Spirituality and Religion
The Pacific Northwest has the lowest rate of church attendance in the United States and consistently reports the highest percentage of atheism; this is most pronounced on the part of the region west of the Cascades. A recent study indicates that one quarter of those in Washington and Oregon believe in no religion.
Religion plays a smaller part in Pacific Northwest politics than in the rest of the United States. The religious right has considerably less political influence than in other regions. Political conservatives in the Pacific Northwest tend to identify more strongly with free-market libertarian values than they do with more religious social conservatives.
That said, three of the four major international charities in the region are religious in nature: Northwest Medical Teams International, World Concern, World Vision International, and Mercy Corps. This is part of a long tradition of activist religion. The Skid Road group, a shelter offering soup and sermons to the unemployed and recovering alcoholics, was launched in Vancouver, with the Salvation Army having deep roots in the Gastown district, dating back to the era of the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway (1880s) and attained prominence in the same centers during the Klondike Gold Rush.
The region is also known as a magnet for a wide range of philosophical and spiritual belief systems. Eastern spiritual beliefs have been adopted by an unusually large number of people (by North American standards), and Tibetan Buddhism in particular has a strong local following. The Northwest Tibetan Cultural Association, claimed to be the largest organization of its kind in the world, was founded in Portland in 1993.
The region is home to many unique Christian communities, ranging from the Doukhobors to the Mennonites. The Mennonite Central Committee Supportive Care Services is based in Abbotsford, BC. Mennonite Central Committee and Mennonite Disaster Service enjoy a heavy rate of enlistment and donations from the strong Mennonite community in British Columbia's Fraser Valley. Also within the region there is a fairly strong representation of Orthodox churches (Greek, Russian, Serbian and others), as well as the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church. Religious sees that are based in the Pacific Northwest include the Roman Catholic ecclesiastical provinces of Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, Province 8 of the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, the Anglican Ecclesiastical Province of British Columbia and the Yukon, and the suffragan dioceses that make up those provinces.
Yogic teachings, Sufism, tribal and ancient beliefs and other philosophies are widely studied and appreciated in the region. The Lower Mainland of British Columbia has a very large Sikh community. Oregon has a considerable Quaker population. See Society of Friends. There has been major growth in Chinese Buddhist temples since the increase in immigration from East Asia in the 1980s, especially in Vancouver.
Also in Vancouver, there is a small Hindu population, a number of Parsee (Zoroastrians), and an emerging Muslim population from South Asia, the Middle East, Africa, the Balkans, Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
Some people in the area also embrace alternative religion, such as New Age spirituality and Neo-Paganism. A New Thought church called Living Enrichment Center with 4,000 members was located in Wilsonville, Oregon from 1992 to 2004.
- Neale Donald Walsch, author of Conversations with God, lives in Ashland, Oregon, where he runs a retreat center.
- Gangaji, an internationally recognized spiritual teacher and disciple of Poonjaji, lives in Ashland, Oregon.
- Established in more recent times, the training school of the immortal (according to the organization) being Ramtha is headquartered in Yelm, Washington.
- The followers of the Guru Rajneesh, the sannyasins, established a center for their beliefs and lifestyle near Antelope, Oregon, which included an ashram complex as well as, for a while, an attempted takeover of the local economy.
- The Emissaries of Divine Light are a notable presence in the region of 100 Mile House, British Columbia.
- More controversially, the commune run by Brother Twelve in the Gulf Islands of British Columbia early in the 20th century.
- Oregon's Willamette Valley has a large population of Russian Old Believers.
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“Talk to me about the truth of religion and Ill listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and Ill listen submissively. But dont come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you dont understand.”
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