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God In The TrunkGod In The Trunk

God In The Trunk

Convivium Publisher Peter Stockland interviews Cardus co-founder and Executive Vice President Ray Pennings on the findings revealed in last week's Angus Reid poll. Learn more about what Canadians think about sin, faith, and prayer. Convivium Publisher Peter Stockland also took the time to speak with Ray Pennings on the findings revealed in last week's Angus Reid Poll.

Peter Stockland
3 minute read

Amid data amassed by the Angus Reid Institute in conjunction with Cardus’ Faith in Canada 150 initiative is the comforting statistic that about 75 per cent of Canadians pray at least sometimes.

But Cardus co-founder and Executive Vice-President Ray Pennings warns the number may reflect more precautionary wishing and hoping than genuine religious faith.

“My sense (from the data) is that if you combine the results (about) sin, prayer and Bible reading, you find that for many people religion is like a spare tire in the trunk,” Pennings told Convivium following release of a new data set from Angus Reid.

“Yes, there is a broad sense that religion is important – the way having a spare tire is important. From day to day, it’s not a meaningful part of our experience,” he said.

An earlier phase of the Angus Reid polling data, based on surveys of more than 2000 Canadians, showed about 20 per cent of us qualify ourselves as religiously committed. Another 20 per cent are hostile to religious faith. In the middle are the spiritually uncertain and those who consider faith a purely private matter.

The second survey conducted in early May fleshes out those raw numbers by showing, for example, that two-thirds of Canadians believe people are “essentially good” and that the concept of sin is an “invention” to exercise social control.

Pennings said while it’s encouraging for people of faith to see that religious belief informs how more than half of Canadians engage with the world, it’s unsettling to see how tenuously they connect to the transcendent.

“The view that sin is an invention, that it is something humans have made up as a set of moralistic rules and assumptions, is lacking any sense of relationship to the transcendent,” he said. “It’s interesting that even people of faith overwhelmingly proceed from that premise. When it comes to actual decision making on the issues of the day, there seems to be a relativism that has faith as a thin veneer.”

A “counterintuitive” exception, Pennings noted, is that “younger respondents have a more robust sense of sin than do older respondents.” More, when it comes to questions such as whether society has become too sexually open, 64 per cent of women 35 to 54, and 66 per cent of women over 55, believe it has.

“They’re seeing the promises of the sexual revolution don’t have the positives results for women that were advertised,” Pennings said.

But when it comes to moral issues generally, Canadians seem genuinely confused, according to the data. A substantial majority believes it’s up to individuals to choose the morality that suits each person best. About the same number simultaneously believe there are universal moral norms. And about 80 per cent of Canadians, regardless of where they fall on the religious/non-religious spectrum, have little or nor sympathy for people in prison.

“There is not a lot of sympathy among Canadians at large for those who find themselves in jail. There’s a contradiction in the sense of (claiming to believe) people are essentially good when the data suggests we don’t believe that of people who are in the prison system.”

While the Angus Reid Institute numbers from both research sets to date do debunk the idea of Canada as a hardline secular society, the numbers don’t bode well for religious institutions, Pennings said.

“Institutional religion has very weak results. People see religion as highly personalized. We live in a society where the zeitgeist is anti-institutional for all institutions. We break down families. We’re anti-government. More of us don’t trust institutions than trust them. And that finds its way into our relations with religious institutions. Religious institutions need to look in the mirror and ask on what grounds they are appealing to Canadians.”

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