Secular challenge

  • May 16, 2013

In proclaiming the Year of Faith last October, Pope Benedict emphasized a need to re-evangelize wherever secular culture was tugging at Christianity’s deep roots. The recent publication of census data from Statistics Canada underscores why Benedict was so concerned.

Thirty years ago, 90 per cent of Canadians identified as Christian. Today that number has dropped to just 67 per cent. Some of the decline is due to an immigration-fueled rise in Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, but the most striking change of the past three decades is a sharp increase among those who reject religion altogether. That number has more than tripled to represent 24 per cent of Canada’s 33.5 million people.

The survey indicates that Canada is in danger of becoming one of those societies Benedict had in mind when he said the Gospel must be “re-proposed” in nations challenged by a crisis in faith. While the Canadian landscape is less forlorn than much of Europe, it is heading that way. The situation is already desperate in Quebec.

The census tracked religious affiliation, not participation. So there’s no data on how many people actually practise their faith. But it’s obvious that many self-identified Catholics seldom attend church. These stalled Catholics are different from Catholics who have abandoned faith entirely, but together they are the major reason for the Year of Faith. Benedict recognized a need to re-evangelize both groups.

That’s not to suggest this is a Godless society. Slightly more than three-quarters of Canadians declare a religious affiliation and 88 per cent of believers are Christian. Thirty-nine per cent of Canadians identify as Roman Catholics, by far the largest faith group. Canada still abounds in faith.

But the trend indicates Canada’s religious heritage, and the type of nation it inspired, is being challenged by a secular belief system that will trespass on many areas of social, political and economic life. Secularism is often less attentive to the common good as it abandons God to glorify celebrity, consumerism and materialism. Thankfully, Canada remains a peaceful, tolerant society amid this change. Still, studies show religious-minded people are more socially conscious and more inclined to volunteering, charitable giving and civic engagement. Obviously, it’s not always the case, but a person grounded in faith tends to be more hopeful, ethical, tolerant and, studies show, even more happy.

Faith is uplifting. It builds better societies.

The census data reinforces a perception that, in a world spellbound by science and technology, religion is waning. The Year of Faith proposes that committed Catholics can reverse that trend by intensifying their own faith and, by their witness, rekindling embers of faith in others. One view is based on the pragmatism of data science, the other is inspired by Christian hope.

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