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Monday, May 22, 2017

Statistical Bias and Perceptions on Religious Devotion

"Caring for others versus personal fulfillment, those are two very different value constructs. And the relationship between them and religiosity is really significant."
"What this survey proves is that having a faith, being part of a faith community, seems to propel people in the direction of developing higher levels of compassion or caring."
"I find it noteworthy that we have significant divisions in this country on some moral issues, and those divisions seem to be heavily correlated with religious belief and membership in faith communities."
"We like to sometimes paint ourselves as this country where, unlike the United States, which has deep value differences, we are all sort of linked arm-to-arm on all issues. Actually, that's not true."
Angus Reid, founder/chairman, Angus Reid Institute

"On the one hand, in contrast to the prevalent public narrative that religion is private and it doesn't mater, it's quite clear that for the vast majority of Canadians, it does. Over half say, 'Religion is actually shaping my identity and my decisions'."
"On the other hand, that engagement is a relatively thin engagement."
Ray Pennings, executive vice-president, Christian think-tank Cardus
While some Canadians might not attend religious institutions like church regularly, many of them have religious views and personal faith.
While some Canadians might not attend religious institutions like church regularly, many of them have religious views and personal faith. (Chris Corday/CBC) 
On Mr. Reid's part, the recent survey his firm conducted allied with Faith in Canada 150, appears to validate for him a foregone conclusion -- that religious faith makes us better people, more aware of the needs of others, willing to inconvenience ourselves for the sake of aiding others, and being more receptive to the need to be charitable and generous and caring. On Mr. Penning's part, that validation has a bitter core; that not enough members of the broader public have committed to religious adherence and those that have do so in a tepid manner. Religion or not people who live fulfilled lives themselves tend to be more generous with others; it's called simple human decency.

This project took a year to gauge the beliefs of Canadians who took part in the poll to arrive at a consensus on their religious practices. People responding to the questions were divided into four distinct categories identifying them  as a) non-believers on to b) religiously committed devotees regularly attending places of worship. Responding to the choice of two alternatives representing their idea of "the best way to live life", 53 percent chose "achieving our own dreams and happiness" rather than "being concerned about helping others".

When religion was brought into the equation, it was found that 67 percent of those committed to religion chose helping others, while 65 percent of non-believers selected the personal pursuit of happiness. Something seems to be missing here, and that is the common-sense understanding that people who are happy and satisfied are more likely and able to extend themselves to helping others, while those who are miserable are usually so caught up in their situation they are  most often incapable of giving aid to others.

Across different regions of Canada the question elicited different responses, with the Province of Quebec scoring the highest proportion of people selecting for self-fulfillment at 65 percent, while Alberta was second at 54 percent and British Columbia came next at 43 percent. Elsewhere in Canada, a majority of respondents selected giving aid to others; Saskatchewan proving the most generous at 59 percent.

Oddly enough, Quebecers were traditionally the most bound to Catholicism before undergoing a sweeping change where the Catholic Church stepped back during the Quiet Revolution as formerly devout parishioners rebelled against the stranglehold on life of the Church. And Quebec is the province whose administration is the most broadly social-welfare inclined, so Quebecers are accustomed to having things done for them, not to doing for others. Religious devotion still plays a private, not a public role in the province, despite which Quebecers are parsimonious when it comes to funding charities.

A total of 2,006 Canadian adults took part in the survey and responded to a series of questions with clear moral overtones. Pollsters concluded that the two groups representing the religious spectrum, both privately faithful and religiously committed were likelier to agree that:
  • Canada should accept fewer immigrants and refugees;
  • They would be uncomfortable if a child planned to marry someone from a different cultural or religious background;
  • There should not be a greater social acceptance of people who are LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer);
  • Preserving life is more important than people's freedom to choose on issues like abortion and doctor-assisted death;
Which hardly shines a socially g enerous light on religious adherents; rather their socially conservative attitude bespeaks issues of intolerance and a lack of openly generous impulse. Another question was where the poll led participants to select the statement they felt reflected their personal views:
  • People are fundamentally sinners and in need of salvation; or
  • People are essentially good and sin has been invented to control people.
The essential goodness of people was selected by two thirds of those pooled while the religiously committed, providing roughly one-fifth of the survey group, felt by 73 percent that people are fundamentally sinners. The concept of right and wrong in absolute terms or a vacillating conception was posed as well with a large majority of 68 percent finding that right or wrong "depends on the circumstances", while close to 66 percent outright rejected that moral questions' outcome differ for different cultures.

Religiously committed were the most likely to claim universal rights apply to the entire human race, at 74 percent. And they represented people stating their faith to be of primary importance to their personal identity at 54 percent, and to their day-to-day lives at 55 percent. Of course religion, as does culture and heritage, shapes an individual's values and colours the way others are viewed; human beings are programmed by nature to cleave to those who share like commitments and values. Which should not deter them from viewing those outside their groups as worthy, but that too reflects basic human nature.

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