Of the many things that the Canadian left doesn’t like about the minority Conservative government of Steven Harper, the most alarming is the extent of the religious right’s new prominence in national affairs. So, you might ask, what’s the big deal?
Other interest groups, from Alberta oil companies to prairie grain co-operatives to Ontario auto workers to maritime fishermen, have always exerted influence, to one degree or another, on the national political stage. Why can’t evangelicals play the game, too?
Marci McDonald’s answer is that they’re not playing the game — they’re trying to change the game. This is not, she argues, just the rise of a fundamentalist Christian lobby, but rather the concerted application of a long-term plan to change Canada from a tolerant and peace-loving middle power into a country with a special Biblical role to play in the coming End Times — to impose, as her subtitle calls it, “Christian nationalism” on Canada:
What drives the growing Christian nationalist movement is its adherents’ conviction that the end times foretold in the book of Revelation are at hand. Braced for an impending apocalypse, they feel impelled to ensure that Canada assumes a unique, scripturally ordained role in the final days before the Second Coming — and little else.
McDonald documents that involvement in detail in The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada. McDonald’s book is more than just the usual partisan delineation of the evil back-room operatives of the other guy’s party. The Armageddon Factor intends to sound an alarm, to warn the non-fundamentalist majority of Canadians just what’s at stake:
The degree to which they succeed in prevailing over policy may depend on whether Canadians wake up to the realization that slowly, covertly, the political process is being co-opted by an extremist version of Christianity — one ultimately shaped by what I call “the Armageddon factor.”
Most of McDonald’s book is occupied with a closely-observed and thorough identification of the players and strategies of the Christian fundamentalists in Canada, a litany that closely mirrors — and is often closely tied to — their American equivalents. One major difference McDonald emphasizes is that while the American evangelical movement is very public and very high profile, the Canadian version has been, at least up to now, relatively stealthy and has gone largely unnoticed by other Canadians.
McDonald identifies a number of reasons for this lower profile: the general Canadian dislike of extremism and controversy, the greater size and dominance of the Canadian Catholic Church, and the role of the CRTC (Canada’s broadcast regulator) in limiting the Christian evangelicals’ access to national broadcast media.
This is changing quickly, especially since the Harper-led Conservatives took advantage of the Liberals’ corruption problems to become Canada’s minority governing party in 2006. With the Conservatives’ ascent to power, real influence in Ottawa was available for the first time to Canada’s fundamentalists — in particular, to Canada’s radical dispensationalists.
In McDonald’s view, it’s the dispensationalists, whose best known doctrine in belief in an impending Rapture, who are the greatest threat to Canadian democracy, due to the impact of their extreme, apocalyptic vision on Canadian domestic and foreign policy.
The dispensationalist doctrine and its influence on Canadian government policies are outlined in the book’s title chapter: “The Armageddon Factor.”
Christian Zionism, dominated by the dispensationalist idea that the re-establishment of Biblical Israel is crucial to the fulfillment of the End Times prophecies which promise the Second Coming of Christ, is “the volatile blend of biblical prophecy and realpolitik that has become an indispensable adjunct to Israeli foreign policy.”
The Harper government’s commitment to Christian Zionism was immediately apparent:
Within weeks of taking office in 2006, Harper had greeted Hamas’s victory in the Palestinian territories by becoming the first world leader to cut off its funding, beating even George Bush to that sanction. …
Since then, Harper has backed Israel with such fervour that veteran scholars and diplomats rank it as the most dramatic shift in the history of postwar Canadian foreign policy. …
Two years later, when Israel launched a three-week military campaign against Hamas militants … he left the rhetoric to others, but Canada was the only nation among forty-seven on the United Nations Human Rights Council to vote against a motion that condemned the offensive and called for an investigation into possible war crimes.
Why the change? Why has Canada, not so long ago universally respected as a moderate and moderating peacekeeper, become such a militant supporter of the armed Israeli resistance to a Palestinian state?
The answer, McDonald writes, is the Christian fundamentalists’ belief in the nearness of the End Times. In other words, Canadian foreign policy in the Middle East is being determined according to the beliefs of evangelical extremists. And this change is happening, McDonald warns, both according to a long-term master plan to turn Canada into a Christian theocracy and thanks to the larger Canadian public’s ignorance of the source and scope of the danger to our traditional forms of government.
What had been a marginal and idiosyncratic interpretation of a few ambiguous and symbolic Bible verses has become in the last thirty years an increasingly popular and powerful vision of the near future. From Hal Lindsey’s 1970 bestseller The Late Great Planet Earth to the hugely popular Left Behind series, End Times prophecies have come more and more to dominate the rhetoric and motivations of the Christian right, both in the United States and in Canada.
Canada’s Middle East foreign policy turnabout is only the most dramatic of the changes that evangelicals want to make to Canada’s government and society. They certainly don’t agree with Pierre Trudeau’s famous assertion that “The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation.” McDonald compares the motivational surge in the fundamentalists’ outrage over the legalization of same sex marriage in Canada to the similarly intense response to Roe v. Wade in the United States.
For Canada to fulfill its biblical role as a Christian refuge in the run-up to the End Times, the evangelicals believe, a Christian theocracy must replace the secular government which Canadians now enjoy.
And that resolve, that threat to multicultural and peaceful democracy, is the danger which motivated Marci McDonald to write The Armageddon Factor.