Andrew Scheer says he won't impose his religious beliefs on Canadians. We'll see: Neil Macdonald
Social conservatives in the United States have used all sorts of creative schemes to impose their views
Academics who study such things tell us that we naturally tend to seek shelter in our own intellectual cohort, and that this insularity is a bad thing, because absorbing only the viewpoints of those with whom you agree makes you less smart.
That makes sense. To ignore political views that clash with your own eventually leads to irrational obduracy.
There is research indicating that misinformed people rarely change their minds, even when presented with facts. They merely pursue alternative facts. Which creates a stupidity feedback loop.
So by all means, cast your attention net wide. Consume information and analysis across the political spectrum. I read the Weekly Standard and the National Review regularly. Having your mind changed by fact is a sublime experience.
Religion, though, is something else. It is by definition not fact-based. It is a pure belief system.
Religion in politics
To be clear here, I am all for a person's right to believe in whatever he or she desires, to embrace foundational myths of aliens, or miracles, or extreme positions of love or hatred, as long as it remains in a place of worship, with the door closed.
But it usually doesn't.
Religion most often involves a deep commitment to telling other people how to live their lives. In the U.S. — and to a lesser extent Canada — evangelical conservatives, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, are often a relentless and formidable political force.
Many expect and obtain supplication from candidates for public office. They push for laws that amount to moral dictation, often using their tax-free status to amass funding for their activism.
As a result, abortion, which the U.S. Supreme Court legalized decades ago, remains effectively inaccessible in several states. If Christian conservatives had their way, there'd be precious little access to contraception, either. Just look at the current assault on Planned Parenthood.
They fought bitterly against same-sex marriage, speciously and viciously arguing that it would somehow contaminate heterosexual marriage, or lead to pedophilia and bestiality.
They oppose transgender rights (transgender people are apparently freaks of nature or charlatans who must at all costs be restricted to a bathroom of society's choosing).
Their political lobbies want to force prayer back into school, and replace — or at least match — the teaching of science with superstition. (Yes, superstition. The word is defined as a persistent belief in something despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, and there is overwhelming evidence of evolution. Humans and dinosaurs did not co-exist, as creationists would have us believe, and the Earth is a lot more than 10,000 years old despite what the so-called young earthers say).
A matter of faith
Faced with legal barriers to some of these efforts, they decry judges as "activist" and seek to install more religious judges.
And whenever someone calls them on what is often plain old hatred-laced bigotry, they smile and say, "No, no, you don't understand. It's a matter of 'faith.'"
"Faith," apparently, confers licence to discriminate, bully, marginalize and deprive someone of liberty (such as the liberty to end an unwanted pregnancy).
Which brings us to the new leader of the Conservative Party of Canada, Andrew Scheer, who, if the preponderance of political analysis is correct, was pushed over the top by social and religious conservatives.
He seems a nice fellow — a bit like the current prime minister. Both men wander around with what seem like permanent smiles plastered on their faces.
But Scheer opposes the very notion of a woman deciding to end her own pregnancy. He voted against a law normalizing same-sex marriage, arguing in the Commons that "homosexual unions" are antithetical to raising families.
He also defended Alberta Bishop Fred Henry, who told parishioners in a 2005 letter that gay sex is "an evil act, whether it is performed in public or private" adding that:
"Since homosexuality, adultery, prostitution and pornography undermine the foundations of the family, the basis of society, then the state must use its coercive power to proscribe or curtail them in the interests of the common good."
Henry faced complaints to the province's human rights commission. That angered Scheer, who maintained Henry was merely instructing the faithful.
"To think that a Catholic bishop must answer to a civil authority over matters of faith is abominable. It is abhorrent to me, to other Catholics and to every member of every faith community," he said.
But notice the "faith community" reference. The good old catch-all.
Otherwise put, it amounts to this: "I and a bunch of other people like me think homosexuality is an abomination, but because we meet in church, you have to respect that view."
No, we don't.
Religious conservatives make the same basic argument when they argue that people suffering horrible, terminal pain shouldn't be enabled or even allowed to end their own lives.
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Canadians do have Scheer's word that despite his strongly stated positions, he would not as prime minister introduce legislation re-opening the abortion question or same-sex marriage.
But social conservatives in the United States have used all sorts of creative schemes to impose their views on populations in states where they hold sway. You often don't need legislation to get your way.
Canada's a different place, but a prime minister enjoys much broader power than a president.
A little de-funding here, a little creative regulatory tweaking there, and you can accomplish what you want without big, loud, bothersome House of Commons debates.
We shall see. Scheer has already wiped his policy platform off his leadership website.
Other than all that, by the way, congratulations. May the road rise up to meet you, the wind be at your back and the sun shine warm on your face.
- An earlier version of this column mistakenly said Conservative Leader Andrew Scheer described a bill normalizing same-sex marriage as "abhorrent." In fact, Scheer's statement referred not to the bill but to the treatment of a Roman Catholic bishop who had called gay sex "an evil act."May 30, 2017 4:04 PM ET