Saturday 24 December 2011

Thought For The Day (That's In It)

Did Mary, after the horrible death of her son at such a young age, ever regret coming up with the 'god shagged me' excuse, which while it clearly helped her escape from awful punishment for being an unmarried mother (and not by her betrothed) in her misogynistic society, clearly damaged her son to the extent that by the time he was thirty he believed it himself and ended up dying as a crazy end-of-the-world preacher?

Monday 19 December 2011

Sucker Punch

The Irish Times reported earlier this week that according to a recent report by the Catholic Dublin Diocese,

“weekly Mass attendance in Dublin is down to 14 per cent (164,000 out of a Catholic population of 1,162,000).”

According to this summary the 2006 population within the Dublin Diocese was 1,291,599, of which 1,087,361 or 84.2% were Catholic.

None of this is a surprise (see previous posts for example) but nobody seems to have picked up on the sneaky trick the Catholic church has pulled here – while admitting that most people are ignoring them, they still manage to claim a million people as Catholics, even though none of those million can be bothered to go to mass. And of course, these numbers get picked up uncritically in the media, re-enforcing the false view that Ireland is a majority Catholic country in a religiously meaningful sense. This allows the church to claim it is a representative voice in Irish society and gives religious bigots the confidence to tell the rest of us how we ought to behave (and legislate for it).

Where do these numbers come from? The Census. And what question is asked in the census?

It has been pointed out repeatedly that this is a misleading form of questioning that overestimates the number of religious. Instead of ‘What is your Religion?’, what should be asked is, ‘Do you have a Religion? Is so, what is it?’ That the form of the question is important is shown by the following trend in Australia:

“Correspondingly, there has been a large increase in those claiming to have ‘no religion’: up from 27 per cent of the population in 1993 to 43 per cent in 2009. This figure is much higher than the figure of 19 per cent who said they had no religion in the 2006 Census as well as previous ISSP surveys. The difference is partly due to the fact that the 2009 ISSP asked people first if they had a religion before asking what was their religion. In other surveys and the Census, people have simply chosen their religion from a list in which 'no religion' was an option.”

So ask the question differently and you will add, in Australia’s case anyway, another fifth of the population to the no-religion group.

Or closer to home, try the UK:

“When asked the census question ‘What is your religion?’, 61% of people in England and Wales ticked a religious box (53.48% Christian and 7.22% other) while 39% ticked ‘No religion’.
But when asked ‘Are you religious?’ only 29% of the same people said ‘Yes’ while 65% said ‘No’, meaning over half of those whom the census would count as having a religion said they were not religious.”

We need to challenge statements claiming most people are Catholic as they are fundamental to ensuring that politicians feel they cannot ignore the church. If we could get across how much people are not religious (even if culturally ‘Catholic’), then we might see a more ethical and secular debate in our society.

Wednesday 16 November 2011

No sir, we Irish are not that sort of Catholic

This post, worth reading as well, in WEIT reminded me to check out the latest Iona Institute survey. Like the 2010 Bishops Conference survey, they have no real good news if you're a Catholic leader.

I've plotted up the first table in the survey as well as total adults in Ireland by age group (blue), collated from the 2006 census figures. In red is the number of adults identifying as Catholic and in green is the number of those Catholics that attended mass in the past week.

It clearly shows that the the younger you are in Ireland, the less likely you are to call yourself a Catholic and very much more so the less likely you are to attend mass regularly. Given how fundamental mass is to the Catholic religion, I think this is a good barometer of how committed someone identifying as Catholic is to their religion. It points towards a big decline in religious Catholics even if people still consider themselves cultural Catholics.

If the trends shown extrapolate into the new generations then we might expect a ongoing but not precipitous fall in religious affiliation but I think the key thing is actually the mass going percentage - that really suggests that even if Ireland remains on paper significantly Catholic for the time being, the reality is that they are mostly cultural or plastic Catholics.

This fits with the results of the 2010 survey which found that only half of Irish Catholics believed in Hell and only three-quarters believed in Heaven, while 10% didn't believe in God. It's also reflected in the perception of their church amongst Catholics in the Iona survey:

Again the 55's and older appear to prop up the figures. So how much of the population is that cohort as a percentage? 

