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Austin Cline

Atheism in Ireland

By June 18, 2005

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Actually being an atheist/humanist in Ireland is very easy. Easier, I would imagine, than the US. In the US, as you know, not believing in God is considered somehow un-American. The strongest Irish nationalists, on the other hand, are often socialists/republicans (in the Irish rather than US sense of the word republican) so nobody accuses atheists of not being 'Irish'.

CK, a reader from Ireland, continues:

While most Irish people do profess a nominal faith, only the older generation is really observant - people over 60 usually; and many Irish catholics have a healthy skepticism if not downright hostility to the institution of the RC church. Still, it is true that the church has an undue influence in educational and health matters, and it really enrages me that so many of my peers who are not observant, or even believers, are prepared to go through the essentially communal motions of a church wedding, baptism etc...

The big difference between Ireland and the US, as far as I can see, is in terns of the ubiquity of the work 'God' in US public life. Any European leader who used the word even 20% as much as either of the candidates in the last US election would be laughed out of the ring as a raving loony. And as for the hypocrisy about people private sexual lives etc...our current Prime Minister has been living with someone other than his wife for decades. No big deal. I'd say if we had a national referendum tomorrow on gay marriage, it would have a pretty good chance of passing.

I am of course just talking about the Republic of Ireland, you understand. Northern Ireland is not just another jurisdiction, it's another planet.

It is interesting that Ireland, long a staunchly Catholic society, has become so secular and almost irreligious. I wonder how much is due to outside influences and how much due to internal social development. It's also interesting that non-observant Irish still go through so many of the motions of being religious and pious. Perhaps these are signs of a "cultural Catholicism," akin to a "cultural Judaism" which allows a person to be an atheist Jew.

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Why shouldn’t an atheist, already brought up as religious not get married in a church? If you perform the ceremony for purely ritualistic enjoyment without the belief in the religious ceremony then what is the harm? Attacking so called “cultural Judaism” or “cultural Christianity” is just polemical and just as bad as the religions who over the centuries told people how to live their lives. Atheism is freedom of choice on how to live ones life and if someone chooses to go through the religious ceremonies who does not believe in a divine creator then surely that is their freedom to do so. Polemicism amongst Atheists is actually hurtful to the cause. Put forward the arguments as I do and let the people decide what they wish to do with the information, what would be hypocrisy would be to force Atheism down the throats of people like so many religious leaders have done in the past. After all doesn’t Richard Dawkins even believe that some cultural rituals cause no harm, such as Santa Claus, and don’t forget that he has married 3 times. Now Baptism is a whole other kettle of fish altogether and I would say indoctrinating a child is wrong. It should be his/her choice when they are old enough to examine all the evidence and faiths out there.

July 14, 2008 at 5:49 pm
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