Amazing Poll Results from Canada: The Non-Religious Are Trusted More Than the Religious

I’ve never seen this before…

A survey conducted by the Montreal-based Association for Canadian Studies has revealed two amazing things:

42 per cent of those polled agreed with the statement “religion is an important part of my life”…

Fewer than half the people surveyed said religion was important to them!

But wait… it gets better:

67 per cent of those surveyed said they trusted “people who are religious” in general, and even more respondents — 73 per cent — expressed trust in “people who are not religious.”

In America, atheists are the least trusted minority group (at 54%). In Canada, at least according to this one study, we’re more trustworthy than people who believe in god. Why that’s the case, they don’t explain, but I’d like to think it’s because we embrace evidence-based truth, whereas religious people adhere to their myths even in the face of reality.

The study also found that only 56% of people ages 18-24 believed in god… so I assume 44% do not?! Incredible.

(Thanks to AxeGrrl for the link)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • http://garicgymro.wordpress.com garic gymro

    This is why we (by which I mean Britain) made Canada: So Americans would have a glimpse of what it might be like to be European.

    • bismarket

       Nice comment, thanx for making me smile today;-))

  • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

    In America, atheists are the least trusted minority group (at 54%).

    Oh really?

    • Anonymous

      While I’m fairly shocked that an entire group of people could be so downtrodden, and you’re definitely right that Black Transgendered people are quite possibly more oppressed than Atheists, you can’t really compare them straight across like that.

      Firstly, you’re comparing two completely different statistics. The atheist statistics are talking about how trustworthy the average American finds atheists. Your study is talking about affluence. While they’re both very telling they just aren’t talking about the same thing.

      Secondly, trans blacks are a combination of minorities, so it stands to reason that the problems associated are going to be compounded. Say blacks only have maybe 1/4 the income of non-blacks, and transgendered people also have 1/4 the income of cisgendered. I can believe that combining them could easily cause a situation where those people may only make 1/16 of the income of non-black cisgendered folk. Atheists are only a single minority, so whatever prejudice there may be against them is not going to be to the same level unless it’s combined with other factors as well, but that study is yet to be done so it’s hard to say for sure.

      • Troy Truchon

        Its also hard to compare them since its possible to be black, trans-gendered, and an Atheist.

        • http://drashizu.livejournal.com/ Sarah

          To be really thorough, a study looking at this issue should compare the relative trust levels people would place in:

          Black cisgender theists,

          Black cisgender atheists,

          Black transgender theists,

          Black transgender atheists,

          White cisgender theists,

          White cisgender atheists,

          White transgender theists, and

          White transgender atheists

          …and in this way isolate all variables to the extent possible (since no one can be *nothing* along any of those dimensions) and determine which factor contributes the most, mathematically, to a person’s perceived level of untrustworthiness.

          Even more thorough would include other racial minorities, but it’s easier to calculate if all factors are binary.

          • http://www.facebook.com/gmillar Gavin Millar

            What about Mexicans?

            • http://drashizu.livejournal.com/ Sarah

              Like I said, it would be even more thorough to include other racial minorities.

    • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

      I’m guessing ex-cons might take issue as well, although in their case, the distrust isn’t without some reason.  The danger of blanket statements aside, I think it’s clear that a large number of Americans have some pretty bad mis-conceptions about atheists.

      • Ronlawhouston

         Well let’s create a sub group for atheist ex-con black trans and then they’re sure to take the award for least trusted.

        Yeah, I can find a group perhaps less trusted but it misses Hemant’s point.

    • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

      Funny, but when I consider my own identity as a transgender woman, atheism has ranked pretty far down on my list of worries. I’ve faced shitty attitudes from both believers and non-believers alike.

      I’ve grown incredibly tired of a group that is largely a bunch of straight, white, cisgender men claiming that they have the market cornered on being targets of prejudice.

      You do not.

      Period.

      However, your rationalizations are exactly what I expected.

      • guest

        though I am  a white hetero woman, I agree with you. And I pick a fight with anyone who says otherwise. I hope it gets better for you soon!

        • Ndonnan

          im a white hetro male and agree with you,thats because your dealing with people,we are all biased,even those who think they are not

      • http://drashizu.livejournal.com/ Sarah

        Facing prejudice in one dimension of a person’s life certainly does not erase the privilege a person takes for granted in other parts of their life.

        That said, I wonder if being atheist visibly, at a glance, would increase the degree to which it affects you in your daily life.

    • http://hauntedtimber.wordpress.com/ timberwraith

      Here’s the thing, folks. All forms of oppression matter and should be taken seriously. What angers me is when I see atheists waving a flag, saying, “We’re the most oppressed.” I am reminded of the ways in which this social movement is highly resistant in its ignorance regarding other forms of oppression.

