Éirinn go Brách!!!

May 23, 2015

As you all have probably heard by now, voters in the Republic of Ireland have voted heavily in favor of marriage equality.


Reports are that the turnout was very high by recent standards, especially among the young; and Irish citizens resident abroad returned home in significant numbers to vote (international mail ballots were not allowed). Naturally the largest majorities were in Dublin, but rural areas voted in favor also, just more narrowly; only one electoral district seems to have voted “no,” and that also by a rather small margin.

It has been pointed out that these same rural areas voted against the 1996 divorce referendum which passed very narrowly on the basis of support in the capital.

Maybe some people just want gays to have an equal right to be trapped in unhappy marriages.

More likely, the shift is a symptom of the loss of authority on the part of the Catholic Church. Whereas not too recently the Irish were considered the most pious nation in Europe, the last couple of decades of sex abuse scandals, along with general modernization and cosmopolitanization of society at large, have taken a toll; church attendance, once over 90%, has declined to levels closer to those in the rest of Western Europe, espcially (of course) in Dublin and especially among the young. The speed of secularization in Ireland is reminiscent of the Quiet Revolution in once ultra-pious French Canada.

So there’s more to write about the decline of religion in the modern world; stay tuned.


More Nones

June 25, 2012

Not long after posting my piece on Australia, I ran into a news item from York County, PA: not only has church membership declined there in the past 10 years, the decline has considerably exceeded the national average. 14% as against 2%. The ELCA, which had been the largest denomination there, lost almost nine thousand members, or over 20%, making them less numerous than the Catholics who only lost two thousand. Presbyterians and UCC also suffered large losses percentagewise; Methodists aren’t doing quite so badly, more in the same range as the Catholics.

Conservatives may say all those liberal denominations are losing because they’ve lost touch with the Biblical roots of their faith and thus alienated most of their adherents; but in fact Southern Baptists are down also, and as I’ve noted before, the more conservative Lutheran denominations aren’t doing much better than ELCA.

All these numbers are from ARDA, the Association of Religion Data Archives; they’re all available online, so you can pick your favorite county or denomination or whatever and track its growth or decline over the past 30 years.

What I want to know is what, if anything, is special about York County. I know that it’s in a part of the state where overall population is growing somewhat; that’s about it. Someday I’ll have to go through the ARDA database and check out all the neighboring counties, then look up what else is happening there, politically, economically etc.

Meanwhile I’ll close with this: the article quotes a church spokesman as saying, “These people have not stopped practicing over any serious doctrinal disagreement… mostly, they stopped attending out of habit.” I think this is probably true to some extent; but the opposite side of the coin is that their former attendance didn’t imply any serious doctrinal agreement either; it too was largely out of habit, and the same is true of most of those who still attend.

Nones Down Under

June 22, 2012

Just a brief note on a recent news item: the 2011 Australian Census reveals a large rise in the number of people claiming to belong to no religion: over 22%, up from just under 19% as recently as 2006. 61% of Aussies still consider themselves one or another sort of Christian, and the Roman Catholics are still the largest single group, but all other denominations – most recently the Anglicans – have been overtaken by the Nones.

Hinduism and Islam are growing, mainly due to immigration.

I saw somewhere, apparently not in the linked article, that unsurprisingly the growth of the Nones is greatest among the young.

All this shows that the whole Western world is undergoing the same sort of transition. I recall that a few decades ago Holland was roughly where Australia is now: the non-religious got into the news for overtaking the individual Protestant denominations, then a census or two later they outnumbered the Catholics too. Now they are close to half the population, outnumbering all the Christian churches combined.

In countries where a single denomination is dominant, you’re more likely to see a higher rate of nominal membership, but not much widespread participation.

Stay tuned. I’d like to write about a number of things, the trend towards Calvinism among the Southern Baptists, the question of whether the Catholic church should welcome becoming leaner and meaner, and the like; and starting next week I should have more time to do it!

Nones in the news

June 8, 2012

It’s been known for some time that religious affiliation has been declining in the United States, especially among the young. The American Religious Identification Survey (ARIS) published by Trinity College in 2008 definitively established the “Nones” – people with no stated religious preference, atheists, and agnostics – as a major and growing feature of our religious landscape. It was not immediately obvious, however, whether this change was  primarily a matter of people changing their minds over the course of time, or of the younger generation starting out less religious and gradually aging into demographic prominence as their elders died out. Differentiating between age effects and generational effects is not something we usually think to do, nor is it usually all that easy.

So a hat-tip to the Friendly Atheist for pointing me to this new study from the team at Trinity. They’ve gone through all their data and teased out the figures by generation, following longitudinally the so-called “Gen X” (those born between 1965 and ’72). The results are quite striking. In 1990, when the group in question was aged 18-25, “Nones” were 11%; in 2008, having advanced onto or just over the threshhold of middle age, that number had gone up to 16%. An estimated 2.2 million people, during precisely the years when  they were supposed to be settling down from adolescent friskiness and returning to religion, seem to have lost theirs  instead.

By denomination, the decline was especially significant among Catholics and Baptists. However, I suspect that most of the lost Baptists actually drifted into “Generic Christian” category, which gained just about as much as the “Nones” and tends to be made up of Bible-focused conservative Evangelicals. The Catholic loss is likely more serious;  the rate of disaffiliation was more than enough to compensate for the swelling of this age group by immigration, much of which is from Catholic countries, and my sense is that lapsed Catholics are more likely to leave Christianity altogether than to join conservative Protestant churches, though surely some do. (I do know quite a few ex-Catholics at my UU church…)

By the way, the same study also deals with politics; Gen X has been becoming more Democratic and less Republican.




First, a celebratory occasion: the ordination of three former Church of England bishops as Catholic priests under the new Ordinariate, a scheme to allow Anglican cross-overs to retain aspects of their own patrimony under the Roman magisterium. Then, two items reminding us all of the less joyous bits of the Church’s recent history: the revelation of a 1997 letter from the Vatican cautioning the Irish hierarchy against automatically reporting accused pedophile priests to the police, and here in Boston the decision of abuse victims’ lawyer Mitchell Garabedian to publicize a list of accused priests, claiming that the Archdiocese was reneging on a commitment to reveal the names itself.

Bear in mind also that the principal factor in the recent defections to Rome from the Church of England is the recent decision of the latter to allow the consecration of women bishops.

There are things I have always admired about the Catholic Church. The corpus of systematic thought, the liturgy, the human infrastructure. The commitment to service to the poor and needy. And whenever in my life I have found myself thinking too seriously about these things, I could always count on the Pope or some Cardinal to say or do something to remind me of all the reasons I am happy not to be a Catholic.  Some would say this proves there is a God. Or a devil.

One of my ex-Catholic friends says she has quit eating eggs Benedict. I suggested instead renaming them. Freedom eggs, perhaps. Or eggs Heretic.