"Before 1971, less than 1 per cent of Canadians ticked the "no religion" box on national surveys," The Globe's Michael Valpy and Joe Friesen wrote in the opening article of their five-part series on the future of faith in Canada.
"Two generations later," Mr. Valpy and Mr. Friesen added, "nearly a quarter of the population, or 23 per cent, say they aren't religious."
"At a time of year when many Canadians traditionally turn to their faith, The Globe and Mail takes a look at the state of religion in Canada. What we've seen is a sea change in 40 years, a march toward secularization that mirrors what's happened in Europe.
"A look at the youngest Canadians suggests the transformation is gathering pace. In 2002, 34 per cent of 15-29 year olds said religion was highly important to them. Data from Statistics Canada's 2009 General Social Survey show that number tumbling to 22 per cent.
"Only the persistence of religious traditions among immigrants, whose religiosity has increased slightly over the past 25 years, has slowed the march away from our places of worship.
"This demographic shift raises profound questions about our social values, about the fate of our cultural heritage, about institutions that once formed the bedrock our communities and about access to political power."
In the series, The Globe wrote about some success stories, such as the "Highway to Heaven" in Richmond, B.C., but Mr. Valpy and Mr. Friesen also noted escalating problems across the country from abandoned churches in what was once-religious Quebec, to youth forsaking their parents' faith, to the shortage of clergy affecting all denominations.
What do you think of the situation?
Mr. Valpy and Mr. Friesen were online earlier to debate the issues and to take your questions. Join the conversation in the discussion area below.
Mobile readers can follow the discussion here.
Editor's Note: The following is a partially-edited transcript of the earlier discussion. Questions and answers have been grouped together for ease of reading.
Jim Sheppard: Welcome, Michael and Joe. Thanks for joining us today to take questions from the readers of globeandmail.com about your series of articles on the Future of Faith. You've painted a vivid picture of the sweeping changes taking place across Canada. What surprised you most when you did your research for the series? What, if anything, did you find that you didn't expect to find?
Michael Valpy: Jim, that's a good question. Maybe the speed with which the numbers are dropping. This is a phenomenon that began in the 1960s, but in the last 10 years, maybe even five years, the downward slope has become 90 degrees.
Joe Friesen: I'm still surprised at how rapid the growth has been among those who say they have no religion. To go from less than one percent a little more than 40 years ago to nearly 25 per cent today is stunning. It's an absolutely fundamental shift. I'm also surprised by the immigration shift. About 25 years ago immigration contributed to the growth of atheism, today it's the opposite. Immigration is propping up our religiosity.
Joe Friesen: Another fascinating tidbit from the Nanos poll we commissioned is that the most religious (as measured by attendance at a religious service more than 10 times a month), are the least likely (after atheists of course) to say their faith influences their vote.
Reginald Bibby: A question for Valpy and Friesen: The vast majority of responses to the articles in this series have been highly critical of religion, with many overtly hostile. Given the growing polarization between those Canadians who value religion and those who do not, how do you like the chances of respectful co-existence being able to be part of our national mosaic in the future? Put another way, can religion and non-religion join other variables such as race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation in being at minimum tolerated by "both sides"?
Michael Valpy: Prof. Bibby, Welcome to the discussion. For those few people not familiar with you, you're one of the country's leading sociologists of religion, at University of Lethbridge. I'm not following your label of "overtly hostile". We've tried to tell the story
Michael Valpy: From the point of view of people leaving institutional religion -- what their feelings are, why they've quit their faith. I also don't agree with you about a growing polarization between people who value religion and those who don't. This is a country of diversity. We've been living with it since 1867 and before