Just as Farley Mowat had sought Russell’s advice in 1960 (see Mowat letter), so Canadian journalist and writer Pierre Berton (1920-2004) follows suit in this 1964 letter. The letters from two of Canada’s best known writers reveal the esteem with which Russell was held at this time—he was viewed as both intellectually astute and as someone who was very willing to challenge the establishment, something that both Berton and Mowat often did themselves.
In the letter, Berton explains that he has been commissioned by the Anglican Church of Canada to write a book "criticizing the church from a layman’s point of view"—it would be published in 1965 as The Comfortable Pew—and is seeking Russell’s opinion on the role of the Anglican Church in the British campaign for nuclear disarmament. He acknowledges how busy Russell is, but pleads: “I hope you will find it possible to give me some answer to these questions.”
In his brief reply (a copy of which is included with Berton’s letter in the Russell archives), Russell does not address most of Berton’s questions but does state: “With some individual exceptions, the Anglican Church has upheld every Governmental view including those concerning war and killing. The Church is a force for established opinion and resistance to conscientious protest.” Berton would use this quote in The Comfortable Pew, in the chapter entitled “The Tyranny of the Religious Establishment.”
The Russell archives contains other letters from Berton. He and Russell had corresponded in 1958 when Berton was managing editor of Macleans—the news magazine published several articles by Russell in the 1950s—but no mention of this earlier acquaintance is made in this 1964 letter. Later in 1964, Berton would contact Russell again in an attempt to have him appear on his television program, The Pierre Berton Show, but, despite Russell's interest, they were not able to schedule the appearance.
The Pierre Berton archive is also held by McMaster University Library. Unfortunately, it does not include any of Russell’s letters to Berton.
Sources: Pierre Berton. The Comfortable Pew: a critical look at Christianity and the religious establishment in the new age. McClelland and Stewart, 1965.
February 7, 1964
Dear Lord Russell:
First, let me identify myself. I am a Canadian journalist, author of a dozen books, former associate editor of the Toronto Daily Star, former managing editor of Maclean’s magazine. I am a supporter of the Canadian Peace Research Institute and the Committee for Nuclear Disarmament.
The Anglican Church of Canada, which as you may know has been going through a period of self-evaluation, has asked me to write a book criticizing the church from a layman’s point of view. I was once Anglican. I am one no longer.
It is part of my general thesis that in the larger matters that affect our time—war, racial issues, the sexual revolution, to name three—the church has [word crossed out] followed rather than led. It is in this context that I am writing you.
Specifically I would be interested in hearing from you about the role of the church in the British campaign for nuclear disarmament: the Anglican Church specifically, [words crossed out] the “church” in the larger sense as well. I know of course that individual churchmen, such as Canon Collins, have been active in leadership. What has been the official church attitude and how has it changed? Did the churches give leadership at the outset? Did they impede, criticize, give lukewarm or enthusiastic support or remain passive? I notice that the Anglican Church has now made an official pronouncement on the matter of nuclear disarmament. In your view should this announcement have come earlier—or not?
I have some idea of how busy you must be and how many letters you must receive. At the same time I
hope you will find it possible to give me some answer to these questions, however brief. The more progressive members of the church here are hopeful that my book may stimulate discussion and prod the more conservative elements into action in this county. In that sense whatever you say may have some ultimate effect on public opinion/ [sic]. It is about the only reward I can offer but I hope you will feel it worthwhile.
I have just re-read you essay Why I am Not a Christian which I find as stimulating as ever.
With every good wish,
 A draft of Russell’s reply.
 For whatever reason, Berton failed to mention that he had corresponded with Russell while he was at Macleans—the magazine published several pieces by Russell in the late 1950s.
 The book would be published in 1965 as The Comfortable Pew.
 John Collins (1905-1982) was, with Russell, one of the co-founders and first leaders of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.
 Specific reference not determined.
 Why I Am Not A Christian (1927). In this work, Russell critiques the philosophical arguments for the existence of God and rejects religion as based “primarily and mainly upon fear.”
Bertrand Russell Archives, Box 1.02, F.01 Berton, Pierre. Used with permission of Pierre Berton's family. Copy provided for personal and research use only. For any other use, permission of the copyright holder is required.