One page of the Barna report Finding Faith in Ireland: The Shifting Spiritual Landscape of Teens and Young Adults in the Republic of Ireland previously discussed here, has a list of words used by Irish youth workers across the denominational spectrum to describe young people (14-25) in Ireland today.
Roughly speaking, in order of weighting given they are listed below with more ‘negative’ characteristics on the left and more ‘positive’ ones on the right :
Anxious and Pressured Passionate
Apathetic and Bored Gifted
Insecure Open to Ideas
Tech-addicted Campaigners for social justice
Now these are only anecdotal comments by youth workers. If you live here, do they describe your perception of Irish youth culture?
Class and social location is not discussed in the Report – a church in the leafy suburbs of South Dublin is going to have a very different youth profile to one in the streets of Tallaght a very few miles away. And then there is the urban / rural divide that splits the country.
But let’s go with the descriptions above, coupled with the statistics on religious attitudes and behaviour peppered throughout the report discussed in the previous post. What emerges in very broad terms? (and this obviously is just my reading with its own interpretative bias!).
There is a major ongoing generational shift from Christendom to post–Christendom attitudes and behaviour. It is fast and it is deep, and has not finished yet.
- individualist morality (moral therapeutic deism) vs Christendom’s communally enforced morality
- a late capitalist culture vs Irish Christendom’s fusion of church and state
- lack of job security (high competition; self-promotion; extreme inequalities between older and younger generations) vs Irish Christendom’s limited opportunities and resultant high levels of emigration
- high levels of uncertainty about the future (jobs, cost of housing, environment) vs Christendom’s modernist assumptions of ongoing progress
- deep scepticism towards authority (political and religious in particular) vs Irish Christendom’s extreme authority structures
- embrace of ‘flat’ communities of modern tech (Facebook, Google, Twitter) vs Irish Christendom’s numerous hierarchies [it remains to be seen when or if the ‘dark side’ of the new tech will be recognised and or resisted. It seems to me anyway that so far it has been uncritically embraced.)
None of this is that unusual in the West. But a few things make Ireland different.
1, Just how quickly it has shifted to become very similar to other liberal secular democracies. Tolerance, inclusion, individual freedom, pluralism etc.
2. Its particular relationship with Irish Catholicism, and how young people’s abandonment of that Church is all mixed up in redefining Irishness, rejecting their experience of Christianity per se, and embracing libertarian freedom (we know what we are running from, we are not sure where we are running to, but it has to be better than the past).
3. Its recent experience of capitalism. For a while it seemed to be Ireland’s new saviour, but it is proving to be a ruthless taskmaster for a young post- 2008 Crash generation.
4. Its delayed ‘sexual revolution’. Rather than the 1960s, it is only in recent times that Irish culture has ‘caught up’ with the rest of the West. My sense is that there is deep exhilaration felt at throwing off the past – almost a type of ‘liberation theology’ at work – in the adoption of same-sex marriage and in the upcoming Abortion referendum in 2018. (The Barna report did not ask about abortion – my guess is that it will be supported by a high % of 18-25 year olds in the referendum).
All of this describes, I think, a culture in ferment, uncertainty and confusion.
With the collapse of old certainties, identity politics (political positions based on the interests and perspectives of social groups with which people identify) is beginning to exert more and more influence. The problem with such politics is that young people become focused on the battle for narrow political and social agendas that marginalise a wider sense of pluralism and the common good.
Take Katie Ascough’s recent impeachment as President of the Student Union in University College Dublin. It seems pretty clear that the reason she was voted out was that pro-life views were deemed unacceptable to hold by a student president. This is not democracy or tolerance or doing the hard work of actually debating and persuading people who hold different views to you. It is identity politics that denies your opponent the right to hold views that you find intolerable and so you seek to silence or remove them.
This is the paradox of illiberal liberalism.
My sense then is that post-Christendom Ireland is heading in the direction of increasing fragmentation, intolerance and divisiveness since when there is little to hold a centre together all you are left with is competing power groups.
What do these implications these cultural changes have for Christians in Ireland? I’ll come back to that question in the next post (dramatic pause).
Comments, as ever, welcome.