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Religious attendance: Like snow in the sun January 8, 2017

Posted by WorldbyStorm in Uncategorized.
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We were discussing religious attendances a while back and talking to a friend recently on the same topic she made what I thought was a very good point. Her view was that it wasn’t the scandals that did for the Catholic Church or indeed any broader societal pressures but simply that they they functioned as a means of offering an excuse for people who, when all came to all from the off weren’t that pushed about weekly attendance. They went because there was a broad but diffuse social pressure. Once there was a way of lifting that pressure… well, that was it.

And I find that particularly interesting because it suggests that religious observance was never that deeply held, that religious belief likewise, on this island. None of this is to deny the very real pressures that the Catholic Church brought to be bear in both the secular and religious space. But once that pressure was lifted even slightly it was largely gone.

The idea of the Irish as particularly religious was probably always a crock. This was a phenomenon of observance which is of course different from faith.

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1. Phil - January 8, 2017

It’s as if all the anti-clerical rhetoric about the Church as a self-perpetuating, parasitical organisation with placemen everywhere, controlling people’s minds by fair means and foul, was actually an accurate description of the situation, seen from outside. But hardly anybody saw it that way, because there was continual low-level social pressure to keep the show on the road, and to do that without feeling like a hypocrite you’d need to internalise its values to some extent. And once you’d done that it would look and feel – to you – as if it was a simple matter of religious observance and religious faith, nothing to see here.

Remove (or reduce) the social pressure and it all goes phut. Reminds me of Communism in the Eastern Bloc after 1989.

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WorldbyStorm - January 8, 2017

I think it’s a very similar dynamic. Interesting the timing too, quite close.

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2. EWI - January 8, 2017

So, Facebook killed the Roman Catholic Church?

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WorldbyStorm - January 8, 2017

Long long before Facebook. Tipping point? Mid-1990s.

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GW - January 9, 2017

Funny – that’s my mother’s (a last-generation Catholic) take. She tells a story of talking to an inner-city priest about that time who summed the situation up as “We’ve lost them.”

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3. roddy - January 8, 2017

Church attendance is vastly down since my youth but the fact is to some degree the vast majority of Irish people still regard themselves as”catholic” For instance I would guess that something over 95% of those baptised as catholics would be buried after catholic funeral services.

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sonofstan - January 8, 2017

WBS might be able to correct me here, but I remember one of the priests at Tony Gregory’s funeral saying quite frankly that TG was not a believer, but that he had felt the ritual would be familiar and fitting for most people. People do it as a default option, but I’ve been at many funerals where secular ideas and values of the deceased are celebrated, and the religious element is close to an afterthought. I’ve also seen priests acknowledge gay relationships, second marriages and so on without any hesitation. Which is all to the good, and I think most priests these days are way ahead of what is taken to be the’traditional’ view of the church on such things.

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dublinstreams - January 8, 2017

while Gregory’s peers may be more familiar with that younger people won’t be so stuck with it and the less strictly traditiional church won’t be needed they can find a humanist to do it.

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Liberius - January 8, 2017

…most priests these days are way ahead of what is taken to be the ’traditional’ view of the church on such things.

They sort of have to be though, otherwise they’d find themselves even more irrelevant than they have already become. How many are sincere rather than just pragmatic?

There is a time-lag on all this though as older people are both more likely to be religious and more likely to die, so I’d say we should see increasingly irreligious funerals in the decades to come. For my part I’m on record with my family as wanting little more than cremation*, which is probably a little too stark for most, but then I’m not one for morbid fixation.

* There will be some who think that is hard on my family, but having seen people struggle to come to terms with death using the religious prescription I’m not convinced that it will be harder than that.

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WorldbyStorm - January 8, 2017

I don’t recall that bit SoS but very possible.

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benmadigan - January 8, 2017

my father, life-long atheist, who died a few of years ago, left strict instructions for a humanist, secular funeral followed by cremation. Not a priest, minister or rabbi about the place!!!

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4. dublinstreams - January 8, 2017

more generational? you ask how religious people were well you can’t seperate religion from social pressure they are the same thing, schools is still the issue though. How much stink can you kick up if you just trying to get your child a place.

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5. CL - January 8, 2017

‘Those who died or emigrated in the famine were disproportionately Irish speakers, mainly because the famine hit rural areas hardest and that is where Irish had survived the longest….

‘Before the famine, there is evidence that a large proportion of the population did not take any interest in the church. In fact, in rural Ireland, attendance figures show that only around half the population attended Mass regularly….
http://www.wesleyjohnston.com/users/ireland/past/famine/demographics_post.html

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6. roddy - January 8, 2017

Anyone who thinks a “humanist” funeral will ever catch on here is delusional.My brother who is far from “gospel greedy” attended one such event’described it as the most miserable experience of his life. There is nothing more beneficial to grieving relatives than the Irish way of handling death particularly the urban working class and rural peasant tradition of 2 nights wake and full church funeral with your neighbours taking turns to carry you up the road.A handful of middle class prats assembling at a crematorium after hiding their deceased relatives away for a couple of days in a funeral parlour makes me sick!

