Pollster says latest data disproves notion of a secular, nonreligious country
The notion that religion is a “dying phenomenon” in a predominantly secular Canada is far from the truth, according to pollster and sociologist Angus Reid.
“When I look at Canadian society, I don’t see a vacuous areligious society that some would like to see,” he told about 200 people at St. Mark’s College May 2.
“I see a society of great hope, a society in which a great many families are being nourished by their faith and religion.”
Reid, who has been polling Canadians on social and political issues for more than 40 years, was the guest speaker at the annual Carr Lecture at St. Mark’s. Reid’s most recent survey of 2,000 Canadians, done in partnership with Faith in Canada 150, shows religion is still a force to be reckoned with.
“From the early 1960s to today, the number of people attending a religious service on a weekly basis has dropped from 65 per cent to about 15 per cent,” he said.
“If we look beyond these superficial measures and try to look into the family lives and practices, into the hearts of Canadians, a very different picture emerges.”
The survey asked key questions about belief in God or a higher power, belief in life after death, prayer, attending religious services, reading the Bible or other religious texts, feeling God’s presence, and educating children in the faith of their parents.
The data shows 21 per cent of Canadians answered “yes” to all of these. Reid calls them the Religiously Committed, a group whose size is often “underrated.”
The others fit into three categories: the Privately Faithful, the Spiritually Uncertain, and Non-believers.
The Privately Faithful made up 30 per cent of respondents, said Reid. “They are individuals who are very big on God: they pray, they believe in an active God, they believe in life after death. But they’re very turned off on traditional organized religion, except on special days, like funerals, baptisms, or marriages.”
Interestingly, “55 per cent of them say they wish they had a closer relationship with God.”
In total, those two groups – the Religiously Committed and the Privately Faithful – add up to half of the population of the country, hardly support for the case that Canada is anti-religion, Reid said.
Outside B.C. and Quebec, about 60 per cent of people fell into the categories of Religiously Committed or Privately Faithful, and in a 2016 survey, Reid found that 86 per cent of Canadians participate in some form of prayer.
“This characterization of Canada as nonreligious and completely drifting forever into some kind of secular no man’s land is completely off base,” the pollster said.
About 30 per cent of survey respondents were Spiritually Uncertain, and only 19 per cent were Non-believers.
The survey also asked about feelings of happiness with one’s family and community, and about the importance people placed on helping out the less fortunate.
It found that “as you move up the religiosity scale, you put more emphasis on family life and you tend to have happier families,” he said.
Recognizing that religion plays a big role in the lives of half of Canadians will be key in future battles on freedom of religion, he said.
The Religiously Committed and Privately Faithful have each other as allies in this “monumental issue,” he said. “There is nothing that works against us more than having Non-believers point out all the babbles between the Muslims and the Christians and the Hindus and the various groups in Canadian society,” said Reid, who is Catholic.
“If, on the other hand, everyone of faith can be holding their arms together, we represent a very significant wall to counter this view” and show the “need for the celebration of different faith communities and the diversity we have in this country.”
Father Rob Allore, SJ, pastor of St. Mark’s Parish, said it’s time people of faith make their views well known in the public square.
“We have to find ways to claim our space in the public forum as an important voice in civil society,” he said. “We’re part of the diversity that is Canada.”
St. Mark’s college principal Peter Meehan called the lecture a “remarkable series of reflections on the state of faith in the world.”
He pointed out that the University of British Columbia, where St. Mark’s is situated, recently chose Santa Ono, a Christian, as its president.
The full results of Reid’s survey are available at www.angusreid.org.