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Ulster may be less religious than Republic

By Alf McCreary

Levels of religious knowledge in Northern Ireland are lower than in the Republic, according to a controversial new public opinion poll published today.

It claims that, contrary to popular assumption, Northern Ireland may be less "religious".

The poll was conducted in October by Millward Brown Ulster on behalf of the Evangelical Alliance of Ireland, the Evangelical Alliance (Northern Ireland) and The Iona Institute.

It is a follow up to a similar 2007 survey in the Republic.

The results of the northern poll, taken in conjunction with the southern findings, would suggest that religious knowledge among northern and southern Catholics is much the same, but the northern figures indicate that religious knowledge among northern Protestants is lower than among northern Catholics.

Some of the key findings in the Northern Ireland poll are:

> Only 42% know that there are four Gospels (Catholics 52%, Protestants 36%);

> Only 54% could name the Holy Trinity (Catholics 65%, Protestants 45%):

> Just 60% could name the first book in the Bible (Catholics 54%, Protestants 68%);

> Only 31% could name Martin Luther as the religious figure who started the Protestant Reformation (Catholics 30%, Protestants 32%).

There was also a marked difference in the knowledge of younger and older age groups. The poll found that only 33% of people between 16-24 interviewed in Northern Ireland could name the Holy Trinity, compared to 67% of those over 65, and only 17% in the younger age group could repeat the First Commandment, compared to 46% of the older age group.

Stephen Cave of Evangelical Alliance said: "The results of the poll throw serious doubt on the claim that we are Christians."

Overall the figures are not good, but the drop in knowledge - almost halved within a generation - indicates that the Christian faith is becoming less meaningful for those under 25.

The findings present a serious challenge to the Church, and those involved in religious education, but it is all too easy to point the finger. Older people of faith must seriously consider how they are passing on what they know to future generations."

David Quinn, of The Iona Institute, said: "Many people will find the Northern Ireland results surprising because the general impression is that the North is more religious than the South. Judged by both religious practice and knowledge, it is time to consign that notion to the bin."

A Prime Time survey in the Republic last year claimed that 67% in the south attended Church at least monthly.

A Tearfund poll in the UK found that the equivalent figure for Northern Ireland was 45%.

Sean Mullan of the Evangelical Alliance said: "This latest poll shows that the notion of Ireland, both North and South being a Christian culture is becoming a thing of the past. The presumption that Christianity can be transmitted from one generation to the next is clearly no longer valid. Communicating that message is not primarily the job of schools or State institutions but of those who still believe."

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