      I’ve seen this happen in feminist and LGBT activism regarding other dimensions of discrimination and prejudice: race, class, ethnicity, immigration status, missing the “B” and “T” in favor of the first two letters, etc.

      We’ve seen atheists engage in major blunders around sex and race recently… and of course there were tons of naysayers proposing that this things aren’t really an issue.

      Islamophobic messages are abundant in atheist writings and atheist blogging but that doesn’t matter because “we’re more oppressed” and “those people are irrational.”

      There is a  widespread call for greater acceptance toward atheists and agnostics and I completely support this (of course). However, we show ourselves as hypocrites to the rest of the world with our own blind spots toward other’s experiences with prejudice and discrimination.

      Yes, there is a high degree of intolerance toward those who are not of the dominant religion. This is wrong and needs to be rectified. However, no group “has the market cornered” on oppression. How one experiences oppression varies widely and the details of that experience will not be reflected by a simple survey on levels of trust.

      Here’s a dose of reality:

      In the late 1990s, nearly one in three African-American men aged 20-29 were under criminal justice supervision,
      while more than two out of five had been incarcerated – substantially
      more than had been incarcerated a decade earlier and orders of
      magnitudes higher than that for the general population.
      Today, 1 in 15 African-American children and 1 in 42 Latino children
      have a parent in prison, compared to 1 in 111 white children. In some areas, a large majority of African-American men – 55 percent in Chicago, for example
      – are labeled felons for life, and, as a result, may be prevented from
      voting and accessing public housing, student loans and other public
      assistance.”

      This is the legacy of centuries of enslavement, a century of Jim Crow, and a contemporary legal system whose structure was shaped by that legacy. (How many white upper-middle class bankers and CEOs go to jail because of the economic destruction they wage on a daily basis?)

      Do atheists and agnostics experience anything like this as a group in the US?

      Do you still feel like we’re the most oppressed?

      Some aspects of religion contribute to the problems at hand, but the social forces that make this world unlivable are far more complex than that. I’ve seen white, middle-class feminists try to simplify the world’s problems down to issues of sex and gender. I see current day atheist activists engaging in a similar form of over-simplification.

      This is about so much more than religion.

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        Thanks.

      • Anonymous

        Great post, timberwraith…….whether people like hearing it or not.

  • PJB863

    I’m not sure that non-religious is quite the same as atheist in this context.

  • guest

    I am confused, there was a survey a couple of weeks ago from UBC (University of British Columbia) and they found the opposite. Is there a difference between east and west Canada?

    • Anonymous

      Well, this most recent poll is described as ‘nationwide’…..can anyone recall if the UBC one was?  For some reason, I think I recall that one including Americans as well.

      *doing a search to see*

      • http://squeakysoapbox.com/ Rich Wilson

        That one was mostly college students (UBC and Portland I believe) so a pretty restricted sample.  There was one national (US) dataset used as a baseline, but all that ‘rapist’ stuff was just college students.

    • Anonymous

      Is this the poll/survey you’re referring to?

      http://www.ctvbc.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20111201/bc_atheist_research_ubc_rapists_111201/20111201 ?

      If so, I was right…..that one consisted mainly of Americans, with a lesser number from Canada.

      And it looks like it had a smaller survey sample as well…..

  • Cutencrunchy

    Also nobody trusts rapists and rapist clowns get no respect.. this is not actually a trust competition for all minorities it’s really sort of specific to belief in a deity or lack thereof.  Though I mean no disrespect to the rapist clergy clowns everyone is entitled to their beliefs and I mean everyone they don’t discriminate you are all entitled to their beliefs they won’t take no for an answer dammit you will bathe in the beauty of their rapture. Please hand me the soap. (just clowning around)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001627228091 Alexander Ryan

    Nonreligious and Atheist have different meanings, depending on your viewpoint (Cue the overly viral video “Why I hate Religion but love Jesus”) so an Atheists option might give a different result.

  • clara

    Hi – a friendly theist here and if pressed – of the Christian variety.   I also enjoy critical thinking as well as learning about science, including evolution.  I enjoy reading your blog regularly.  This is a sincere question.  I’m wondering why an increase in numbers of people who consider religion not important to them seems exciting to you?  (maybe I’m reading into your comments)  This sounds to me like being on a ‘Christian’ blog that has an agenda of converting atheists.  Maybe this is simplistic, but isn’t there a way we can get along?  Do we have to always be trying to change each other? 

    • http://twitter.com/InspFreethought Mike

      What’s wrong with trying to promote rationality and science in the public sphere? Why do you view this as “not getting along”?

      I’m tired of people criticizing atheists for simply existing, for simply being open about who we are and what we believe. 

      If this nation turned more secular and more rational, it would be an absolute game-changer in terms of social policy. It would be a more open, more liberal, and yes, a more loving and humanistic society. 