Looking at the CSO website in the 2006 census, they account for 20% of the total population (or 26% of everyone over 14 years old) while the 15-54 age group is 59% of the total population (or 74% of everyone over 14 years old)

Of course, as it's actually 77% of the over 54's that are Catholic, that means the older religious group corresponds to 20% of the total adult population of Ireland.

Saturday 12 November 2011

Craig's Law

The following is a description of drowning. It seems to be a particularly disempowering, lonely way to die. To set the scene for this post, imagine 20 million young children drowning altogether like this in a great sea. I'll come back to this at the end.

1. Except in rare circumstances, drowning people are physiologically unable to call out for help. The respiratory system was designed for breathing. Speech is the secondary, or overlaid, function. Breathing must be fulfilled, before speech occurs. 2. Drowning people’s mouths alternately sink below and reappear above the surface of the water. The mouths of drowning people are not above the surface of the water long enough for them to exhale, inhale, and call out for help. When the drowning people’s mouths are above the surface, they exhale and inhale quickly as their mouths start to sink below the surface of the water.3. Drowning people cannot wave for help. Nature instinctively forces them to extend their arms laterally and press down on the water’s surface. Pressing down on the surface of the water, permits drowning people to leverage their bodies so they can lift their mouths out of the water to breathe. 4. Throughout the Instinctive Drowning Response, drowning people cannot voluntarily control their arm movements. Physiologically, drowning people who are struggling on the surface of the water cannot stop drowning and perform voluntary movements such as waving for help, moving toward a rescuer, or reaching out for a piece of rescue equipment. 5. From beginning to end of the Instinctive Drowning Response people’s bodies remain upright in the water, with no evidence of a supporting kick. Unless rescued by a trained lifeguard, these drowning people can only struggle on the surface of the water from 20 to 60 seconds before submersion occurs.
As I said, I'll come back to this at the end of this post. The image of 20 million children dying scared, alone and unable to do anything about it should resonate through the "explanations" and "justifications" that follow.

The recent furore over William Lane Craig's comments on genocide in the Bible made me wonder is he alone in his viewpoint or is it a comment Christian view that genocide is okay as long as God told you to do it.

To recap, Richard Dawkins refused to debate Craig recently on Oxford citing his views on genocide as part of the reason. Craig managed a lot of mileage out of it by putting up an empty chair on stage during his talk for Dawkins.

Before we get on to Craig's comments, here are some examples of god-crimes in the bible:

NUMBERS 31: 7 And they warred against the Midianites, as the Lord commanded Moses; and they slew all the males. 9 And the children of Israel took all the women of Midian captives, and their little ones, … Moses was wroth with the officers of the host, with the captains over thousands, and captains over hundreds, which came from the battle.  15 And Moses said unto them, Have ye saved all the women alive? ... 17 Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him. 18 But all the women children, that have not known a man by lying with him, keep alive for yourselves.

And in case you're wondering how many young innocent girls were taken forcefully by the Israelite men and presumably raped, having just seen them kill their mothers and brothers and older sisters, Numbers 35 kindly tells us:

And thirty and two thousand persons in all, of women that had not known man by lying with him.
Another one:

Deuteronomy 20:13-15 13 When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it. 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. ...15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.

Samuel 15:3 Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’” 
You get the idea. God is quite keen on genocide, slavery and the rape and killing of young children. Craig has written specifically about the genocide of the Canaanites:

