Is Ireland’s Faith in Crisis?

And whilst I am in Dublin, Wednesday night sees the return of Leviathan to the Button Factory in Temple Bar… Will Crawley is chairing the debate which is right up his street… Faith in Crisis… with guests Elaine Byrne, Fr Gerry O’Hanlon, Dr Brendan Connolly and Humanist Dick Spicer…. Clear the President’s faith is not in crisis, according to Peter Murtagh in the Irish Times as both she and he have recently walked the Camino the medieval walk of pilgrims to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, northern Spain:

Now, the absence of an ’09 car or not enough money to buy just what you want, when you want it – now all of that matters less. In boom times or recession, the Camino imposes a healthier perspective than the advertising agencies. I hope Mary McAleese talks a little of her Camino because I strongly suspect she could say things that would ring true for many people right now.

Is was Emily O’Reilly right when she said that sex, alcohol and money are no substitute for religion? Or Cardinal Murphy O’Connor when he said that Consumerism is no substitute for God?

Get your tickets right now. Right here.

PS: if you can’t make it, and you’re in Belfast that night, come along to Madisons in Botanic Avenue for a small Slugger meet up and chew the cud and drink a few pints! All NI bloggers particularly welcome… I’ve put the details up on Facebook

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  • foreign correspondent

    I´ve walked the whole Camino too, though in nice feetfriendly stages, and yet my faith is zero.
    I like the scenery, the exercise and the fresh air.
    Probably quite a large percentage of Camino pilgrims would also be lay pilgrims like me.

  • Yes, and has been since 1965. There is a pernicious myth that the decline in Catholicism in Ireland originated in the 1980s. Decline in mass attendance certainly accelerated during that decade (among the young especially), but the decline in adherance to Catholic doctrine closely correlates with the completely unwarranted liturgical and catechetical ‘reforms’ of the immediate post-conciliar era (cf. Whyte, JH (1980) ‘Church and State in Modern Ireland 1923-1973’. New Jersey: Gill and Macmillan). Decline in vocations had started in 1964, having increased almost every year to then from 1885 onwards. By the late 1950s many northern dioceses were simply sending their ordinands abroad (Raphoe was full by 1955, and that excludes the hoards of seminarians it sent to other dioceses). I was recently talking to a Holy Ghost priest who was ordained in 1965. There were 30 men in his order ordained along with him that year. The following year, there were only 19 to be ordained.

    Those disparate commentators who have abused their newspaper columns to talk about a “revival” in Irish Catholicism are simply talking through their ass. Such eccentric speculations are based on flimsy anecdotes, often sourced from our ‘New Springtime’ hierarchy, and will find no warrant in any stastical analysis. If the status quo in liturgy and catechesis is maintained I forsee the Catholic Church in Ireland shrinking to a tiny remnant of what it is today in the not-too-distant future. It’s not inconceivable that Mass attendance in Ireland will drop to less than 10% in the next 25 years, assuming the status quo is maintained.

    Not only in Ireland either, mind you:

    “”At home it is not only women and children but also fathers of families and young men who come regularly to Mass. If we were to offer them the kind of ceremony we saw yesterday we would soon be left with a congregation of women and children.” (Cardinal Heenan after being introduced to his first “reformed” post-conciliar liturgy)

  • Driftwood

    Never heard of Dr Brendan Connolly, obviously promoting his thesis

    I take it he’s an academic at a Dublin college?

  • General Outcry

    The approaching demise of the Vatican Empire is a tragedy. Think of all we shall lose…

    No more condemnation of contraception in our already grossly overpopulated world.

    No more preventing rape victims from having an abortion.

    No more nonsense denouncing condoms and their use as a precaution to avoid AIDS.

    No more segregated schools in NI, perpetuating tribal animosity.

    What a loss! Excuse me while I wipe the tears from my eyes. And it is all down to Herr Ratzinger himself. He deserves all our thanks. He will be rewarded in Heaven and the sooner, the better.

