Longhurst: Faith begets giving

Jun 19, 2017 by

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A new survey is out about Canadians and religion, and it reveals some interesting things.

John Longhurst


The survey by Canadian pollster Angus Reid found that 21 percent of Canadians identify as religiously committed; 30 percent are privately faithful; and 31 percent are spiritually uncertain. Only 19 percent consider themselves nonbelievers.

The survey also found that 67 percent of Canadians believe God or a higher power exists; 60 percent believe in life after death; 53 percent believe God is active in the world; 57 percent believe there is a heaven; 41 percent believe there is a hell.

One thing that struck me from the survey is the difference between how religiously committed Canadians and those for whom religion isn’t important engage the world around them.

The survey found the more religious someone is, the more they give to charity, volunteer and are involved in the community. Nonbelievers, by contrast, were the most likely to say they are “not at all involved” in the community.

When it comes to giving, religiously committed Canadians were also almost twice as likely as any other group to say they “try to donate to whatever charities they can.”

The findings confirm previous research by Statistics Canada, which found that people who attend religious meetings or services at least once a week are more inclined to donate, also to make larger donations, and don’t only donate to religious organizations.

Why does being religious correlate with giving to charity, volunteering and engagement?

One reason, the survey suggests, is that being part of a worshiping community provides people with more opportunities to help. The regular passing of the offering plate also helps, I’m sure.

But attending a worship service also promotes charitable giving in other ways. Through announcements, sharing, sermons and prayer requests, people get a window on the wider world around them, and what they can do to help.

But it also goes deeper: Religious people give and volunteer because their faith motivates them.

The religiously committed were twice as likely as any other group to say “concern for others” is one of the most important things for them. They also indicated they are less concerned with success and having a comfortable life than nonbelievers.

This is all great news for faith groups. Faith makes a difference in society. But there is also cause for concern.

Since one of the top indicators of religious commitment is regular attendance at worship services, the growing trend of falling attendance in Canada means fewer people are at places of worship to hear about world needs and then make a donation.

Coupled with an aging donor base — the best givers are literally dying off —this could spell trouble for charities of all kinds, church and nonchurch alike.

Maybe it won’t matter. Maybe those people who are less committed but still open to religion will find ways to give and be engaged with their communities. Maybe nonbelievers will see a new light.

Maybe. But evidence suggests it will be an uphill battle. Other studies show fewer people in Canada are giving to charity. And younger people, the demographic less likely to be religiously committed, don’t give as much as seniors.

In my increasingly secular country, it could be that many don’t care if all places of worship closed tomorrow. But when it comes to charitable giving and volunteering, I would tell them: “You’ll miss us when we’re gone.”

John Longhurst, of Winnipeg, Man., is director of resources and public engagement at Canadian Foodgrains Bank.

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