Reginald Bibby

Reginald Bibby

April 22, 2013

OTTAWA – Demographic changes, attitudinal shifts and the rise of women in the workforce are among the trends impacting religious practice in Canada, says Reginald Bibby.

But the University of Lethbridge sociologist told a gathering at Saint Paul University April 4, religion is here to stay though in a polarized landscape.

Bibby says the numbers of religious believers who attend services regularly have remained steady even in Quebec.

However, 65 per cent of Canadians claim religion is important to them. "There are large numbers of people in the middle," Bibby said. "They haven't shut the door on religion."

He called them "religiously undecided" and "receptive to greater involvement if they can find it worthwhile."

In Canada overall, the number of teens who are receptive is 51 per cent; in Quebec 41 per cent, he said.

Bibby blamed demographic shifts, not debates over issues such as gay clergy or marriage, for the precipitous decline in mainline Protestant denominations like the United and Anglican churches.

Formerly churches could count on a steady stream of immigrants from Britain to replace dying members, but that source of immigration has tapered off.

The news for the Catholic Church is much better, he said. With 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, most in countries with a much higher religious attendance than Canada, immigration will remain a boon to the Catholic Church in Canada.

Also, religious groups who encourage families to have children will have a pool of adherents to draw from.

Among homegrown Catholics, those who have wandered away from the faith "haven't wandered very far," Bibby said.

Most Catholics "actually wander back on their own every once in a while. They show up in amazing regularity," he said.

"The staying power of Catholicism is quite remarkable," he said. "Even when Roman Catholics think they have lost people they still have them."

Canadians today put a high value on freedom of expression, with people "insisting they have a voice" and saying Church leaders "have to earn our respect."

When the teens are asked whether they agree or disagree with the idea "that right or wrong is a personal opinion," roughly two out of three agree, he said.

The rise of women in the paid workforce to 60 per cent from 30 per cent in 1960 has also affected religious attendance and the time families have for socializing and volunteering, he said.

Churches were oblivious to the shift of women into the paid workforce, he said. They should have "had great nurseries for the kids when they come to church."

"It's not the job of the sheep to find the shepherds, but the shepherds to find the sheep," he said.