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.
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.
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 Farquharcontinue to source article at secularism.org.uk