Ireland is losing its religion at a rapid rate according to American researchers – and a top Irish theologian agrees.
University lecturers Daniel Abrams and Richard Wiener say that a study of the Irish census has damning revelations for the Catholic church and other religions.
Their view is backed up by leading religious writer and academic David Quinn who claims it ‘cannot be absolutely ruled out’ that religion could disappear in Ireland.
Northwestern University lecturer Abrams told the Irish edition of the Sunday Times that the churches need to heed the census findings.
In Ireland, the numbers who defined themselves as having no religious affiliation grew from 1,000 in 1961 to 186,000 in 2006.
The number defining themselves as Roman Catholics dropped from 95% in 1961 to 87% in 2006.
“The fastest growing trend in Ireland is for people to state they are unaffiliated to any organized religion,” stated Abrams.
“The findings were quite stark in Ireland particularly as it has gone from being a very religious country to a much less religious one in a short space of time.
“Only 0.04% of the Irish population said they were not affiliated to a religion in the 1961 census compared to 4.2% in 2006.
“Based on our model, 39% of the population in Ireland will describe themselves as unaffiliated by 2050.”
Research unveiled by the duo at the American Physical Society in Dallas also concluded that nine countries are losing their religion – Australia, Austria, the Czech Republic, Canada, Finland, Ireland, New Zealand, Holland and Switzerland.
David Quinn, a director at the religious think-tank Iona Institute and a respected commentator on the subject, told the Sunday Times that the disappearance of religion in Ireland couldn’t be discounted.
“But evidence from the even the most secular societies suggests there is an irreducible core of between five and 10 per cent who will keep the faith,” said Quinn.
“Three factors will ensure the survival of religion in Ireland,” he added.
First, immigration will play a role with more immigrants who have been raised with strong religious values.
“Studies have also shown that religious people have more children, suggesting fewer are likely to be raised atheists.
“Third, religious parents are also becoming better at protecting their children from the lure of secular society.”
Quinn also told the paper that he believes there is a chance of a religious revival in Europe.
“It is not unprecedented,” he said. “There was a revival in Britain in the 19th century, for example.”