2 min

Organized religion is the thing

Throughout his career as a controversial newspaper columnist and filmmaker Theo van Gogh was an outspoken critic of virtually every manifestation of authority, especially organized religious authority.

In 2004 he was horribly murdered on an Amsterdam street. He was shot eight times, stabbed and nearly decapitated by a young man with ties to a radical Muslim organization that promotes the notions that Western cultures ought to be violently attacked and that expressions of human sexuality are morally filthy.

In 2005 the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published a series of satirical cartoons that depicted the Muslim prophet Mohammed. It was a slight against Islam — as Madonna’s song “Like a Prayer” was to Catholicism — one that should have resulted at most in rigorous discourse among the faithful and amusement among us infidels. Instead the publication of a few cartoons in a 150,000-copy newspaper led to widespread violence and at least 100 tragic deaths.

More recently on Sep 14 Sheik Saleh al-Lihedan, a senior Saudi Arabian official, told the listeners of a Saudi radio broadcast that satellite network owners who allow “bad programs” to air on their systems during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan could reasonably be tried and executed.

“What does the owner of these networks think when he provides seduction, obscenity and vulgarity?” al-Lihedan asked according to the Associated Press. “Those calling for corrupt beliefs, certainly it’s permissible to kill them.”

These three shocking examples are merely snapshots from just one of scores of centuries-long values-based struggles. This one is as much about the tyranny of radical Islam as it is about the tyranny of Western hegemony. But a common thread in each story is the use of organized religion to rationalize the infliction of horrible violence upon other human beings. History is littered with such examples. When power-hungry men strive to claw their way to social dominance, there’s almost always some attempt to manipulate our irrational human propensity for religiosity.

Although not outside the realm of possibility, these three examples are extreme in the context of Canadian society and politics. But that appeal to irrational religiosity is one of the chief tactics the Conservatives used to win the election in 2006.

Folded into this issue you will find a special editorial supplement entitled “Stephen Harper and the Rising Clout of Canada’s Religious Right.” It’s a detailed examination by award-wining journalist Marci McDonald of how the Conservative Party courted antigay, religious groups by promising them, among other things, increased access to the levers of government for the purposes of imposing sexual morality laws and active marginalization of sexual minorities.

“Were… gestures — like Harper’s promised vote on reopening the gay marriage debate — mere sops to a constituency that the Conservatives need to transform their mandate into a majority?” writes McDonald. “Could it be that Harper has tied the Conservatives’ future to a strategic faith-based alliance modelled after one that is already beginning to backfire on his ideological soul mate in the White House?”

The piece originally appeared in the Oct 2006 issue of The Walrus magazine and, along will all our coverage of the federal election, I think every Canadian ought to read it before they go to the polls on Tue, Oct 14.

As we go to press the left is poorly led and badly divided. The Conservatives are cruising toward a majority mandate. If they are successful the sun will rise and life will go on. But this government has demonstrated that it is prepared to tread on the necks of sexual minorities in its pursuit of power. It has demonstrated willingness to censor artistic and sexual expression and demonstrated its intention to fortify existing sexual morality laws and to impose new ones.

As voters Canadians need to know what they’re getting.