Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Things That Make for a Peaceable Kingdom: An Overview of Christianity and "Cooperativeness" across the Continental Divide

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Things That Make for a Peaceable Kingdom: An Overview of Christianity and "Cooperativeness" across the Continental Divide

Article excerpt


Perhaps the most widely cited work of U.S.-Canada comparative analysis ever penned by a social scientist is Seymour Martin Lipset's Continental Divide. (1) As the title metaphor suggests, Lipset's influential thesis is that there are important and consistent differences between the values and institutions of these two North American societies. He maintained that observers (usually Americans) who casually assume that Canadian society is merely American society writ small are profoundly mistaken.

Much of Lipset's burden in Continental Divide was twofold: synthesizing an impressive array of scholarship empirically verifying differences, and offering insight and analysis regarding the sources of the divergence. With respect to the latter agenda, Lipset took the step (then relatively rare, now somewhat more common) of treating religion as an important factor. Devoting an entire chapter to the sociopolitical implications of religion, Lipset argued that several of the cultural and political attributes that make the American polity unusual--perhaps even "exceptional"--by comparison to Canada and other advanced industrial societies are, in part, a function of American religious history and demography. Lipset's America is said to be particularly marked by attributes of individualism, competitiveness, a bourgeois economic and political culture, utopian moralism, a crusading and activist ethos, a populist and anti-establishment tendency, God-and-country nationalism, and intolerance for ideological and moral nonconformity. American religion also is said to be implicated in this admixture because it is nonestablishmentarian, voluntaristic, nationalistic, personalistic, pietistic, and fundamentalist.

With respect to Canada, Lipset concluded:

   The differences between religion in Canada and the United States
   are large and clear-cut. America remains under the strong influence
   of the Protestant sects. Its northern neighbor adheres to two
   churches, Catholic and Anglican, and an ecumenical Protestant
   denomination (the United Church of Canada) that has moved far from
   the sectarian origins of its component units toward churchlike
   communitarian values. The overwhelming majority of Canadians
   (eighty-seven percent) belong to these three mainline
   denominations. Conservative evangelicals--groups of Baptists,
   Nazarenes, Pentecostals, Adventists, and so on--constitute only
   seven percent of Canadians.... Fully one-fifth of Americans adhere
   to a Baptist church.... Clearly, the different religious traditions
   of the two countries help to explain much of their varying secular
   behavior and belief. (2)

Lipset also noted, more broadly, that a far higher proportion of American than Canadian Christians, especially Protestant Christians, exhibit high levels of strict doctrinal orthodoxy or "fundamentalism"--a disposition said to be "linked to political as well as social conservatism." (3) In Canada, the tendency toward a relatively more cooperative tenor of Christianity is evidenced in a variety of ways-a lower rate of schism among denominations, fewer new religious movements, less aggressive marketing (especially in the broadcast media) and competition among Christian groups, and a lower proportion of Christians who are likely to make explicit connections between their faith and specific partisan or ideological agendas.

Canada was, in short, the foil that Lipset skillfully used to highlight American distinctiveness; a distinctiveness related to Christianity in general and to theologically traditionalist Protestants in particular. If the stereotypical image of America partakes liberally in civil religious cliche ("New Jerusalem," "city on a hill," etc.), the Canadian national image is markedly different--a "peaceable kingdom," whose subjects are polite, deferential, irenic, collectivist, and, in a word, "cooperative." Lipset's work threw considerable scholarly weight behind the divergence paradigm in North American studies. …

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