Faithful in Canada are more caring, poll finds
The most actively religious value helping others over their own self-fulfillment
The larger the role faith plays in the lives of Canadians, the more likely they are to say they value altruism over self-fulfillment, a new poll has found.
The survey, conducted by the Angus Reid Institute in partnership with Faith in Canada 150, is part of a year-long project gauging Canadians’ beliefs and religious practices. It grouped respondents into four categories ranging from non-believers to religiously committed who attend places of worship regularly.
“Caring for others versus personal fulfilment, those are two very different value constructs,” Angus Reid, the institute’s founder and chairman, said in an interview. “And the relationship between them and religiosity is really significant.”
Asked to choose between two approaches as “the best way to live life,” 53 per cent of respondents picked “achieving our own dreams and happiness” over “being concerned about helping others.”
But when the results were broken down along the spectrum of religiosity, 67 per cent of the religiously committed favoured helping others. For nonbelievers, 65 per cent chose the pursuit of happiness.
The question revealed significant differences across Canadian regions. Quebec had the highest proportion of respondents across the country opting for self-fulfillment, at 65 per cent. Alberta was second at 54 per cent and British Columbia next at 53 per cent. In all other parts of the country, a majority of respondents picked helping others, with Saskatchewan the most altruistic at 59 per cent.
“What this survey proves is that having a faith, being part of a faith community, seems to propel people in the direction of developing higher levels of compassion or caring,” Reid said.
But that compassion has its limits. The 2,006 Canadian adults surveyed were asked a series of moral questions. The responses showed that the two groups on the religious end of the spectrum — the religiously committed and privately faithful — were together the most likely to say:
HAVING A FAITH ... SEEMS TO PROPEL PEOPLE IN THE DIRECTION OF DEVELOPING HIGHER LEVELS OF COMPASSION OR CARING.
Canada should accept fewer immigrants and refugees;
They would be uncomfortable if a child planned to marry someone from a different cultural or religious background;
There should not be greater social acceptance of people who are LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer);
Preserving life is more important than people’s freedom to choose on issues like abortion and doctor-assisted death.
In another question, the poll asked which statement corresponded most closely to respondents’ personal views:
People are fundamentally sinners and in need of salvation; or
People are essentially good and sin has been invented to control people.
Two-thirds of those polled sided with the essential goodness of people. But among the religiously committed — who made up about one-fifth of the survey group — 73 per cent said people are fundamentally sinners.
Another set of questions sought to gauge positions on moral relativism — whether the concept of right and wrong is absolute or can change depending on the situation.
A large majority, 68 per cent, said what is right or wrong “depends on the circumstances.” But nearly the same proportion, 66 per cent, rejected the notion that “answers to moral questions will be different for different cultures.”
At 74 per cent, the religiously committed were the most likely to say universal rights and wrongs apply to the whole human race.
Ray Pennings, executive vice-president of Christian think tank Cardus, welcomed the poll’s finding that a majority of Canadians say their faith is important to their personal identity (54 per cent) and their day-today lives (55 per cent.)
“On the one hand, in contrast to the prevalent public narrative that religion is private and it doesn’t matter, it’s quite clear that for the vast majority of Canadians, it does. Over half say, ‘Religion is actually shaping my identity and my decisions,’ ” Pennings said.
“On the other hand, that engagement is a relatively thin engagement.”
Reid said the poll results challenge the “uber secular narrative” put forward by Canadian political leaders.
“I find it noteworthy that we have significant divisions in this country on some moral issues, and those divisions seem to be heavily correlated with religious belief and membership in faith communities,” he said.
“We like to sometimes paint ourselves as this country where, unlike the United States, which has deep value differences, we are all sort of linked arm-to-arm on all issues. Actually, that’s not true.”
The poll is part of a multifaith effort initiated by Cardus called Faith in Canada 150, which aims to highlight the role religion has played historically and continues to play in Canada.