While growing up in southern California during the early 1960s, Sandy Hughes became bored with Protestantism and so, at age 20 and in search of spiritual answers, she joined the Roman Catholic Church. But, finding none, she dropped out two years later. Now a Vancouver-area astrologer who works in an alternative bookstore, Hughes calls herself a metaphysical thinker and says that she is not alone in turning away from mainstream religion. “There are too many rules and divisions in traditional churches,” said Hughes. “People want something more profound than a label.” A Statistics Canada survey released last week showed that a sharply increased number of Canadians, like Hughes, count themselves out of organized religion. On their 1991 census questionnaire, about 3.4 million Canadians—12.5 per cent of the population—reported “no religious affiliation,” almost double the 1981 number and a jump of more than 250 per cent since 1971.
Still, the numbers themselves are not necessarily evidence that religious beliefs—as opposed to denominational affiliation—are in decline in Canada. In fact, most people still identify themselves as Christians. And even among those who professed to have “no religious affiliation,” fewer than 14,000 labelled themselves as atheists. Said Douglas Flanders, a spokesman for the United Church of
Canada: “People might be interested in religion but they are not walking into a church.” Andrew Grenville, vice-president of the Angus Reid Group, a national polling organization, calls it “a privatization of religion in Canada.” A recent Reid Group survey of religious beliefs found that, even among those who disclaimed religious affiliation, 29 per cent believed Christ was the Son of God. The poll also determined that most people who call themselves Christians rarely attend
church. Even though God has been removed from public debate, observes Grenville, “Over the past 50 years, our belief in God has remained the same.”
The census confirms Catholicism as the country’s dominant faith, with 12.3 million professed members. That represents 46 per cent of Canadians, down a percentage point from 1981. Protestants now number 9.8 million, or 36 per cent of the population, down significantly from 41 per cent, even though some smaller fundamentalist denominations offering a literal interpretation of the Bible have gained members. The remaining five per cent of the population reflects slight increases in the Eastern Orthodox, Eastern non-Christian and Jewish faiths. And it includes the 1,200 Canadians who, like Sandy Hughes, have turned to New Age thought for religious enlightenment.
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