Christianity in Ireland 'disappearing from general knowledge'

By staff writers
December 10, 2007

Levels of religious knowledge throughout Ireland are decreasing significantly, and in Northern Ireland are even lower than in the Republic according to a new poll.

The poll, believed to be the first ever conducted on the subject in Northern Ireland, is the follow-up to a religious knowledge poll conducted in the Republic of Ireland on behalf of The Iona Institute and the Evangelical Alliance Ireland (EAI) which was released in April.

This found low levels of basic religious knowledge in the population, especially among young people.

The latest poll allows a comparison between levels of religious knowledge in the North and South, and between Northern Catholics and Northern Protestants. Those organising the poll conclude that, contrary to popular belief, Northern Ireland is less religious than the South.

It was already known that church attendance figures in the North were lower than in the South.

The poll found that levels of religious knowledge among Northern and Southern Catholics were roughly the same. However, in general, levels of religious knowledge among Northern Protestants were lower than among Northern Catholics.

The one question where protestants were more likely to know the answer was when asked what the first book of the Bible was. 68% of Protestants knew it was Genesis, compared to only 54% of Catholic.

However only 42% of respondents in the North knew there were four Gospels. 39% of Catholics knew the first of the 10 Commandments, compared to 26% of Protestants.

Unsurprisingly, the poll also found a marked difference between the levels of knowledge found among younger and older age groups. This means religious knowledge is in decline. Just 21% of NI respondents aged 16-24 could say there are four Gospels.

Responding to the opinion poll, Mr Stephen Cave of Evangelical Alliance (Northern Ireland), said: "The results of this poll throw serious doubt on the claim that we are a 'Christian country'. Overall the figures are not good but the drop in knowledge, almost halved within a generation, indicates that the Christian faith is becoming less meaningful to those under 25 years of age. The findings present a serious challenge to the church and those involved in religious education."

Mr David Quinn of The Iona Institute commented: “It's likely that many people will find the Northern Ireland results surprising in that the general impression is that the North is more religious than the South. Judged by both religious practice and religious knowledge this is definitely not the case. It's time to consign that notion to the dust-bin."

He continued: "As with the poll conducted in the South, we find that levels of religious knowledge in the North are very low, especially among young people. It shows that knowledge of Christianity, both North and South, is disappearing from general knowledge."

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