugs, 1982).
While both of these articles raise some red flags if you’re a staunch secularist like I am, I doubt very much that an atheist party would do any better here than it would in America. While Canadian citizens tend to be less fervent than our American cousins, there is still a strong religious streak here that would probably prevent any sort of atheist party from gaining traction.
In fact, according to the 2011 census report, two-thirds of Canadians (22 million) say that they’re Christian. One quarter of Canadians said that they had no religious affiliation, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re atheists.
Usually, when religion gains enough support, oppression begins to seep in. For example, we have recently seen Quebec start to exert religious oppression:
The Canadian province of Quebec has made the news this week in announcing their intention to write into law a Charter of Quebec Values. This charter, supposedly secular in its aims, would ban from the public sphere all personal symbols of religion, with the exception of Christian crosses, which must be (ambiguously) small in size. If this gets into law, it will be illegal for all public servants to wear Sikh, Jewish, Muslim or other religious items, including skull caps, hijabs, turbans, and any other visible symbol of faith.
However, every one of Canada’s Prime Ministers has been a Christian and I doubt that trend will change any time soon. It’s possible that in the distant future, Canada might be ready to break away from superstition and primitive mythology, but it probably won’t be any time soon.
I think a more realistic goal for secular Canadians is to fight for a clear separation of church and state. In practice, we already enjoy that freedom, thanks to our courts, but it should be set on paper and enforced. It should be made clear to every single Canadian that we value separation of church and state. It’s the only real way for us to move forward and welcome those people who wish to practice their faith, as well as those who lack belief in such things.