God taught Israel that any assimilation to pagan idolatry is intolerable.  It was His way of preserving Israel’s spiritual health and posterity.  God knew that if these Canaanite children were allowed to live, they would spell the undoing of Israel.  The killing of the Canaanite children not only served to prevent assimilation to Canaanite identity but also served as a shattering, tangible illustration of Israel’s being set exclusively apart for God. 
Moreover, if we believe, as I do, that God’s grace is extended to those who die in infancy or as small children, the death of these children was actually their salvation.  We are so wedded to an earthly, naturalistic perspective that we forget that those who die are happy to quit this earth for heaven’s incomparable joy.  Therefore, God does these children no wrong in taking their lives.So whom does God wrong in commanding the destruction of the Canaanites?  Not the Canaanite adults, for they were corrupt and deserving of judgement.  Not the children, for they inherit eternal life.  
So who is wronged?  Ironically, I think the most difficult part of this whole debate is the apparent wrong done to the Israeli soldiers themselves.  Can you imagine what it would be like to have to break into some house and kill a terrified woman and her children?  The brutalizing effect on these Israeli soldiers is disturbing.
How can someone argue that we should feel pity for baby-killing fanatics and not their infant victims?  I find it astonishing that someone could write these words and mean them. There is no need to even comment further on them, is there? Words fail me. 

I had a look around the web to see if this is a common viewpoint. It seems to be amongst those that are aware of the atrocities in the bible and in true theological fashion, instead of letting the data inform the theory, tortuously reinterpret the data so as not to have to revise their theory.

A random example is a site called Rational Christianity of all things. The genocide justifications are the same as Criag's but this person has thought about it to a disturbing degree and I just could not read past this bit:

It's worth noting that being killed with a sword (perhaps beheaded) was at the time one of the quickest ways for the children to die (as opposed to suffocation/strangulation, starvation, disease or being torn apart by wild animals

When the discussion has got to the point where you are arguing that God is good because he orders foreign soldiers to kill your children with swords and not by any other brutal method, we have definitely moved into some theological variant of Godwin's Law. Craig's Law anyone?

To finish off and loop back to the bit about drowning at the start of this argument, let's look at the ne plus ultra in God's genocide oeuvre, the Great Flood. If we use Ussher as a date for this event, it apparently occurred in 2348-49BC (we'll forget about how the existing civilizations never noticed it was getting very damp). Calculations of the worlds population vary widely but an number of 66 million is one estimate. If we assume, conservatively in my opinion, that 30% of the population were children, then we have a figure of 19.8 million children killed by God when he pressed the reset button.

But hey, they were innocent so it was alright to kill them! And at least he didn't do them in with wild animals right? This is not a basis on which to build a moral or ethical system, in my opinion.

Wednesday 20 July 2011

'An Unprecedented Juncture'

Enda Kenny says what needs saying (my emphasis):

"The revelations of the Cloyne report have brought the Government, Irish  Catholics and the Vatican to an unprecedented juncture. It’s fair to say that after the Ryan and Murphy Reports Ireland is, perhaps, unshockable when it comes to the abuse of children. But Cloyne has proved to be of a different order.

Because for the first time in Ireland, a report into child sexual-abuse exposes an attempt by the Holy See, to frustrate an Inquiry in a sovereign, democratic republic…as little as three years ago, not three decades ago. And in doing so, the Cloyne Report excavates the dysfunction, disconnection, elitism....the narcissism .......that dominate the culture of the Vatican to this day.

The rape and torture of children were downplayed or ‘managed’ to uphold instead, the primacy of the institution, its power, standing and ‘reputation’.
Far from listening to evidence of humiliation and betrayal with St Benedict’s “ear of the heart”......the Vatican’s reaction was to parse and analyse it with the gimlet eye of a canon lawyer.
The behaviour being a case of Roma locuta est: causa finita est. Except in this instance, nothing could be further from the truth.

A day post-publication, the Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade met with the Papal Nuncio to Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza. The Tánaiste left the Archbishop clear on two things: The gravity of the actions and attitude of the Holy See. And Ireland’s complete rejection and abhorrence of same. The Papal Nuncio undertook to present the Cloyne Report to the Vatican. The Government awaits the considered response of the Holy See.

...this is not Rome. Nor is it industrial-school or Magdalene Ireland, where the swish of a soutane smothered conscience and humanity and the swing of a thurible ruled the Irish-Catholic world. This is the ‘Republic’ of Ireland 2011.

A Republic of laws.....of rights and responsibilities....of proper civic order..... where the delinquency and arrogance of a particular version..... of a particular kind of ‘morality’..... will no longer be tolerated or ignored.

