A Godless Dominion: Unbelief and Religious Controversy in Interwar Canada

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Hanowski, Elliot
1930s , unbelief , religion , atheism , Canadian history , rationalism , humanism , 1920s
Between 1925 and 1940 Canadian unbelievers in three cities, Winnipeg, Toronto, and Montreal, got organized and took up an active struggle against religion. This study examines that historical moment and asks what it was about the interwar period that caused unbelief to thrive. It details the day-to-day operation of anti-religious organizations and the backlash that they provoked from both church and state. It also delves into the activities of those who sought to keep Canada Christian by agitating against atheism and the teaching of evolution. There were a number of social and cultural trends that fostered interwar unbelief, such as the disillusionment of many veterans with orthodox religion, conflicts between fundamentalists and modernists, and the spread of Communism. By examining local organizations we can see how these broader forces were made manifest in specific communities. Rationalist societies in Winnipeg and Toronto were remarkably successful in attracting working-class audiences. A group of francophone communists in Montreal were equally active in putting out anti-religious propaganda. This challenge to the Christian status quo faced stiff opposition from both church and state, however, and some leading unbelievers were severely punished. The absence of organized unbelief in Nova Scotia, meanwhile, did not prevent fears of creeping atheism, as is illustrated by a controversy over the teaching of evolution in local high schools. By examining and placing in context these stories from across the country this study sheds new light on the history of both belief and unbelief in Canada.
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