Hilary White, Rome Correspondent

Irish losing their religion fastest among western countries: global survey

Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
Hilary White, Rome Correspondent
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ROME, August 9, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A massive global study on religiosity, covering 57 countries and five continents, has found that of the western nations, the Irish are losing their faith faster than anyone. The Global Index of Religion and Atheism, a survey conducted by the Gallup International Association, showed that of all countries studied, only Vietnam is losing interest in religion faster than the Republic of Ireland.

“Globally, those claiming to be religious, drops by 9 per cent, while atheism rises by 3 per cent. This compares to a drop of 22 per cent among the Irish population claiming to be religious,” the report said. It added that 44 percent of Irish surveyed said they are not religious and 10 percent said they are “convinced atheists,” a dramatic rise from three percent in 2005.

“Most of the shift is not drifting from their faith, but claiming to be ‘not religious’ while remaining within the faith,” the report said.

While most media outlets are citing the recent revelations of clerical abuse of young people in Ireland as the reason for the shift, others have placed the source further back with the long-term failure of religious authorities to adequately teach and uphold the Catholic Church’s tenets.

Liam Gibson, the Northern Ireland spokesman for the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children and a long-time observer of the religious situation of Ireland, told LifeSiteNews.com that the religious downturn in Ireland is not a surprise, given the falling away from religious faith in the rest of the western world.

Since the 1960s, “the activity of the Irish Church has been focused on social justice issues to the detriment of the spiritual and eternal aspects of the Gospel.”

Moreover, the findings of the survey, he said, are a crucial factor in getting the pro-life message out. “Globally speaking the Catholic Church is the pro-life movement so social trends which alienate people from the Church will have an impact on how the pro-life message is received,” Gibson said.

“This atheism,” he added, “isn’t an intellectual one but arises from the fact that there is so little truth, beauty and goodness visible in contemporary culture. The coming years in Ireland will be decisive but the pro-life movement cannot prosper long if the Christian life continues to decline.”

Patrick Buckley, SPUC’s representative in Dublin and at the EU, told LSN, that there is no one factor that can be pointed to, but the causes include a combination of sudden increase in wealth during the country’s “Celtic Tiger period” and “poor catechetical formation” by the Church itself.  Buckley also listed the “child abuse scandals” and a hostile media as contributing factors.

“Add to the foregoing the almost constant denigration of traditional values and the celebration of immorality and depravity on TV, which is also readily accessible online.” Buckley noted, however, that with the economic downturn, “some are returning to the fold.”

The survey found that 59 percent of the 51, 927 people surveyed around the world described themselves as religious; 23 percent said they are “not religious” and 13 percent said they are “convinced atheists”. But Ireland, whose people still overwhelmingly identify themselves as Catholic, stands out in contrast with only 47 percent considering themselves “religious,” placing the country at 43 out of 57 countries.

Ireland is now among the top ten nations with the largest number of convinced atheists, following China, Japan, the Czech Republic, France, South Korea, Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Iceland and Australia.

At the time of the 2006 census, 87.4 per cent of Irish registered themselves as Catholic, which number had dropped to 84.2 per cent by 2011. A study undertaken by Georgetown University found that in 1980 Ireland’s Catholics had one of the highest rates of weekly Mass attendance in the world. This rate, however, has dropped precipitously from 81 percent in 1990 to 48 percent in 2006.

According to archdiocese of Dublin’s figures, weekly Mass attendance in the diocese, the area with the lowest rates of adherence in the country, had fallen to 18 percent by 2011. In May last year, the Irish Times reported that among younger people, the number attending weekly Mass in Dublin was around 2 percent, according to the archdiocese’s own records. 

A 2012 survey, conducted by the Association of Catholic Priests, a dissident group seeking to change Catholic teaching on sexuality and women’s ordination, found that weekly mass attendance for the whole country stood at about 35 percent with previously common daily attendance being about 3 percent.

The same survey also indicated that acceptance or understanding of Catholic teaching on key cultural issues was low, with 87 percent feeling the Church should abolish mandatory priestly celibacy and 77 percent saying that women should be allowed to be ordained to the priesthood. About 60 percent “disagreed strongly” with the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and only 20 percent agreed that sexual expression outside of marriage was immoral. Three quarters said that the Church’s teaching on sexuality is “not relevant” to them or their families.