...those who have been abused can take some small comfort in knowing that they belong to a nation...[w]here the law - their law - as citizens of this country, will always supercede canon laws that have neither legitimacy nor place in the affairs of this country....

Cardinal Josef Ratzinger said “Standards of conduct appropriate to civil society or the workings of a democracy cannot be purely and simply applied to the Church.”

As the Holy See prepares its considered response to the Cloyne Report, as Taoiseach, I am making it absolutely clear, that when it comes to the protection of the children of this State, the standards of conduct which the Church deems appropriate to itself, cannot and will not, be applied to the workings of democracy and civil society in this republic.Not purely, or simply or otherwise. CHILDREN.... FIRST."

Tuesday 19 July 2011

A big difference between Irish and American Religosity

A final look at the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference summary of the 2008 European Values Study shows up how religion or lack of it is not an impediment to political office in the Republic of Ireland. This contrasts with the US where presidential hopefuls seem to outvie each other in their declations of religosity (of the right sort, obviously).

The following statements and tables are taken from the summary document:
[Republic of Ireland (ROI); Nothern Ireland (NI)]

‘Politicians who do not believe in God are unfit for public office’

That is, 85% of Irish Catholics in the ROI would not have a problem with an atheist politician. Indeed nearly two-thirds would take exception to you having a problem with that.

‘Religious leaders should not influence government decisions’

 83.2% of Irish Catholics in the ROI either agree or don't have an opinion, with 60% actively believing that the Church should stay out of politics.

'I have my own way of connecting with the Divine without Churches or religious services'
[on a scale of 1 to 5]
This one should give the Church pause and should also make the Establishment realise that the Church does not have the hearts and minds of all those it claims.  Only 13% of Irish Catholics in the ROI rely on the Church for their spiritual guidance while 60% effectively bypass the Church in their relationship with God. These sound more like Protestants than Catholics!

Plastic Catholics

In a previous post I reckoned that roughly 39% of Irish Catholics attended mass weekly, a key part of being a Catholic. Looks like I wasn't too far off the mark. The Irish Catholic Bishops Conference produced in 2010 a document summarising the 2008 European Values Study as it related to the practice of Catholicism in Ireland. It is a fascinating document both for its content and its deadpan tone and the following graphs and tables are taken from it. According to the report 82% of respondents identirfied as Catholic and the stats are based on their responses.

 Some of the other stuff is very interesting. Only half of Irish Catholics believe in Hell and a quarter don't believe in Heaven! A tenth don't even believe in God. I don't remember re-incarnation being part of Catholicism but for a third of Irish Catholics it is...

So what about God? Well in the Republic of Ireland 58% believe in 'Personal God', which skewers the New Religionist claim that God is the 'ground of being' etc.

So how important is God to Irish Catholics on a scale of 1 to 10? While it is definitely skewed to the high end, you have to ask yourself, if you were a good believing Catholic, would you not go all the way to eleven on this question?
Finally, what about prayer? In the Republic, 40% pray every day while about 25% pray less than 'several times a year' or never.

So, in the Republic of Ireland, of those that self-identify as Catholic:
  • Only half believe in Hell
  • Only three-quarters believe in Heaven
  • 10% don't even believe in God (sure that makes them atheists?)
  • A quarter believe in an impersonal God (and 17% either are atheists or don't know what they think)
  • Roughly half pray at least once a week, while about a third are doing well to pray once a year.
Someone with a stats background could do a proper analysis but it strikes me that about half of Irish Catholics perhaps deserve the name and the rest are Plastic Catholics, to borrow a phrase. This why it is important in any discussion on how religious Ireland is to distinguish between cultural Catholics and real Catholics.

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Bikini Mary: A terrible Precedent

It is scandalous that a religion in this day and age can use the law of the state to attack freedom of speech. Absolutely scandalous. Will we ever shake off the dark shackles of this church? Will it yet take us back to the dark days of Laundries and paedophilia and nobody prepared to speak out? The all powerful bishop and kowtowing politician?

