Although Canadian church membership and attendance have rebounded in the last two decades, the media continue to portray Canada’s religious situation as one of steady decline and secularization, writes sociologist Reginald Bibby in the journal Implicit Religion (#3, 2009).
Bibby notes that an earlier period of steep declines in religious involvement (with the average church attendance declining from 60 percent in 1945 to 32 percent in 1995) ended around the turn of the century, with either a leveling off or increases among some groups. Regular attendance among Canadian teenagers had dropped to 18 percent in 1992, but rebounded to 22 percent by the new millennium. Protestant attendance, led by evangelicals, is up, and Catholic attendance outside Quebec has stabilized. There has been a jump among people saying they have no religion, but this trend is mainly among the young, and Bibby finds that many (about two in three) tend to “re-identify” with their parents’ religion within 10 years.
Bibby also finds that belief in God has remained at about 80 percent since the 1950s, yet the major Canadian and international media report that secularism and even atheism are growing across Canada and give a good deal of coverage to the “new atheist” books. For example, in 2008, the Canadian Press released a poll saying that fewer than three-quarters of Canadians believe in God. Yet by allowing more choices in designating terms for God (such as “Supreme Power”) and allowing for some ambivalence in answers (more than a definite “yes” or “no”), Bibby found that the figure for those believing in God increases by as much as 15 percentage points.
Bibby argues that Canadian elite leaders were educated into a European perspective that views religion as being inevitably eclipsed by secularization. He adds that the secularization outlook may have a self-fulfilling effect, contributing to “the creation of environments that made ministry more difficult.”
(Implicit Religion, Equinox Publishing Ltd., 1 Chelsea Manor Studios, Flood St., London SW3 5SR, UK)