Is Ireland Losing Its Religion?

A church in Ireland.
A church in Ireland.

By Michelle Meagher, Editorial Assistant
October / November 2012

A new Gallup poll indicates a decline in religious affiliation in Ireland.

Fifty years ago, Ireland was one of the most religious countries in Europe, but according to a recently released poll, taken by the Gallup International in 2011, Ireland now ranks among the top ten atheist nations worldwide. These results are a huge shift from the last poll, in 2005. In the six years between the two, one in five Irish set aside religion.  These results indicate that of the Western nations, Ireland is losing its religious identity the fastest.

The Gallup  poll, titled the Global Index of Religion and Atheism, asked 50,000 people in 57 countries “irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person or a convinced atheist?”  The 2005 poll showed that 69% of the Irish respondents considered themselves religious, 25% as not religious, and 3% as convinced atheists. In 2011, 47% considered themselves religious, 44% not religious and 10% convinced atheists. These most recent poll results reflect a 22% drop in religious identification among the Irish in just six years, with a corresponding increase in both “not religious” and “convinced atheist” categories. Some suggest the study could reflect the shattered trust and negativity surrounding the numerous sex-abuse scandals and corruption within the Church, “rocking established religion in the predominately Roman Catholic country.”

In a rebuttal to the poll’s results, a spokesperson for the Catholic Communications Office said that religion is not a “numbers game” and that the word “religious’” is too general to be used as the key word in a survey, especially in Ireland where the people prefer words like “spiritual.”

Numbers game or not, Ireland ties with Austria, Iceland and Australia with ten percent of respondents in the “convinced atheist” category.

Ireland is not the only country showing a significant decline in religious identity – the United States saw a 13% drop in religious identification over the same period.

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