To make it worse Irish Catholic lawyers are encouraging people outside of Ireland to use the Irish Blasphemy Law to complainto prevent a crime occurring in that Country”. They appear to actively seeking to stir up a controversy:

“The more complaints they have on record the more likely it is that they will have to act. Also the offence of blasphemy is judged by how "outraged" people really are, so complaints will be evidence of that.”

What next – Pakistan using our own blasphemy law to stifle freedom of speech in Ireland?

Fine Gael said before the election that it thought that blasphemy was not a crime. It is now time for them to put an end to this shameful state of affairs. They should revoke the 2009 law and take the opportunity of the presidential election and judges’ referendum in the autumn to have a referendum on removing the reference to blasphemy in the constitution.

Of course these Catholics still try to claim Ireland as their's. Witness Bishop Buckley’s comment:

"Respect for Mary, the mother of God, is bred in the bones of Irish people and entwined in their lives."

No, fear of the power of the parish priest and the shadow of the church-run institutions was bred into the bones of the Irish people.  Not to mention the fact that Ireland is no longer a particularly Catholic country.

Friday 24 June 2011

Jesus - the ultimate Slum Landlord

Reading Rosita Boland’s article on childhood religious education made me wonder what the catechism looks like these days. I can remember well doing the catechism in school though I can’t remember much of the content. I decided to check it out.

Frankly skimming it was enough for me, as looking from the outside in it, it is completely loolally. However some interesting titbits jumped out at me.

According to the catechism on the Vatican’s website, Hell is a real place. I thought they’d made it all metaphorical but apparently not. God, it appears is indeed one sick vicious bastard:

1034 Jesus often speaks of "Gehenna" of "the unquenchable fire" reserved for those who to the end of their lives refuse to believe and be converted, where both soul and body can be lost. Jesus solemnly proclaims that he "will send his angels, and they will gather . . . all evil doers, and throw them into the furnace of fire," and that he will pronounce the condemnation: "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire!"
1035 The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, "eternal fire." The chief punishment of hell is eternal separation from God, in whom alone man can possess the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.
Since we know neither the day nor the hour, we should follow the advice of the Lord and watch constantly so that, when the single course of our earthly life is completed, we may merit to enter with him into the marriage feast and be numbered among the blessed, and not, like the wicked and slothful servants, be ordered to depart into the eternal fire, into the outer darkness where "men will weep and gnash their teeth."
(my highlighting)

The old Penny Catechism was more succinct:

125. Where will they go who die in mortal sin?
They who die in mortal sin will go to hell for all eternity.

134. Shall not the wicked also live for ever?
The wicked also shall live and be punished forever in the fire of hell.

I’ve no interest in trying to understand the minutiae of Catholic theology – it has as much relevance as all those backstory Middle Earth books, but I certainly come away from this excerpt below thinking that Jesus is the ultimate slum landlord. I mean, if he’s killed the Devil (eh? Has no one told the pope?) and taken over Hell, these Trinity chaps have got a nice little monopoly going on afterlife holiday destinations. 

635 Christ went down into the depths of death so that "the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live." Jesus, "the Author of life", by dying destroyed "him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage." Henceforth the risen Christ holds "the keys of Death and Hades", so that "at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth."
(my highlighting)

Dammed if you do and damned if you don’t.

Does God hate you?

This image from Rosita Boland’s Irish Times article on finding her childhood religious indoctrination schoolbook has been doing the rounds turning up on Pharynugla and Eric MacDonald’s site.

Apart from being creepy (I love the juxtaposition of God preferring his babies baptised and the space at the bottom of the page for the child to enter when they were procured for him), it highlights the way religion is a source of division and conflict. The child doing this exercise is being encouraged to divide people into same and ‘other’ with the clear implication that they are superior (“He gives them more gifts”) to anyone not of their faith. This is fostering sectarianism and the modern history of Ireland unfortunately bears out the terrible problems that brings.

