For most Canadians, religious commitment is “a former acquaintance rather than a current companion,” according to sociologist Reginald Bibby.

The University of Lethbridge sociology professor describes church members and others who treat religion as a consumer commodity, selectively choosing beliefs and considering faith something to be taken up or put down at will. Bibby details his findings in The Fragmented Gods: The Poverty and Potential of Religion in Canada (Irwin).

The vast majority of Canada’s citizens claim allegiance to a Christian denomination. Some 47 percent are Catholics; 43 percent are Protestants; 7 percent profess no religious affiliation; and 3 percent identify with non-Christian religions. Bibby estimates that conservative Protestants account for 6 percent of the national population.

To determine their level of religious commitment, Bibby and his colleagues polled more than 3,000 adults in three national surveys, conducted in 1975, 1980, and 1985. The results indicate that 8 out of 10 Canadians are not Christian in the traditional sense. While 90 percent said they believe in God and 70 percent believe in Jesus, more respondents said they pray occasionally than were sure they believe in God.

The sociologist disagrees that the decline of traditional Christian belief is the churches’ fault, as some critics have suggested. Instead, he writes, “for some time now, a highly specialized, consumer-oriented society has been remoulding the gods. Canadians are drawing very selectively on religion.”

While mainline churches did not create this pattern of consumerism, Bibby feels they have given in to it and “have taken a pluralistic view of religious belief and practice, leaving much ...

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