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We hear this often in Ireland now - but what does it mean? It certainly signifies an aversion to being called ‘religious’. To be ‘religious’ has connotations of being a ‘Holy Joe’, or being regimented and of being unwilling to think for oneself, or of being ‘dogmatic’. But who would want to be considered any of these things?

Being ‘spiritual’ is a way of saying you appreciate there is more to life than the merely material, that there are higher things you should be in touch with, but at the same time you are not hidebound with dogma.

Calling yourself ‘spiritual but not religious’ is, no doubt, a product of a highly individualistic age in which people are very reluctant to admit or imply that they have given up any part of their freedom to something bigger than themselves, something that has rules and expectations such as a religious community or a political party. A kind of floating voter!

If a person rejects much of what the Catholic Church believes and only attends Mass for weddings and the like, and belongs to no other religion, then they should tick the ‘none’ box in a Census form. Can someone who rejects much of what the Catholic Church teaches, and almost never attends Mass, still consider oneself to be a Catholic as some do?

Was Jesus Himself religious?  Many would say that he wasn't. He certainly wasn’t hidebound, nor did he seem very ritualistic in his habits, and he stood up to the religious authorities of his day.

One might sum up, I suppose, by saying that when someone says they are not religious, it doesn’t mean they have rejected religion per se. What it seems to mean is that they have rejected or are uncomfortable with a certain form of religiosity.
This, I think, would describe the position of many modern Irish 'Catholics'.


I generally think of people saying that they are "spiritual but not religious" to be another way of saying agnostic.

"Can someone who regects much of what the Catholic Church teaches, and almost never attends Mass, still consider oneself to be a Catholic as some do?"

Of course they can. What do you consider to be "much of what the Catholic Church believes" to entail?
The Scriptures.
Do your census forms really ask for religious identification? I think out of this entire post, that's the sentence that caught my brain and won't let go. I'm quite surprised; but then again, it is Ireland and religion is such a foundation in your nation.

- Erulisse (one L)
lol don't look at me -
i stopped checking the catholic box long ago
if forced to choose i'd check "other"
i dislike both terms - "religious" and "spiritual"

but your post brings up two other aspects of association
1. cultural - here in the USA we have many people who claim they are "culturally Jewish"
(i have a dear friend for one)
they would certainly not keep kosher
(although i did have a friend who culturally did)
or join a synagog
but they like to keep passover and hannukah in their own fashion

there are "cutural catholics" that i also know
maybe Mass on Christmas and Easter but family traditions rooted in catholicism that have great meaning for them
the old saying "I believe but I don't practice"
and a new version "I practice but I don't believe"

2. related to the above - does baptism tie one to the church?
once a catholic always a catholic no matter what?
does receiving the sacrament as a child make a permanent link?
here in the USA in some church office there is supposed to be a baptismal certificate on file with the date of reception of the sacraments

and a brief family story that ties in to cultural catholicism
my mother's family were members of the polish parish and i was baptized there
but the irish parish had the only school so for a few years i went there
each time i made a sacrament my mother had to go get my baptismal certificate
each time the polish priest was indignant that she was sending her child to the irish parish school
that's cultural catholicism at work!
The predominant religion in the Republic of Ireland is Christianity, with the largest Church being the Roman Catholic Church. The Irish Constitution says that the state may not endorse any particular religion and guarantees freedom of religion.
The 2016 Census asked: What religion are you? 78% of 4.76 million citizens declared themselves as “Roman Catholic”. This modern society self-declares itself to be overwhelmingly Roman Catholic .
This is not a response to a loaded question from a cold-calling poll of a few hundred random citizens.
To me this displays the disconnect between the dozen or so regular voices in our media who speak of a wholly secular and post-faith society as if it were an established empirical fact. It is interesting to note that, despite the increase in the numbers of those declaring themselves to be of no religion, they are still less than 10 per cent of the population.

Edited at 2017-09-18 20:53 (UTC)
it's a lot different here
the polls that ask about religion see a steady rise in the "Nones"
people who say they have no religious ties or preferences

for a long time we were a protestant nation
it took more than a century for other religious groups to have an equal voice and space

it is a struggle for he voices of "no religion" to be heard
it's a relatively new view point because belief in some sort of deity was presumed and was the norm
The basic census only requests basic information - number of persons living in the household, ages of those people, racial identification and sex of those people (although I suspect that will be broadened eventually to be more inclusive on non-cis definitions). Religion isn't asked.

In the expanded census, which is only given to a percentage of the people, they do ask things like religion, but since this nation is founded on a principle of "separation of Church and State", religious designations wouldn't be included at the same level as gender and racial determination.

Lots of hot buttons to push for people, though.

I am a deeply spiritual person who was raised as a cultural Jew, married a nominal Irish Catholic, and have explored spirituality and religion throughout my life. I'm more than willing to admit there is something, and totally unwilling to place any labels upon it. Labels diminish and put fences around concepts. It might make it more approachable for the common man, but it also frames it into imprisoning structures.

- Erulisse (one L)
The modern doctrine of the separation of Church and State is traced back to Thomas Jefferson.  It was one of the great gifts that American political philosophy has given to the world. But there are limits to the doctrine. The most significant aspect of the separation of Church and State is not, as some seem to think, the shielding of the secular world from too strong a religious influence; the principal task of the separation of Church and State is to secure religious liberty. It does not mean that people whose motivations are religious are banned from trying to influence government, nor that the government is banned from listening to them. There is nothing undemocratic about religious activism and religious language in politics.
if the religious view wants to limit the secular???
if the religious view forbids abortion do they have the right to prevent the secular view from obtaining that medical procedure?

what if it were blood transfusions?
some religions forbid that
should that group work to prevent the availability of blood transfusions?

if abortion is legal as it is here in the US
do some religions have the right to put through laws that make it impossible to obtain?
like closing all clinics in the state on technicalities and proclaiming their state "abortion free"?
is this religion negating established law? is it undemocratic?
doesn't government have the duty to also protect the secular?

Edited at 2017-09-19 17:09 (UTC)
As I say above:It does not mean that people whose motivations are religious are banned from trying to influence government, nor that the government is banned from listening to them. There is nothing undemocratic about religious activism and religious language in politics.
There is nothing undemocratic about religious activism and religious language in politics.

oh yes there is!!!
when the intent is to subvert and undermine established law!
So right!!!

- Erulisse (one L)
Well, yes and no. Here, Nativity displays as part of general holiday season displays at public buildings such as governmental buildings is forbidden. You can have it at a church, but not at a governmental location.

To extrapolate from that to the census once again, the question of religious beliefs is included as a matter of generalized interest and scope of areas of influence in the more localized neighborhoods, but is not bound to the national level. It helps agencies target their areas of need better, and assists in educational goals, etc.

That said, although we've had many Christian presidents, we have only had one Catholic and one Quaker President. Currently in the national Congress, we have one Muslim, who happens to be from my state. Obviously we have a ways to go before we actually reach that inclusiveness that we've promoted for years.

- Erulisse (one L)
They ask your religion on English census forms too, but it is an optional question.