Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 19, 2000
Faith in the lives of Canadians
Most of us profess faith in God, but few attend church
SPECIAL TO THE WCR
If the mainstream news media and entertainment culture represented an accurate depiction of real life in Canada today, one would be obliged to infer that Christian faith is something essentially irrelevant to the lives of most Canadians.
Faith, when addressed at all in these media, is typically treated in a perfunctory or derogatory manner. Occasionally one might see families saying grace in a TV drama, but by and large, faith is presented in the media as the purview of kooks, extremists and the gormlessly unsophisticated. Religion stories are usually banished to the weekend religion page ghetto in newspapers unless there is scandal.
However, reality is something other. A recent Angus Reid poll commissioned by the Toronto Globe and Mail found that 84 per cent of Canadians profess belief in God, and 67 per cent say religious faith is very important to their day to day life.
Statistics like those must come as unsettling news to the self-styled sophisticates who act as our cultural gatekeepers, and whose world view tends to be a supercilious irony that sneers at faith.
Those who maintain that religious faith must inevitably wither away under the ascendancy of secular humanism will derive little comfort from comparing this latest poll on religion in Canada to one Angus Reid conducted for Macleans magazine in 1993.
Seven years ago 78 per cent of poll respondents affirmed affiliation with a Christian denomination. In 2000, it was 77 per cent - a statistically insignificant difference.
In 1993, 62 per cent professed belief that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ provided a way for their salvation in forgiveness of their sins. This year, it was 69 per cent.
On the question about whether Satan is active in the world today. In 1993, 41 per cent agreed. By 2000 that had increased to 48 per cent, no doubt influenced by observation of current events. Interestingly, responses on that question in the affirmative range from 65 per cent for Atlantic Canadians, to all of 36 per cent for Quebecers.
These results seem remarkable given the anti-faith, anti-Christian propaganda constantly shovelled in people's faces by the media, the entertainment industry, political elites and the educational establishment.
Even among younger Canadians, the poll revealed a surprisingly strong affirmation of traditional Christian belief. Sixty-two per cent of subjects aged 18-34 said they believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, and 66 per cent believe in salvation from sin through faith in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
However, the depth of Christian belief in Canada is rendered suspect by the news that only 20 per cent of Canadians attend church weekly (15 per cent in the younger age group), and 40 per cent never attend at all.
Apparently, cynicism about "institutional religion" has not been overcome by increasing interest in religious faith. Or perhaps it is that too many churches have become so ineffectual under the enervating influence of liberal humanism that they repel people who are looking for something more spiritually substantive than "the NDP at prayer."
But the oxymoron of a churchless "Christianity" may also derive from a faulty popular conception of what Christianity and the Church are, and what Christ demands of his followers. Bona fide Christian faith is not something that can be privately defined.
The operative question here is: "What do people think they're looking for with their growing faith interest?" Whatever the normal Christian life is, one thing it is not is individualism lived in isolation from other Christians, and from the visible body that Christ established - the Church.
As C.S. Lewis observed, "When the Apostles preached, they could assume even in their pagan hearers a real consciousness of deserving the divine anger. . . . It was against this background that the Gospel appeared as good news . . . to men who knew that they were mortally ill.
"But all this has changed. Christianity now has to preach the diagnosis - in itself very bad news - before it can win a hearing for the cure."
Consequently, "A recovery of the old sense of sin is essential to Christianity," said Lewis. "Christ takes it for granted that men are bad. Until we really feel this assumption of his to be true, we are not part of the audience to whom his words are addressed."
A growing interest in religious faith in Canada is encouraging news, but ultimately a faith a kilometre wide and a millimetre deep, while perhaps better than no faith at all, falls far short of the mark.
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.