Other countries seeing a drop in religious belief are, in order, Switzerland, France, South Africa, Iceland, Ecuador, the US, Canada and Austria. The most religious countries were Ghana, Nigeria and Armenia and the least were China, Japan and the Czech Republic. Notable also is the survey’s findings that many of the most religiously inclined countries are strongly Islamic, and that the countries seeing the sharpest decline in religious belief are all formerly Christian-majority.

Liam Gibson said that it is not surprising that the general state of global decline in religious belief should be hitting Ireland now: “Historically Ireland has been at the tail end of most cultural trends. While the decline in Christian life was taking place in the rest of Western Europe gradually, it wasn’t so obvious in Ireland.”

Gibson said that the delay in its effects until relatively recent years “has made the decline in Ireland seem more dramatic.”

Gibson also said that the causes include a uniquely Catholic problem that has been commented on globally for 50 years: “banal” liturgy and uninspired, uninspiring preaching since the major changes to the Church’s liturgy in the 1960s. For a country in which the day-to-day practice of Catholicism, through its liturgical and devotional rites, was the central driving cultural force, the changes in the liturgy hit the laity hard.

“When it comes to the public worship of the Church, the experience of most Irish Catholics is of what Pope Benedict has referred to as a banal, on-the-spot fabrication.

“The Mass in many Irish parishes lacks beauty, reverence and the standard of preaching is frequently anodyne and sometimes verging on the heretical.”

In addition, a “spirit of materialism” has infiltrated through every level of Catholic life. Not in the sense of pursuit of wealth, but “in the sense that the visible world is all that matters.”

Gibson also pointed directly at the bishops for their failure to defend and promulgate the 1968 papal encyclical Humanae Vitae, which reiterated the Church’s teaching that artificial contraception is “gravely” sinful. This failure, one that the Irish bishops shared with the Catholic episcopate throughout the western world, “also played a part in the spread of this materialism”.

“It has led many people to believe that it was possible to reject Catholic teaching on the most serious issues and remain a Catholic. Eventually this contradiction is resolved by the complete abandonment of the Catholic faith.”

He said that a restoration of “reverence and beauty” in Catholic liturgy and music “is capable of reversing this trend” even now.

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Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin

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Science magazine retracts pro-gay study over phony data

Dustin Siggins Dustin Siggins Follow Dustin
By Dustin Siggins

LOS ANGELES, June 1, 2015 (LifeSiteNews.com) – A discredited paper that alleges LGBT activists can change the minds of traditional marriage supporters in one conversation has been formally retracted -- against the wishes of one of its authors.

On Thursday, the magazine Science said on its website that "with the concurrence of author Donald P. Green,” it is retracting the report “When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality,” which was published last December 12.

According to Science, "survey incentives were misrepresented." In the study, LaCour and Green said they had paid participants "to enroll, to refer family and friends, and to complete multiple surveys." However, Science said it "confirmed" with Green's co-author, Michael LaCour -- who has continued to defend the study -- that "no such payments were made."
Additionally, the paper misrepresented its financial sponsors. "In the report, LaCour acknowledged funding from the Williams Institute, the Ford Foundation, and the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund. Per correspondence from LaCour’s attorney, this statement was not true," said Science.

On Friday, Lacour released a lengthy statement in which he took "full responsibility for errors in the design, implementation, and data collection regarding the field experiments and panel survey reported" and apologized "for misrepresenting survey incentives and funding, though he also defended some of the survey's results.

"In fact, I received a grant offer from the Williams Institute, but never accepted the funds, the LA GLBT received funding from the Evelyn and Walter Haas Jr. Fund., and the Ford Foundation grant did not exist," said LaCour. Additionally, the grad student said that he "raffled Apple computers, tablets, and iPods to survey respondents as incentives. I located some of the receipts....Some of the raffle prizes were purchased for a previous experiment I conducted."

Science's final reason for retraction included the fact that "independent researchers have noted certain statistical irregularities in the responses. LaCour has not produced the original survey data from which someone else could independently confirm the validity of the reported findings."

According to LaCour, he destroyed data "in the interest of institutional requirements" at UCLA -- in other words, because that was the university's standard.

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The retraction follows more than a week of criticism that began when LaCour's co-author, Columbia University political science professor Donald Green, expressed concern about LaCour's work. Green said that the UCLA grad student's work comprised "an incredible mountain of fabrications with the most baroque and ornate ornamentation."

LaCour has maintained that the study, which was published in December 2014, should not be retracted, and his 23-page response to critics indicated that he has not changed his position.

