A flickering light
I can count on one hand the number of my close friends who attend church regularly, even using the most generously Protestant definition of “regularly.” The de-churching of my friends includes those from all chapters of my life—childhood, college, and now as a working professional in Washington. And though grace works in mysterious ways, it appears many will not return anytime soon.
I greeted the realization that many of those closest to me were forsaking their church, which in most cases was the Catholic Church, with a shrug. I attributed their diminished participation to laziness, indifference, or a lack of intellectual depth that caused them to stray from the rigors of a robust spiritual life.
I think I was wrong to dismiss their concerns so easily.
Over the past couple of months—it is difficult to pinpoint a date—I have struggled immensely with my own identification as a Catholic. Sure, there are still the usual squabbles about Latin versus English, altar girls versus altar boys, whether bishops x or y are too political or out of touch. But something else is going on; this is deeper. There was that short flash of time several weeks ago when Catholics across the various spectrums seemed united: we did not want our religiously affiliated institutions compelled to break their consciences by providing coverage for contraception. But that wholeness went away nearly as quickly as it arrived, and in its wake we are left with a sort of bitter smugness from the Catholic right whose taste I haven’t been able to wash away.
Some on the Catholic right make it clear that any viewpoints that diverge from their own are not welcome in their church. Speaking or writing about ideas that may challenge church teaching, however gently, removes one from their faith. There is seemingly no mercy on the right. The Catholic left is ailing and will surely continue to diminish as my generation grows into adulthood; the environment is so toxic that progressives find other ways to live their faith, away from the institutional church. Some wish, rightly, that there be no divide between right and left, conservative and liberal, but this is not the church in which we find ourselves today. And often, those who clamor for an end to the divide too often toe the line that often animates Catholic ecumenism: adjust your beliefs, join our tribe, and all will be well.
To those whose lives fit snugly within the constructs the church accepts, this ultimatum might be easy enough to embrace. But in a society where those constructs echo back to a quaint time that never actually existed, where individuals have more choices, where decisions have become mind-bogglingly complex, where women and men can live full lives without the strictures of religious faith, it’s not that simple.
I’m no longer surprised when a close female friend, successful and well educated, looks askew at a male-dominated church and cringes before she walks away. When those charged with teaching the faith tell their flock to believe or act a certain way because their authority gives them the right to do so, it becomes easier to see why many chuckle as they interpret this as a parent scolding a toddler: do this because I said so. Gay men and women rightly refuse to succumb to bullying in their professional and familial lives, so it’s not a surprise when they leave a church that calls them disordered. And though we are over a decade removed from the revelation of clergy sex abuse of minors, many in my generation will never again give the benefit of the doubt to the Catholic hierarchy on matters of faith, morals, or much else.
Various versions of this post have circulated through my mind for the past couple weeks. I feel it’s a bit too personal and a bit too dismal. I love the institutional church. I've chosen it, spiritually, educationally, and now professionally, for much of my life. That is why writing this is so difficult. I’ve written a few times that we are an Easter people and that through all the pain and hurt we are still whole. But we find ourselves in Lent, the time of darkness before the light.
The Archdiocese of Washington, where I live, is sponsoring an ad campaign throughout the city that exhorts Catholics to go to confession during Lent. The ads, mostly on city busses, feature a bright star and proclaim, “The Light is ON for You.” For me, that light is flickering. For the many in my life who have left the church, the flame is extinguished. Perhaps, though, we are an Easter people, and maybe the paschal candle will once again burn brightly for us.
Another issue is sexual freedom. The Church is very adamant on this for very good reasons. Maybe these reason should be openly discussed so that there is a clear an understanding of what these reasons are and that they are not some blind fealty to an ancient flame which is no longer relevant.
The vocal hierarchy
Far from it. The "bitter smugness" of which Michael writes is manifest in nearly every parish as this minority tries to scrub such things as the freedom of conscience. Being shut out of parish councils, CCD teachings, and a host of parish activities is alienating further still. Somehow we need to re-claim our place in the parish-and on parish grounds.
The vocal hierarchy
It is normal for people to be less assiduous in their religious observance when they are around your and your friends' age. When you are young and healthy and busy getting a start in this world, the other one seems like it can wait. When I was your age, I pretty much just worshiped beer and weed. Your friends may not all find their way back, but a lot of them will and they'll bring others with them.
Moreover, I think you underestimate the vitality of the remnant of "the left." Much of the leftward-leaning part of this church may be moving through their sixties and seventies, but there are a lot of them and they seem very healthy to me. Much healthier than the crapulent, overweight, uptight would-be Francoist self-defined "youth." (Many of whom are no longer quite as youthful as they were those many years ago in Paris when they screamed "JP2! We love you!")
