Sunday, April 23, 2017

Religious Canadians and Generosity: You'll Miss Us When We're Gone

More religious someone is, more they give to charity and volunteer 

A new survey is out about Canadians and religion, and it shows that faith in Canada is still very much alive.

The survey, released April 13 by Angus Reid in collaboration with Canada 150, found that 21 percent of Canadians identify as religiously committed; 30 percent are privately faithful; and 31 percent are spiritually uncertain.

Only 19 percent consider themselves to be non-believers.

The survey also found that 67 percent of Canadians believe that God or a higher power exists; 60 percent believe in life after death; 53 percent believe God is active in the world; 57 percent believe there is a heaven; and 41 percent believe there is a Hell.

While there are many interesting things in the study, what struck me is how religiously-committed Canadians viewed their engagement with the world around them.

The survey found that the more religious someone is, the more they give to charity, volunteer and are involved in the community.

People who are religiously committed were over twice as likely as members of any other group to say they are “very involved” or “quite involved” in community activities.

Non-believers, by contrast, were the most likely to say they are “not at all involved” in the community.

Religiously committed Canadians were also almost twice as likely as any other group to say they “try to donate to whatever charities they can.”

As someone who works in the non-profit sector, these findings are of great interest to me.

They confirm previous research by Statistics Canada, which found that people who are more religiously active (who attend religious meetings or services at least once a week) are more inclined to donate, and also to make larger donations.

Research into giving in Canada has also found that while religiously committed people give lots of money to religious organizations, they also contribute significant amounts to non-religious charities.

Why does being religious correlate with giving to charity, volunteering and engagement?

One reason, the Angus Reid survey suggests, is that being part of a worshipping community provides people with more opportunities to help—to do neighbourhood clean-up, be part of a soup kitchen, or support an inner city organization. 

The regular passing of the offering plate also helps, I’m sure. What other public gatherings do that?

But attending a worship service also promotes charitable giving in other ways. Through announcements, sharing, sermons and prayer requests people get a window on the wider world around them, and what they can do to help.

It could also be because more older people go to worship services than younger people. And since older people tend to donate more than others, this could skew the findings.

But it also goes deeper than that: Religious people also give and volunteer because their faith motivates them to do so.

As the survey discovered, the religiously committed were twice as likely as members of any other group to say “concern for others” is one of the most important things for them. They also indicated they are less concerned with success and having a comfortable life than non-believers.

This is all great news for faith groups—faith makes a difference in society. But there is also cause for concern.

Since one of the top indicators of religious commitment is regular attendance at worship services, falling membership and attendance means fewer people are at places of worship to hear about world needs, and then make a donation.

Coupled with an aging donor base—the best givers are literally dying off—this could spell trouble for charities of all kinds.

But maybe it won’t matter; maybe all those people who are less committed, but still open to religion, will find new ways to give and be engaged with their communities. Perhaps even non-believers will see a new light.

Maybe. But the evidence suggests it will be an uphill battle. Studies show that fewer people in Canada are giving to charity. And younger people, who are more likely not to be religiously committed, aren’t giving as much as seniors.

In our growing secular society, it could be that many don’t care if places of worship all closed tomorrow.

But when it comes to charitable giving and volunteering, I would tell them: “You’ll miss us when we’re gone.”

From the April 22 Winnipeg Free Press.

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