A couple of news stories that seem entirely unrelated caught my eye in the last day or so. In one of its increasingly-frequent moments of press-release-publishing vacuity, breakingnews.ie reports that... well, just read the headline.
It's nonsense, of course. The very words 'online survey' are enough to confirm that. The only distressing part of the story is that it seems that 67% of respondents took it seriously. But why is it nonsense? Why shouldn't we treat it seriously? The country has a long history of believing such things. In fact, in the introduction to his Book of Fairy and Folk Tales of the Irish Peasantry published a little over a hundred years ago, WB Yeats recounts his asking a Sligo man if he believed in fairies. "Sure, amn't I annoyed with them", was the answer.
Even today, such beliefs still exist, but for most people the belief is in a magic man who lived two thousand years ago rather than wee folk sitting on pots of gold. There is some hope, though.
The BBC is reporting that Ireland is one of nine countries in which religion will in time become extinct. One's first thought is, of course, that in time it should become extinct everywhere; we can only assume that they mean the relatively near future. Reading the paper they cited (pdf) was to a certain extent futile for one as lacking in erudition as I, but I was able to glean a certain amount from it; enough that I think they were being optimistic, but not overly so. Furthermore, in the specific case of Ireland, there are also other reasons for thinking that it might be a distinct possibility.
There's no doubt that the church has always been in a powerful position in Ireland, but it was really only with the advent of the Free State that they were directly able to affect policy (one thinks immediately of Dev and his relationship with Archbishop John Charles McQuaid). And although their behind-the-scenes power gradually decreased, it's really only since the turn of the millennium that they've seen their temporal -- not to mention moral -- authority diminish significantly.
And now we find ourselves in a position where Fianna Fáil, a party that's corrupt to its core, yet one that has ruled more or less continuously since the days of De Valera, has been eviscerated. Curiously, this was only peripherally related to their pernicious greed, and more to do with their staggering incompetence.
Could the church suffer a similar fate? It certainly deserves to. As more and more details of their atrocities come out, it becomes more and more obvious that any hand-wringing or mealy-mouthed apologies are intended only to save the church's position (or 'special position', as the constitution had it until 1972). If the details hadn't become so public via the church's many victims, would it have volunteered them? The can hardly be a single individual in the state who thinks it would.
And so, coupled with the appetite for change (genuine change, and not the vacuous change espoused by the former opposition), there's the distinct possibility that the rate of abandonment will accelerate. The generation currently in school could well be the last to grow up in a state where the church controls most primary and secondary education, where the church is seen as an arbiter of morality rather than a malevolent organisation dedicated to the protection of rapists, where the prevailing thought is "suffer little children to come unto me" rather than simply "suffer, little children".
All this is cold comfort, of course, to the church's thousands of victims. Enlightenment was always going to come at a price, but it's unlikely that even the most pessimistic expected it to be this high.