Stick around, kid. Don't give up in the third inning.
The vocal hierarchy
As virtually every one here as said, you will have to find your own way. Long ago, I determined that I was culturally a Catholic, for better or worse. It's what I do best. That doesn't mean that I will stay forever but for now I am here. Whatever I do after that final severing will be indelibly marked by my Catholicism. We are talking an amputation. No victory.
Perhaps at this website and others I go to, people like me and you are told....good riddance, don't let the door hit ya on the backside....
I find comfort in being with (virtually, through web sites) people who struggle as you do. Through them I see the light of what keeps me going. John Dear and peace. Bill Lindsey and his courageous bilgrimmage (why I'm here). Chris Hedges whose activism is profoundly impacted by his faith training. My Pax Christi group (who are real flesh and blood people I can touch). Sr. Joan Chittitster and Jamie Manson at ncronline.org.
So keep the faith from within or without the church. You are not alone. And you are not alone to notice that the church seems to be deliberately disaffecting so many people. It's a sorrow. We do what we can.
What do he and his friends believe in? How many of those raised in the Church still believe there is a God? The majority of faculty at a typical university are atheists so how much of this thinking has permeated the attitudes of the average young person. I have been in discussions with atheists and they mock those who believe as one who believes in superstitions and this thinking has to be known to the average young person today so believing is going against the grain. A hundred years ago such talk would have been waived off as the delusions of the intelligentsia. Not any more. It is still the delusions of the intelligentsia but unfortunately it is now main stream. Belief today is for the weak minded is the conventional wisdom.
Even if the person may believe there is a God, how many of them believe there is any purpose in our existence or that we were created for a purpose? Biology just tells us that we are happenstance and the luck of the particular sperm that reached an egg at a random time. We are just DNA modified by our environment is the meme so where does God fit in. Again these are all from discussions I had in the past about just what is a human. Are we just a glorified chimp or are we made in the image of God?
I would look to that as behind a lot of what young people feel and believe. The interesting thing is that those who mock those who believe have less support in science and logic than those who believe. Science supports the idea of a creator but you would never know it at any university or in maybe just a few high schools in this country. Definitely not in nearly all of Europe
The leap to the Judeo Christian God and then to Catholicism is a much different one than to a creator but the young person should know that a creator of immense intelligence is the best explanation for the data. And those who espouse atheism are the ones with beliefs built on quicksand and is sustained with faulty logic.
So the analysis of the problem might be a multi-step one to determine just where belief is falling apart
Do they belive there is a God?
If they believe in a creator, do they think that humans have a purpose?
If we have a purpose, what is that purpose?
Is that purpose best served by worshiping God as a Christian but especially as a Catholic. Or no special affinity to any religious doctrine is necessary?
And if it is best to worship as a Catholic, what are the restricitions for their adherence to being a Catholic?
There are probably more steps to examine than these but maybe Mr. O'Loughlin might want to venture where he and his friend are on this progression. And what it would take to move them down the list? I am sorry to be so analytical but we really know almost nothing about just what young people actually believe and why they reject Catholicism or any organized religion?
Thank you for your cogent and reflective observations. I too have witnessed much of what you describe. College educated Catholic baby boomers (my "tribe," whom Dean Brackley SJ once told me are our most challenging mission territories) are not finding the church very central to their lives. Maybe this is, in part, due to the fact that what really provides us life and sustenance is career and family. Soccer games on Sunday mornings trump Mass. Getting into the Ivy League college or country club matter much, much more than the practices of Advent or Lent. When the church seriously challenges the core values of our jobs, job wins. We serve a capitalistic culture and turn a deaf ear to the critique of that culture by Cathoic Social Teaching, especially JP II's writings. We take umbrage with the church's teaching on sexual matters while our teens and young adults are indoctrinated by Two and a Half Men, the Big Bang Theory and Chelsea Handler.
I wrote about much of this in my book A Faith That Frees, which won a Catholic Press award but hasn't become a household word. In the book I tried to call for some reconciliation between the polarized extremes in the church. But like our politics today, too many in the middle are shouted down by the Rush Limbaughs (not my idea of rational or civil discourse) and the Rachel Maddows and Jon Stewarts (whose critiques I like, but whose prescriptions for ameliorating the situation I find anemic). The church in the USA is following the trajectory of the last half century of the church in Europe. Soon there will be more mosques in Rome than functioning Catholic churches.
Maybe salvation will come, as it always does, from the poor. The Hispanic community with whom I lived in Camden NJ from 1988-2003 doesn't have all the issues with the church that the boomer middle and upper middle class find so repugnant. 48% of Catholics in the USA under the age of 25 are Latinos. The church in Latin America has almost 10 times the Catholics in the USA. The church in Africa is growing exponentially. The largest sector of the Society of Jesus in the world are Jesuits from India. This isn't just the third inning, as Amy charmingly suggests. This is a whole new ballgame.
