Why is Kelowna losing its religion?

More people abandoning organized religion across the country

An expert in helping people start anew after leaving organized faith is not surprised our area is rapidly decoupling its religious convictions.

Janice Selbie, a registered counsellor and Kelowna-based religious recovery consultant, has witnessed a rapid rise in people choosing a new way to live.

Recent Statistics Canada findings that show metro Kelowna is now one of the least religious regions in Canada.

“I think now as our city expands and the tech sector, in particular … it’s no really a surprise to me that those folks have no interest in religion and don’t feel they owe religious dogma anything,” she told Kelowna10.

The Okanagan is often viewed as a quasi-Bible Belt in British Columbia, home to religious and conservative beliefs that drive political influence.

But things are changing in the Central Okanagan, and particularly Kelowna.

Numbers for metropolitan Kelowna show 54.4 per cent of people do not identify with any religion or have a secular perspective – be it atheist, agnostic, humanist, or other outlook.

Just over 40 per cent of residents identify as following a Christian religion, while the remaining subscribe to Muslim, Hindi, Sikh, Buddhist, Jewish or other faiths.

This ranks Kelowna as the fourth least religious metro area in Canada; only Victoria, Kamloops, and Nanaimo have fewer believers.

The data is a stark change from 2001, when Kelowna reported a 62 per cent Christian population and a non-religious count of just 31.6 per cent.

Besides population adjustments, Selbie chalked the rising number of non-believers – or ‘the Rise of Nones’ as she calls it – to everything from political shifts to a rejection of non-progressive faith structures. Her clients point to a rise in conspiracy thought associated with churches and anti-LGBTQ+ beliefs behind recently driving them away from organized religion.

But for people who do become untethered from the church, it can be extremely jarring.

“People are coming to me and wondering, how can they build a healthy secular life, post-religion, when they have lost their identity, their community, their world view?” she said. “We’ve built our lives around that, and our communities around that, and how do we move forward when we lose that?”

She said society does not often acknowledge the loss and trauma that can come with ditching devout belief systems held since childhood.

As people leave traditional religion, many pursue Eastern beliefs or shift to atheistic, agnostic, or humanist perspectives. That, she said, changes how people interact with each other, moving from belief-based communications to value-based.

“My basic tenet is I want to not hurt other people,” Selbie, who was a former evangelical Christian, explained. “I tell people, life is a huge buffet table, but religious fundamentalism would have us starve to death at that buffet table. And frankly we can try a bite of anything if it’s not against the law and harming another person, we are allowed to experience those things.”

Selbie offered a mixed prediction when asked if she thinks more and more Canadians will continue to ditch religion.

On one hand, she said growing uncertainty in the world could push people to the church and cults as they grasp for things that make them feel safe and secure.

She’s also seen an upswing in the number of people who were never religious find comfort and acceptance in growing conspiracy and anti-science movements.

“We do need to be paying attention to this and offering support and compassion to those who find their way out of it,” she said. “We want to encourage them to think critically and let them know we are here for them because it’s a tough situation to be in.”

However, she said a rise in Christian Nationalism in the United States is causing followers to question their faith and could both hasten the drive away from the church and repel newcomers from exploring it.

Published 2022-10-28 by Tyler Marr

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