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Enzo - January 8, 2017

Ah, the old Catholo-Nationalist veil slips once again…

(I joke!)

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dublinstreams - January 8, 2017

atleast Pell gets paid :/

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RosencrantzisDead - January 8, 2017

such event’described it as the most miserable experience of his life.

As opposed to all the happy funerals, roddy?

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benmadigan - January 8, 2017

Actually we did have a 1 day wake in the house, a piper at the funeral and lots of people attending it, members of the family read extracts from favourite books, spoke about his life, grandsons played guitars and sang his favourite songs, grand-daughters made nice tributes.A moment’s silence before the coffin disappeared. Most mourners seemed like the way we organised it –
The benefit of a humanist/atheist funeral is you can organise it whatever way you or the deceased wants.
Maybe your brother attended a poorly organised one

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7. roddy - January 8, 2017

Rosencrantz, you have obviously no grasp of the sense of community solidarity which exists when somebody dies in places like my home area .And has someone who has had more than my fair share of bereavements,it definitely gets you through.

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RosencrantzisDead - January 8, 2017

Jesus, roddy, do you really think you are the only person from rural Ireland on the internet?

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Liberius - January 8, 2017

I’d say it’s worse than that, he seems to think none of us have ever suffered the loss of close relatives. It’s roddy though so who’s surprised?

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WorldbyStorm - January 8, 2017

There’s no question that a good religious send off, Catholic or CofI come to my mind, can be effective and on occasion uplifting. I’ve been through the death of a number of people close to me who did both and they worked well. But it’s not the only way and other ways can be as effective. Or not. It’s difficult when someone dies and however good/bad the ceremonies around them whether secular or religious the bottom line is that someone has died. Nor is this a competition – respect for those who died should extend to respect for the form of remembrance they choose be it religious or non-religious. Not agreement, but respect.

My gran didn’t have a funeral as such, she donated her body at 96 or so to medical science. Wanted to do some good for others when she went. She was then a recent convert from CofI to RCC (purely for convenience I think, the RCC church was closer and she was never heavy on the religious). So there was a large enough service and off she went in a sort of ambulance IIRC to the medical facility. She, or what was left post-donation, was cremated, which she was perfectly happy with in advance. I thought it was pretty neat all things considered. She – and I think of your crematorium point roddy – had a small group of closest family, five or six to a short Catholic service at the crematorium which was funny because no one knew the Rosary, which she would have found very entertaining and I figure worked out extremely well for everyone. There was nothing cold about it. Formally it was RCC but it was very human in the best sense of the term.

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yourcousin - January 8, 2017

So are either of you two seeking the mantle of “northerner from west of the Bann”?

Can either of you two drive a tractor and do you know how to mess with a carburetor?

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RosencrantzisDead - January 8, 2017

Can either of you two drive a tractor and do you know how to mess with a carburetor?

Ha! You cannot trick me. It is well known that no Catholics had tractors.

The Brits and the Unionists stopped us from having them.

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yourcousin - January 9, 2017

Ok soft hands, you caught me out.

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RosencrantzisDead - January 9, 2017

Mirror, mirror, on the wall,
who is the most working-class of them all?

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yourcousin - January 9, 2017

Not me anymore. Which says more about the CLR than me.

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GW - January 9, 2017

I could probably still do both, but you’d want to stand well back from the tractor and your carburetor wouldn’t thank me for the tinkering.

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RosencrantzisDead - January 9, 2017

Not me anymore. Which says more about the CLR than me.

Not so sure about that. No one else was keeping score.

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8. ivorthorne - January 8, 2017

It’s probably worth pointing out that attendance is still much higher than most of Europe. We are a country that values social conformity but what people are expected to conform to changes over time.

Religiosity is a difficult thing to measure. Church attendance is a pretty poor measure. Is somebody very religious when they attend a church every week but ignore the teachings of the religion? Catholicism is generally to the left of the centre of most Irish politics and yet it seems that many of those weekly church attenders are often to be found voting for the parties of the right.

Irish Catholics have always seemed to be to be more Irish than Catholic or Christian. That Catholicism was an element of their identity was important only in so far as it was a characteristic of being Irish (in the minds of some of these folk). The kind of liberal who gets a column in the Irish Times tends to think along the lines that Ireland and Irish would be great if it wasn’t for Catholicism and the influence of the Catholic clerics. They fail to understand that to a large extent, the Irish have only listened to the RCC when the RCC was telling the Irish what they wanted to hear.