I think it interesting as well that apparently God loves some more than others and neglects some children for his favourites. The corollary of this of course is that if God is capable of varying degrees of love, then he must also be capable of hate. So who does he hate? Best ask that child that’s been learning to divvy the world up into Us and Them.

Sunday 19 June 2011

The flaws in arguing from faith for religion

With the arguments for the existence of god or indeed gods so weak, the theologian retreats to the idea that it is all about faith, that is, a leap of faith to believe in something that cannot be arrived at by reason. By this means they can argue that their belief in god is not something that can be argued about rationally and hence religion is a conversation at which science or rationality does not have a voice. Completely coincidently of course, this gets them off the hook for, in the case of christianity, not being able to come up with a half decent proof despite two thousand years to do so.  There are two very obvious problems with this supposed killer "proof" that nail it dead.

If we accept for argument's sake that the leap of faith is a valid argument, then we run into an insurmountable problem. Having by definition excluded reason from the process we are now left in the position of leaping off the cliffs of rationality into one of the multitude of boats below, each a mutually contradictory religion, but aside from the knowledge that one of them is correct, with no way of choosing the right one!  We cannot use reason to decide the merits of each before choosing (this is a leap of faith remember), so we have a very limited choice: choose none or choose randomly. If this is a search for truth, choosing none is the only valid choice. This also illustrates to my mind, that if someone makes a leap of faith to the religion they already believe in, they are either deceiving themselves or us. 

Secondly, everyday experience tells us that under ordinary circumstances the vast majority of people do not change the faith they were indoctrinated in as children. Indeed Islam goes as far as proclaiming the death penalty for its apostates to put them off doing so, while the Catholic Church recently changed its rules to make it effectively impossible to officially leave, as a result of the Irish Count Me Out campaign. If there was fluidity in people's religion, it might suggest that the proposed leap of faith is being made. The carrying over of childhood indoctrination into adulthood religiosity suggests that people assume their religion is true because it is their religion. There are a multitude of religions out there with conflicting claims and gods and all claiming to be true. Self-evidently at most only one of these can be true. There is clearly no active engagement on the part of most to genuinely seek out the 'true' religion, so no leap of faith either, as that implies more than impassive acceptance. Additionally if there was such engagement, it would be reasonable to assume some general migration towards a single religion.

As an aside to this point, of course there have been times when populations have changed their religion en masse (hence the caveat of ordinary circumstances above). This happened frequently in reformation Europe for example when the idea of the king's religion becomes the people's religion appeared. This reinforces the point though as these conversions are essentially political and nothing to do with the truth of religion.

As a closing point on religious proof, my experience and general impression is that outside of theologians, that is for the vast majority of believers, there is in fact little engagement with how to prove god exists or that a particular religion is true, and that if more people were given, and took the time to understand, an honest review of the evidence for god, they would be shocked at the flimsiness of the arguments.

Monday 13 June 2011

Religion does not like Science

Jerry Coyne and Russell Blackford tackle a Huffpo article by Michael Ruse on religion and science's compatibility. It's not very a very convincing article especially with comments like this,

"But is there not the uncomfortable worry that religion -- theology -- is always going to play second fiddle, having to give way in the face of science? ... It may be true that this is a one-way process, but in no way does this imply that theology is inferior."

Yup, it does kind of imply that actually.

Religion seems to have at least four stances with regard to science.

Science as heresy. See christianity's history in Europe with astronomy as a prime example. Arguably creationists fall in this category too, though I'm more thinking of when a religion has the temporal power to kill or imprison those it decides to define as heretics.

Science to be denied. Creationists are the prime example. Their strange twistings of science, but only of those parts that are problematical, are a wonder to behold. I look forward to somebody showing that something like gravity is incompatible with the bible and seeing how they deny that...

Science to be impugned. As religion surrenders its explaining power to science, it attempts to belittle science. The attitude is that science may be able to explain questions like how we came about, the laws of physics, how to fly, how to make effective medicine etc, but that they still hold authority over important questions like the kind of sex God wants to see in bedrooms around the world (He's a bit of a prude apparently). More seriously though, they try to claim morality and ethics as their own, disenfranchising anybody coming from a non-believing scientific background as having anything worthwhile to say about these subjects.

