With all of the talk about the Papal visit to Ireland this August, the media is teeming with articles about the place of the Catholic church in Ireland, the validity of our government funding the religious event and the protests of those in solidarity with abuse victims who oppose the visit, there is plenty to make us think about religion today.
So why should it matter to me? Well religion is a part that plays a role in the lives of many young Irish people as over 80% of the primary schools in the country are under the patronage of either Catholic or Protestant churches and a large number of secondary schools are also under patronage of, or influenced by, church bodies. In addition to this, the majority of young Irish people were raised in households with parents who identify as having a Christian faith. So it should be a straightforward answer that religion plays an important role in our lives, right?
So why aren’t we all rushing to see the Pope? With social media and the sharing of information online we have access to the world around us in a way that previous generations could hardly imagine or dream about. As a result of this, we can access information about different religious beliefs and practices, as well as arguments for and against the existence of religion in general at the click of a button.
In addition to this, we live in a world that places importance on different activities rather than focusing on religion as the primary influence in our lives. While many of the older generations are flocking to attend the Papal visit and accompanying events, many of our generation are preoccupied with matters which have more importance to us personally. That could be attending music festivals, getting involved in local politics, climbing mountains, playing sports, designing websites, playing video games or reading about the Kardashians. There is such a variety of stimulants for young people today that religion just doesn't take the primary focus for most of us.
But what about the young people who are religious? Belief and freedom of religious expression are two wonderful experiences for people and we live in a world where both should not only allowed but should be actively encouraged. The access that we have to the wider world now allows for young people to gain personal experiences and broaden our horizons in all walks of life. This includes religious experiences. Whether that experience leads a young person to attend a Papal mass, invest in a prayer mat, or to practice meditation, freedom of religion is an entitlement that should be absolutely respected for all individuals regardless of their affiliation with religious groups and whether or not we are a member of that group.
So what should we do about religion? The crucial element in any debate about the place of religion is to ensure that all views and positions are respected and that any questioning is done both respectfully and with the aim of gaining knowledge. While we may have different opinions on religion, we can use communication as our key to learn more about the perspectives of others. Challenging our own opinions and ideals can help us be more aware of the beliefs and positions of others.
Where does that leave me? Since the beginning of time people have questioned and searched for answers to questions about the purpose, meaning and value of our lives. As such we must respect that people with a faith perspective are channelling that search into a specific avenue, whether or not you take that position yourself. There is commonality in our inquisitive nature as humans and our want to understand the world. Because of this we can use our questions to get a better understanding of each other, to learn to accept out different views and to promote tolerance and equality for all through communication.