When the results of the Irish Census came out last year, we learned that the number of people with no religious affiliation had jumped 73.6% to 468,421 people. It was the largest percentage increase of any group since the 2011 Census.
But that number may have been an underestimate because of how the religion question was worded:
It’s an awful way to ask the question. It assumes you have a faith. It’s skewed toward Roman Catholic. It includes both entire religions and particular sects, based on popularity, which means the rich only get richer. If you’re an atheist, it’s not obvious whether you write it in under #6 or check box #7.
That’s why Atheist Ireland has proposed a new version of the question for the 2021 Census, since it’s never too early to recommend those changes:
I love that. There’s a minimum age to answer the question, no predetermined options, and it allows for the possibility that some people who call themselves a particular religion don’t actually practice it on a regular basis.
Our proposals are that the question should be optional, should ask whether people practice a religion, should not prejudice the answer with preprinted options, and should ask how often people practice a religion if they do so.
It’s not a final draft and they’re still open to suggestions. But in terms of getting accurate information, these revised questions would result in far more honest answers about religion than the current one allows.
Here’s hoping the Irish government takes these suggestions seriously.