Many commentators are writing about this - the term is ''spiritual but not religious''. You might also want to google ''emerging church'' or ''emergent'' church to see how the same thing is playing out in Protestanism - people are tired of the judgmental, narrow-minded religion they grew up with and are seeking to LIVE as Jesus taught, not ''believe'' as professional religionists want them to believe. Even the Baptists are steadily losing members these days, along with other evangelical churches.
Pew Research has done a study of the young (actually, Pew studies everyone). Belief in God remains strong, but affiliation with churches is lower in this generation in the previous two or so, especially among mainline Protestants and Roman Catholics.
A YouTube video called ''Why I hate religion but love Jesus'' struck a nerve - it went viral. Many professional religionists have written about this video - if I'm not mistaken, somebody at America even wrote about it a few weeks ago.
A research group at Catholic University has been tracking the beliefs of Catholics every few years for decades now. They break down their research by generational cohorts. The studies and tables can be accessed at National Catholic Reporter.
America had an article recently focusing on the fact that young women are now more heterodox than young men, and that their participation is not only falling dramatically, it does not seem that it will recover any time soon, if ever. It appears that this generation may not follow the pattern of returning upon the birth of their first child. Especially since their parents, the Vatican II generation and other baby-boomers, are also giving up after a lifetime of dedication to the church and walking away as well. The young women of today are equals in most parts of their world - in their schools, in their careers - but in the church they are officially second-class citizens, told that they may serve only in those ministsries that men allow them to serve in, and that they are banned from contributing to the teachings of the magisterium. The truly amazing thing is that any of them are still around, not that so many are leaving.
If you missed the article, you can link to it now.
web link: http://www.pewforum.org/Age/Religion-Among-the-Millennials.aspx
The entire 29-page report can be accessed via the link at the end of the summary report.
I have also noticed that many religionists have standard ''throw-away'' lines that subtly put down those who have unconventional and non-traditional views of religion as well as non-traditional ways of living a spiritual and christian life. One of those is ''feel good'' religion. Another is ''do it yourself'' religion. When I mention that I now go to an Episcopal church, a frequent reponse is that the Episcopal church is ''Catholic lite'' or a ''make it up as you go along'' church.
All of these put-downs seem to be a way for those who use them to avoid looking very closely at the real reasons people - not just the young- are fed up with organized religion. These critics also talk about non-organized religious people in terms of laziness - physically, intellectually and morally. Sure - there are some like this. But there are just as many whom those adjectives describe who are in the pew every Sunday, punching their tickets for the week. It is often the case that these breezy put-downs of the unconventionally spiritual/religious are a way for the traditional followers of traditional organized religion to avoid looking too closely at their own lives, minds, consciences and souls. They don't want to look too deeply because there is danger there. It raises a risk - as this young man who posted is clearly aware of in his own life at this point - the risk of having to give up the familiar, the safe, the comfortable, and the comforting in the journey toward God. I am not saying that all ''need'' to leave organized religion - some do quite fine with it. But not all - others need something more - and that scares the people still in the pews.
Many (not all, but many) pew-sitters fall into the ''no thought required'' crowd. They pay their dues, go to church on Sunday, and simply accept what their leadership tells them - about what to believe, about how to live, even about how to vote. Just follow the rules, if they are Catholic then go to mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation, adopt a few pious devotions here and there, think the ''right'' way, and they will be ''saved.'' Not much to do with how to live, as Mr. Gleason pointed out.
Most of the ''SBNR'' that I know have thought far more deeply about life's important questions, about religion, about spirituality than most of my friends and acquaintances who have just docilely gone along with the program. No struggle, no thought, no action. The SBNRs are constantly seeking, constantly questioning, working to understand, looking inward to see how they must change and how hard it is to truly follow Jesus's path - they question others, they question themselves, they question organized religion. Do it because we said so, or do it because that's always what we have done (believed) doesn't cut it. There is nothing ''feel good'' about it.
But, it's always easier to put down others than to look in a mirror and see what people condemn in others looking back from the mirror.
I am sorry for your pain. You are rightly concerned about things that are, in this sphere, very important. Speaking for myself, I find it useful to consider that, from a vantage point high above, we are all a bunch of broken, damaged people milling around and hurting each other .... even if we think we're doing something else. And yet God loves each of us dearly, a fact for which we have proof! I have to frequently remind myself that the grace of humility serves me well, that maybe I don't know best, that maybe I'm not that important, .... and grace of faith tells me that when ashes have returned to ashes, God will have sorted things out very nicely indeed. To me, this mindset is what unites us irrevocably as Catholics, regardless of our individual paths.