In the meantime, LaCour has been accused of faking another study on media bias that BuzzFeed reports "was unpublished but frequently cited at scientific conferences." That study was privately critiqued by Emory University political science professor Gregory Martin a year ago. Martin decided to publicly report that criticism after the Science controversy arose. 

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James Matthew Wilson

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The joyful death of Catholic Ireland

James Matthew Wilson
By James Wilson

June 1, 2015 (CrisisMagazine.com) -- Do you remember the joke about the Irish brewery worker who drowned in a vat of suds? “Poor Sean,” the new widow said upon learning her husband’s fate, “He didn’t stand a chance.” “Oh, I wouldn’t say that, Mrs. Reilly,” replies the foreman. “He did crawl out three times to use the bathroom.”

The Republic of Ireland has just voted, by a commanding and unprecedented popular vote, to establish “gay marriage” in its territory. The world, and the Irish themselves, who generally look at themselves from the viewpoint of the foreigner in a sad kind of “double consciousness,” will not fail to read the message: “Catholic Ireland’s dead and gone, it’s with De Valera in the grave.”

The coverage of the vote holds it up as an occasion of joy, of national pride, of a new era in an old country. I am sure there are some who use these expressions sincerely. Modern westerners usually think of life in this world in therapeutic terms. Matters of what is sometimes called “private” morality are decided entirely in terms of the question, “How will this make me feel?” while matters of “public” morality are submitted to a utilitarian calculus the numbers of which are usually undefined or unsatisfactory, boiling down to something like, “How will such-and-such a measure affect public health?” These are the only questions one can ask, if one inhabits an impoverished world where goodness and truth, happiness and justice, are taken for mere “subjective” projections onto the wandering atoms of the universe. But this diagnosis is not my interest today, because it cannot wholly explain the queer elation in Dublin.

What I want to consider is the specific conditions in Ireland that led up to this moment. My account will be somewhat hobbled; though for a number of years I resided in Dublin regularly, I have not visited the country since 2007, and so learned of some of the more recent and traumatic events in Irish life only from the newspapers.

My days in Ireland began just after the peak of the so-called Celtic Tiger. The economy was expanding, the “ribbon effect,” or suburban sprawl was spreading out around Dublin and Galway, and the restaurants, bars, and hotels were staffed by immigrant workers, most of them from Eastern Europe.

My interest in Irish culture was incidental to begin with. I had fallen in love with the modern Irish poets, from Yeats to Mahon, for their formal dexterity. But I also loved God above all things, and viewed the love of country as little less sacred than the love of one’s father and mother. The Irish narrative of faith and fatherland, fought and died for, resonated with me and, I thought, provided an occasion to deepen my understanding of those loves. To study Irish literature, it seemed to me then, was to study the work of authors who lived and died for the sacred.

What I found in the Ireland of 2001 provided little occasion for dwelling on any of that “rubbish.” In the previous decade, the hierarchy of the Irish Church had been wracked with scandal. Its prestige had come to be viewed as hypocrisy and arrogance, its power as conceit and corruption. Regular Mass attendance had dropped from nearly 90 percent a few years prior to around 60 percent, and it continued to plunge in the years of my visits. If practice of the faith was plunging then, it has plummeted since. The churches were full on Sunday, then, now they sit empty, as if Dublin were Paris or New York.

I saw few signs of genuine piety, and the demeanors of the pious seemed passive and weary. The Irish saw well that prosperity had at last come to their land; it seemed to entail a giving up of both Irish folkways and the ancestral religion, and that was a bargain they were willing to make.

The political elite in Ireland had long since come to have more in common with their counterparts in other western European nations than with the supposedly backward sensibilities of the people they ruled. They clearly saw the embarrassment of the Church as something to be capitalized on to advance the secularization of the country—its normalization, you might say, within the post-Christian mainstream. A prime minister brought his concubine to dinner with the Archbishop; it created a sensation rather than a scandal. Where Nelson’s Pillar had once stood—blown up in a symbolic act of nationalism by the IRA in 1966—the Irish government had erected a “millennium spike.” It is just as bad and stupid as it sounds. I wrote about it thus in my first book of poems, one inspired by the Belfast poet Louis MacNeice:

Where Nelson’s Pisgah pillar pruned, then plumed,
They’ve propped a sterile spike up like an altar
To pious E.U. secularity.

