Church and state

Bill Blaikie, former Manitoba MP and a United Church minister, has written a book about faith and politics. (File photo/Canadian Press)

First aired on George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight (26/07/12)

Many citizens in democratic countries believe in a separation of church and state, that faith and politics don't really mix. Former federal politician Bill Blaikie has never operated that way. He's an ordained minister with the United Church but has also served 28 years in the House of Commons with the NDP. Blaikie believes in the Social Gospel, the idea that Christian ethics can provide solutions to social problems and that economic injustice should be a religious concern. He's written a memoir about his time in politics called The Blaikie Report: An Insider's Look at Faith and Politics. It's about how he sees the role of faith in today's "post-Christendom" society.

Over three decades of political service, he's noticed major changes in how people perceive religion in politics. When he was first elected to the House in 1979, he took a trip across Canada with four clergy members who were part of the NDP caucus. He recalls how during their travels they were often referred to affectionately as "the God squad" and were seen to be somewhat idealistic. These days, Blaikie believes the rise of the religious right and its ties with the political right has more people associating religion with conservative values.

"You get to the point where people think if you're religious and you're political you must be on the political right," Blaikie told CBC's George Stroumboulopoulos during a recent interview.

The politics of the religious right have come to be defined largely by two issues: abortion and gay rights. Blaikie, however, believes that younger religious conservatives are increasingly eager to move on from those issues to look at broader problems like poverty, AIDS in Africa and what we do about the environment. 

He also doesn't think religion has diminished in importance among people with progressive values in Canada. Our society is more multicultural, and multi-faith, than ever before.
"There have always been people of faith, not just Christians, but from all faith traditions in the NDP. It's one of the reasons why, with the encouragement of Jack Layton some years ago, we formed the Faith and Justice Commission of the party so we can say to Canadian who were paying attention that if you're religious, the NDP is a place you can be that way. It's not something that's forbidden. In fact it's one of the traditions of the party."

blaikie-report-125.jpgDuring the interview, Blaikie also addressed an argument made by staunch atheists that to allow religion or faith to intersect with politics to any degree is problematic. The show played a clip of biologist and author Richard Dawkins, who believes that religion is dangerous because it can be used to persuade people to carry out nefarious tasks such as suicide bombings. 

"I agree with him that that kind of religion is dangerous, but I don't think you fight that by criticizing religion in general," Blaikie said." I think you do that by acknowledging that religion can also be something else, that it has been something else. There are many people of faith who are conscientious objectors who believe that their faith instructs them to never kill under any circumstances."

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