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Dermot O Connor - January 9, 2017

QUOTE: Irish Catholics have always seemed to be to be more Irish than Catholic or Christian. That Catholicism was an element of their identity was important only in so far as it was a characteristic of being Irish (in the minds of some of these folk). The kind of liberal who gets a column in the Irish Times tends to think along the lines that Ireland and Irish would be great if it wasn’t for Catholicism and the influence of the Catholic clerics. They fail to understand that to a large extent, the Irish have only listened to the RCC when the RCC was telling the Irish what they wanted to hear. UNQUOTE

My thoughts, pretty much.

I’ve been in the US since 93, half my life now. Plenty of Mexican and Italian friends, both extremely Catholic countries / cultures. The Irish ‘misery / guilt’ complex which many Irish would blame on the RCC just isn’t in those people. Which leads me to think that the Catholic Church put a Christian gloss on what was a pre-existing Irish fatalism / pessimism.

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FergusD - January 9, 2017

Similar with the Irish in the UK. You went to a Catholic church, and often school (although not me fortunately, except for about 6 months) because that is what the “Irish” did. I must say I hated that conflation of Irish identity (even if second generation) and religion.

I did have an argument with my Dad when I was 16 about going to church. His argument was “how could I abandon teh religion of my ancestors who had died for it?”. Blimey. We came to a modus operandi. I went to different masses, well I left the house and came back later. In my twenties I dropped the pretence, even when at home, no problems.

None of us siblings are Catholic now, or the grandchildren. Not unusual.

My feeling is that, as stated above, especially amongst the Irish in the UK, RCC teaching was ignored if it wasn’t suitable. I sat through tedious, confused and intellectually bankrupt, sermons about birth control. But my parents never bought into RCC doctrine on that, or the rest of the family, or, I think, the majority of the congregation. The church wasn’t challenged on it, just ignored, quietly. Abortion was different, probably not now (in the UK).

My feeling was that English Catholics were true believers (a minority in a Protestant country), we (Irish families) were largely, but not all, cultural Catholics.

In my mid-twenties I was in hosptal in Birmingham for a minor op. I told them when checking in that my religion was “none” (this would have upset Mum, not sure about Dad at that stage). Lying in bed with about a mile of bandage up my nose (polyps) an Irish (natch) Catholic priest came to see me (Me: Jesus! It isn’t that serious is it!). He had noticed that I had said “No religion”. “That can’t be true” he said “with a name like yours”. I nearly exploded but I didn’t want to start bleeding. It was so wrong I was incoherent. Mid 1970s, there was a lot going on around “Irish”, and in some minds religion. What a p***k! As he left he said something like “I’m sure you will come round”. Nope, sorry. The worst part was he got in the last word!

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sonofstan - January 9, 2017

“Plenty of Mexican and Italian friends, both extremely Catholic countries / cultures. The Irish ‘misery / guilt’ complex which many Irish would blame on the RCC just isn’t in those people”

My experience too with catholics from elsewhere – i think (some of the) the particular ‘Irish’ version comes from the fact that the RCC went from underground to nearly the state chruch through the 19th c and basically grafted a repressive ‘Victorian’ protestant harshness onto the root – and then took over from the gentry the role of oppressor in chief that was going begging after the land war.

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RosencrantzisDead - January 9, 2017

Mexico is not good comparison since they had a strongly secular constitution and a substantial anti-religious movement. The most extreme version of this would have been the Calles laws of the 1920s, which effectively banned the clergy and severely restricted their ability to minister.

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ivorthorne - January 9, 2017

I seem to remember reading that the strain of Catholicism that was most successful in 20th century Ireland originated in 19th century France.

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fergal - January 9, 2017

Didn’t Sean O Faolain in one of his books mention that Maynooth- a gift from the Brits to the church as a cordon sanitaire against the United Irishmen-that some of the most reactionary French priests ended up in Kildare- having been expelled from France by republicans?

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ivorthorne - January 9, 2017

There’s a reference to it in this Colum Kenny column:

http://www.irishtimes.com/opinion/colum-kenny-who-will-rid-us-of-this-troublesome-maynooth-seminary-1.2745115

So, perhaps we can blame the French for the repression and guilt?

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9. roddy - January 8, 2017

Working class people in Belfast who never sat on a Massey or a Fordson manage to give their relatives a good send off too !

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Simon weisvicetal - January 9, 2017

I want a priest at my funeral. I want him burned alive as part of the ceremony.

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botheredbarney - January 9, 2017

That might make it a witches’ funeral pyre!

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10. irishelectionliterature - January 9, 2017

I think it was partly that but aside from the failings of the Church you also had the likes of Russell Murphy and others who were outwardly devout turning out to be crooks. I suppose there was also a questioning of things too in the 80’s and 90’s , things like Contraception, Divorce, pre marital sex etc when at the same time the Catholic Church was turning away from the possibilities that many hoped would come after Vatican 2 and going with an ultra conservative line which further alienated people.
Society changed and the Church went in the opposite direction.

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