British Columbia is at the forefront of a secularizing movement in the English-speaking world. Nearly half its residents claim no religious affiliation, and the province has the highest rate of unbelief or religious indifference in Canada. Infidels and the Damn Churches explores the historical roots of this phenomenon from the 1880s to the First World War.
Drawing on archival records and oral histories, Lynne Marks reveals that class and racial tensions fuelled irreligion in a world populated by embattled ministers, militant atheists, turn-of-the-century New Agers, rough-living miners, Asian immigrants, and church-going settler women who tried to hang onto their faith in an alien land. White, working-class men often arrived in the province alone and identified the church with their exploitative employers. At the same time, BC’s anti-Asian and anti-Indigenous racism meant that their “whiteness” alone could define them as respectable, without the need for church affiliation. Consequently, although Christianity retained major social power elsewhere in Canada, in BC many people found the freedom to forgo church attendance or espouse atheist views without significant social repercussions.
This nuanced study of mobility, gender, masculinity, and family in settler BC offers new insights into BC’s distinctive culture and into the beginnings of what has become an increasingly dominant secular worldview across Canada.
Infidels and the Damn Churches addresses a glaring omission in the history of Canada’s West – the role of religion and religiosity (and, in this case, irreligion and irreligiosity) in the formation of a settler society. (Alison Marshall, author of Cultivating Connections: The Making of Chinese Prairie Canada)
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This is the finest historical study yet done on the culture of atheism and non-religionism in the late modern Western world. It explores the origins of modern secularity in the most secular part of North America. Marks excels in moving from the micro study of individual families and small communities up to cities and the nation. This is a path-breaking work. (Callum G. Brown, author of Religion and the Demographic Revolution: Women and Secularisation in Canada, Ireland, UK and USA since the 1960s)