A nationwide survey conducted ahead of Easter found a majority of Canadians do not consider religion important to them, with only Manitoba and Saskatchewan results showing more than half the people in that region consider it important.
Although two-thirds said they believe in God, just 42 per cent of those polled across Canada agreed with the statement "religion is an important part of my life," with women (46 per cent) more likely to value religious activity than men (37 per cent) by a clear margin.
The online survey of 1,522 people, commissioned by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies, also showed relatively low levels of trust in religious leaders, with 48 per cent of respondents attributing the trait of trustworthiness to clergy.
By contrast, 67 per cent of those surveyed said they trusted "people who are religious" in general, and even more respondents -- 73 per cent -- expressed trust in "people who are not religious."
There were significant regional differences in the results, with Canadians from the Prairies -- defined as Manitoba and Saskatchewan in the survey breakdown -- most likely to consider religion important to their lives (54 per cent) and most likely to express a belief in God (79 per cent).
Even in Manitoba, small-town churches are closing or struggling to survive, with ministers and priests serving multiple parishes and other religious groups. Churches such as St. Michael and All Angels Anglican in Ninette, where there isn't enough money to refill the church furnace's diesel tank when it runs dry, are on the verge of closing, as the Free Press reported last month.
Respondents from Quebec, meanwhile, were least likely to agree that religion is important to them (33 per cent) and least likely to say God exists (62 per cent), though British Columbia residents also expressed the same relatively low level of belief in God (62 per cent).
Religion was deemed important to 47 per cent of those from Atlantic Canada, 45 per cent of Ontarians, 43 per cent of respondents from Alberta and just 37 per cent of British Columbians.
Belief in God was expressed by 71 per cent of women and 64 per cent of men. Seventy per cent of respondents in both Ontario and Atlantic Canada said they believe God exists, while agreement on the question was slightly lower in Alberta (67 per cent).
ACS executive director Jack Jedwab, writing in an overview of the findings, highlighted a significant generational divide: "Younger Canadians appear far less convinced about the existence of God than does the oldest cohort."
Only 30 per cent of those aged 18 to 24 agreed religion is important to their lives, while respondents aged 65 and older were most likely (56 per cent) to consider religion a force in their lives.
Likewise, an expressed belief in God was lowest (56 per cent) among the youngest group of respondents and highest (79 per cent) among the oldest.
Jedwab said he was not surprised that less than half of the Canadian population considered religion important to their lives, noting the result is consistent with previous polling on the subject that shows a clear contrast between Canadians' ambivalence toward formal religion and Americans' stronger commitment to religious activity.
"We're not as engaged religiously," he told Postmedia News. "Our population is more spiritual, if you like, than actually religious in an organized fashion."
The survey, carried out by the firm Leger Marketing during the week of March 26, is considered accurate to within 2.9 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
-- Postmedia News