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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).


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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