A new poll just released shows a whopping 400% increase in atheism in Ireland over the last ten years. Is Ireland giving up its traditional religious history and turning atheist instead? Last year, it was revealed that lessons about atheism would be formally added to the curriculum for Irish school children. While the majority of Irish citizens, 84 percent, still identify as Catholic, a 400% increase in those who consider themselves to be atheists is an indication of how rapid and drastic the shift toward atheism has been there in recent years.
The numbers out of Ireland reflect an overall increase in atheism in the U.S. as well. A PEW study released last year showed that atheism was on the rise, especially in young people, who have been increasingly turning away from organized religion. There were numerous studies last year that showed as education increased, so did atheism, and that atheists had higher IQs, overall, than religious people. This caused some to speculate that as people in a society gain more access to education, overall religiosity declines.
The new school curriculum in Ireland, in part, will teach children about atheism, agnosticism, and the tenets of a secular humanist society. Given the huge increase in numbers of those who consider themselves atheists, some are asking if Ireland is slowly turning atheist or if this new trend toward atheism is a temporary reaction to disillusionment with the Catholic Church. The abuse scandals over the last few years are viewed as contributing to a vast amount of people turning away from the Catholic Church in Ireland and the U.S.
The 2011 poll out of Ireland which was recently released showed enormous increases in the categories of “atheist,” “agnostic” and “no religion.” The total for all of those classifications combined was 277,237- over a quarter million people. Considering that only 4.4 million people live in the Republic of Ireland and 1.8 million live in Northern Ireland, those who fall into one of the aforementioned categories represent a significant portion of the population. The 400% increase in atheism in Ireland could perhaps be the harbinger of a gradual shift away from religion in the country overall.
Still, many Irish atheists find that not believing in God in Ireland can be challenging. In a blog post entitled The Difficulties of Being an Atheist in Ireland, writer Michael Hegarty points out that “blasphemy” is a punishable crime in Ireland, carrying with it a fine of almost $34,000. Hegarty also points out that the Catholic Church influences basically “everything” in Ireland, including government and education.
Despite these challenges, Irish atheists hold out hope that Ireland may be turning atheist; if not immediately, then over time. The 400% increase in atheism is a stunning number, especially from a country with such a long history of religiosity and problems stemming from the tension between Protestants and Catholics. Hegarty also points out a trend toward “cultural Catholicism” in which people participate in the celebrations and rituals of the Catholic Church without actually believing in a personal God, and he says this trend is also on the rise. With the numbers of those with no belief in God increasing so drastically, the changeover to an atheist majority in Ireland may eventually occur.
By: Rebecca Savastio