Three weeks ago, Vancouver-based pollster Angus Reid offered his insights on the prayer habits of Canadians during his keynote address to a 1,000-strong audience at the BC Leadership Prayer Breakfast. This week, he released the study upon which those comments were based.
These are the key findings:
- 42 percent of Canadians are involved in at least one prayer related activity, once each week. An additional 44 percent say they engage in some prayer activity each month.
- Most Canadians (86 percent) – even those who are inclined to reject religion themselves (57 percent) – view prayer as enriching for the person who prays.
- Those who pray are more likely to do so at home or in informal settings, rather than at a place of worship.
- Canadians pray for a variety of reasons, but the most common ones are to thank God (71 percent) and to ask for help (70 percent).
A National Post article highlighted a distinction between those who pray primarily to thank God and those who are looking for help:
Of the 52 percent of people who pray “to thank God,” the majority – 64 percent – pray on a daily basis, whereas 36 percent pray just two to three times per month. Conversely, of the 49 percent of people who pray “to ask for help,” 42 percent pray regularly, and the majority – 59 percent – pray far less frequently at two to three times per month.
“I think people, when they get into a bind – and all of us get into binds – when someone gets sick, or something totally unexpected happens in our lives, and there’s a point of big uncertainty, a lot of people do it just in case,” Reid told the National Post.
The good news for those who pray more regularly is that they are also answered more often – at least according to them:
The largest number of Canadians (44 percent) say they can count on a response to their prayers “sometimes.” However, within the group most likely to pray, more than half (53 percent) say their prayers are either always or often answered, five times the rate reported by those who pray less frequently.
At the BC Leadership Prayer Breakfast April 22, Reid started by pointing out that the past 50 years have been “tough on religion” (for example, 56 percent of Canadians attended church weekly in 1966; now 15 percent do). But then he lightened the tone:
But I did not come here to deliver a pessimistic address because, while religion is undoubtedly important, the litmus test of the faith of Canadians isn’t found only in church attendance. Another lens involves the thoughts and words of Canadians under the heading of this breakfast gathering – that is, under the heading of prayer.
I welcomed the opportunity to speak with you today because it seems clear to me that the starting point for any assessment of faith in our society must begin with questions about prayer. Prayer is, in many respects, the cornerstone of faith. The act of prayer is our human mechanism for reaching out to a divine, largely unseen power and involves some level of certainty that God, however defined, cares about and listens to us.
Reid said, “Looking back through my files over the past 50 years there is a lot of historical survey data on religion and church attendance. But past surveys on prayer in Canada are hard to come by.” Thus the current study.
He highlighted several noteworthy findings:
There is a snobbishness in some circles that the more we know the less we pray. Prayer is a practice of the least educated and by inference least empowered members of our society. Wrong. In Canada, if anything, the opposite is the case. . .
The second finding explodes another myth – this time dealing with politics. . . . Faith, Christianity and prayer seem to have become the property of the Republican party – just listen to Ted Cruz and even Donald Trump. Some might be tempted to import these perceptions to Canada. But they would be wrong. According to our poll frequent prayers vote in a pattern almost identical to the population in general. Twenty percent of voters supported the NDP and an almost equal percent of frequent prayers did the same. The same is broadly true for both the Liberal and Conservatives.
Third thing I’ve learned about prayer in Canada is that the single most important factor which determines whether an adult will pray or not is their experience as a child. When I first looked at the data on this I admit to being awestruck – maybe it’s because one of my favourite hymns is “Faith of our Fathers” – but the cross generational transmission of prayerfulness is massive. If you prayed frequently as a child the chance that you would be a non-prayer today is 7%. If you didn’t pray as a child the odds that you would be a frequent prayer today is 6%. . . .
- The fourth finding from our work on the sociology of prayer is also likely to be the most fascinating. It is this: Prayer works. . . .
For Reid’s full talk go here. The whole thing is worth reading, not least his personal story. “I grew up in a large Catholic family with eight kids,” he said, and he is still an active Catholic. In 2013, Reid was awarded the Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice from Pope Francis, the highest honour the Pope bestows upon lay people.
He founded the Angus Reid Group in 1979, and Vision Critical in 2003 with his son, Andrew. Since 2014, he has devoted his full-time efforts towards the Angus Reid Institute, a national not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research organization dedicated to providing objective polling data to the the public – at no charge – on a host of critical social, economic and issues.