The Importance of Religion in Human Life

Topics: Salman Rushdie

Religion is a “social institution involving practices based upon a conception of the sacred” while religiosity “designates the importance of religion in a person’s life” (Macionis J., Plummer K., 2008, Society: A Global Introduction, Pearson Education M.U.A, p. 611).

The term ‘secularisation’ or ‘secularisation theory’ can be interpreted as “a set of social processes that entails a decline in the importance of religion about non-religious roles and institutions, such as those of the state and the economy; a decline in the social standing of religious roles and institutions; and a decline in how people engage in religious practices, display beliefs of a religious kind and conduct their lives in a manner informed by such beliefs” (Share P.

, Corcoran MD. & Conway B., 2012, Sociology of Ireland, Dublin, Gillmacmillen, 4th edition, p. 331). It is “commonly linked to such issues as the decline of community, urbanization, education, the changing nature of work, social mobility, and individualism” (Malesevic V., 2012, Irish Journal of Sociology, Ireland and Neo-Secularisation, Vol 18.

1, p. 23).

The concept of secularisation is a controversial topic in sociology for many reasons, mainly because there are so many different explanations for its occurrence. Many people have chosen to distance themselves from religion because of the Catholic Church’s history and its’ beliefs. However, many of the Irish population still consider themselves to be dedicated Catholics. In this essay, I will argue why and how secularisation has become more common throughout Ireland.

It is important to note that the process of secularisation is based on three different levels.

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The occurrence of secularisation in an individual is commonly known as micro. According to Malesevic (2012), this has come to be because of the decline in religious power held by the church as it “is widely regarded, even by its still committed members, as out of touch with life, in huge need of reform, reluctant to come to terms with the modern world or to learn from the experience of its people and, effectively, contributing to its demise” (Association of Catholic Priests, 2014,

Secularisation at a societal level is given the term mezzo. This level of analysis consists of one being fascinated by the different functions and areas of establishments and religious foundations (Malesevic V., 2012).

When secularisation occurs at an institutional level it is called macro. This includes state institutions, the church for example. “On the macro level of analysis, sociologists… analyze processes of differentiation that have shaped the formation of social structures after the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution” (Malesevic V, 2012).

The Troubles, “a violent thirty-year conflict framed by a civil rights and the Good Friday Agreement on 10 April 1998” (BBC History, represents a political cause of secularisation in Ireland. The aim of the Protestant ‘Unionists’ in Ireland was to remain united with Britain while the aim of Catholic ‘Republicans’ was to become part of the Republic of Ireland ( Although this war was a ‘territorial conflict, not a religious one’ (, it had a major effect on the religiousness of our nation. About Catholicism, “despite the lack of figures in Northern Ireland, the sentiment is that Catholics in Northern Ireland have a closer hold on their Catholic religion after having fought to keep it” (Irish Central Staff Writers, 2013, Irish Central, while Rev. Toman refers to “a very different experience of being [part of the] church in the north, we came through a difficult time during the Troubles and were grounded in the community” (, 2013).

It was almost impossible to distinguish between the Catholic Church in Ireland and the Irish government during the 20th century, which allowed many policies and laws to be greatly influenced by the Church’s motives (Williams C., 2017, The Circular, In 1968 “Pope Paul VI issued the Humanae vitae which decreed that artificial contraception in all forms was immoral [and] Catholics [were] obliged not to use artificial contraception.” The change began to occur in the “early 1970s” in Ireland when the Irish female population started to resist the rules of the Church (Doyle K., Workers Solidarity, No 47, 1996, “Contraception was demanded and won” (Doyle K., 1996). This was a strong movement in the ‘war’ between the Catholic Church and the Irish people.

The last ‘Magdalene Laundry’ or as they are sometimes known, ‘Magdalene Asylum’ closed in 2001, and “as the story was firstly reported in 1999, revelations have shocked the Irish people, embarrassed the Catholic Church, and tarnished the country’s image” (Feng V., 2003, Sunday Morning, For many years, young and old Irish women were imprisoned in these institutions against their will for a variety of reasons, including becoming pregnant outside marriage and being forced to live and work in unbearable conditions just to survive. These organizations were situated all around the country and were controlled and managed by the Catholic Church. These religious figures justified this unjust behavior by stating that they were helping these “fallen women”. The Magdalene Laundries represent the social inequality that Irish women had to endure during those years of hardship and are a strong example of a social cause of secularisation in modern Ireland. It is no doubt that the families and friends of some of the victims have chosen not to engage with the practices of the Catholic church because of this.