  • The age of Christendom is over. The Western World is now post-Christian and postmodern. It’s now that finally followers of the Rabbi and Jewish Messiah Yeshua / Jesus Christ can live a life free from religious opression. So much evil has been done in the name of Jesus. You just have to look at the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition or even Northern Ireland. It makes me cringe to see the Pope or Ian Paisley on TV. There’s going to be a lot of change in the next generation. Christianity will fall to dust and hopefully people can come to truly know Jesus.

    As cheesy as it sounds… it’s not about religion, it’s a relationship with Jesus. It doesn’t matter if you’re Baptist, Catholic or whatever. A lot of people are starting to see that now!

  • EWI

    And whilst I am in Dublin,

    A-ha. You may have some interest in this thread, then:

  • EWI

    Well, that’s what I get for perusing Slugger in order of most-recent-post-first!

  • Brian MacAodh

    Please don’t compare the pope to that bigot Paisley

  • Dave

    “The Western World is now post-Christian and postmodern.” – Exile

    That religious vacuum is the fatal flaw in Europe, and not its saving grace. The future of Europe (specifically, the EU) is post-Christian but not post-religious. The future of the EU is, in fact, Muslim – and the totalitarianism that comes with it.

    By 2050, the median age of EU citizens – according to its own projections – will be 52, and 33% will be aged over 65. The population is living longer, and can be contrasted with the turn of the 20th century when less than 3% of the European population was over 65. By 2050, the EU and its 27 states (by then one unified state) will represent less than 4% of the global population. It will be a small state with an old population.

    The EU population will need young immigrant workers to become its citizens if its economy is to generate the revenue needed to pay for the state pensions and other entitlements of its old citizens. The only place these immigrants can come from is from Muslim societies. So, while Christianity and its value system are in decline, Islam and its value system is on the rise.

    With these immigrants – and the demographics of the EU mean it has no choice other than to import them – will come Islam and its law. This is the religion, value system, and law that will fill the vacuum that Europeans have created for it. The future of the EU is Islam. So, continue your destructive assault on your own Western value system but you should understand what the outcome of that will be.

    Your so-called “postmodern” state will, in fact, be as ancient as Islam. 😉

  • Dave

    By the way, you could argue that destroying your own religious system in advance of the EU becoming a Muslim society prevents the conflict between those two religions from being as intense as it might otherwise have been, but, either way, it simply makes it easier for Islam to be superimposed. It is, however, not the case that an old population can dictate post-religious doctrines to the profoundly religious immigrants it needs in order have a functioning economy. The reverse is the case: the younger immigrants will dictate the policy and the aging EU population will have no choice in the matter. Beyond 2050, you don’t even need the stats to project that the immigrants will be the majority within a few decades as the older Europeans die off.

  • Enoch was right

    I don’t know what is worse: the thought of the EU being overrun by practicioners of a backwards, violent and misogynistic religion or by a bunch of loud, lazy and aggresive Africans.

    Anyone doubting the veracity my claims should visit Finsbury Park, Newham or Wembley on their next visit to London.

    Australia anyone?

  • foreign correspondent

    Go down the pubs in Belfast Derry or Dublin on a Saturday night and you will also find any number of loud, lazy and aggressive individuals, and they don´t come from Africa.
    As for the previous commmenter´s assertion that the EU is destined to become a Moslem state, because ´´he only place these immigrants can come from is from Muslim societies´´, that´s just wrong. Is China Moslem? The Philippines? Most of India?
    You guys should maybe head off and do the Camino de Santiago yourselves, and chill out a little. It might just broaden your horizons, if it´s not too late.

  • Enoch was right

    Obviously you’ve never had the pleasure of living in a multicultural heaven. The fact that you hav to resort to talking about drunk people says a lot about your argument. I’d love to see how tolerant you are after a year in Peckham

  • foreign correspondent

    The immediate area where I live in Madrid has Moroccans, Senegalese, Chinese, Bangladeshi, you name it, we got it. It´s not a ´´multicultural heaven´´ from their point of view, as many of them live in crap accommodation and are constantly getting harrassed by the police, but it´s not the inferno you seem to be implying will spring up anywhere that immigrants move into.

  • too many people

    The argument that the EU needs to import millions of foreign workers to keep its economy running ignores the fact that modern technology does not require a large workforce. Computers and automated systems have drastically reduced the numbers of workers needed in many industries. Even in farming there is much less need for large numbers of workers. Machines have replaced them.

