Survey examines Canadian attitudes to religion

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Is Canada a better place because of religion?

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/04/2022 (212 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Is Canada a better place because of religion?

People who are religious think so. But others aren’t so sure. That’s one of the findings a new Angus Reid Institute survey, done in collaboration with Cardus, a Canadian Christian think-tank.

According to the survey, three in 10 Canadians say the positives of religion outweigh the negatives, but 22 per cent say the opposite — up from 14 per cent in 2017. The rest say religion contributes good and bad in equal amounts.

When asked which religion was more beneficial or negative, respondents named Evangelical Christianity as the most damaging, followed by Islam and Catholicism — likely due to American evangelical support for Trump and other right-wing causes, media coverage of terrorism linked to Islamic groups and the more recent discovery of unmarked grave at Catholic Church-run residential schools.

The survey also found that immigrants are more likely to be religious than other Canadians, and the most religious people are found on the Prairies, with 25 per cent of Manitobans categorized as religiously committed.

When it comes to religious tolerance, evangelicals and Muslims are the most likely to say Canada doesn’t make room for their faith.

As for the state of religion in Canada today, the survey classified 19 per cent of Canadians as non-believers, and 46 per cent as spiritually uncertain.

When the survey results came out, I once again consulted scholars who study religion in Canada.

John Stackhouse, who teaches religious studies at Crandall University in Moncton, isn’t surprised Canadians are leery of evangelicals and Muslims.

Not only are they among the most visible, he said, they also “represent the only two religions visible on the cultural landscape that disrupt the easy course of the post-Sixties agenda of self-realization, prosperity, security, and justice.”

Canadian evangelicals also suffer from proximity to the U.S. and “those noisy, Trump-loving, sport-spoiling evangelicals,” he added, while Muslims have to deal with news about fellow-believers in other countries engaging in terror in the name of Allah.

Sam Reimer, who teaches sociology at Crandall, noted the survey found evangelicals are one of the most fervent groups when it comes to practicing their faith. One reason for that, he suggested, is “the less committed evangelicals are disaffiliating,” leaving only the most serious believers behind.

He is not surprised that evangelicals and Muslims feel the most “shut out” by society. For evangelicals, this may be because they feel society is moving away from its traditional Christian beliefs.

Joel Thiessen teaches sociology at Ambrose University in Calgary. One thing that jumped out for him in the survey is the prevalence of what he called “cultural Catholicism”—people who say they are Catholic but don’t follow that group’s religious tenets.

He noted, for example, that 28 per cent of Canadian Catholics say they don’t believe in God or a higher power, and only 43 per cent want a religious funeral.

While the survey found B.C. is one of the most secular provinces, Thiessen noted Alberta is catching up, with 34 per cent of Albertans saying they were not raised in a religious tradition (34 percent versus 36 per cent in B.C.)

Sarah Wilkins-Laflamme, who teaches sociology at the University of Waterloo, wasn’t surprised by negative attitudes toward some religious groups.

“Those with no religion don’t get much exposure to organized religion in their everyday lives anymore,” she said, noting “often one of the only places they hear about religion now is in the media when there’s negative news.”

Non-religious people don’t come into much contact “with the ‘better’ sides of religion, such as the social services certain religious groups provide, or the sense of community religion often provides for more religiously committed individuals,” she added.

Rick Hiemstra directs research for the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada. He was dismayed by how the survey phrased the question about which groups are positive or negative.

“The question was about ‘presence,’ not what these groups did or did not do,” he said, adding “I think we should be concerned that the mere presence or existence of a group is being characterized as damaging.”

For him, “This is polarizing language… We have far too many historical and contemporary examples of what happens in societies when a group is reduced in the public consciousness to a threat.”

Kevin Flatt teaches history at Redeemer University. He noted the sense of being pushed out of society that evangelicals and Muslims feel is common with groups with “thick” religious commitments.

These groups feel “out of step with the predominantly secular culture,” he said, adding it can have implications for things like education—parents in these groups prefer separate schools or homeschooling for their children—along with how they view marriage and sexuality.

“Sadly, these survey results do not provide much hope for the future improvement of the prospects of religious outlier groups in Canada,” he said. “I find it alarming that on balance nearly all groups think the mere presence of evangelicals and Muslims is ‘damaging to Canada.’”

You can find the survey at https://angusreid.org/canada-religion-interfaith-holy-week/

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John Longhurst

John Longhurst
Faith reporter

John Longhurst has been writing for Winnipeg's faith pages since 2003. He also writes for Religion News Service in the U.S., and blogs about the media, marketing and communications at Making the News.

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