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Religion still a strong force in Canada: poll

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Three-quarters of Canadians view Pope Francis as a positive influence

By Michael Swan
Photo caption: Ray Pennings, the vice president of Cardus.
Canadians are mostly faithful believers in God who value family life, honesty, and concern for others, according to an Angus Reid Institute survey.
The vast majority extol forgiveness and morality. Solid majorities believe in heaven, life after death, and God’s active presence in our world.
In a country that is less than 40 per cent Catholic, almost three-quarters of us (72 per cent) view Pope Francis as a positive influence in the world. Even the majority of non-believers (54 per cent) endorse Pope Francis’ positive influence.
Four out of 10 Canadians pray regularly to God or some other higher power and just over a quarter of us say we experience God’s presence.
Despite all this positive religious feeling, a sizeable number of Canadians are suspicious of religion, don’t like overtly religious people, and shy away from religious institutions.
Only a quarter of Canadians told the Angus Reid Institute they believe the word “religion” has a positive meaning, compared to a third (33 per cent) who said they view the word negatively. Even among the most religiously committed, more than 11 per cent said they thought the word “religion” had negative connotations.
The Angus Reid Institute poll was undertaken in partnership with the Cardus think tank’s Faith in Canada 150 program – the first of as many as six surveys planned this year to look at what and how Canadians believe.
“We live in a religious society,” Cardus vice president Ray Pennings told The Catholic Register. “We may have a secular state, but our society is not secular. You see that all around in everyday life.”
The negative perceptions Canadians have of religion as an institution reflect a problem in Canadian religious literacy, said Pennings.
“Institutions are part of what creates the private religious faithfulness. You don’t get the one without the other,” he said. “It’s somewhat naive to make that distinction – to say you can have good religion without good religious institutions. It’s not possible.”
The Angus Reid study divides Canadians into four groups or mindsets on religion: non-believers, the spiritually uncertain, the privately faithful, and the religiously committed. The religiously committed, who take an active and public part in their religious tradition, represent 21 per cent of Canadians. Those who simply don’t believe in God and organized religion are 19 per cent.
The mushy middle is divided between 30 per cent who are “spiritually uncertain” – who keep a distance from religious institutions and are reluctant to commit to a creed, but concede that there are spiritual realities – and another 30 per cent who are “privately faithful.” This last group may be queasy about committing to a faith or a faith community themselves, but at the same time they believe such commitment can be a good thing.

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