In this essay we will discuss the importance of religion in society. We will attempt to explain why societies have religions and what functions their belief system has for them. We will also ask if these functions are now out-dated and if religions have any meaningful function in today's world or are they just stained glass windows into a bygone era? 'Religion' can be defined by two main groupings. 'The inclusive definition' covers all topics and subjects of a persons life including, not only, their belief in a deity but also their belief and belongingness to music, sport and any other interests the person may hold. 'The exclusive definition' refers to just their belief system regarding a 'supra-human' (Browne 2005, p. 311). It is mainly the latter grouping we will focus on through out this essay. Although the ideas expressed in this work can be applied to any nation, we will focus on Ireland's relationship with the Catholic Church from the nineteenth century to the present day.
In pre-famine Ireland, the Catholic Church was a very small order and did not have much impact on the lives of the people. This was a result of pagan rituals which the general public had practised for hundreds of years and they believed that it was these rituals that were pleasing god. However, when the famine occurred in 1846 and millions lost their lives and/or emigrated, Irish people began to believe that their pagan rituals were out-dated. It was at this time that the Catholic church opened its door to the masses of Irish people, offering a new belief system and a new way of pleasing god (Larkin 1984). This is one of the most important reasons for a society to have a religion. The Irish society had been believing in a system which had, at this time, just failed and they needed a new way to explain ideals they did not understand, for example: their potato crop failing. The church was able to explain why such devastation had happened and gave the social masses an explanation to something they could not fathom. The church used this opportunity to gain the respect and belief of the Irish public (Larkin 1984).
Religious identity can come in two forms, one from a nation of people all believing in the same values and another from the personal view of each individual or family within that nation. In a family or local community sense, it ties the smaller community together against its neighbouring ethnicities. It provides a feeling of togetherness and strength for the society. It is the basis for 'ethnic honour: the excellence of one's own customs and the inferiority of alien ones' (Weber, cited in Bruce 1996, p. 96). Religious identity brings great pride and hope to the citizens of any particular society and lends itself towards social cohesion (Browne 2005).
In a national sense, religious belief and identity can separate whole nations from one another, like in the case of Ireland and England, one of the defining differences is our belief in a different branch of...