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Many young people say religion makes them happy but less go to church

Fifty seven per cent of teenagers say religion makes them neither happy nor unhappy while a further 40% say religion makes them happy; this is according to a survey of Irish teenagers. 508 young people, aged between 16 and 20, completed an online survey for the UNICEF Ireland report: Changing the Future: Experiencing Youth in Contemporary Ireland. “We have felt for a long time that there is a shortage of primary research on the lives of young people living in Ireland. Having issued several reports on the impact of policy decisions taken from secondary data, we decided it was time to ask young people themselves how they view their lives, what challenges they face and what is their reality,” stated UNICEF Ireland Executive Director Melanie Verwoerd in her introduction to the report. In the survey, there were two questions about religion and how it affects young people’s happiness. Seven options were offered to the question “What phrase would best describe your religion?” The majority, some 24%, said “I am not religious,” but 23% said, “I am religious but do not go to church regularly.” Another 21% said, “I am spiritual but not religious” and 14% said, “I used to go (to church) but not so much anymore.” 12% said, “I am religious and go to religious gatherings.” The remaining 6% have alternative spiritual interests or none. The only quote in the religion section of the report states, “I used to be religious, but after everything that came out about the church and stuff, I find it hard to believe in God.” A religious education (RE) teacher, in a multi-faith, multi-denominational secondary school in Dublin, told ciNews she finds that the most common reasons younger teenagers give for not going to Church are they have other things to do like football practice, or staying in bed or their family does not go. She stated that anecdotal evidence indicates a continuation of the trend well documented in previous decades - that people are practising less (in the traditional way) but are still very spiritual and religious. She conducts a simple survey with her students each year, which shows that there are very high levels of searching and spirituality and belief. Those who go to church regularly and practice their faith in the traditional way are less likely to talk about it because public practice of faith has changed to something more private. “People who are religious and practice their faith do not want to talk about it or admit it because of peer pressure. In our multi-faith school, you know who the Muslims are maybe, but you don’t always know who the Catholics are. It might come out that they are regular churchgoers but they don’t always admit it up front. It is a very private thing now for a lot of people – it is not as easy to quantify faith as it used to be.” In secondary school, religion is an exam subject so teenagers study various faiths and beliefs. They are very open to other religions and want to find out all about them and they express, not just tolerance, but admiration and respect, according to the teacher. She added that one topic young people study is changes in religion over the last 50 years and when asked what has changed, they seldom raise the issue of clerical child abuse. They are more animated when it comes to discussing the effects of communism, consumerism and secularism. The second question in the UNICEF survey asked, “Does your religion or spirituality bring you happiness?” and more than half - 57% - said it makes them neither happy nor unhappy; 27% said, “yes some” and 12%, “yes lots.” 3% said it makes them unhappy and 2% very unhappy. This report focuses on happiness and explores general themes around teenage well-being throughout the country and how they are affected by the recession and bullying. 97% were aware of the recession, while 93% had experienced less household money. One quarter has seen a parent become redundant and 4% have had to move school because of the recession. Bullying was a major issue for all teenagers with more than half experiencing it and 20% suffering from cyber bullying. Of those who were bullied, almost all were bullied with words and 43% with actions. This is the first of four sets of results that will be published this year - other reports will cover mental health, drink and drugs and sexual behaviour. Anne Marie Foley - Catholic Ireland


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