A Question Regarding Northern Ireland: Religion

One of the big issues in Northern Ireland seemed to be religion-the Protestants feared the Catholics. The Rev. Paisley preached sermons that called the RC Chrch “the whore of Babylon”-and regularly raved against the pope. The Orange Order made a point of emphasizing the protestant roots of Northern Ireland-one of the big bugaboos (to Ulstermen) was the fear that the RC Church would become ascendent in Northern Ireland.
Now, the South (Rep. of Ireland) is becoming almost atheist-church attendance is way down, and many Irish people consider themselves atheists. Has this affected things in NI? It seems (to me) that as the RC Church loses influence in Ireland, religious-based conflict in NI ought to wane as well-has it?

  1. Catholics feared Protestants, too, and with some reason. Protestants held disproportionate wealth and power, as a residue of historical conflicts and laws established precisely to that end.

  2. I have to think it’s quite a stretch to call Ireland “almost atheist,” but I’ll leave it to one of the Irish folk here to expand on that.

  3. Regardless of trends in levels of actual religious devotion, ‘Catholics’ and ‘Protestants’ are long-established as cultural groups. It would take more than a waning of church attendance and belief to erase the divisions.

The situation has very little to do with religion, Ian Paisley notwithstanding. I agree with all 3 points made. If Ireland is “almost athiest” then Canada is almost tropical. And it’s the same as the US, a Catholic who doesn’t attend mass weekly does not mean they aren’t religious. The communities are Nationalist and Unionists, please. Even if both are dominated by a nominal religious group, membership is certainly not restricted by creed.

I remember reading a study that showed that NI Catholics are more religious than those in the Republic, both in practice and in attitudes on things like morality. And NI Protestants are even more so religious.

There’s a joke that has many versions, but the same punchline:

A journalist, researching for an article on the complex political situation in Northern Ireland, was in a pub in a war-torn area of Belfast. One of his potential informants leaned over his pint of Guinness and suspiciously cross-examined the journalist: “Are you a Catholic or a Protestant?” the Irishman asked.

“Neither,” replied the journalist; “I’m an atheist.”

The Irishman, not content with this answer, put a further question: “Ah, but are you a Catholic atheist or a Protestant atheist?”

This. In Northern Ireland and the Republic church attendence amongst Catholics has been waning for years but amongst many Protestants it was non-existent going back years. Indeed many Protestants aren’t formally a member of any church. It’s an ethnic marker not a mark of faith.

The Republic Of Ireland isn’t almost atheist, nowhere near it. I’d say it’s still one of the more religious societies in the developed world. However its norms of religious observance seem to be coming into line with much of the rest of Western Europe. Majority Catholic but only attending mass on special occasions. I heard the term lately that seems applicable with regard to the Anglican Church. People only use it for hatches, matches, and dispatches. Add in first holy communion and confirmation, Easter maybe and Christmas and those occasions are the only times a lot of people will now see the inside of a Catholic church. I don’t know to what extent this reflects on actual religious belief because atheists seem thin on the ground and stuff like abortion is still controversial (and illegal both north and south). There also seems to be a significant urban/rural divide both north and south with regard to religious observance.

Increased secularisation in the south makes it harder for northern unionists to argue they’d be marginalised in a united Ireland. There’s also the fact that both north and south there are far more people nowadays who fall outside the spectrum of Catholic/Protestant belief. What effects this will have on the long term destiny of Northern Ireland and the Republic, who knows?

Also Ralph, the religious based conflicted has waned in NI. It’s been almost 20 years since there was regular religious based violence in the North. Throughout the '90s and '00s there have been religiously motivated attacks on people but they’re nowhere near as regular as in the past. There’s a lot more work to be done for NI to become a “normal” society but by and large you’d find very little difference initially between Belfast or Derry now and any other city in Ireland or Britain.

Correct. The situation in NI is entirely political, and wicked people use religion to keep power.

It’s not entirely political either. It’s not as simple as one or the other. It’s a long standing and unfortunately potent combination of various elements that Catholic/Protestant or Republican/Unionist dichotomies can’t fully encompass.