Is Canada Losing Its Religion?

Secularization in the Great White North.

Posted Nov 26, 2019

“Projections from our data indicate that there will be no members, attenders, or givers in the Anglican Church of Canada by approximately 2040.”

This dire pronouncement was recently declared by Canadian Reverend Neil Elliot, an Anglican priest, and lead author of a new report commissioned by the Anglican Church of Canada. The main finding of the report—based on numerous statistical analyses—is that church membership in this large Canadian denomination is rapidly evaporating. While the Anglican Church of Canada had 1.3 million members back in 1961, it is now down to less than 360,000—and this decline has occurred while Canada’s population significantly increased throughout those decades, making such a drop in membership all the more precipitous. And if the report’s projections are correct, the number of members will be down to around zero in just twenty years.

As is happening all over the world—from Uruguay to Japan, from the Netherlands to New Zealand, and from Germany to South Korea—people in Canada appear to be walking away from religion in numbers never seen before. For example:

  • In the 1960s, 50 percent of Canadians reported attending church on a weekly basis; by 2015, that was down to 10 percent.
  • In 1971, only 4 percent of Canadians said that they had no religion, but today, that is up to 29 percent.
  • In 2000, 70 percent of Canadians said that their religious beliefs were important to them; today, just under 50 percent say as much.
  • In 2005, 81 percent of Canadians believed in God; that number had dropped down to 65 percent in 2016.
  • Today, 64 percent of Canadians now agree that religion plays a less important role in society than it did twenty years ago; 67 percent of Canadians also now agree that it is not necessary to believe in God in order to be moral and have good values; half of all Canadians today seldom or never go to church.
  • Nearly 50 percent of those living in the province of British Columbia, nearly 40 percent of those living in the province of Quebec, and 35 percent of those living in the province of Alberta say that they “prefer to live life without God or congregation." Such high rates of secularity are historically unprecedented.

Of course, the picture isn’t as clear-cut as those secularists who champion religion’s demise would like. As Canadian sociologist Reginald Bibby has shown in his book Resilient Gods, there are pockets of faith still burning brightly across Canada and new immigrants are adding a degree of vitality to the religious landscape. But, that said, religion’s prevalence throughout Canadian society is clearly waning.

Such dramatic secularization in such a short period of time raises many questions.

Why is it happening? Various propositions include: an increasingly educated population; increased levels of prosperity and well-being for more and more people; the ubiquity of the internet; more women working in the paid labor force; a tarnished image of Christianity as being anti-gay rights, anti-women, and too conservative politically; a reaction against the pedophile priest scandal; more people waiting longer to get married and have kids; the popularization of New Atheism; and so forth.

But whatever the reasons, a new social reality is emerging in which supernatural beliefs, religious rituals, and religious congregating are losing significance in more and more people’s lives. In an increasingly secular Canada, more and more people are accepting their mortality, living ethically without a presumed promise of heaven or fear of hell, experiencing awe without religious interpretations, facing life’s hardships without spiritual succor, and finding new ways to infuse life with meaning beyond traditional religious tropes and strictures.

Will they be able to replace the social capital, increased well-being, and multi-generational bonding that has been associated with participating regularly in a religious congregation?

God—er, whatever—only knows.