Religion isn’t dying. It may be rising from the grave

When his book Unknown Gods was published 22 years ago, University of Lethbridge sociologist and pollster Reginald Bibby painted a rather dreary picture of where Canada’s churches would be by about 2015. Congregations would be older, birth rates wouldn’t keep up with the number of folks who were dying off, and all the while many children weren’t being socialized into a faith. It was a linear decline, plain and simple. The writing was on the wall. “Even with the Toronto Maple Leafs, there is hope for a better next year,” he says in an interview. “Whereas with religion, it looked pretty much over.”

When 2015 finally came around, Bibby decided to revisit his book and check on his predictions. He discovered that for many religious groups, he was quite off-target. Catholics, for example, are building new churches in some parts of the country. Evangelicals increased their total numbers as Canada’s population grew. The same goes for Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs. He had accurately forecasted a long, drawn-out decline for the United Church of Canada and the Anglican Church. But some religions were getting an infusion of new blood.

“What I screwed up on—it sounds so naive looking back—[is] I didn’t allow for the immigration variable,” Bibby says. “The thing that pumps new life into religion in Canada has been this mammoth entrance not only of Muslims, but also Catholics.” Not to mention the Protestants, Sikhs and Hindus…

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