Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Another foray into non-fiction

I like more non-fiction as I age. I almost always have one on the go in the stack by my bed. The last one I read before this was A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson. It's a great book for people who are interested in science as I am, although it is not really about the science but about the scientists, their flawed humanity, and how science is viewed or scorned or ignored or twisted by society- humans again. So it was a very human book and humourous too.

But now I am reading a book about a politician. My science interest apart, my field of study way back when was political science and history and then international affairs. I have a collection of books on politicians - Winston Chruchill, Diefenbaker, Pearson (I took a course from him at Carleton), Trudeau, Chretien, to name a few.

I probably should be reading Johnson's Stephen Harper and the Future of Canada but this one is Stephen Harper, the Case for Collaborative Governance by Lloyd Mackey. I have to say that it is not terribly well written. I find it rambling, repetitive and unfocused. But in spite of its literary flaws I am finding it worth reading.

Harper's grandparents came from New Brunswick and he spent some summers there as a boy. He was born and grew up in middle class Toronto, his parents voted Liberal and he was raised United Church (Some people I know would say that was enough to turn anyone off the left) and then Presbyterian when his parents moved. He admired Trudeau. He graduated with a gold medal for highest marks from his high school. He then went to the University of Calgary.

Of special interest to me is Harper's religious bent, painted as he often is in garish religious right colours. This quote was arresting because you can tell a lot about a person from what they read. "Harper had no social background in the turbulent changes occuring in Canadian evangelicalism. His move from scepticism to faith had come through a revisiting of his own religious background with the help of the writings of C.S. Lewis and Malcolm Muggeridge." Huh? Anyone who reads C.S. Lewis seriously can't be all bad. When he went to Ottawa as opposition leader he attended East Gate Alliance church a small evangelical parish in a French working class area. " Besides English the languages of worship are Filipino, Spanish and French."

The author has this to say about faith in politics and Martin (who attended Blessed Sacrament Church, a large charismatic RC parish in Ottawa) and Harper: "Both men could be considered 'customising' Christians... Customising Christians attend church fairly frequently but not because they feel they need to. They listen pretty carefully to their pastors but they do not necessarily take the word of those pastors as ultimate truth. Positively stated they are critical thinkers. They appreciate what the pastor has to say but they use the minds God gave them as well.... Customising Catholics show up in similar proportions....People who try to detract from Martin's or Harper's faiths are doing no justice to the political process." A little further on the author notes: "It was not until after his death that the public became aware of Trudeau's spiritual commitment and discipline within the framework of Catholic thought."

Here's another comment: "There was another religious factor that Harper had to face, in the form of the "social gospel" which had been at the base of Douglas's New Democratic Party and its predecessor. If the various evangelical denominations represented the "Conservatives at prayer" much the same thing could be said of the United Church -especially its more liberal social justice wing. It was like "the NDP at prayer".... Harper gradually formed the conclusion that mainstream Protestant leaders in their embrace of the social gospel and more particularly liberation theology, were becoming more Marxist and less Christian." Hmmm. "In that sentiment, he probably found considerable agreement from Malcolm Muggeridge, who when converted to Christianity, jumped straight across the religio-political spectrum from left to right." I am going to have to read some Muggeridge. The author interviewed Muggeridge once the results of which were never published. He says: "It was a bit of a barn-burner in its critique of the contemporary liberal church which he believed was thoroughly apostate and corrupt. "

Harper is described as a voracious reader. He apparently asked his thesis advisor which classic economics texts he should read. His advisor told him he didn't have to read them, no one else did . But Harper did anyway and his bibliography ran to 10 pages plus 2 pages of other sources.

There is a really good analysis of Harper's speech to the Fraser Institute in Calgary April 29 2005 which reveals a lot about his policy direction. Lots of good stuff to mull over. He is our Prime Minister. After reading this book I know more about him now than I did and am less likely to be swayed by political hyperbole on either side.


jar said...

What is meant by "liberation theology"?

canary said...

I believe it is the idea, originating initially in the RC church and largely in South America, that Christians have an obligation to be politically active on behalf of the poor and oppressed. The movement has spread globally and into other denominations. While the supporters of "social and political action" on the part of ministers and/or congregations say this is a worthy descendant of "Christ's mission" it is my understanding that the critics of this movement say it lays open individual churches and denominations to partisan influence or alliance - hence the perception that the United Church is the National Democratic Party (left wing) at prayer while evangelical denominations are Conservatives (right wing) at prayer. The implication is that Churches are being or may be "used" by political forces to advance their particular agendas. (A recent example in Canada would be the call by the United Church of Canada for its members not to buy bottled water, as their position is that the sale of water is immoral as accesss to clean water is a "right". It happily coincides with the political position of one party that the sale of Canada's water is not in the country's interest!)

This is perhaps a simplistic explanation but that's my take on it. Perhaps my friend Mamie might comment further as she would be more familiar than I with the concept I think.

My personal opinion is that while action on behalf of the poor and oppressed may, nay should, be urged by what is said in church, churches (any denomination including non Christian religions) and their ministers/leaders should not be politicised. Many congregations have people sincerely concerned with social and political issues; however they may have very different views on public policy - how to acheive those goals and they should feel free to act on their own conscience in the ways they think will be most effective. Pastoral care however, which is a form of social action has always been part of the Christian ministry and I feel leaves sufficient scope for caring attention of parishioners and non parishioners alike. It should not however, in my view, have a partisan tone or motivation.

mamie said...

Canary, you are correct - liberation theology is most noted for it's "preferential option for the poor" which it believed was in keeping with the teaching of Jesus. In practice, in Latin America it was accused of becoming too activist and political and was squelched by the Pope. I think Cardinal Ratzinger (the present pope Benedict) probably had something to do with the clampdown.

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Romania.
Dorothy Parker, Not So Deep as a Well (1937)