    It is a myth that we have to increase our population in order to pay for our pensions. With machines doing more of the work, we should be planning to reduce the total population in order to take the pressure off the environment.

    So, no vast influx of Muslims. No need to cling onto obsolete religious beliefs ourselves. Time to adopt a rational perspective, like Humanism, and escape from the old divisive ideologies that have torn this country apart.

  • Jo

    Modern technology does not sweep the stairs, or the railway station concourses, or clean the windows, or…

    …the point being that there are jobs that people here WILL NOT DO. Those jobs are performed by people more than happy to come here and gut the chickens, sweep up the guts, clean out the shit…etc, etc…

    I must say that the proportion of people of a different ethnic background in 2050 Ireland is of supreme irrelevance to me now and I suspect will be of even less interest then.

  • Greenflag

    Jo ,

    ‘the point being that there are jobs that people here WILL NOT DO.’

    I don’t see too many Patels gutting chickens.

    The question which all of the above posts fail to ask is why did Europe need to import immigrant labour in the numbers it has had to ?

    There are several reasons

    1) The Corpse Pile from World Wars 1 & 2 for a as well as the Soviet internal ‘count 1945 to 1990)
    start . Probably about 120 million people in all of the above and predominantly male thus leaving tens of millions of european women without the prospect of a husband over a period of two generations .

    2)Strong economic growth post WW2 which at least in Germany , France and UK quickly absorbed the local labour and then had to ‘import ‘ foreigners to keep the ‘economy ‘ going .

    3) The drop in family size as the poorer folk in western europe learnt that two incomes per family are better than one and that a holiday on the Costa Del Sol was preferable to a third or fourth child .

    4) The advent of old age pensions meant that no longer had parents to rely entirely on their childen for their support in old age.

    5)Europeans some 45 million or so had gapped it to the Americas and Australia in the 19th and early 20th century thus reducing the population.

    6) The ‘economy’ basically dictates not just the absolute numbers of a population at any one time but also that populations composition

    Capitalism if taken to it’s logical extreme would rather employ 1000 bangla deshi in Bradford for 300 pounds a week than an Englishman or Irishman for 400 pounds . Also preferable is to employ an Indian computer technician in Bangalore for 20,000 dollars a year than an American in San Francisco for 60,000 dollars .

    Perhaps it’s time to have a re read of some of Karl Marx’s works ;)?

    Economics is just human evolution using capital investment and accumulation as the socio economic and ethno genetic means of advance or replacement of one group by another initially in terms of competitive advantage and later by numerical or sometimes just wealth /monetary ascendancy .

  • Sentinel

    Oh how quickly fertility rates change,


    Tunisia – 1.73
    Algeria – 1.82
    Lebanon – 1.87
    Turkey – 1.87
    Morocco – 2.57

    With the countries where most European Muslim immigrants come from nearly now at European fertility levels it’s hard to see that Muslim immigrants in Europe are going to be the great breeding time bombs some make them out to be and growth by conversion is negligible.

    Sure in the UK it’s mostly south Asian Muslims

    Pakistan – 3.73
    Bangladesh – 2.83

    but unlike continental countries only half of the immigrants to the UK are Muslims and about half of those are fundy Protestant types with comparable fertility to Muslims, often from Africa.

    Speaking of which, unlike the Catholic church, fundy Protestantism is increasing almost everywhere you look in the world, particularly the Pentecostal variety. The largest Latin American country, Brazil, is now about 13% Protestant. The Philippines about 10% Protestant. Nobody seems to notice these continuing vast changes because they spend their time looking at mainline Protestantism and Catholicism dropping to secularism on the one hand or increases to Islam on the other. It doesn’t seem to be in anyone’s script, whether Richard Dawkins or Mark Steyn’s, but for some reason it is happening.

  • circles

    Enoch feel free – maybe you should even try swimming to Australia, carrying all your luggage.

  • picador


    Which route did you take to Santiago?

    Which part of Madrid do you live in?

  • Y’shua

    When a religion makes it possible that the creator of the universe can be defiled by man, it’s about time that faith was in crisis.

