Ten Things We Learned About Religion in British Columbia


In April, Insights West conducted one of the largest provincial surveys to explore the views of British Columbians on spirituality, faith, prayer and morality. Along with the usual analysis based on age, gender and regional differences, we looked into how British Columbians registered along religious and spiritual lines. The full data tables can be accessed here, but here are some of the findings that caught our (third) eye.

10) Spirituality and religion are not the same – Half of British Columbians (50%) describe themselves as either “very spiritual” (16%) or “somewhat spiritual” (34%), while almost half say they are either “not too spiritual” (22%) or “not spiritual at all” (25%). However, not all residents establish a direct connection between religion and spirituality. Even 27% of those who have no religious affiliation see themselves as very or somewhat spiritual.

9) Empty pews – Across the province, only 16% of residents attend religious events once a week or more, with half of British Columbians (49%) saying they go to a church, temple or synagogue only for special events (such as weddings, funerals and baptisms). In addition, 22% say they never attend religious events.

8) Good rating for two current leaders – Most residents approve of the performance of both the 14th Dalai Lama (57%) and Pope Francis I (55%). The Dalai Lama garners high numbers among Christians (53%), people who follow other religions (72%) and those with no religious affiliation (58%). The reviews for the current head of the Catholic Church are more nuanced (63% among Christians, but 45% among those with no religious affiliation and 43% for those who follow other religions).

7) Respect for five historical figures – Three-in-five British Columbians regard Jesus Christ (74%) and Buddha (also 74%) as having a positive influence on mankind, followed by Martin Luther OSA (70%) and Moses (60%). The rating is lower for Islamic Prophet Muhammad, King James, Constantine the Great and Sikhism founder Guru Nanak, mostly due to many undecided respondents.

6) Religion not as significant as other aspects of life – Family and friends topped the list of important concepts for British Columbians, with 97% saying both are “very important” or “moderately important” to them, followed by country (90%), career (72%) and affluence (56%). Religion is at the bottom of this list with 36%, albeit climbing to 56% among Christians and 80% among those who regard themselves as “very spiritual.”


5) Oh, yeah, we pray – One third of British Columbians (33%) say they pray daily or a few times a week, while one-in-four (26%) pray a few times a month or less often. Two-in-five British Columbians (41%) never pray. Those who pray were asked about the nature of their invocations. Giving thanks is the top reason for praying (79%), followed by health and safety (64%) and guidance (62%). A majority of praying residents also thought about victims of tragedies (55%), sought comfort after a personal challenge (54%) or prayed about relationships (53%).

4) Prayers can be answered – Across the province, 16% of those who pray say their prayers are “always” answered, while 35% say they are answered “most of the time.” Two-in-five (40%) say their prayers are answered “only sometimes” and 9% say they are “never” answered. Women are more likely to say that their prayers are answered “always” or “most of the time” (56%) than men (44%). Also, more than half of Christians (55%) and 83% of those who describe themselves as “very” or “somewhat” spiritual say their prayers are answered “always” or “most of the time.”

3) Om – Meditation is an important component of life for one-in-five British Columbians (8% say they meditate daily, 12% do so a few times a week). An additional 28% meditate a few times a month or less often, while half (52%) say they never meditate.

2) BC’s moral compass is shifting – Topics that have traditionally caused wide differences between religious and non-religious British Columbians are no longer as contentious. At least four-in-five residents say they find sexual relations before marriage (82%) and divorce (81%) to be morally acceptable; three-in-four consider women having children outside marriage (74%) to be morally acceptable.

At least two thirds of British Columbians also think same-sex marriage (73%), doctor-assisted suicide (72%) and abortion (67%) are morally acceptable. Sizeable majorities of residents who describe themselves as Christian do not have any moral objections when asked about these issues.

1) But infidelity remains a no-no – Only 10% of residents believe “married men or women having an affair” is morally acceptable. In fact, 86% regard this behaviour as morally unacceptable. Prostitution is a very divisive issue, with 45% of British Columbians finding it morally acceptable. However, while 60% of men find prostitution tolerable, only 32% of women concur.


Photograph: Jakub Hlavaty