That pattern is a dynamic pattern. If
you think of it as a continuum of embrace,
rejection and the middle, remember that
every dynamic thing can swing back and
forth. That’s what makes it an exciting
thing to look at, instead of this static
thing, that is, “We were once religious and
now we’re not.”
Polarization reminds us that we are
incredibly varied to our posture toward
religion. If people are really embracing
religion in Canada, politicians and so on
have to allow for that. It means there is
still lots of life, but everyone has to make
room for everyone.
F T: Your research also highlights how immigration is boosting the numbers of religious people
in Canada. Can you explain?
RB: One of the big new important variables
is the reality of immigration. What immigration is doing to religion patterns in
Canada is a story that is centrally important.
The proverbial bottom line is that increasing numbers of people coming to
Canada, especially from Asian countries,
are typically more religious than people
here, whether we are talking Pentecostals,
Catholics or Muslims. They are injecting
all kinds of new life into the Church.
Catholics, for example, don’t have a thing
to worry about in terms of their future.
Faith Today: The results of the survey became a
Maclean’s magazine cover story earlier this year.
Here is what they said: “Religion in Canada isn’t
declining nearly as fast as we think. A remarkable
new survey finds out what Canadians really
believe.” How is it remarkable?
Reg Bibby: It is remarkable in the sense that
we are documenting the reality of polarization in Canada over the topic of secularization. That is the broader story that
Maclean’s started to pick up on. Everyone
has been talking about secularization in
Canada; that idea is taken for granted by
everyone, including church leaders.
But the data we are gathering is documenting a very different story. Rather
than having a Canada that is secular and
becoming more so – where things are bad
and getting worse – what we have is a very
vibrant core of people who continue to
value faith. We have another core who are
explicitly rejecting religion, and we have
a third sector, probably the biggest one,
who are in-between, neither rejecting nor
FT: Is polarization better news than secularization?
RB: The secularization model has become
so pervasive. I was teaching it for three
decades in my classes. Everyone would
scratch their heads about why the U.S.
didn’t fit that model. Church and denomin-
ational leaders buy into it. To even challenge
the secularization stuff is difficult because
it’s so pervasive, and taken for granted.
I’ve been questioning it, and discovering
that some of my heroes from seminary days
like Peter Berger and Harvey Cox have said
they were wrong. Religion is very vibrant
in so many parts of the world.
In terms of the work in Canada, when
we look at people, what has always been
difficult to make sense of is there’s been a
consistent core of people who continue to
If you say maybe the norm for Protestants is not to attend every week, but twice
a month, instead of those charts plummeting downward, you find that things
have been relatively stable since the ’70s.
And now, largely because of immigration, there is a levelling off, and for
Evangelicals a slight rising of the numbers.
This pattern of some embracing, some
rejecting and the group in the middle, this
is not unique to Canada.
Thanks to Pew and Gallup we have all
this global data, that if you look at a place
like Nigeria or Ghana, you find that there
are people who are not embracing faith,
some who reject it, some who are in the
THE FT INTERVIEW