02 May 2006

Ranks of the unbelievers swell

One of five Canadians has dispensed with religion, according to a new poll, which concludes that the secular slice of society there is between half again and twice as large as the American rate, depending on which survey you're using for comparison. (One of the more reputable, a 2004 Pew survey, pegs the atheist slice of the US population at 9 percent.)

The encouraging part of the Statistics Canada report this week is that the number of Canadians aged 15 and over who don't consider themselves part of a religious community has risen from 12 percent in 1985 to 19 percent in 2004. Plus, the older you are, the more likely you are to consider religion an important part of your life. A quarter of those on the low side of 30 have no religious affiliation, but the figure fall to 9 percent for the over-60 set.

Should we interpret that to mean that the ranks of the faithful will decline with generational overturning? Or is it simply that people tend to find God as they reach their golden years?

The best way to find out is to wait a few decades. But for impatient among us, there are some interesting hints of what's to come. For starters, religiosity is highest in the Atlantic provinces at 92 percent, and lowest in British Columbia, with just 64 percent reporting belief in a higher power.

B.C. is where one finds the highest concentration of recent immigrants, both from other countries and other regions of Canada. The population of the Pacific Northwest is growing fast. Atlantic Canada not so much. Consider also that atheists tend to be found in urban areas - like Vancouver. If these trends persist, it would seem inevitable that religiosity will continue to decline in Canada.

From what I can glean from the American surveys, there is no trend of similar magnitude evident down here. Why is that, I wonder?


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