      • clara

        Hi Mike,

        Thanks for responding.  I hope you know I wasn’t criticizing anyone here.  I only meant to ask why it is seemed like good news to have more people in a statistic who didn’t consider religion important.  It really was a sincere question.

        I agree with you – a more liberal, loving, rational humanistic society is what we should all be hoping for.   It’s certainly what I hope for. 

        I guess I know so many people who are theists that also live by those same principles.  So instead of saying ‘getting along’ I should have asked, why (on both sides) don’t we quit wanting to convert one another?  And instead of happiness of religious de/conversion, together celebrate having an increase number of people of all beliefs or lack of beliefs who are working towards those societal goals. 

        • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger/featured GodVlogger (on YouTube)

           Clara, speaking just for myself (of course), I would say that religious believers seem to always include a spectrum in terms of believers who want to not only practice their beliefs but to also IMPOSE their beliefs on others (everything from simple ‘blue laws’ against buying cars or alcohol on Sundays, to imposing bad education about sex, anti-science agenda to conform with an ancient, pre-science ‘sacred’ book, laws against gay rights, etc.).

          You seem to view “converting” as an inherently bad thing. If you really believed that your god would torture me for eternity for not believing in him, you would be immoral to NOT try to convert me.

          Similarly, if I believe that our society as a whole (and all of us as individuals) will be safer, happier, healthier, etc., by embracing a rational reality free of superstition or magical thinking, then perhaps it would be immoral for me to NOT try to convince others of the benefits of embracing the secular/rational world view.

          In the ‘marketplace of ideas’, let the best ideas rise to the top. Atheism is rising, and I welcome that.

          • Ndonnan

            Your exactly right,it would be immoral,and against the most basic teaching if Christ not to tell people about heaven and hell.I also get why that is so offencive if you dont belive in God,but because we do belive in eternity we wont sit back and say nothing,having said that feel free to challenge that at every oppitunity,most people are fairly rigid in their thinking,on both sides,thats fine,its good to be challenged and streched,thats why im here.

    • rhodent

      Clara,

      I won’t presume to speak for anyone else, but in my experience people who say that religion is an important part of their life are more likely than people who don’t say that to be intolerant toward people who don’t share their religious beliefs, and are especially more likely to be intolerant toward atheists.  Therefore, I interpret an increase in the percentage of people who consider religion to not be an important part of their lives to mean there is also an increase in the percentage of people with a tolerant attitude toward by (non-)beliefs.  It is the increase in the percentage of people who are tolerant that I find exciting.

      • clara

        Thanks for this explanation.  It’s not the religion or non-religion of people – it’s the (potential) increase in tolerance that is exciting. 

        • Eivind Kjorstad

           That, and the insistence of following *their* rules. It’s fine for people to be religious. It’s -not- fine for people to insist that others change all aspects of their behaviour for no other reason than to conform to their belief. Even here in secular norway, I can mention dozens of *laws* to say nothing about traditions and norms that demand I give special consideration to religious. And *that* is the major reason I (and many others) feel the need to actively fight to diminish the power of religions, and aren’t content to simply “peacefully coexist”

  • MichaelD

    Yeah being in young canadian non believer age group and having talked to some people about religion I’m not as impressed with the figure. While I’ve met several nons none of them were particularly skeptical or evidence focused. Most were of the fence sitting agnostic position or the apathetic varieties. So even though there may be a lot of nons they aren’t necessarily of the well reasoned and thought out variety.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_RPPWVLMFKJ7QCHLEVQAR5GSL5M momma J

    Be careful with your statistics. I’m surprised that a math teacher would automatically believe that since 56% said that they believed in God then 44% must not. It obviously depends on how the poll was taken. Maybe part of that 44% were people who didn’t answer or were even on the fence. With the little data that was given about the options presented and how the answers were relayed back, one should not assume anything about that 44%. This is what we call spin my friend. 

    Also, these stats don’t surprise me all that much and I’m surprised they surprise you too. Canada is pretty diverse (in it’s cities). I don’t know much about the rural areas so I cannot really speak to them as much.

  • Renshia

    It’s because most of us in Canada realize that religious people are the first to screw you if they have the chance.

    As the saying goes, never hire a christian carpenter.

    • Ndonnan

      What a stupid thing to say,as the saying goes

      • bismarket

        I think it’s because they never finish the job (Or something)?

  • Anonymous

    Fuck yeah!

  • http://preliatorcausa.blogspot.com/ Joé McKen

    Actually, speaking as a young atheistic Quebecer, I can assure you that most people here, including youths, aren’t any more evidence-minded than Americans or anyone else. People here generally dislike religion (both because it’s a godawful bore and because the Quiet Revolution left us with a healthy distrust of religious authority), but most adhere to some form of wishy-washy spirituality or other, such as karma, homeopathy (which has a sadly large niche here), etc. For example, my mother is heavily anti-religious and has a major hate-on for the Church in particular, but she’s a firm believer in “The Secret” and similar claptrap. (I’d like to say she’s growing more critical as time goes by, but it’s hard to tell.)

