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:


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.

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