I have been posting to my Pulpit and Politics blog for just over a year now, 31 stories in all about the intersection between faith and public life. I was pleased to learn recently that Pulpit and Politics is a finalist for a 2008 Canadian Blog Award in the category of Best Religious-Philosophy blog. I would recommend a number of theseÂ blogs as well worth reading. The winners will be announced on December 16.Â As Pulpit and Politics observes an anniversary, I have reviewed stories written over the past year (they remain posted on the site) in a search for some patterns.
One of my consistent interests is the impact that the religious right is having upon political life in Canada. An Ipsos-Reid exit poll following the election in 2006 indicated that the vote of evangelical Christians and Catholics who attend church weekly had been a deciding factor in the election of a Conservative minority government. The question is whether that pronounced religious vote is a blip or an emerging reality in Canadian political life. That question led me to look more closely into the relationship between the religious and the political right. I presented an academic paper on the topic at a conference at The University of Western Ontario in May 2008, and it will comprise one chapter in a book of conference proceedings to be published in 2009.
We had an election in Canada in October 2008 and there was another exit poll. I have yet to write about its results but I will. I have, however, written two pieces on the American election and how Barrack Obama made inroads into the Republicanâ€™s mighty fortress among churchgoers. Obama was able to make onlyÂ modest gains among white evangelicals, who continue to be a bedrock for the Republicans. He did not win among white Catholics either but he was much more successful than the Republicans among Hispanic Catholics and blacks of every faith.
My interest in the religious right also led me to examine a growing network of think tanks and advocacy groups in Canada, such as the Work Research Centre, the Institute for Marriage and the Family, the Manning Centre, the National House of Prayer in Ottawa, and religiously conservative youth group 4MyCanada. These organizations constitute a conservative matrix whose personnel attend each otherâ€™s conferences, write for each otherâ€™s newsletters and appear as spokespersons on sympathetic media to discuss the latest budgets, elections and court cases. They share a deep suspicion of government, an antagonism toward public social programs and a dislike for the labour movement. They have taken ideas once considered to be on the fringe right and moved them into the mainstream debate. Stephen Harper and the Conservatives court them assiduously.
I was challenged gently by some readers to focus less on the religious right and more upon the progressives who have been struggling to have their voices heard in all churches and in Canadian society. There exists a deep frustration among some, like Rev. Bill Blaikie, the recently retired NDP member of Parliament. They say that the religious impulse was essential to the formation of progressive political movements, but that today when people hear the word â€œreligionâ€ they think immediately of right wing politics and intolerance. I did not have to look far to find many examples of religious progressives who promote peace, work to improve Medicare, question the environmental impact of tar sands development, and argue that governments must engage in a national poverty reduction strategy. Those topics arose in public events featuring people such as Most Rev. Lois Wilson, a former moderator of the United Church of Canada and later an Independent member of the Senate; Murray Thomson, who remains at age 85 an energetic and indefatigable promoter of peace and an opponent of militarism; and Douglas Roche, former MP, Senator and Canadian disarmament ambassador to the United Nations. They are all people who are truly extraordinary in their commitment, energy and integrity. All of them are respected elders but I will also be interested in future to seek out younger people who are in the process of accepting the baton to continue the good race.
About nine months into my first year of writing Pulpit and Politics, I had a counter installed to tally the visits that I am receiving. They number about 3,000 per month, a modest amount but also instructive when I place them into the context of book publishing. Most Canadian writers are pleased if their book sells 5,000 copies. So 9,000 visits to a blog over three months is most satisfactory, although I admit there is a difference between reading an 800 word blog posting and an 80,000 word book. Still, the numbers do suggest that digital technology is creating an opportunity for writers to reach readers directly, bypassing the conservative gatekeepers who dominate increasingly in media and publishing.
The counting device also provides some insight about what people are searching for when they come to the blog site. I wrote five pieces about religion and the Canadian election leading up to voting day on October 14th and it is those articles that have received the most traffic. I wrote about the positions that churches and religious organizations were taking on the issues; about Stephen Harper and evangelical voters; and about the leadersâ€™ debates that were broadcast on television and radio. Many readers came to the blog using search phrases such as: â€œStephen Harper and religionâ€, “Harper 2008 electionâ€, and â€œelection debate 2008â€. Another way of judging reader interest is the Comments section that is available at the end of each blog posting. The piece that drew the most comments was one that I wrote about the leadersâ€™ debates. I posed the questions that I would ask if I were the debateâ€™s moderator and I invited readers to post their own questions in the Comments section. A number of people did so and their questions were both penetrating and thoughtful.
Another item that drew numerous comments was my report on a rally called The Cry, which was staged by a religiously conservative youth group on Parliament Hill in August. I reported how the rallyâ€™s speakers denounced pretty well everything about contemporary Canada while they offered praise for the Harper Conservatives and the government of Israel. I received comments, both pro and con. As a footnote here, The Cryâ€™s organizers predicted a turnout of thousands, but the RCMP and media organizations estimated the attendance at only 400. Some religiously conservative reporters were prepared to fudge the numbers, implying that up to a thousand had attended.
Another popular piece was one that I wrote about Mahatma Gandhi following a trip that I made to India early in 2008. The article drew a number of comments and it was a favoured destination for readers visiting the blog. Gandhiâ€™s non-violent resistance to British colonial rule and his fervent work on behalf of peace, particularly between Hindus and Muslims, remain an inspiration, and an appropriate reminder about the significance that accompanies the Christian feast of Christmas. As we approach that feast, may peace be with you, your loved ones and all who share our planet.