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Apr 12 2012

Oh boy… I made a stupid

On Tuesday I talked up the results of a survey that showed that Canadians are far more apathetic about religion and doubtful about gods than our southern neighbours:

It still remains fascinating to see that religion in Canada seems to be expiring without the need for a lengthy, showy campaign forcing religious believers into the margins of society. Like the Grinch’s Christmas, the ‘war on religion’ came without boxes, it came without bags – we didn’t have to steal Christmas, we just had to wait until it got a little long in the tooth and we sent it to a farm upstate to run and play with other faiths.

Sometimes I feel like I should wash my hands after quoting myself.

Anyway, I feel a little silly at this point, because as a self-proclaimed skeptic and anti-racist, I still left a giant gaping hole in my analysis of this result. Luckily, Douglas Todd from The Vancouver Sun is on the case:

The Pew Forum report, which describes migration patterns in every country of the world, makes clear that immigration is changing the religious face of Canada in unexpected ways. For instance, even though some Canadians believe that Muslim immigrants will soon predominate, only nine per cent of all newcomers are Muslim. That’s in contrast to global people trends, where Muslims make up 27 per cent of immigrants. The majority of Canada’s immigrants – six in 10 — are Christians. That’s an even higher ratio than across the planet, where Christians make up five in 10 of those moving permanently to new countries (as well as the largest immigrant group in Europe).

(snip)

The second-largest group of migrants to Canada are the religiously unaffiliated. They include atheists and agnostics and the “spiritual but not religious.” Non-religious migrants account for 17 per cent of newcomers to Canada (roughly the same proportion this cohort accounts for among all Canadians). However, the non-religious make up only nine per cent of all immigrants globally.

The solid majority of non-religious settlers are from mainland China (390,000). Two out of three immigrants from mainland China describe themselves as unaffiliated. They’re followed by non-religious from Hong Kong (140,000), the U.K. (140,000), U.S. (70,000), Vietnam (50,000) and Taiwan (40,000). A significant factor behind Census Canada discovering more than 35 per cent of Metro Vancouver residents have “no religion” can be chalked up to the unusually high inflow of immigrants from these East Asian countries.

I mean really, this is one of those findings that really should have jumped out at me immediately. Especially given the fact that I live in Vancouver. My city is home to a thriving Chinese immigrant community, many of whom settled here for economic reasons rather than as religious refugees. It seems that the influx of Chinese immigrants, coupled with China’s officially atheistic government policy, has resulted in a far more atheistic population than average. Interestingly, the aggregate immigrant population represents a disproportionate influx of Christianity, suggesting perhaps a preference for majority-Christian countries or perhaps an immigration process that selects for Christians. If I had to guess, I’d suspect the former rather than the latter.

Regardless of the facts of the case, I screwed up and missed this one because I bought into a stereotyped vision of immigrants (i.e., non-white Canadians) as being more religious than native-born Canadians. This stereotype seems to be untrue not only here, but in the USA as well:

This according to a new Pew Survey of Latinos. The last part of the report is about religion and social issues and the results confirm what this blog has been about since its inception. Latinos are secularizing fast, and Latinos are an important part of the overall secularization of American society. Latino Nones (or “unaffiliated”) are now 14% of the Latino population, compared to 13% of evangelicals. Sure, is within the margin of error but this is another data point confirming the secularization of Latinos. This will make the good guys from Latino Atheists and Hispanic American Freethinkers, who proudly represented secular Latinos in the Reason Rally, very happy.

Now to be sure, this article is not restricted to immigrant Latin@s who are, in fact, slightly more frequently religious than native-born Latin@s. What is worth noting, however, is that 14% of a population that is broad-brush stereotyped as being particularly religious (and uniformly Catholic to boot) do not express affiliation to any religious denomination whatsoever. This is certainly not to say that they are all atheists, but it does suggest that as Latin@ Americans become more firmly established as part of the American landscape, they become less overly religious. It would be fascinating to see the extent to which this is true for other immigrant groups in America, and in Canada. Given what we know about how religiosity correlates with economic inequality, increased secularism may be an inevitable result of well-managed societies.

That being said, it’s perhaps still disappointing to know that I am just as susceptible to this kind of lazy thinking from time to time. The lesson, perhaps, is that none of us are safe from getting sloppy with our thinking when it comes to race and religion. The challenge set before us is to train ourselves to remain ever-vigilant when trying to build coherent and accurate narratives about why things are the way they are. Failing to exercise this kind of self-scrutiny will inevitably lead us to make the kind of errors I did – arriving at a conclusion that might suit our preferences, but ignores the much more compelling (and accurate) truth beneath the easy lie.

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15 comments

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  1. 1
    Synfandel

    Interestingly, the aggregate immigrant population represents a disproportionate influx of Christianity, suggesting perhaps a preference for majority-Christian countries or perhaps an immigration process that selects for Christians. If I had to guess, I’d suspect the former rather than the latter.

