By ERASMUS- The economist


Ireland is a country who famous with its conservative rule and the most one who maintained with its organised a sudden shock for the world's followers to the news of Ireland government hit them recently said that... a new a young, openly gay, half-Indian originality came as (prime minister),what meant as a sign of Ireland’s move towards the secularism. A country where organised Christianity was once exceptionally well entrenched is now, it seems,that it abandoning the beliefs, practices and taboos mandated by that religion with unusual speed.

That is certainly part of the story, but the picture is more complicated than that. In the Irish republic, the overwhelming majority of citizens still describe themselves as Roman Catholic, though the percentage is slipping fast. In the census taken last year, 78% identified with that faith, a drop of six percentage points since 2011. Over the same five years, the number of Irish people professing no religion jumped by 74% to reach 468,000, nearly a tenth of the population. Religions followed mainly by newcomers showed remarkable growth: the Muslim population rose nearly 30% to 63,000, and Orthodox Christians (mostly from Romania and ex-Soviet lands) number 65,000, an increase of 38%.

To state the obvious, the standing of Ireland’s Catholic church has been devastated by revelations of clerical child abuse and in particular, of shabby collusion between church and state authorities in covering up such practices. In recent years, attention has focused on the dreadful suffering that occurred in religiously run establishments such as industrial schools for boys and “Magdalene laundries”, where so-called “fallen women” were obliged to work in prison-like conditions.

One consequence is that the institutional prestige of the church and its associated bodies has declined much faster than has faith itself. Vocations to the priesthood have fallen to a trickle, and the social power wielded by religious orders is a fading memory. As a result, many pastoral jobs once done by priests are now carried out by married deacons, a lower rank of ecclesiastical office. In Dublin in particular, vast churches built to accommodate a burgeoning flock in the 1950 s now stand empty. But the culture of Catholicism remains robust, helped by the fact that the church retains its sway over elementary education. In 2015, religious rites were still the popular form of wedding, accounting for 66% of unions against 28% for civil ceremonies. Some 57% of nuptials were Catholic. In many schools, elaborate and expensive first-communion ceremonies in the Catholic church are an important rite of passage for almost all youngsters.

But in the referendum campaign in 2015 on same-sex marriage, which culminated in a “yes” vote of 62% to 38%, it was noticeable that the church itself raised only a muffled voice in opposition to the change, sensing that the country was in no mood to hear moral lectures from the pulpit. Most of the “no” campaigning was done by lay social-conservative lobbies, such as the Iona Institute. Many politicians and public figures who were practising Catholics came out for a “yes” vote. Given the relatively cautious tone of the “no” campaign, it was remarkable (and troubling to social liberals) that opponents of the proposal still numbered nearly 40%.

In some ways, the religious scene in Ireland is an extreme form of a phenomenon that is familiar across Europe. For historical reasons, organised Christianity still enjoys considerable resources, infrastructure and legal heft, out of proportion to the respect it commands among ordinary people; and the church, sensing public scepticism, is gradually learning to use those privileges somewhat cautiously, although in Ireland it took a lamentably long time to absorb this lesson.

That permanent tension (between historic power and secularism reality) makes for some hard public-policy arguments, the outcome of which is never easy to predict. In recent weeks, there was uproar over a decision by the government to transfer a new maternity hospital to a campus of medical facilities belonging to a religious order, the Sisters of Charity, previously associated with abusive institutions. A respected obstetrician resigned from the hospital board in protest and 100,000 people quickly signed an online petition against the decision, made by one of Mr Varadkar’s cabinet colleagues. The religious order duly announced it was withdrawing from all involvement with the campus.

Also in recent days, there was a debate in the Irish parliament on a proposal to secularise state-funded education, ending devotional teaching and insisting on an open admissions policy for all schools. But the bill was opposed by the country’s two main parties, including Mr Varadkar’s centre-right Fine Gael. Their argument was that the bill would compromise the religious freedom laid down by the constitution. In particular, it was asserted, the measure would stop minority religions maintaining their own schools. A small but robust minority of Irish secularists, including the lobby group Atheist Ireland, retorts that the current emphasis on devotional education infringes the rights of many non-religious people, as well as small religious groups like the Ahmadi Muslims. On this point Mr Varadkar may be at odds with some of his party colleagues; he has shown openness to proposals to remove devotional classes from the curriculum, while others in Fine Gael resist that idea. 

The fortunes of organised Irish Christianity are likely to ebb and flow for years to come. The long-term trend is towards secularism, in other words a reduction in religion’s institutional power and in its ability to dictate people’s personal lives. But even that is not the whole story. Ireland has always had a homely, popular religion that depended only partially on the sanction of priests: a devotion to pilgrimage routes and holy landscapes; a fondness for popular books about angels; a feeling that life’s biggest moments should have some sacred dimension, however it might be expressed. Such things are hard to measure, but anecdotal evidence suggests in the land of saints and scholars, this kind of semi-private spirituality is alive and well.

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