So what has changed over the past decade and why are more people in the province saying no to religious identity?
The answer can be one of many things ranging from an increase in immigration to changes in family dynamics and society to controversy between many religions in the past and present.
Sandra Dunham is the Executive Director of the Center for Inquiry Canada, an organization that provides education and training in skeptical, secular, rational and humanistic inquiry.
Dunham said many of those who answer the census question on religion do so because of their childhood and the faith they were raised in. Dunham explained that this does not mean they are practicing their religion, but simply positing an answer based on whether they go to church on Christmas or Easter.
“The actual number of non-believers is probably much higher than what you read in these statistics,” she said.
She added that the census also showed that the number of children over the age of 10 has increased significantly and although this may seem like a small statistic, she said, when it comes to religious identity, this has a big effect on the numbers.
For example, she thinks that adults who identified as Christian because of their childhood are more likely to identify their children as non-religious.
Dunham also pointed to several factors that may have turned people away from churches and organized religion, including the Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal and the views of many religions on abortion rights and LGBTQ issues. Recently, Briercrest College in Caronport, Sask. came under fire after several former LGBTQ students came forward for being discriminated against, harassed and abused by people at the college.
This prompted more calls for less or no government funding for private Christian schools and colleges and also renewed the call for taxation of religious institutes.
This topic has been covered extensively in the past by the CFI, as “advancing a religion” is a criterion used to claim charitable status in Canada.
“It costs Canadians (approximately) $5.5 billion a year,” she said, quoting the Centre’s annual report on “The Cost of Religion in Canada.” In April 2021, the report claimed that preferential GST/HST and property tax treatment costs Canadian governments $1.2 billion a year.
However, these figures are not new according to Dr. John Stackhouse, professor of religious studies at Crandall University in Moncton.
He said this decline began about 50 years ago.
“The decline has been quite impressive since the peak of the 1971 census,” he said. “The continued decline is impressive because we keep wondering when it’s going to bottom out and it hasn’t yet. The increase in people identifying as having no religion was higher than most of us expected.
One of the census statistics that Stackhouse said he didn’t expect to see was the number of Indigenous people who identify as non-religious.
“Until the last 20 years, they were the most Christian population in Canada. Since the 1990s, they identify very strongly with Christianity. But what we are seeing now is that more of them identify as having no religion than the population as a whole.
He said some of the reasons for this are the investigations and discoveries in residential schools and the fact that more and more young Canadians are abandoning religion, which includes the young indigenous population.
Another voice lending his thoughts on these numbers is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS).
Duane McKay is an elder at LDS Church in Prince Albert and serves on the stake’s Board of Governors which oversees several congregations in central and west-central Saskatchewan.
He said many residents have some historical connection to religion, but times and family activities have changed, and so has the landscape of religion. He said churches were once the community center and hub of some cities, but now that is no longer the case.
“Over time people became less dependent on the church and less dependent on God and the values they had within their family and maybe they decided they didn’t need it. “, did he declare.
But he added that just because a person doesn’t identify with a religion doesn’t mean they don’t identify with a concept of God.
“Some who have no affiliation will say they believe in a higher intelligence or a certain description and may not have a personal testimony of that relationship with their creator,” he said.
Regarding numbers for the Church of Latter-day Saints in particular, McKay said it’s hard to tell based on purely census data, but church membership records have been stable. with many newcomers to the Mormon faith while some have left over the years,
He spoke briefly about the Latter-day Saint missionary program, which sends young people abroad on missions for two years. Worldwide, he said the program has about 54,000 missionaries.
“In a way, it helps us maintain that membership, or at least spread the word,” he said.
As of the 2021 census, just over 2,000 Saskatchewan residents were Latter-day Saints, up from just over 3,000 a decade ago.
As to whether this trend will continue, Dunham, McKay and Stackhouse say so, but each looks at it from a different angle.
“Time will tell if this trend will continue up or down, but I certainly think it’s a concern for all denominations,” McKay said.
“If the parents grow up and don’t go to church, the children don’t become that religion. More and more, people are moving away from it,” Dunham added.
“As Canadians, we sort ourselves out between people who are serious and observant religious leaders and people who really aren’t and who see no personal benefit in being affiliated with a religion and practicing it,” said Stackhouse. He added that the sorting could take another 20 years if not sooner.