The Gates of Hell Won't Prevail

Thoughts on the latest news about the decline of religion in Canada

This weekend, Global News published a two-part report on the decline of religion in Canada. The report elaborates on a study by Statistics Canada released last October, documenting the evolution of religiosity in the country over the last 34 years. Both sources cover several religions and denominations, and I want to share my thoughts on what I think this means for Christianity in this country and age.

Global reporter Ashleigh Stewart talked to several religious leaders about these trends. The StatsCan study shows an overall decline, with the number of Canadians reporting a religious affiliation dipping below 70% for the first time since 1985. However, Christianity is the biggest loser, with the Anglican and United denominations most affected. In contrast, Islam and Sikhism are growing, fuelled by immigration.

Christian leaders interviewed by Stewart quoted a generational divide, and the perception that science is at odds with religion, as factors driving the decline. Interestingly, they highlighted the pandemic as a source for growth, having reignited the search for meaning and purpose. Several leaders also highlighted a pattern in young adults, who seem more prone to shun their family faith to sometimes pick it up on their own later in life.

On both sides of the scale, the role of religion comes up as a significant factor. The leaders of growing denominations characterize their faith as an intrinsic part of their lives, or their way of live. Conversely, affiliation measured through partaking in religious activities or rites is at an all-time low.

Here are my own thoughts on what I think we can expect going forward.

The schism between science and religion will persist. This is unfortunate, because these really aren’t natural opposites. However, the prevailing worldview has deeply embraced the idea that nature and life evolved randomly, and that science will eventually explain how. Several prominent scientists and Christian thinkers know and advocate otherwise, but I don’t see the mainstream opinion changing any time soon. One key reason is that attitudes towards religion are philosophical and moral in nature; knowledge alone typically isn’t enough to persuade.

Compromise will only make things worse. From its mainstream media standpoint, the report doesn’t touch on this aspect. But in Christian circles, there’s frequent and intense debate on the appropriate response of religion to changing societal viewpoints. Like the science/religion divide, our current zeitgeist has fully embraced the untrue narrative that on many important contemporary issues, Christianity is outdated (at best) or hateful and causative (at worse). And to paraphrase Os Guinness, when a church attempts to relax or reconcile orthodox doctrine with modern trends, it skates to where the puck has been. Those attracted to progressive solutions will prefer to follow first sources over a lagging and stale church articulation, and the shift will alienate the church’s core constituents. In short, the more churches attempt to accommodate current trends, the sooner they’ll shrink.

Persecution will soon join cultural factors. Secularization, progress, and a shift in responsibilities and contributions from the church to other institutions (including the state), are offered as explanations of the decline of religion in Canada. I’d add that we’re already seeing the state challenging and confronting religious liberties in North America. I suspect we’ll see more of that going forward. The silver lining is that, despite pain and losses that cannot be trivialized, in the long run historical Christianity has prevailed against statal opposition. However, in the short term this might drive religious affiliation numbers further down. (Recall the report’s divide between religion as way of life vs religion as activities or rites to attend.)

The influence of Christianity in Canada’s secular life has brought immense welfare and profit over the years. Even so, that influence is in clear decline. As that unfolds, the actual commitment and affiliation with our spiritual practices will also inevitably reduce. We will become a minority, and probably a weird and outcast one at that. In fact, in the past this often has been the natural state of the body of Christ. But as Gene Veith puts it, Christianity has proven particularly effective in pagan societies. God remains sovereign over our nation and its circumstances. And just like Jesus promised, the gates of hell won’t prevail against His church.

Tags: #religion , #state , #church

Published: January 9, 2022