    The creator of the universe can’t be defiled by man, the host is a wafer – the wine is wine. To think the creator of the world can be made unclean, is in itself an unclean thought.

    “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing;…”

  • Brian MacAodh

    Has anyone mentioned the main reason the number of kids euros have has dropped?

    The opportunity cost of having a kid is much higher in developed, modern societies. If your wife is making 80$ euro a year as a bank manager you would probably be less likely to have her home and bear you 8 kids then if she was an unskilled housewife.

  • foreign correspondent

    ´´Which route did you take to Santiago?´´
    The Camino Frances, the most famous one, which goes through Pamplona, Burgos, Leon…It´s worth doing
    the extra 3 days from Santiago to the west coast as well. I´ve done bits of other Camino variants as well, they are all worth doing, I reckon.
    ´´Which part of Madrid do you live in?´´
    I´m in Lavapies, which probably is one of the most
    multicultural areas in the city.

  • General Outcry

    “Has anyone mentioned the main reason the number of kids euros have has dropped?” asks Brian.

    His answer is: more working wives today.

    Alternative answer: people had big families in the past because they did not have access to contraception. Families of more than 8 children were commonplace because couples with normal sexual instincts had no way to avoid pregnancy. Who wants a family that size? Nobody except the pope, it seems.

    Which is good news for the environment and the future of planet Earth (if it has one).

  • Film O’Neill

    The Bill Maher film, “Religulous”, is on at QFT this week. He tours around the world asking people about all the incredible stuff they believe in the name of religion. Sounds promising. Don’t know if he interviewed any politicians, charlatans or terrorists from this island, but there would be ample material. Maybe in the sequel.

    Religulous is on from Friday 24 until Thursday 30 April. See Queen’s Film Theatre website at

  • Film O’Neill = General Outcry = too many people

  • Brian MacAodh

    religulous is a terrible movie. good article from an altar boy turned atheist reviewing the movie, above

  • Greenflag

    General Outcry ,

    ‘people had big families in the past because they did not have access to contraception.’

    It depends on what you mean by past . In hunting gathering socieites which were always on the move the maximum number of children any woman could have had would have been 4 . Being always on the move and breastfeeding generally meant that a child had to be able to walk /run by itself before another could be catered for . It’s believed that perhaps two of the four would have reached adulthood and probably on average one would have ‘produced ‘ the next generation . The farming revolution i.e the neolithic changed all of that with settled living, turning women into sex slaves and producers of farm hands/labour / the peasant workforce . Of course child and female mortality was much higher in ancient times and all of the above helped to keep populations in check . When population numbers outstripped the food producing capabilities of the local economy the result was usually migration ( the vikings – barbarian invasions etc etc all being examples of this phenomenon.

    ‘Families of more than 8 children were commonplace because couples with normal sexual instincts had no way to avoid pregnancy.’

    For most of the neolithic 3,000 BC through to feudal times this was the case . What kept numbers low was high infant, child and female mortality , a high number of young male deaths due to war , celibacy among the clerical class of Europe and often famine sometimes preceded by wars and later by wars of religion .

    With increased life expectancy and better health and less infant mortality and old age state pensions etc etc the ‘need ‘ to have as many children as possible so that enough would survive to keep one out of the workhouse or debtors prison (certain death ) in old age has diminished at least over most parts of the world .

    Mind you some of the ideas floating around among american neo conservatives ever saw the light of legislation i.e privatising american social security Americans might once again find it necessary to have ‘large ‘ families so that they might have somebody to help them live out their final years in some dignity 😉

  • Laura

    Religulous is a fantastically entertaining movie.
    It’s rare to find someone willing to ask religious folk the tough questions, rather than pandering to their desire to be wrapped in cotton wool.

    One of the best parts of the movie is when a senior vatican priest openly mocks his church:

    As for Ireland’s faith – the sooner people snap out of it, the better.

  • EWI

    What kept numbers low was high infant, child and female mortality

    Speaking of which: the final Battlestar episode, what a disappointment. They finally went crazy from too long cooped up in those ships…

  • Greenflag

    laura ,

    I thnk people have snapped out of it and we are on the way to being very much similar to levels of church attending as say England , Germany and France . In fact I would not be surprised if our church attendance figures achieve even lower figures in a sort of backlash against the Church here .

