Anglicans, however, remember him for The Comfortable Pew, a critique of the Anglican Church of Canada, which caused a scandal when it was published in 1965.
The book, which had been commissioned by Rev. Ernest Harrison, of the national church’s (now defunct) department of religious education, set off a heated national debate even before it was published based solely on the fact that it was to be written by Mr. Berton, by then the best-known and most controversial journalist, commentator and author in Canada. Critics questioned what right an “agnostic” had in doing a critical review of the church.
In The Comfortable Pew, Mr. Berton said that he had sought to examine “some of the areas in which I see the church going bankrupt.” The book, which became a bestseller, bore controversial sections titled “Pretensions to Absolute Rightness,” “The Lukewarm Pulpit,” “The Ecclesiastical Caste System,” among others.
“I hope it will be understood that, though this book is a critical one, the criticism of the church springs out of a general context which is my own belief that Christianity has shaped Western man for the better, and that without Christianity we would be a poorer and less-inspired people,” Mr. Berton wrote in the book’s preface. “I do not, of course, expect all churchmen or even all non-churchmen to agree with my thesis … But this book was conceived by the Anglican church as a catalyst to provoke healthy discussion.”
Pierre Berton died Nov. 30 2004 at the age of 84.