I am reading Grace Davie‘s The Sociology of Religion in which she elaborates on an idea she had first put forward in the mid-1990s. If we are to avoid circular arguments and discussions about secularisation and the waning of the sacred in everyday life that seems so important to some writers, let’s move on. Vicarious religion is the phrase she puts forward as a means of breaking these circular discussions about the relationship between the sacred and the secular. You can read about it in more detail here (PDF). Briefly she states that vicarious religion is:
“…the notion of religion performed by an active minority but on behalf of a much larger number, who (implicitly at least) not only understand, but, quite clearly, approve of what the minority is doing.”
In countries like Ireland where about half (in mainland Europe far fewer) of the population actively attend to their belief in regularly attending church and engaging with the other sacraments, the other half believe without belonging (that’s also Davie by the way). That is, were the Church building on the main street of our towns and cities to close permanently, many more would protest than attend. Charge tourists into see Dublin’s pro-Cathedral and there’s some disquiet, this space is a public space.
This partly describes why so many Irish people, raised nominally as Catholics, insist on a Church wedding and baptism for their children without attending to other aspects of a belief they may or may not have. In the aftermath of the Ryan report, some called for the closure of Orders and others called for the impoverishment of the Church as an institution. But more, by saying that ‘the Catholic school is the local school’, clearly “approve of what the minority is doing”.