stands to become a much bleaker place if religious
attendance continues to decline as it has over the
past two decades.
By DEBORAH GYAPONG
Canadian Catholic News
"The whole country is going to suffer a significant
loss in terms of civility," warns University of
Lethbridge sociologist Reginald Bibby.
Carleton University social sciences professor Paul
Reed sees fragility in the volunteer sector, the tiny
fraction of Canadians who provide the bulk of the
assistance to others, from helping isolated elderly
people remain in their homes, to running Scout troops
for children to participating in volunteer fire
Since Reed became involved in the creation of the
www.canadawhocares.ca , he said anecdotal evidence
from volunteer organizations of their need for
volunteers has been pouring in.
"They are desperate across this country. You have no
His scientific research has been probing the
characteristics that make up this cadre of volunteers
who are so crucial to the smooth running of society.
What both social scientists have observed in their
separate research is the relationship of church
attendance to a desire to help others.
Bibby has found Canadians who believe in God - theists
- are consistently more likely to value a range of
values from honesty, kindness and family life to
politeness and patience than do nonbelievers or
"I was surprised to find the difference so consistent
across any of these interpersonal characteristics we
looked at," said Bibby. Among theists, 88 per cent
value family life, compared with 65 per cent among
atheists. Theists also value generosity far more than
atheists do: 67 per cent vs. 37 per cent.
Theists value forgiveness (84 per cent to 52 per
cent). They value patience more (72 per cent to 39 per
cent). In all 12 interpersonal values measured,
theists ranked higher by more than 10 percentage
points, except for honesty where the gap narrowed to
94 per cent vs. 89 per cent.
"Holding the value of compassion does not necessarily
guarantee compassion," Bibby said. "That said, people
who are compassionate are invariably going to be
people who value compassion."
These results come from a national survey of 1,600
Canadians completed in 2005. In a news release
announcing the findings, Bibby raised the age-old
question of whether people can be good without God.
Value being good
The answer is more complex, he said. "People who don't
believe in God can be good. But people who believe in
God are more likely to value being good, enhancing the
chances that they will be good."
Reed's work over the past couple of decades also shows
a strong relationship between frequent church
attendance and a willingness to help others. "The
activity of volunteering has been an integral part of
the warp and woof of our society for a long, long
time," said Reed.
Volunteer work, however, is increasingly done by a
small minority. "Two thirds of all volunteering is
done by about five per cent of the adult population in
Canada," Reed said.
Reid sees a number of possible factors contributing to
the decline of the volunteer core. One of them is the
migration of Canadians to big cities. Volunteerism is
the lowest in these areas and highest in small towns.
He noted his sister spends three hours a day commuting
to her Toronto area job. With people spending so much
time getting to and from work, there is not much left
over for helping others.