Marci McDonald's "The Armaggedon Factor": The Unravelling Begins

Marci McDonald, who has won many prizes and held many prestigious positions in Canadian journalism, has just released a very bad book on what she posits is an increasingly menacing Religious Right in Canada.

Let’s start with the title: The Armaggedon Factor. Notice, as if you couldn’t, the hysterical title conveying the usual stock-in-trade of contemporary journalism: FEAR! FEAR…and how it can kill your family! More news at 11! (HT: The Colbert Report)

It doesn’t get better. I’m wading through its confused prose, bad arguments, lack of specificity and evidence, and preposterous paranoia and intend to write more soon.

(Two quick examples, though, lest I be accused of a drive-by shooting:

#1: “[Ralph] Reed’s Christian Coalition controlled both Houses of Congress” in the 1990s. No serious scholar of American politics would make such an assertion and Ms. McDonald adduces not a single shred of proof nor even an authoritative source for such a preposterous notion. Her notes indicate that her main sources for such generalizations are the widely discredited screeds by Goldberg, Hedges, and Phillips–yellow journalism of the same alarmist school.

#2: Ms. McDonald asserts the plausible thesis that post-Quiet Revolution Quebec is the most secular society in Canada, but her “proof” of it is bizarre: “its birth and marriage rates are the lowest and its abortion rates the highest in the country.” Such a characterization sounds, ironically enough, as if it is a charge levelled by fundamentalist Charles McVety himself: secularity is best defined–not by lack of church attendance, the usual sociological metric, nor by a lack of public influence or privilege enjoyed by churches and their clergy, the usual historical reference point–but by being against marriage and for abortion. “Aha!” one can hear McVety chortle with glee: “Just like I’ve always said!”)

As I say, I’ll mount a more systematic case soon. In the meanwhile, however, some bloggers have already noticed that Ms. McDonald is getting basic facts wrong . . . or misinterpreting what facts she has. (It’s like shooting fish in a barrel: Time magazine’s famous cover didn’t assert that “God Is Dead” but asked, “Is God Dead?” and it came out in 1966, not in the 1980s, as Ms. McDonald avers. Big deal, you say? Well, when the easy-to-check facts are wrong, how do you believe the ones that aren’t?)

Paul Wells writes here; Mark Petersen writes here.

0 Responses to “Marci McDonald's "The Armaggedon Factor": The Unravelling Begins”

  1. travisbarbour

    I’m not surprised this book caught your attention. It caught mine as well. Aside from McDonald’s apparent sloppy work the thing that stuck out to me via an article on her work in the Globe and Mail were the plentiful comments which seemed to express that any religious affiliations that politicians have is an inherently negative and indeed dangerous thing. This inspired my blog today which attempts to re-appropriate the sep. of church and stae.

  2. Bene D

    Your review is the one I am looking forward to.

    I don’t think I can appreciate the mistake made about the Bridgeway Foundation. It is appropriate the Executive Director address an error or errors publicly. And I think it is appropriate the Executive Director express his opinion. I think Mark Petersen tried to do so graciously.

    I’m disappointed and frankly depressed about the level of orchestrated noise at the moment and I’m not going to hide that.

    This discussion needs to be had, but I don’t know how it can be. Those of us who watch the fringes have struggled to get information out, and I’m left wondering if the more lowly messengers are just going to get shot.

    • John Stackhouse

      Bene D,

      Please don’t be discouraged in your worthy work of alerting Canadians to the weirdness on the religious right.

      I appreciate what you and your fellow RR-watchers do because you seem to trade primarily in information and only secondly in opinion. Alas, while I haven’t yet concluded my reading of Ms. McDonald’s book, I have found it very, very disappointing in failing to provide specificity and evidence for many (not one or two: many) of her characterizations and conclusions.

      Here’s just one more: She says that Charles McVety “forced the Royal Bank to cancel a gay-friendly workplace campaign” (p. 66). When one looks for a source for this astonishing claim, there is precisely none–except perhaps Charles McVety himself.

      On that score, she routinely cites McVety’s claims, statistics, etc., without corroboration–a source that you, Bene D, will appreciate I am not prepared to take as gospel in any sense of the word.

      So blog on, Bene D. As far as I can tell, you try to do the kind of work I wish Ms. McDonald had done.

  3. Michel Savard

    John,

    Thanks for jumping in with some good, non-hysterical observations.

    I am looking forward to reading your future posts on this book, and the firestorm it seem to be generating.

    May cooler heads (like yours) prevail! I am especially concerned with the knee-jerk reactions that may start to appear (or have already started?) in the media/blogs/comment forums on the part of well-intentioned but easily baited/provoked persons who feel targeted by this book. Everyone needs to take a collective breath, and think before jumping into the fray! Otherwise, certain people may just end up giving the author more juicy bits for the sequel!

    This too shall pass…

    Michel

  4. Peter T Chattaway

    FWIW, the first I heard of this book was an excerpt that appeared in the Toronto Star a few days ago, and I was amused to see that, at the top of the excerpt, there was a note that said: “This article has been edited from a previous version that incorrectly stated the non-partisan Canadian Constitution Foundation is a Christian advocacy group.” If the error wasn’t caught until after it appeared in that newspaper, is it safe to say the error is still there in the book?

  5. Bene D

    Peter:

    The error was made by the Star.
    The information is over at religiousrightalert along with a response from the Canadian Constitution Foundation.

    I trust I’ll be forgiven for pointing Peter to another blog.:^)

  6. Cliff P

    This post is one I tried to post on the Holy Post regarding your comments. This is just some further observations by a “Mainline Protestant”.

    Mr. Stackhouse you make some good points about some of the actions of the perceived “Religious Right”. This is deep topic and the discussion could go on forever.

    I just want to point out that there needs to be a clear definition of who the “Religious Right” is. If you are speaking about mainstream, orthodox, catholic, traditional Christianity, you need to say so, and be very clear that if pro-lifers are considered to be part of the “Religious Right”, than that is where the cheese becomes more binding. Many critics tie the pro-life movement into the RR.

    Pro-life has been a mainstay of the Christian Church from day one. In fact Alex Webster the Orthodox scholar stated: “It [abortion] has been one of only a few issues where no dissent has ever been expressed by the church fathers.”

    I think we would agree that there are sects/groups maybe even churches that do belong to the Religious Right. Those of us from mainstream Protestantism were always wary of “shallow theology” and the “Wild West” understanding of scripture among many evangelicals.

    Not sure why I can’t input Holy Post?

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