Through Stained Glass: Religion shouldn’t be divisive

In the Christian calendar, it is Easter and it is Spring (everywhere in Canada except Sackville, it seems), and in the world of news and polls, it is the annual look at religion in Canada.

For over 20 years, it seems that around Easter, The Globe and Mail or Maclean’s or other major news agencies take it upon themselves to explore the statistics around religion in Canada.

Seemingly on cue, the Angus Reid Institute has released its findings. The Angus Reid Institute is a new organization, established as a registered charity in Oct. 2014. It serves as a “national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research organization established to enhance and encourage better understanding of issues and trends affecting economic, social, governance, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and foreign policy in Canada and its world.” It recently released its latest results on religion in Canada, based on a fairly wide-ranging public opinion poll on Canadian views and attitudes towards religious practices and beliefs. A sizeable number of Canadians continue to regard themselves as religious, holding to faith and practice in the Christian church or other religious traditions.

As might be expected, given trends over the last generation, many people have moved away from traditional religious practice, including and especially the Christian church.  Canadians, generally speaking, fit into one of three broad groups in this study: 30 per cent are “inclined to embrace religion.”  This represents a small decline, but would indicate that those moving away from religion observance is slowing ever so slightly. On the other side, the largest growth is among those who are “inclined to reject religion,” representing about 26 per cent of Canadians. The middle area, who say they neither embrace nor reject religion, rounds out the numbers at 44 per cent. While they do not regard themselves as devout in any way, they also recognize that although their engagement with religion and its institutions may be limited, they have not abandoned religion.

The regional trends over the last twenty years are more or less the same. Those living in British Columbia and Quebec are more likely than others to reject religion, and the more active participants in religious are found in the prairie provinces of Saskatchewan, Manitoba and in the Atlantic region. Likewise, the trend continues that those who are older are more inclined to identify themselves as embracing religion. Women are more likely than men to express ambivalence toward rather than rejection of religion.

One of the interesting notes is that immigrants to Canada tend to be more religious. This is hardly surprising, as religion continues to thrive in South America, Africa and Asia, especially Islam and Christianity. Within the next ten to twenty years, four-fifths of Christians will live in these regions. Among those coming to Canada, the dominant religions tend to be Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants, and perhaps surprisingly to me, those immigrants who are young adults are more likely to embrace religion.

Active involvement in religion is not dead in Canada.  But it may well be a different faith, posing a challenge to the liberal or progressive branches of North American faiths, including but not limited to Christianity. One of the findings of this year’s survey was that those who reject religion are more likely (over 60 per cent) to feel uncomfortable around the “religiously devout,” in contrast with those who embrace religion or are ambivalent. By contrast, those who embrace religion or are ambivalent are less likely (under 40 per cent) to be uncomfortable around those who reject religion.

These numbers suggest that wherever we stand on the spectrum of embracing or rejecting religion, it becomes more important that we meet as neighbours – with all our different religious traditions, and with none – so that we might better understand one another and appreciate one another. Religious or not, devout or not, ambivalent or not, we are all people sharing life and community together. Our willingness to share our experiences is important, in all its forms, whether or not we look at life through stained glass.

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