    I would suspect an immigration process that selects for specific skills, professions, and educational credentials, which happen to be more common in predominantly Christian (i.e. western) countries.

  2. 2
    Crommunist

    “Western” in this case meaning European?

  3. 3
    Synfandel

    I used the term “western” sloppily. I was thinking mainly of Europe and the United States.

  4. 4
    Timid Atheist

    Kudos to you for catching the mistake and talking about it instead of kicking it under the rug.

  5. 5
    Crommunist

    The dirty little secret of course is that there is no way to use the term “Western” in a non-sloppy way. It refers to a non-existent socio-geopolitical divide. I rankle every time someone talks about “Western Civilization” or “Western thought” or what-have-you. None of those things are real.

  6. 6
    Crommunist

    Warning: monumental overexplanation incoming

    I have gradually come to the realization that the story of how we know what we know is far more important (and compelling) than simply listing off the facts we’ve figured out. In that spirit, I think there is much more to be learned of the stories of when I fail than when I simply get up on my soapbox and pontificate. Additionally, insofar as this blog is written for my own edification, it’s useful for me to take particular note of the stuff I get wrong.

    If I can be said to have a pedagogical goal, it’s for people reading this blog to learn to duplicate the process I use to navigate issues of race and other types of skepticism. I believe that is best accomplished by being unflinchingly honest not only with you, but with myself.

  7. 7
    Pierce R. Butler

    … increased secularism may be an inevitable result of well-managed societies.

    Which effectively explains the kind of management we get from non-secular politicians.

  8. 8
    NC

    Could immigration by marriage also skew the results toward Christianity? That’s how this western (US) “none” got here–by marrying a Canadian none.

    If there’s a Christian majority among Canadian citizens and they tend to marry those with common religious beliefs, spouses would be “chosen” from among Christian believers in general rather than Christian-majority countries. In that case the selection is not necessarily being done at the federal level.

  9. 9
    Eric O

    Owning up to lazy thinking is all well and good, but what impresses me is the fact that Douglas Todd actually wrote something that’s honest and insightful for a change.

    I guess it’s that whole broken clock being right twice a day thing.

  10. 10
    tariqata

    I would suspect an immigration process that selects for specific skills, professions, and educational credentials, which happen to be more common in predominantly Christian (i.e. western) countries.

    I think this is untrue, particularly if we’re talking about recent immigration patterns, although as Crommunist pointed out, ‘western’ is a sloppy term. According to Statistics Canada, between 2001 and 2006 14% of all newcomers came from China, and just under 60% came from ‘Asian’ countries (including the Middle East and India); ~10% came from Central and South America and the Caribbean, and ~10% came from Africa. I think that if Christians are over-represented amongst immigrants to Canada, it’s unlikely to be because our immigration system selects for people who have skills that are more likely to be found in predominantly Christian countries, and assuming that ‘western’ means, roughly, Europe plus the US, Australia and New Zealand, the skill sets that we do select for are now much more broadly represented across the world.

  11. 11
    tim gueguen

    It’s worth remembering that Asia includes the Phllipines, whose population is largely Christian. There’s been a lot of Fillipino immigration since 2001, with the population apparently growing by a third between 2001 and 2006, and the number of Fillipinos in Canada was expected to reach 500 thousand by 2010.

    South Korea has a large Christian community, approaching 30% of the population. Apparently a large percentage of the Korean community in Canada are Christians.

  12. 12
    tariqata

    Oh, I know – my point was more that ‘predominantly Christian’ and ‘western’ don’t necessarily overlap to anywhere near the extent that they may have in the past. But I have seen nothing to suggest that the skills and backgrounds that are favoured by the immigration system are more likely to be found in the Philippines or South Korea versus Iran, or India, or Pakistan, for example.

    I also think that newcomers from China represent an interesting case, since the country as a whole is officially not religious, but it does seem that a significant proportion of those who come to Canada are Christian (although admittedly I do not have numbers to verify the relative size of each group, and don’t have time to look it up at the moment). Without evidence to suggest that Christians in China are more likely to have the skills favoured by the immigration system than other people from China, I am inclined to chalk any difference up to self-selection in the decision to immigrate in the first place.

  13. 13
    dx713

    Note that less religion, in the Abrahamic sense, doesn’t necessarily mean less superstition.
    Atheist Chinese can believe in a surprisingly large number of woo… Makes sense when you remember they didn’t become atheists through reason but just through culture, like most “westerners” (yeah for sloppy generalizations!) are Christians.

  14. 14
    Crommunist

    My issue isn’t just that it’s “sloppy”. It’s also inaccurate, and obscures meaningful historical narratives.

  15. 15
    thelatinone

    Thanks for the link to my post on Latino Nones!

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