Almost half of Langley residents practice no religion, according to the latest city-by-city data released from the 2021 Canadian census.
Although that may come as a surprise given the reputation of Langley, Abbotsford, and other Fraser Valley communities as being a local “Bible belt,” Langley is actually pretty typical for British Columbia, said Michael Wilkinson, a professor of sociology at Trinity Western University.
In Langley Township, 49.3 per cent of residents are listed as “no religion and secular perspectives,” which includes atheists, agnostics, and people who don’t practice any organized religion. That’s up from the 42.3 per cent who chose no religion in 2011, the last time the census asked that question. Langley City had similar numbers, with 49.2 per cent of residents professing no religious affiliation, up from 44.7 per cent in 2011.
Wilkinson said Langley has had a reputation for being more religious, but he said it isn’t really warranted.
“It never has been,” he said.
The big difference is between British Columbia and the rest of Canada, Wilkinson said.
Provincially, 52.1 per cent of people in B.C. surveyed in the census chose the “no religion” option.
That’s higher than any other region of Canada, with the exception of Yukon, said Wilkinson. Nationally, it’s 34.6 per cent.
Wilkinson and several colleagues recently did a three-year study of this phenomenon, and he said they found a great deal of nuance once they started asking people about what they actually believed.
The “no religion” category includes atheists and agnostics, but a large number of people in that group also define themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” he said, and that can mean many things, including finding spiritual meaning in the natural world.
Some people in that group still hold beliefs that are more or less in line with existing religions, including Christianity. Some pray and read the Bible, but they’ve rejected organized religion and churches. Some believe in traditions from multiple faiths, such as Christianity and Buddhism.
“It’s not that they’re giving up on spirituality, it’s just that they’re choosing to do it in a non-organized way,” he said.
Many people, especially younger generations, have left the churches because they felt they weren’t getting answers about their sexuality, about science, or because they felt the church didn’t support them in a time of crisis or family breakdown.
There’s another big group that has simply never been part of a church – B.C. has the largest number of people who are not religious because their parents, and even grandparents never practiced a religion. There seems to be a provincial attitude that religion is a choice, and many parents leave it up to their children to make up their minds about whether or not to attend religious services.
This is all raising questions for how churches will move forward in B.C., Wilkinson said.
The real Bible belt in Canada appears to be the Maritimes, he noted. There church attendance and belief is the highest.
Religious belief dips sharply in Quebec, picks up again in Ontario, and then declines the farther you go west.
In Langley Township, within those who do profess a religion, the largest group was Christians, a 42.2 per cent of the population. The largest single group within Christian believers did not name a denomination, making up 14.8 per cent of Township residents, followed by 10.5 per cent who said they were Catholic.
The census showed that 3.9 per cent of Township residents are Sikhs, 1.4 per cent are Muslims, 1.3 per cent are Buddhists, 0.9 per cent are Hindus, 0.2 per cent are Jewish, and a small number practice traditional Indigenous spiritual beliefs.
In Langley City, 40.8 per cent said they were Christian, with 13 per cent of all residents giving no particular denomination, while 11.5 per cent are Catholic.
The census showed that 3.7 per cent of City residents are Sikhs, 2.9 per cent are Muslims, 1.2 per cent are Hindus, and 0.1 per cent are Jewish.
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