Please take care.
What I really find immature, is taking someone words and then distorting what they said and then calling that distoriton ''immature.''
Now that is what I call off the charts immaturity. But it is not the first time so at least there is some consistency.
At the end of the day, religion is really about experience. Theology is what you do afterwards to try to make sense of your experience, but it can't take the place of it. Sometimes it feels like we belong to the church of Thomas Aquinas, not of Jesus.
Ed and people my generation have leared that Catholicism is indeed about specific beliefs - these beliefs:
"God does the choosing and you find out about the rest gradually from your folks: How you have landed in a turbulent and global household with the galaxy's most eccentric rules; that the lights are never to be put out and the stranger never to be turned away; that the meals are to be served whenever there is hunger; that the groceries must be generously depleted and generously replenished with everything everyone has; that those who fret and grouse and cheat and lie and steal and kill must be relentlessly sought out and brought back to life; that those who break the rules and those who abandon the house must be pursued to the remotest frontiers of their souls and forgiven; that those who pass judgment on the violators of house rules, like those who take their author for granted, are doomed. And that those who inhabit the household must always remember that what is outside is ending." (Michael Garvey, Finding Fault, 1990.)
Anything that detracts from that is an obstacle to be avoided and, if possible, jettisoned.
I believe we're in the midst of a second reformation. This one seems to be happening in people's hearts, with peripheral involvement from nation states. It's being driven by a renewed appreciation for the practices of the early church, a new, still unfolding revelation of God's love and the role it plays in human sexuality, along with concerns about church governance and the role of clergy similar to those that roiled the 16th century. Uniquely, this reformation started inside the Catholic Church with the calling of Vatican II. As before, this reformation has prompted a fierce counter-reformation.
I just had a chance to see the Frontline special on God and 9/11 that aired last fall. One of the comments that has stayed with me came from an orthodox rabbi, who sees his role as helping people live with the great questions about God rather than supplying them with one set of answers. There are many ''rabbis,'' both inside and outside of the Catholic Church in Washington, D.C., who see the brightly burning flame and can help you live the questions in its light. Seek them out; we're meant do this work two by two, not alone. All good wishes for the journey...
"The object of Christian faith is neither a proposition nor a series of propositions, but a divine mystery, what St. Paul called the "mystery of Christ." The propositions that form the doctrines and dogmas of the Church are expressions of this mystery in rational terms, and they are never even remotely adequate to the mystery itself. These propositions moreover are always historically and culturally conditioned, so that they are always capable of further development. To present the Catholic faith as a series of propositions to be believer without making clear that they point to a mystery that infinitely transcends them is to give a false impression of the faith. It is this tendency that has alienated multitudes of people from the Church and continues to do so today."
(Bede Griffiths, OSB, letter to the editor, The Tablet, 10?27?90.)
I believe that God is new every morning.
I believe that God is creating the world today at this very moment.
God did not just create it in the long ago and then forget about it.
That means that we have to expect the unexpected as the normal way God’s Providence is at work.
I am hopeful because I believe that the Holy Spirit is still the creating Spirit,
That she will give us every morning
Fresh freedom, joy, and a new vision of hope,
If we open our souls to the Spirit.
I believe in the surprises of the Holy Spirit.
Hope is a duty, not just a nicety.
Hope is not a dream,
But a way of making dreams become reality.
Being any form of Catholic is only the journey, not the object of the journey.
I am going to disagree because that is not the Catholic faith I was taught since I was 6 years old. Catholicism is all about salvation and yes of course how one leads their life every day is important. But how one leads their life every day is based on a set of beliefs. And if one does not believe them then they will lead their every day life differently. There are a lot of philosophical approaches out there to guide people in their daily lives. But the Catholic Church is not just a philosohical approach to every day life.
It seems that to many that the Catholic Church is just a social club that one belongs to and is only about this life. They like the social justice message, they like the people they meet, they like the ceremonial trappings of the services, they enjoy the ways they can participate, they like the history and the role models the Church has produced etc. That is fine but it is very limited in what being a Catholic is intended to do. It is not about this life. But if that is all one is interested then one can find a lot of other social clubs that may be more amenable to things the Church cannot countenance. But because the Church has a set of beliefs that it requires of people it cannot be a polyanna for everyone.
So therefore I respectively disagree and beliefs are essential for participation in the Church. And what I proposed above may be a way of finding out just what people believe. If they do not think the Church is anything special theologically, then most will not participate. They may like the trappings or want their children to have a moral background but that is not enough.
But then there are those who say all will be saved so the whole thing is just a joke anyway and one might just do what one pleases anyway and join the club that make you feel good. Of course if one believes then that is not an option.