Irish society never fully recovered from the Civil War that humiliated it in 1922-23. The internecine conflict was, as Thomas MacGreevy once wrote, a last humiliation by the British Empire, disillusioning Irish nationalism just at the moment when it had achieved something like victory—a modest independence called “home rule.” In the subsequent decades, Irish politics was marked by a persistence of nationalist ambition to make Ireland in actuality what it has long been regarded as being: a distinctively Catholic republic that would stand outside the main tendencies of western Europe toward secularization, economic liberalization, and, later, the welfare state.

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In this ambition, they succeeded. The Church enjoyed a central place in Irish public life; its charitable institutions served as a non-state agent to educate, heal, and care for the Irish people in lieu of public schools, hospitals, and other social services. The long-reigning Eamonn De Valera attempted a third-way economy—one founded on agriculture and autarchy, especially in regards to its powerful neighbor. This last was not a great achievement, though it was more successful than it would have been had the ranks of Ireland’s lower classes not already been emigrating in a continuous flow for most of the previous century.

The persistence of these nationalist ambitions should not surprise us, given the tremendous symbolic power generated in the decades before independence. Nonetheless, it was a waning influence from the beginning. In the 1950s, the Irish economy was liberalized and increasingly opened to the European market. That was sufficient to make most Irish conclude that their country was nothing special; it should rightly assume its place as a marginal junior player in the global economy. Economic liberalization led to secularization, or might have, were it not for a string of public controversies, including votes on abortion and divorce, that reminded many Irish of their distinctive self-image as a Catholic nation—much to the anguish of liberals, including the literati, who sought to show that the only thing distinctive about Ireland was that it was much worse than other countries.

It was the expansion of the Irish economy and the sex scandals in the Church in the 1990s that brought this long developing contempt for Irish exceptionalism to a head. It seemed to vindicate every accusation of Ireland as a backward backwater of hypocrisy. But this contempt for the past was softened by the unprecedented prosperity of the Celtic Tiger. The young were too busy earning money and spending it to have children much less to attend to the dissolution of Ireland’s Catholic culture.

When the global economy collapsed in 2008, Ireland was among the handful of worst-hit small countries.  Emigration increased to highs not seen for decades.  The time had come for reprisals. Their hopes for prosperity dashed, the Irish had few political options, and a future of bailouts and austerity imposed from abroad.  Enda Kenny was elected Prime Minister on a European liberal economic platform, but it soon became clear that his power could only be enhanced by taking Irish society in a leftward direction.  Every confrontation he staged with the Church, he won.  He was called brave for taking on such a venerable but hidebound institution in the name of truth and progress; but, indeed, how much bravery could it require to fight a battle he could not lose?  The disappointments of Irish society were increasingly expressed as contempt for the Church.

Year by year, government inquiries into sexual abuse within Church-run institutions, the physical abuses of those in the care of nuns and priests, and finally the supposed unearthing of mass graves of children on the properties of homes for unwed mothers. The stories themselves were increasingly distorted in the press, but nobody cared; the outrage and contempt only increased. To present oneself as a faithful Catholic in contemporary Ireland would require far more bravery than, say, to present oneself as a practitioner of sodomy.

For more than a century, the Irish had been told, had told themselves, that they were something distinctive in the history of Christendom. A Catholic nation that had persisted in the faith despite domination by a Protestant foreign power, the service of country and of God seemed almost as one. But, for just under a century, a nagging doubt had haunted such convictions. Ireland was insignificant: its dream of itself consequently stood in the way of its simply getting on as one more country on a continent that had long since lost its faith but had embraced the mundane contentment afforded by a liberalized economy, the welfare state, and a far more immanent horizon of beliefs.

Some scholars tell us that the gothic genre of story-telling grew up as a response to the Catholic Irish. A society that saw itself as enlightened, rational, secular, and modern suddenly found itself haunted by some frightful other, a ghoul, a return of the repressed: an avatar of superstitious, atavistic, arcane Catholicism. The Irish and Catholic response to such tales of Whiggery was easy: Catholicism “returns” not as the ravenous claw of the past reaching up from the grave to strangle the present, but as the truth, which never goes anywhere. Truth always asserts its inescapable claim on every person.

But what is one to do when that claw represents not simply the past, but also the future, the Catholic nation that Ireland was meant to become, but never quite did? What is one to do when the gothic monster is not something intruding from the depths beneath one’s society, but is, if anything, the institution that seemed to represent the most distinctive virtues of that society? Kill it, of course. Kill it, and take joy in the sport.