    All in all, you really should be careful to take these figures for what they are, and not try to read too deep into it all. As has been said, less religious does not necessarily equal more rational.

    (Not that I’m ever gonna complain about living in “North America’s most secular society”, though. That fuckin’ rocks.)

    • Anonymous

      Being “spiritual, but not religious” is not as good as being a skeptic, but certainly beats being religious any day of the week.

      It’s also possibly to be religious without filtering all your thoughts through your beliefs and thinking about it 24/7. American-style Christianity is really an anomaly

    • ATHEOM

      Right on Joé.  Young québécois-in-exile here (living in PA), of the humanist variety :)

      Aside from the other (very valid) comments on the inherent biases in the interpretation of statistics, I would add that extending to all of Canada any statistic concerning Québec society is extremely misguided.  Québec society is distinct from the rest of Canada in many respects, but especially so from a religious standpoint, and that for many reasons.

      As much as I’d like to think Canada is better than America when it comes to rational thinking, the sad fact is that the difference, if there is any, is one of degree, and not of kind.  We may be a little more civil as a people, and our politics a little less divisive, but we have as many fundamentalist crazies as the US, and I’m sure they mistrust atheists as much as their American counterparts.

      • arclight

        This study was Canada-wide and provides a specific breakdown for different provinces.

      • Anonymous

        We may be a little more civil as a people, and our politics a little less divisive, but we have as many fundamentalist crazies as the US

        You’re obviously not talking about actual numbers (since our population is 1/10 that of the US), but do have anything to back up your “we have as many” assertion?    Even if you were talking per-capita?

        As as you already said, the difference is degree…..and for me, that’s makes all the difference.

        • ATHEOM

          Good catch, and of course no, not actual numbers.  I shudder to imagine what that would amount to.

          I readily concede that I don’t have anything to back it up other than my experience living in both countries.  There’s an old joke that the one defining characteristic all Canadians can agree on which defines us as a people is that we’re NOT American.  Which is funny at a superficial level, but doesn’t hold up on close scrutiny.

          Canada is, despite the best efforts of the CRTC, thoroughly suffused with American culture, and to think we’re meaningfully different either in the mainstream or at the edges of society is self-delusional, especially with respect to religion.

          Witness the Christian Heritage Party of Canada, or how Stephen Harper’s barely-contained religiosity informs his politics (banning support for abortion for overseas aid, for instance), and it’s evident that Canada — as a whole — is not necessarily a bastion of rational thought, but rather just as subject to the bizarre influence of religious morality as our neighbours to the south.

          (Except, for the most part, in Québec — dieu merci ;-))

  • Lissyyyyy

    Just because 56% believe in god that doesn’t mean 44% do not.  In many polling questions pollsters often give the “I don’t know” and “refuse to answer” options.

  • youngcanadian

    As a Canadian, I find this study extremely hard to believe and my personal (albeit anecdotal) experience has always resembled something closer to the stigmatized atheism lived by most atheists south of the border…

    • Anonymous

      my personal (albeit anecdotal) experience has always resembled something closer to the stigmatized atheism lived by most atheists south of the border…

      Out of curiousity, whereabouts do you live, youngcanadian?  because I live in Southern Ontario and have never felt/experienced/witnessed being ‘stigmatized’ as an atheist…..

      I shocked a bunch of Americans recently by telling them that never, in my entire life, have a I witnessed a work meeting or sports event or school event beginning with a prayer    Ever.

      • Kevin

        Except for the one that goes “God keep our land glorious and free” :)

        • Anonymous

          Do you sing that? I don’t :)  Whenever I’m required to sing the anthem, it’s “LET’S keep our land glorious and free” for me :)

          And the Americans I was talking to were complaining that prayers before work meetings happened all the time!  I was gobsmacked.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gmillar Gavin Millar

    Based on my 22 years in BC, people on average just don’t care about religion as much as in the States, and for what it’s worth, pretty much all the Christians I have met have been really nice. Despite attending a Christian school in 2007, I know very few people who are truly religious.

  • http://twitter.com/enviroatheist Rick Smith

    The primary reason that Canadians are less trusting of religious people is simply because we have a ringside seat to the circus of nonsense that is the USA.

    • Pedro

      ^^^This is very true.

  • bismarket

    Can anyone tell me why it is that the further north you go (exc’ Alaska) the LESS religious people seem to be & the further South (exc’ Australia) the MORE religious? Also why in particular for the US?

  • Dave Zember

    “The study also found that only 56% of people ages 18-24 believed in god… so I assume 44% do not?! Incredible.”

    Part of the population is probably ‘undecided’ as well.


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