- Not Quite Us: Anti-Catholic Thought in English Canada since 1900 by Kevin P
In the late 1980s, John S. Moir, arguably Canada’s leading historian of religion, was planning his magnum opus – a history of Protestant-Roman Catholic relations in Canada. Despite references from some of Canada’s best-known scholars, the project was turned down by granting agencies, and Moir was left deeply disappointed that this major undercurrent in Canada’s history was considered unworthy of support. He would have been delighted to see Kevin Anderson’s recent examination of anti-Catholic thought in Canada, a book that lays a solidly evidenced foundation for further study into the intersection of culture, religion, and prejudice in twentieth-century Canada. Anderson acknowledges that his book is principally a study of the thought of English-Canadian politicians, scholars, and writers and really focuses primarily on voices emergent in central Canada. Despite these limitations, Anderson successfully maps out a structure in which Anglo-Protestant ethno-centrism and sectarianism can be understood.
Anti-Catholicism is defined at the outset of the book in a variety of ways, including a nod to Mark Massa’s articulation of cultural anti-Catholicism, intellectual anti-Catholicism, and social scientific anti-Catholicism. Each of these forms of anti-Catholicism were expressed in the form of a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant (wasp) superiority in Canada, a theological critique of the Catholic faith, and a loathing of Catholic authoritarianism and its incursions into the Canadian public square. Anderson, however, avoids such neat and tidy categorizations and, to his credit, plots a course that demonstrates that anti-Catholicism manifests itself differently and sometimes occurs in all of these forms, depending on the issues at play in Canadian society, the timing of national crises, and differing social and political contexts. Above all, in twentieth-century Canada, anti-Catholicism emerges from its genesis in notions of Anglo conformity and fear of the non-British other to a much more inclusive critique of what is characterized as a theologically deficient and socially authoritarian faith, which has threatened modern, democratic, and secular Canada, where religion is personalized and privatized.
The great strength in Anderson’s top-down approach to anti-Catholicism is the manner in which he examines how it, as a way of thinking, evolves over time and takes on different manifestations depending on the issues facing Anglo-Canadians. In the first decades of the twentieth century, it emerges profoundly out of a sense of Anglo conformity that is threatened by the waves of Catholic immigration from southern, central, and eastern Europe and by the allegedly “priest-ridden” Catholic fortress of Quebec. Here, Anderson develops the thought of J.S. Woodsworth, Emily Murphy, Watson Kirkconnell, George Exton Lloyd, among others, who saw Catholics as endangering the British and Protestant pillars that stood for their definition of what it was to be Canadian. Fear and loathing of the French-Canadian Catholics, and particularly their clergy, is prominent in this period and becomes an obvious thread weaving itself through the rest of the book. With both cultural and religious threats to [End Page 135] wasp Canada, the perceived dominance and aggression of Quebec’s Catholic priesthood provided Anglo-Canadians with ample proof that their vision of Canada was at risk. At mid-century, when many wasps looked favourably on birth control and eugenics, in general, French-Canadian fecundity, the proverbial revenge of the cradle, engendered fears among Protestants that Catholics would swamp the rest of the country simply in the sheer force of their numbers. The survival of “true” Christianity and the English language was at risk. Moreover, the potential dominance of Catholics in Canada, under the nefarious control of priests and bishops, was perceived as threatening Canadian democracy itself, the rule of law, and religious freedom. Here, wasps could point to the coincidental relationship of a strong Catholic Church and fascism in such countries as Spain and Italy. Later, during the Cold War, Canadian Protestant leaders and...