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La non-religion au Canada

While Canada is still a nation whose social fabric and institutions are influenced by Christianity, the number of people who identify as ‘nonreligious’ has increased significantly during the past few decades. For the purposes of this discussion ‘nonreligion’ includes a number of terms, including agnostic, atheist, spiritual but not religious, humanist, and indifferent. The diverse and broad nature of this category obviously poses challenges, but if we begin with the census figures we can say that just under 1 in 4 Canadians identified as unaffiliated on the last national survey. However, this figure should be seen as a rough measure of religious attachment, particularly when it comes to Christianity.

For instance, a survey published in Faith Today shows weekly church or synagogue attendance at 11% of those surveyed. This compares with post-World War II levels of 67% of Canadians attending church or synagogue weekly. Further, half of those surveyed were agnostic, atheist or nonreligious meaning that combined this group is now larger than those who identify as Christian (Hiemstra 2020). Only 11% of those surveyed attend church on a regular basis. Similarly, in their book Leaving Christianity, Brian Clarke and Stuart Macdonald note that affiliation does not equal involvement and that nearly half of Canadians are thus effectively ‘nones’.

It is important to note that there are regional variations. For example, as of the last census data from 2011 44% of the population of the province of British Columbia has no religious affiliation, compared to 24% of the total Canadian population (Statistics Canada 2011). In Quebec, a province that has traditionally had high Roman Catholic affiliation, only 10.1% of Catholics attend church “at least once a week” and 42.7% of Catholics “never attend” church. Yet identification with Roman Catholicism is still high (almost 85% of the population), something Clarke and Macdonald (2017) predict will fall given the large number of children now being raised with no institutional religious affiliation or education.

This discussion has focused on the intersection of nonreligion and Christianity because Canada has been a majority Christian nation. However, issues around religious and nonreligious identity are important in other areas as well. For example, strategies around immigrant integration often make assumptions about the religious lives of immigrants and refugees which emphasize observance rather than nonreligion. Empirical research has yet to be done on the impact of the religious imaginary on migrants who are nonreligious.

It remains to be seen what the social consequences of the turn to nonreligion are, both negative and positive. One immediate and obvious consequence is the transformation of churches into condominiums, community centres, housing for seniors, performances spaces and so on, or their outright demolition. Less clear are the effects, if any, on charitable giving and volunteering—some researchers and social activists have expressed concern that without churches there is diminished capacity to socialize people into giving. Moreover, some churches have had an active role in the provision of social services, including support for immigrants and refugees ; food banks ; and the running of homeless shelters. These services often rely on extensive volunteer networks whose numbers are declining along with church membership. In some cases these services have transformed to be less explicitly religiously based. Positive impacts of increased nonreligion may include increased social inclusion for previously marginalized groups, most especially sexual minorities, increased access to reproductive technologies and services such as birth control and abortion and more diverse public spaces.

Sources :
- 2011 National Household Survey ;
- Leaving Christianity : Changing Allegiances in Canada. Clarke, Brian and Macdonald, Stuart. Montreal : McGill-Queens University Press. 2017.

D 10 mars 2021    ALori G. Beaman

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