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  • Infidels and the Damn Churches: Irreligion and Religion in Settler British Columbia by Lynne Marks
  • David B. Marshall (bio)
Lynne Marks. Infidels and the Damn Churches: Irreligion and Religion in Settler British Columbia. UBC Press. xii, 322. $95.00

Infidels and the Damn Churches is a meticulously researched book drawing on a rich variety of manuscript sources, church records, and daily newspapers as well as personal papers and oral histories of British Columbia residents. It is methodologically sophisticated in its manipulation and analysis of census data relating to religion. Lynne Marks cross-references religious affiliation, especially those individuals claiming no religion, with data on gender, class, length of residency, and ethnic origins. Her analysis of census data creates a nuanced picture of both religion and "no religion" in British Columbia. But what gives the book its rich texture are the portraits of individuals and families struggling with questions of faith and church and navigating British Columbia society with their iconoclastic or infidel beliefs.

Marks carefully draws on the theoretical and sociological literature on secularization, including the recent work on "no religion" by David Voas and his concept of "fuzzy theology." Today, "no religion" is one of the fastest growing faiths in Canadian society. It has been soaring since the 1960s, and now it is the second largest "religion" in Canada with more adherents than either the United or Anglican churches of Canada, which trail far behind the growing number of people without religious affiliation. The number of people claiming to have "no religion" is particularly high in British Columbia. Marks's book clearly demonstrates that in British Columbia those without religious affiliation and those claiming "no religion" are not a new religious trend but, rather, a social phenomenon deeply rooted in British Columbia's settlement period.

Like politics in British Columbia, which is more deeply divided between the left and the right than in any other part of Canada, religion in British Columbia is deeply divided between infidels and the deeply pious. Marks does not see the religious divide in British Columbia as a mere reflection of political divisions or class divide. Instead, she demonstrates how matters of gender and ethnicity complicate religious questions. Certainly, some of the irreligion in the mining and lumbering camps of British Columbia rested in an anti-capitalist critique of the churches as an integral part of the social order that supressed the working man. But others drifted away from their religious roots because they were transient and had lost touch with the foundations of their faith in the family church. Marks is most impressive in her discussion of the gender dynamic of irreligion in British Columbia. The masculine culture of the resource frontier was characterized by drinking, gambling, and prostitution. These leisure activities were the target of systematic attacks by the churches. Such moralistic and judgmental teachings alienated many men. Finally, complicating things further was the churches' objection to the racist and exclusionist attitudes about immigrants in British Columbia. The churches' opposition to anti-alien sentiment drove some workers away as they thought the churches were insufficiently protective of "white British Columbia" and the position of labour. [End Page 192]

Two outstanding history books on religion in British Columbia capture the province's religious spectrum spanning from infidelity to piety: on the one side stands Robert Burkinshaw's 1995 Pilgrims in Lotus Land: Conservative Protestantism in British Columbia, 1917–1931 and on the other side stands Lynne Marks richly detailed analysis of those who had either drifted away from the churches or abandoned religion in favour of labour radicalism, atheism, agnosticism, or new age religion. The mainstream churches dismissed these infidels as dangerous heretics. British Columbia is at once the most religious and the least religious part of Canada and also, perhaps, the most divided. Infidels and the Damn Churches is a story of friction and negotiation between these two poles of belief and non-belief on the religious spectrum. As Marks shows, because this divided religious landscape is so deeply rooted in British Columbia society, an uneasy civility or toleration has developed between religious piety and infidelity and has become an integral part of British Columbia's identity. Neither Protestant hegemony...


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pp. 192-193
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