And into the charged atmosphere that is Canada’s current grappling with the theocratic urges of its federal government comes this statement by British Columbia’s premier, Christy Clark:
During her informal 50-minute talk before the ethnically mixed audience, Clark discussed what it means to be a lifelong Anglican, her support for “faith-based” social services, her views on same-sex marriage, her commitment to “kindness” and her approach to the Bible.
“For me it’s been kind of an interesting experience to realize, for the first time in my life, that perhaps being a Christian is something that I should not talk about. But I reject that,” the premier said. Saying B.C. has more “declared atheists” than any province in Canada, Clark nevertheless said for her “the most important thing is to go to church every week and be reminded, by someone whom I respect, to be kind … to be compassionate.”
Now, it should be noted that Premier Clark went out of her way to acknowledge that atheists are not less charitable by disposition, and that she raises them only to contrast secular urges to give with the fact that her giving is inspired directly from her Christian beliefs. In so doing, Clark is walking the well-trodden road of the religious moderate – ‘well it works for me, and religion is all about kindness and compassion and puppies and rainbows’. While it provokes naught but eye-rolling from anti-theists like myself, it is likely to resonate with the people of British Columbia who are a rather mushy lot.
This, however, should be a giant red flag:
“I think we should be doing much, much more to involve faith communities in the work that government does, to serve the people,” Clark said, adding that “It’s not going to contaminate us.”
Given what we learned this morning, and given the religious makeup of the parts of the province that aren’t the City of Vancouver (rural BCers are, almost to a one, fundagelical Christians – leaving the city is like entering a parallel universe), this makes me all kinds of uneasy. When elected, Ms. Clark said explicitly that she was going to direct the resources of government to provide services. Now, she seems to have discovered a zeal for allowing the private sector – the religious sector specifically – to play a larger role in such provision.
Now, the generous interpretation of this statement is that Premier Clark sees an opportunity for community-based groups to integrate themselves and get involved in helping their fellow British Columbians. A call to public service is certainly laudable coming from a political leader, and I am totally in support of government empowering individuals and groups to become more involved in volunteerism. Given the context of the conversation – religious belief – and given the fact that church groups often act as de facto community organizations (in many cases offering services to the public), it seems perfectly natural that the Premier would suggest that this is a valid course of action for the government.
The most cynical and suspicious interpretation notes that this is an election year, and Clark is flailing to shore up any coalition she thinks could possibly re-elect her government (which has been consistently trailing in polls). By reaching out to ‘mushy middle’ religious voters and carefully ensuring that she doesn’t lose the support of the Bible Belt religious believers, this “faith in politics” sop is carefully calculated to ensure that she seems like all things to all voters. It’s also a signal to those who think that secular government is a failed experiment, and that B.C. needs a high priestess in charge, or at least someone who won’t stand in the way of a theocratic agenda.
I have no particular love for Ms. Clark’s government, and find her party’s platform repellent, so my opinion tends to fall pretty squarely along the cynical line rather than the generous one. Wherever the truth lies along a continuum between these two positions, even the cynic in me finds some snarky comfort in this:
When a member of the audience asked, through a written question, why some of Clark’s political policies “contradict the Bible,” the premier retorted that “the Bible contradicts itself.” She added: “I’m an Anglican. This is what we learn in church. The Bible is not a static document. It’s a teaching document. Which is why we debate its contents so vigorously.”
I would imagine that, should she be challenged from the religious right (which is entirely likely – it is on her right flank that she is most vulnerable), this comment will not sit well with folks from the interior. And while it might play well in Vancouver, her policy platform likely will turn off urban voters who are more concerned with the environment and housing than they are with whether their Premier believes that the Bible is literally or metaphorically true (or, complete falsehood). No, if she wants to make a dent in the polls, she’s going to need to find a way to suck up to Vancouver’s woo-soaked hordes and its immigrant population in one fell swoop. But how?
Your government knows that more must be done to ensure we have a health-care system that meets the demands of a population that is both changing and aging. An innovative health-care system must respond to the changing needs of its citizens and embrace practices beyond traditional western medicine. In the months ahead, your government will begin work to create the environment for a school of traditional Chinese medicine at a British Columbian post-secondary institution.
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