    There is nothing as difficult as unlearning old shibboleths and beliefs . It’s why there are atheistic Jews who still practice the barbarous ritual of circumcision just for old time’s sake and why we’ll probably keep singing Christmas carols and hymns long after they lose their religious significance .

    That Father Foster was utterly credible . I’m sure he’s not alone in the Church and at his age he’s just being honest .

    The RC Church is a huge organisation and has been collecting monies from the faithful for centuries.

    We in Ireland ought to remember the con job pulled on the church organisation here by Pope Adrian (the English Pope ) who made Henry 11 ‘Lord of Ireland ‘ . This automatically made the Archbishop of Canterbury at the time the popes ‘collector ‘ of revenue from the Irish Church . You can be sure he deducted his ‘expenses’ and sequestered kick backs to help defray the expenses of maintaining the English churches , bishop’s palaces etc etc.

    It’s all about ‘revenue stream ‘ and market positioning as the actress said to the bishop ;)?

  • General Outcry

    Rumours of the demise of the big religious organisations on this island are overly optimistic. True, nobody wants to be a priest or a nun anymore, but religious authorities still have a dominant role in organising the education system, North and South.

    Malachi O’Doherty examines all the symptoms of the decline in his book, Empty Pulpits. He shows how the Catholic church in particular has lost the ferocious grip that it used to have on its parishioners. But, typically, he opts for a touchy-feely ‘lovely music’ conclusion, instead of recognising that obsolete beliefs in the supernatural create unnecessary divisions, all the way from our segregated schools right up to our divided island.

    It is good to see that a Humanist is one of the panel for the discussion mentioned at the top of this thread. We need more sceptical voices to be heard throughout our society. There has been too much cosy conformity, with a Catholic establishment in the South, a Protestant establishment in the North and a rebellious IRA which was also staunchly Catholic.

    Conor Cruise O’Brien confronted the religiosity which underpins our political structures, most notably in his book, Ancestral Voices. He opposed those obsolete religious ideologies with his Enlightenment rationalism. Who is there to take up his mantle today and speak out against the absurdities of religious belief? As Voltaire said: “Those who believe in absurdities can be led to commit atrocities.”

  • Greenflag

    general outcry ,

    ”Those who believe in absurdities can be led to commit atrocities.” ‘

    Absurd beliefs are not just the prerequisite of religion or those who espouse religion.

    Just look at the ‘beliefs’ of the past generation of economic policy makers or the visualisation voodoo merchants of Wall St and the City whereby all it took was a few fancy mathematical formulae added a dash of marketing pizzaz plus in a little sex in the city , and you too can have security and everlasting wealth by entrusting your pension fund to the likes Bernard Madoff and the ‘responsible ‘ men and women of the banking , investment and hedge fund world ?

    Old Churches just like old soldiers never die -they merely fade away until someday somebody will ask an updated variant of that old question

    ‘Whatever happened to Catholic England ‘

    ‘Whatever happened to Catholic Ireland ‘

  • General Outcry

    True, the absurdities of religion are not the only absurdities that are being peddled in our culture. But religious absurdities are peddled on a massive scale. They have the weight of tradition and authority behind them. They have buildings and land, thousands of full-time staff and millions of adherents providing the funds. Schools indoctrinate children with their obsolete notions and the media promote them through television, radio and the press.

    The absurdities of religion concern things that do not exist: gods and goddesses, angels and demons, heavens and hells. They are fictions masquerading as fact. Tragically, the people who believe such things end up in confrontation over differences of absurdity. We have divided societies and conflicts in many parts of the world, based on differences of absurdity. Catholic v Protestant, Hindu v Muslim, Muslim v Jew, etc. All tragic and absurd.

    There is an alternative. In recent centuries a rational account of the evolution of life on planet Earth has been pieced together. There is also a rational approach to morality, based on the fact that we are all human and must share this planet or perish. The question is: can reason triumph over the absurdities, or will the absurdities smother that dissident voice?