By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Canadian society, since its inception, has placed faith-based organizations or religious institutions on a privileged or special pedestal, where the emphasis existed on the dominant Christian religion and the domineering denomination of Roman Catholicism followed by Protestantism. If you’re looking to question this dominant position and fundamental tenets in a critical manner, then you should be ready for predictable backlash and other consequences. These questions, of course, have been asked of the Christian faith in Canada over and over. Slowly and in increments — generation by generation — the hold of Christianity on the culture has attenuated.

Pew Research, on July 27, 2013, wrote, “Canada’s Changing Religious Landscape,” explaining an ongoing trend of the decline of religion in Canada. People question quietly; leave churches; and become more open in freethought and naturalistic perspectives on the world. The Globe and Mail describes this, rather dramatically, as a “battle for Christianity in Canada,” as if reading Professor Kenneth Miller’s argument for the “battle for America’s soul.”

Nonetheless, the numbers tell the tale of a decline in the amount of believers in Canadian society as a proportion of Canadian citizenry. In fact, one of the stabilization forces for the numbers of faithful citizens in Canada, in spite of the declines, comes from the immigration of more religious people. In fact, in Christianity Today, Gary Nelson, President and CEO of Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto, said that churches need to reintroduce themselves “as a place, as a possibility, and as a neighborhood impact, as opposed to a place people ‘attend’ or ‘go.’ ”

This attempt to rebrand stems from a worrisome decline in church numbers, leading to burdensome costs for maintenance. Over time, fewer Canadian dollars in the collection plates, and rising prices on fixing old buildings, forces churches to close down. The issue is finances and economics, spurred by what seems to be a lowering of religious devotion.

In the next decade, the projection is that 9,000 churches will close because of the two-factor problem of fewer believers and rising costs. “As of 2009, there were 27,601 buildings for worship, training or promotion owned by religious organizations in Canada, a statistic found buried inside a Natural Resources Canada energy audit.” This places the 9,000 as an important comparative number.

From a centuries-long perspective of the narrative of Canadian history, we live in the midst of a phase change in Canadian religious life and demographics with consequences for all facets of Canadian culture and political life because religion, Christian religion, “since its inception,” has pervaded every facet of the country.

Times they change.

This article appears in the March 2020 version of Critical Links.