“The significant commitment to the union between a man and a woman that we call marriage is witnessed in written contracts since ancient times – almost as far back as the invention of writing” (Benavides G., Society Defines Marriage, Together for a lifetime, During the 1990s, it was almost impossible to walk down the street without seeing a poster with negative connotations about divorce. Let’s take this for example, “Hello Divorce … Bye Bye Daddy … Vote No!” (Meagher J, 2015, Independent, The Catholic Church was responsible for these kinds of messages and no doubt they “were well organized, they had plenty of money (including American money) and they weren’t afraid of the issues. They believe(d) in authoritarian solutions to the problems in Irish society and they believe(d) in forcing things down people’s throats” (Doyle K., 1996). In late November 1995, the divorce referendum in Ireland was held, and “was passed by a small margin of 50.28% to 49.72%” (Bowman J., 1995, RTE Archives,

A strong movement that demonstrates secularisation in Irish society took place in 2015, and the legalization of same-sex marriage was what changed our country for the better. The Irish people were asked if they would like to amend the Constitution of Ireland to allow same-sex couples to marry. The results of this referendum displayed a 62% turnout for change and a 38% turnout for no change (Ó Caollaí É., Hilliard M., 2015, The Irish Times, It is no secret that the Catholic Church does not agree with this concept and it has been frowned upon by Catholics for many years. This referendum was “a most bitter defeat for the hierarchy of the Catholic church, a sign that its power and influence is ebbing away, and may yet be consigned to oblivion” (Bielenberg K., 2015, Independent,

A recent amendment of the Constitution in Ireland removed the Eighth Amendment which declares that “The State acknowledges the right to life of the unborn and, with due regard to the equal right to life of the mother, guarantees in its laws to respect, and, as far as practicable, by its laws to defend and vindicate that right” (1983, Irish Statute Book). The build-up to the referendum caused many controversies and arguments between many politicians and the public. The Catholic Church was preaching a ‘No’ vote which did cause some people to move closer to the Church, but which also resulted in people leaving the Church. The removal of this article was decided through a vote “with a turnout of 64.1%, all but one constituency voted in favor of the Yes campaign with twice the number of votes cast for No” (Henley J., 2018, The Guardian, www. the

An ongoing problem that supports secularisation but is not as clear as the results of the same-sex referendum is the shortage of priests as the priesthood becomes an “aging workforce” because of our generation being disinterested in the life of a cleric (O’ Doherty M., 2017, Belfast Telegraph, This lifestyle does not have the same appealing association as it did twenty years ago, Catholic figureheads are a lot more scrutinized now than they were back then. The main reason for this is the revelation of horrific stories of victims who suffered abuse at the hands of those people in power. “Allegations of sexual abuse by members of the Catholic institutions and clerics began to emerge from the late 1980s. However, it was not until the 1990s that revelations of pedophile priests and sex abuse in children’s homes were publicly exposed following pressure from victims and survivors as well as public opinion and media reports” (McCurry C., 2018, Irish Mirror,

In April 2009, it was announced by the Irish Justice Minister that blasphemy would become a criminal offense in Ireland, resurfacing the crime of blasphemy that the Supreme Court did not find to be constitutional years before (Blasphemy. ie, Repeal the Irish Law by Atheist Ireland, “Blasphemy means speaking evil of sacred matters. Where organized religion exists, blasphemy is taboo” (Levy L., Blasphemy: Verbal Offense Against the Sacred, from Moses to Salman Rushdie, London, The University of North Carolina Press, p. 3). “A person found guilty of blasphemy in Ireland can be liable to a fine of up to €25,000” (Timsit A., 2018, Everything you need to know about Ireland’s blasphemy vote, Quartz, On Friday, October 26th, Republic of Ireland citizens voted to decide whether their nation can speak sacrilegiously about God or sacred things without legal consequences (Timsit A., 2018). The exit polls indicated that we were ready to leave behind the act of blasphemy being punishable by law in Ireland, and by right they were correct. The results of this vote were 64.85% Yes and 35.15% No, Donegal being “one of the highest percentages of ‘No’ votes” (Donegal Now, 2018, The winning Yes vote demonstrates secularisation in Ireland as it represents the people of Ireland wanting to allow freedom of speech against the Church without any punishment.

A serious consequence of secularisation present in modern society is the high rates of crime and criminal behavior. “At the individual level of analysis, evidence has accumulated in support of the hypothesis that persons who are most religious commit crimes at lower rates than those who are least religious”(Ellis L., Peterson J., 1996, Volume 20 Issue 6, Personality and Individual Differences, Crime, and religion: An international comparison among thirteen industrial nations, This ‘study’ of social crime about secularisation revealed the presence of criminal behavior was significantly higher and a lot more common within a group of people who considered themselves not to be religious in comparison to individuals who considered themselves to be religious.

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The Importance of Religion in Human Life. (2022, May 11). Retrieved from

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