How to make “nones” disappear: a lesson in statistics from Northern Ireland

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There is an old Belfast joke about the man stopped at a roadblock and asked his religion. When he replies that he is an atheist he is asked, “Protestant or Catholic atheist?” (Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great, 2007) 


This week’s press coverage of the census results for Northern Ireland has focused on the small relative increase in the Catholic population. As an atheist and secularist, however, my attention was focused on the percentage of the population who do not identify as religious.

The dramatic increase in those who state that they have no religion in England and Wales (15% in 2001 and 25% in 2011) appears to have little parallel in Northern Ireland. The coverage seems to suggest a much lower incidence of atheism than England and Wales and a corresponding higher level of religiosity with over 93% of the population identifying as either Protestant or Catholic.

From the BBC:

The census reveals 48% of the resident population are either Protestant or brought up Protestant, a drop of 5% from the 2001 census. 45% of the resident population are either Catholic or brought up Catholic, an increase of 1%.

7% say they either belong to another religion or none.

And from the UTV website:

The figures published on Tuesday also show 45% of people say they are Catholic – a slight rise since the 2001 census. But the numbers who say they are or were brought up Protestant has fallen by 5% to 48%.

Just over 5% of people in Northern Ireland said they do not belong to any religion.

A look at the real statistics however reveals these reports to be misleading and inaccurate, a situation aggravated by the wording of the NI census which differs in significant ways from the census of England and Wales.

Written By: Jill Farquhar
continue to source article at secularism.org.uk

13 COMMENTS

  1. So the politicians in Northern Ireland put in their two-penneth-worth to ensure the census continues to support a picture of a sectarian divide …

    Religions are at each other’s throats in Northern Ireland.

    Fear rules in Northern Ireland.

    Why anyone would be surprised is beyond me.

    Peace.

  2. In reply to #3 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

    So the politicians in Northern Ireland put in their two-penneth-worth to ensure the census continues to support a picture of a sectarian divide …

    Religions are at each other’s throats in Northern Ireland.

    Fear rules in Northern Ireland.

    Why anyone would be surprised is beyond me.

    Peace.

    The situation in Northern Ireland isn’t really about religion. Where’s Ignorant Amos when you need him?

  3. In reply to #6 by mcstu:

    Being asked if you are “Protestant or Catholic atheist?” is a joke?
    I live in Northern Ireland and that has actually happened to me more than once. (Though not at a roadblock.)

    A doorstep survey in Northern Ireland in the 1970s had a questionnaire with room for only 1 bit of information as answer to the religion question. In the spirit of GWB in 2001, you were either with them or against them.

  4. In reply to #4 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #3 by Stephen of Wimbledon:

    So the politicians in Northern Ireland put in their two-penneth-worth to ensure the census continues to support a picture of a sectarian divide …

    Religions are at each other’s throats in Northern Ireland.

    Fear rules in Northern Ireland.

    Why anyone would be surprised is beyond me.

    Peace.

    The situation in Northern Ireland isn’t really about religion. Where’s Ignorant Amos when you need him?

    Religion and politics have gone hand in glove in Northern Ireland for 800 years. Way back at the beginning when Henry the First asked permission of the pope of the day to allow an invasion of Ireland at the bequest of an ambitious Irish chieftain seeking overall rule of Ireland by usurping power from the other ruling chieftains. Of course the pope gave the green light because the holy see was losing grip on the rapidly becoming religious Irish and that would never do.

    Religion has been the cause of many a human life in Ireland. It breeds bigotry….the politics, tribalism and religious fervency have been inseparable for many in Ireland. Not always in the same manner. Presbyterian’s founded the United Irishmen. Religious persecution caused the flight of many of the wrong flavour of Protestants to America in the late 1600’s and early 1700’s…known as the Hill Billies of the southern states.

    All a bit more complicated than I make it as I’m sure you understand, but there is no doubt it is religious sectarianism that plays a large part in the big picture.

  5. I always recommend to Northern Irelanders that it is in their interest to dump their religion.
    There is still a form of religious apartheid there; involving quasi criminal gangs as their core.

  6. In reply to #9 by Ignorant Amos:

    Sorry…wrong Henry…Henry II a meant to say, and of course it wouldn’t have been Northern Ireland back in them there days, just the north of Ireland….but ya get the jest.

    I always make a point of saying the north of Ireland. I don’t quite know why I give a toss but I do.

    S G

  7. In reply to #4 by Katy Cordeth:

    In reply to #3 by Stephen of Wimbledon:So the politicians in Northern Ireland put in their two-penneth-worth to ensure the census continues to support a picture of a sectarian divide …Religions are at each other’s throats in Northern Ireland.Fear rules in Northern Ireland.Why anyone would be surprised is beyond me.Peace.The situation in Northern Ireland isn’t really about religion. Where’s Ignorant Amos when you need him?

    In a nutshell, some of the people want their laws based on democracy with infuence from Great Britain and others want laws based on Catholocism with infuence from the pope. How is that situation not about religion at its very core?

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