Surveying religious conviction is meaningless
DESPITE THEIR trumpeting by a media determined to jump on anything to “prove” its God-is- dead, long-live-the-media thesis, the findings of this week’s so-called religiosity index poll are all but entirely devoid of meaning.
A Red C press release summarising the results of the WIN-Gallup “global index of religions and atheism” announced on Wednesday that Ireland now rates as one of the world’s “least religious countries”, with fewer than half of us describing ourselves as “religious”.
But what does this mean? The main question of the poll, asked of 51,927 people in 57 countries, was: “Irrespective of whether you attend a place of worship or not, would you say you are a religious person, not a religious person, or a convinced atheist?”
The only vaguely reliable element of these findings as far as Ireland is concerned is that referring to “convinced atheists”, a category that has shown a three-point rise, from 10 per cent to 13 per cent, since the last such poll in 2005. Even this finding is ambiguous, since atheism Irish-style clearly embraces a wide spectrum of people, from existentialists to lazy-minded anti-Catholic bigots.
The core problem with the poll, then, has to do with terminology.
What does the word “religious” actually mean? What, indeed, does “religion” mean? How can anyone ask a question about “religion” with any confidence about finding consistency of understanding as to the meaning of the word? Religion is really the science of the total meaning of things, the word “science” having the same roots as the word “knowledge”. Religion is an attempt by man to fill himself with a knowledge of everything.
In this poll, however, it is clear that the question has a subtext relating to what we used to describe as “‘atin’ the altar rails”. This is reinforced by the inclusion in the poll findings of a “religiosity index” of countries worldwide, as well as liberal references to concepts such as “religiosity among the poor”.
But the word “religiosity” does not mean what the compilers of this poll appear to assume. “Religiosity” relates not to the concept “religious” but to “religiose” – the condition of being “excessively” religious.
This is not a semantic objection. It is obvious that the WIN-Gallup/Red C poll was conducted and published with a certain ideological agenda in mind. This is clear from the published details but would most likely have been clear also to many of the people surveyed, as they answered the questions.
This ideological context (detectable in statements such as “the richer you get, the less religious you define yourself”) can be summarised as follows: “Religion, being about fear and superstition, is a symptom of poor, uneducated societies.” This assumption drips from virtually every finding and turn of phrase in the published poll documents.