Noll and void.

Author:Degidon, Sean

Thanks to Mark Noll and Fr. Neuhaus for adding depth and texture to my understanding of Christianity in Canada (The Public Square, March). I would only add that it's debatable whether the "old Canada" was more religious or more conservative than the "old United States." I would propose that each teased out and developed different strains in British Protestantism.

To generalize for brevity's sake: Canada was born on the Plains of Abraham, out of a deal reached between the Anglican establishment of Britain and the (Gallican-tinged) Catholic establishment of New France. The culture of deference that this engendered was only reinforced by the influx of Tory refugees from the American Revolution. In religion, as in other things, most Canadians followed the lead of their "betters," who in turn followed the lead of their British (nee European) betters.

From this perspective, the crisis of faith in Canada is the problem of the magisterial Reformation: If the state can set the terms of religion, then why not cut out the middleman and simply worship at the altar of the state? In fact, when the "best people" decided that church was no place for a gentleman, most Canadians followed them into apostasy.

The United States, on the other hand, was settled largely by religious dissenters whom the Crown was pleased to see as far from the center of power as possible. Dissenter Protestant ideas (for example, skepticism about the divine-right monarchy) were both a major cause of the American Revolution and enshrined by the revolution as nowhere else on earth. Almost from the beginning of the republic, it was assumed that religion was to be decided by personal conscience and that churches were by their nature voluntary organizations. Likewise, legitimacy of government was believed to reside in the consent of the governed and the laws of nature "self-evident" to all.

It's not hard to see why Americans would be less susceptible to being told that God is dead by their "betters." (In a similar vein, few Americans who opposed abortion were cowed when the Supreme Court "settled" the issue!) But lest we become too triumphal, the Dissenter Protestant tradition has a terminal logic of its own: If every man is his own priest, why not his own church? And if his own church, why not his own god?

Sean Degidon

New York, New York

The idea that Canada has ceased to be a "Christian"...

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