In the wake of the peace settlement in Northern Ireland, secularism has advanced among both Protestants and Catholics, according to David Porter, director of the Center for Contemporary Christianity in Belfast.
Although Northern Ireland has always been at the top of the charts on belief and church attendance (both among Protestants and Catholics) and the churches were instrumental in peace talks, “every church has shown a rapid decline,” said Porter during a talk at Columbia University in New York in mid-November. He added that the “Presbyterians in east Belfast are collecting around super-congregations, for example. A small number of churches attracting a disproportionate number, who are evangelical.
More traditional forms are falling away.” Porter adds that there is a “religious weariness in Northern Ireland. Everyone is tired. Our energy is spent [by] religion. In the south it is gone. It is a totally secular, globally capitalist society.” Asked what will take the place of religion, he responded, “A hedonistic nightlife. Gangs. Drinking. Money. Materialism.” Yet Porter said that there is evidence that the younger generation in Northern Ireland is more radical and divided than older ones.
Today’s students are more Catholic and are more likely to vote for Sinn Fein, often angry at the discrimination and sometimes violence their parents faced. The number of intermarriages is still “very small,” and there is still de facto Protestant-Catholic segregation, even in schools that are officially integrated, Porter said.