With his 1993 book Unknown Gods, University of Lethridge sociologist Reginald Bibby predicted a bleak and empty future for religion in Canada. He believed that, by today, church congregations would simply grow older, unable to continue inspiring younger generations. He thought that fewer and fewer children would be raised in religious households. He recalled thinking, “with religion, it looked pretty much over.”
However, now that it is finally 2015, Bibby decided to look back on his predictions and see how he did. For most religions, he was completely wrong. Instead of simply declining over that time, Canadian religious participation actually rose in a lot of areas. New Catholic churches were built, Evangelical communities grew along with Canada’s population, and Hindu, Muslim, and Sikh faiths experienced serious increases in participation.
There was one particular factor that Bibby did not take into account, though, that threw off his predictions: immigrants. “What I screwed up on—it sounds so naive looking back— I didn’t allow for the immigration variable,” Bibby recalled. “The thing that pumps new life into religion in Canada has been this mammoth entrance not only of Muslims, but also Catholics.” Many immigrants have contributed significantly to Hindu, Protestant, and Sikh populations as well.
According to a recent study by Bibby along with the Angus Reid Institute, surveyed over 3,000 Canadians and found that, despite the fact that the percentage of those who reject religion is growing, a significant portion (30%) is still holding fast to their religious beliefs. Perhaps more surprising is the fact that half of those religiously affiliated attend services at least once a month, and about 90% pray regularly.
The importance of immigrants in these calculations cannot be understated. Among those new to Canada nearly 4 in 10 embrace religion while less than 25% reject it. For those who are born in Canada, the statistics are much closer to equal with just over 25% rejecting religion and only slightly more embracing it. Immigrants are the saviors of religion in Canada.
One important factor to remember is that, while it may seem in decline in some regions, overall, religion is growing around the world. The faithful of the Philippines, Korea, Nigeria, and many more nations are finding, and sometimes establishing, churches in Canada.
And, even though Bibby’s original prediction was that religion would be lost on the youth, immigrant youth are proving to be a stronger religious force than even their parents. While the religious among Canadian born citizens tend to be older, the opposite is true for foreigners with nearly half of those between the ages of 18 and 34 attending at least monthly religious services.
While immigrants provide hope for many religions, the faithful are still on the decline overall, albeit more gradually than Bibby originally predicted. While nearly three-quarters of the Canadian population is believe in a god, that is less than the over 80% from 15 years ago. Moreover, the number of those who attend at least monthly services is down to about 2 in 10 from 3 in 10 back in 2000.
The survey from the Angus Reid Institute and Reginald Bibby found a disturbing trend, though. The tension growing between those who are religious and those who reject religion is on the rise in Canada. About three-fifths of those who reject religion are actually uncomfortable around the religiously devout while two-fifths of their religious counterparts feel similarly uncomfortable around those who reject religion.