Friday, September 09, 2011

are we really that scary (book review: The Armageddon Factor by Marci McDonald)

At the end of this month my husband is going to visit the National House of Prayer in Ottawa with other members of a prayer group from our church. As a preparation for that trip, one of the organizers suggested members of the group read Marci McDonald's The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism In Canada. Hubby borrowed it from the library and that's how the book happens to be in our house (a book I intentionally avoided reading when it first came out last year, suspecting it would be a downer).

After hubby finished it and we discussed it, I decided to read it for myself. I was right to avoid it in the first place. It is probably the most disheartening, yet heartening, book I've ever read.

In it McDonald seeks to show how the Christian religious right (she calls them "theo-cons") is making inroads into public life in practically every department. She depicts this as a sinister thing, especially where it appears they are following in the vanguard of the religious right in the US (as in Moral Majority, Focus on the Family, activist Washington lobbyists etc.). The motivation behind this new activism, she explains, is based on Bible prophecy with Christians attempting to establish a type of theocracy in Canada and thus hasten the second coming of Christ and the Battle of Armageddon.

She discusses the gamut:
Ch. 1: The history of the Conservative Party, their coming to power, and courtship of theocons (Stephen Harper, Stockwell Day)

Ch. 2: The rallying of Christians across the country in organizations such as the EFC, CFAC, IMFC and others (Brian Stiller, Charles McVety, Brian Rushfeldt etc.)

Ch. 3: The Manning Centre and its role in training conservatives for political life (Preston Manning).

Ch. 4: The National House of Prayer and its roots in the early 1970s revival in St. Margaret's Church, Vancouver (David Demian, Rob & Fran Parker etc.).

Ch. 5: The young hip movers and shakers who have gained influence in Ottawa (Ron Luce, Faytene Kryskow etc.)

Ch. 6: Creationism and Intelligent Design, Drumheller's Tyrell Museum vs. the Big Valley Creation Science Museum (Harry Nibourg, Denyse O'Leary etc.)

Ch. 7: Battles in education, especially parents versus homosexual-advancing curriculum, homeschooling, TWU, The Laurentian Leadership Centre (Heather Stilwell and the Surrey banned books controversy and much more).

Ch. 8: The media, the CRTC, 100 Huntley Street, The Miracle Channel (David Mainse, Dick Dewert, Willard Thiessen).

Ch. 9: The legal profession and human rights commissions (Ezra Levant).

Ch. 10: Foreign policy—McDonald is highly critical of the PMs support of Israel.

This is not an objective book. McDonald does't credit Christians with making any positive contributions to Canadian society (with the exception, of course, of socialist heroes like Tommy Douglas, who was also a minister). Rather, she's a conspiracy bloodhound, detecting power-seeking motives in everything Christians do. Here, for example is her account of a meeting with Dave Quist, at the Institute of Marriage and Family Centre (IMFC), an initiative of Focus on the Family, Canada:

"What was unexpected, during my quick tour of the institute's Ottawa offices, was a telling omission in its decor: no photos of the avuncular Dobson stared down from its walls and his countless books and publications were nowhere in sight. So eager is the IMFC to distance itself from Dobson's controversial political role in the U.S. that, shortly after its opening, Quist made a point of telling me that he had never met the Focus founder nor had he visited his Colorado Springs lair where nearly a thousand employees dispense Dobson's wares..." p. 86.

Of course if Quist's office had been decorated with Focus stuff, no doubt she would have seen something equally sinister in that.

The entire book is dyed with a similar sarcastic, disparaging tone. McDonald seems to especially rejoice in making jibes, through her choice of language, at the people involved (people who gave her interviews in good faith, it would wonders how she represented her project to them).

Describing a pastor's interest in creation science: "Creationism, it turns out, is Pastor Mike's shtick" - p. 190.

Dr. Margaret Helder, head of the Creation Science Association of Alberta is described as: " Edmonton grandmother with a Ph.D. in biology" - p. 191.

Author Denyse O'Leary is "...a birdlike wordsmith known for her omnipresent hats and prolific output" - p. 198.

MP Vic Toews "...spent years railing against 'these radical liberal judges...'" - p. 282.

Ezra Lavant is "...a relentless noise machine..." p. 300.

Of course sky-is-falling alarmism is never far from the surface and comes out full-force in the final chapter. Here is her incendiary salvo of warning:

"Waving their bright flags on the lawns of the Parliament Buildings, extolling the country's Christian roots to a compelling soft-rock beat, they might seem to offer a refreshing recipe for morality and national pride, but their agenda—while outwardly inclusive and multi-racial—is ultimately exclusionary. In their idealized Christian nation, non-believers—and those in violation of biblical law, notably homosexuals and adulterers, would merit severe punishment and the sort of shunning that once characterized a society where suspected witches were burned. Theirs is a dark and dangerous vision, one that brooks no dissent and requires the dismantling of key democratic institutions. A preview is on display south of the border, where decades of religious-right triumphs have left a nation bitterly splintered along lines of faith and ideology, trapped in the hysteria of overcharged rhetoric and resentment" - p. 359,360.

We want to burn witches and shun homosexuals and adulterers? I've never heard of such a thing! Thankfully McDonald restrained herself from sic 'eming the white-masked, pointy-headed lynch mobs on us. As I said, this book is disheartening in that it is negative and hate-filled.

But it's also heartening in that Christians in Canada are making a difference. Who knew that the evangelical church was awake and active on so many fronts in our nation?

Reading this book has made me see again that this is a spiritual battle. It will be won with spiritual weapons. One of them is prayer.

People in the many organizations working on the political front need our prayers: the Prime Minister and cabinet ministers, organizations like the EFC, CFAC, IMFC, educators and parents, Christian media outlets and personalities, lawyers, judges and the list could goes on. Let's join them in the trenches—on our knees.

Regent College professor and historian John Stackhouse provides more insights on the book's reliability and the issues it discusses. His three-part review is here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

For more book reviews, visit Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books (where this review is linked, along with dozens of others)

Violet Nesdoly / poems
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Peter Black said...

Thank you for this enlightening (while disheartening / heartening) review, Violet.

It seems that McDonald has resorted to the poor analysis and rash fearmongering of which she accuses others.

Anonymous said...

Psalm 34:21-22
New Living Translation (NLT)
 21 Calamity will surely overtake the wicked,
      and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
 22 But the Lord will redeem those who serve him.
      No one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.


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