Monday, 10 December 2007

Blind faith: Northern Ireland's christianity based on ignorance

It is hard to know what to make of the results of a survey carried out by several religious groups which suggest that knowledge of Christianity in Northern Ireland is lagging behind that of the south.

The groups themselves have sprung to the conclusion that Ireland, north or south, cannot be referred to as “Christian” any longer. Their inference is that this is not a good thing and developing secularism is a negative trend. Naturally I would reject such a contention. In any case other surveys tend to suggest that Christianity still flourishes. Northern Ireland has been found to be the most “pious region” in the UK.

I would be willing to wager that a survey of religious affiliation would reveal a far greater adherence to some manner of religious label than in any other part of the UK or indeed than in the Republic of Ireland. There is an element of political or ethnic identification in the readiness of people here to declare belonging to a branch of Christianity, but that very fact contributes to a more complicated picture.

The inference that I would draw is that many people in Northern Ireland increasingly retain residual links to religion which are not backed up by knowledge and do not necessarily translate into deeply held or thoughtfully considered beliefs. There is a tendency to adopt Christianity simply because of tradition and a reflexive conservatism that sits well with some of its principle tenets.

In many respects this attitude brings with it all the negative baggage of religious belief with none of its redeeming features. Christianity retains inordinate influence whilst many who defer to it do so only out of nominal convictions. All that piety and none of it backed up by knowledge or a thoughtful commitment to faith.

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