Science to be pwned. This is the attitude of those who realise the truth of science and so have to demonstrate that their religion already knew all of science before science existed. Thus we have Hindu Science and Islamic Science, amongst others no doubt. It is bizarre to read how the Rig Veda has amongst other things the correct value for the speed of light, while a new one to me, the Koran had geology sorted out long before Lyell et al did.

Sunday 12 June 2011

The Government's position on key religious questions

Atheist Ireland received a reply to some key questions it put to Fine Gael (part of our governing coalition) during the election campaign earlier this year. It can be found here but in summary, Fine Gael's position is:

  • Reform of education – it will make publicly-funded schools with a secular ethos available.
  • Constitutional Review – will “consider the continued relevance of religious references in the Constitution”, whatever that means.
  • Blasphemy – It should not be a criminal offence.
  • Religious ethos of hospitals – no interest in addressing.
  • Equality Law – agree that religious bodies should be treated no different to other bodies
  • Tax – no intention to make churches pay their fair share of tax.
We'll see how they perform.

That Census Question on Religion

Following on from my last post, the question is why does it matter how many devout Catholics we have in Ireland? Atheist Ireland tackled this question in the run-up to the 2011 census, making the point that,

the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Dublin says that it “does not make use of baptismal registers for calculating the Catholic population of the Archdiocese of Dublin. It relies solely on the data from the Central Statistics Office, obtained through the census, by which citizens themselves choose to record, or not, their religious affiliation.”
These numbers feed into decisions on funding for schools for example and if they can be used by the Catholic church to defend their control of most of our schools, they will be, even if the church knows they do not represent the number of genuinely devout Catholics (if we use regular mass attendence as a criteria).

If the census asked a less leading question than "What is your religion?", such as "How religious are you?", then we might get a better picture. Unfortunately Atheist Ireland was unable to get the question changed for the 2011 census. I think the census results will be published in July and it'll be interesting reading. However it is unlikely to be an accurate reading, as far as religion is concerned.

Friday 10 June 2011

So just how Catholic is Ireland really?

 I think it was Michael Nugent of Atheist Ireland at the recent World Atheist Convention in Dublin that made the point that the Irish public mind has changed but that our institutional minds are still living in Catholic mindset; that it is not the public, but our institutions we need to tackle.

To me, attending mass on Sunday is a good benchmark of how Catholic we as a country are, as this is one of the prime aspects of being a practicing Catholic. 

In the 1970’s apparently 91% of Irish Catholics attended weekly Sunday mass. By 2006 this had dropped to 48% even though 87% of Irish people identified themselves as Catholic. 

Today in 2011, only 18% of the Catholic population of Dublin attends Mass on Sundays and there are parishes in Dublin where attendance is below 2%. In the rest of the country it is reportedly still as high as 45-48%. However given that Dublin in the 2006 census accounted for 1.2 million of the state’s 4.2 million residents, this suggests that as a back of an envelope calculation that approximately 39% of Irish people attend mass on Sunday. 

If roughly 60% of Irish people are either not Catholic or so lax that they do not attend mass weekly, then I think it is safe to say that we are not a devoutly Catholic country as the stereotype and often our political masters like to portray.

What does the future hold?

A UNICEF survey of 16 – 20 year olds in Ireland included the following two questions:

What phrase would best describe your religion?

12%     I am religious and go to religious gatherings
23%     I am religious but don’t go to church regularly
24%     I’m not religious
14%     I used to go but not so much anymore
21%     I’m spiritual but not religious
2%      I have alternative spiritual interests
4%      None of these

Does your religion or spirituality bring you happiness?

12%     Yes lots
27%    Yes some
57%    Makes me neither happy nor unhappy
3%       No it makes me unhappy
2%       No it makes me very unhappy

This strongly suggests that the future in Ireland is not very religious and our political institutions should acknowledge this and legislate appropriately.

Also for interest, on the Irish Census website can be found a fascinating summary of the evolving religious profile of Ireland from 1881 to 2006.