The joy with which the “gay marriage” referendum is being greeted not only in the streets of urban Dublin but across the whole country must surely be a complex emotion. Insofar as the Irish are just like most of us westerners, they are celebrating a new freedom of the will to assert itself without any moral prohibition. But the therapeutic triumphed long ago, and didn’t need Ireland to cement its victory.

The reason the Irish—as Irish—are celebrating is that they have with this referendum delivered a decisive and final blow to their venerable image as a Catholic nation. They have taken their vengeance on the Church. They must relish the unshackling; they must love the taste of blood. But, finally, they take joy in becoming what, it seems, they were always meant to become. An unexceptional country floating somewhere in the waters off a continent that has long since entered into cultural decline, demographic winter, and the petty and perpetual discontents that come free of charge to every people that lives for nothing much in particular.

Reprinted with permission from Crisis Magazine.

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Katie Yoder

Taxpayer-funded PBS pushes teaching sex ed to 4-year-olds

Katie Yoder
By Katie Yoder

June 1, 2015 (NewsBusters.org) -- Watching PBS? Might want to ask the kindergartners to leave the room.

In a May 27 piece for tax-funded PBS, NewsHour producer Saskia de Melker argued “The case for starting sex education in kindergarten.” In her piece, she held up the Netherlands as an example for the United States in “sexuality education” – for those as young as 4-years-old to learn “honest conversations about love and relationships.”

To begin her piece, de Melker pointed to “Spring Fever” week in Dutch primary schools, or “the week of focused sex ed classes … for 4-year olds.”

“Of course, it’s not just for 4-year-olds,” she reassured about the Netherlands’ “comprehensive sex education.” “Eight-year-olds learn about self-image and gender stereotypes. Eleven-year-olds discuss sexual orientation and contraceptive options.”

She assured prudish Americans that, “You’ll never hear an explicit reference to sex in a kindergarten class,” she wrote. “In fact, the term for what’s being taught here is sexuality education rather than sex education.” (Funny, that’s not how her headline read.)

Citing Ineke van der Vlugt, who works on youth sexual development for Rutgers WPF, “the Dutch sexuality research institute behind the curriculum,” de Melker urged the program is “about having open, honest conversations about love and relationships.”

De Melker highlighted how Netherlands law requires all primary schools to teach “sexuality education” that must include “certain core principles” like “sexual diversity and sexual assertiveness.”

“The underlying principle is straightforward,” she wrote, “Sexual development is a normal process that all young people experience, and they have the right to frank, trustworthy information on the subject.”

And, according to de Melker, the approach works as the Netherlands “boasts some of the best outcomes when it comes to teen sexual health” with statistics on birth control, contraceptives, and sexual experiences.

“There are multiple factors that likely contribute to these numbers,” she hyped. “Easy access to contraception is one. Condoms, for example, are available in vending machines, and the birth control pill is free for anyone under age 21.”

De Melker provided more solid examples of just what kindergarteners learn.

“[S]tudents draw boys’ and girls’ bodies, tell stories about friends taking a bath together, and discuss who likes doing that and who doesn’t,” she wrote. “By the end of kindergarten, students are expected to be able to properly name body parts including genitals. They also learn about different types of families, what it means to be a good friend, and that a baby grows in a mother’s womb.”

11-year-olds, on the other hand learn to discuss “hypothetical situations” like:

  •  “You’re kissing someone and they start using their tongue which you don’t want.”

  •  “A girl starts dancing close to a guy at a party causing him to get an erection.”

  • “Your friend is showing off pornographic photos that make you feel uncomfortable.”

If a student thinks she’s a lesbian, some teachers, like Sabine Hasselaar, explain to the class, “It’s not strange for some girls to like other girls more than boys. It’s a feeling that you can’t change, just like being in love. The only difference is that it’s with someone that is the same sex as you.”

If you’re wondering where Dutch parents are in all this, it isn’t as though they’ve totally abdicated their responsibility to the state. Well, OK, it is. In fact, the schools teach them too.

“Parents nights are held to give parents tools to talk to their kids about sex,” and “Public health experts recommend that parents take cues from their kids.”

In other words, “if you walk in on your child masturbating, don’t react shocked; don’t punish or scold them,” she detailed. “Have a talk about where it is appropriate for such behavior to occur.”

While the U.S. is still far behind, de Melker encouraged that, in some places, “the tide is shifting toward an approach closer to that of the Dutch.”

Reprinted with permission from NewsBusters.

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