Friday, November 13, 2009

Religion In the USA

The Pew Research Center has released the latest data on religion in America.  I find much of this very intriguing.

Some stats that jumped out at me and what they might mean.
  • Catholics divorce at a lower rate, but live with an unmarried partner at a higher rate than other Christians.
  • 72% of Catholics have a certain belief in God.  1% do not believe in God.  How someone can still be Catholic and not believe in God is beyond me.
  • Only 56% of Catholics say that religion is important in their lives.  Compare to Evangelical Protestants at 79%.
  • Less than half of Catholics (42%) go to Church one or more times a week.
  • 20% of Catholics pray once a month or less.
  • 48% of Catholics believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases.
  • 58% of Catholics believe homosexuality is "a way of life that should be accepted by society".
Cultural Catholicism is alive and strong.  Unfortunately.  This means that we are not raising Catholics who know and live out the faith.  They identify themselves as Catholics, but may not go to church, pray, or believe in the Church's teachings.

There are several reactions faithful Catholics might have to such statistics.  One is to toss the cultural Catholics under the bus.  I have heard a number of Catholics say that such people aren't really Catholic.  In one sense this might be true, because they aren't living out the faith.  But, in another sense it isn't, because we don't disown family because they act a certain way.  It just shouldn't be done, even if they are off the reservation.

I think the best reaction to such statistics is to double our efforts.  We need to do several things.
  • We need to really work hard at re-evangelizing Catholics and then forming them.  Our parishes need to start to become welcoming communities that form adults with life-giving catechesis.  It starts first with evangelizing the adults by engaging them in the basics of the message of the Gospel.  Then we need to take them deeper.  Too many parishes have catechesis upside-down.  It isn't primarily for kids, it is primarily for adults - every document from the Church on catechesis teaches this.  We need to engage them in Bible studies, classes on doctrine, presentations on the faith, etc.
  • We need to really get out of our own comfort zones.  Before we start to throw blame around, look in the mirror.  How many opportunities to evangelize someone have we let slip by?  How many of our own family or friends who are fallen-away Catholics need to be evangelized?  How many cafeteria Catholics do we let slide by without really engaging them in dialogue, inviting to a church event, buying them a book, etc?
  • We also need to support our bishops and clergy when they do something courageous.  Look at the number of Bishops in the past few years that have stood up for life issues or against the cultural tide that is sweeping against the Church.  We need to support them and thank them when they do such things.
  • We need to pray.  A lot more.
  • We need to do a much better job of forming Catholics when they come into our doors.  Better homilies.  Better Sacramental formation (with an emphasis on evangelization and not just hoop-jumping).  Better outreach.
  • We need to live more integrated lives.  Root out the places where we are not living out the faith.
  • Campus ministry is one of the most important and forgotten ministries in the Church.  This is where the future leaders of our Catholic Church are lost or made.  With more than 80% of students who stop going to church by the time they graduate college, we are failing miserably here on a national scale.  We need a major initiative to drive these numbers into retreat.
This is just the start.  We need Catholic leaders of people who aren't afraid to stand up for what is good, true, and beautiful.

God make it so.


tour86rocker said...

Marcel, you're totally right about adult catechesis! But how do you get Catholic parents to ATTEND their catechesis even if an adult catechesis program starts? You're talking largely to students and young adults here, I think, and we don't have the clout to teach older Catholics! I think it would cause resentment to even try!

Catechesis of children is the primary responsibility of their parents, but parents are delegating this responsibility to whoever the parish arm-twists into reluctantly and half-heartedly teaching faith formation. I decided in high school to become a catechist one day and to bring passion into it, and now I am a catechist. I want to be a catechist who doesn't fit the mold. Young Catholics are at least lightly scandalized by the lukewarmness we encounter growing up. I was spared much of it by not regularly attending Mass until the 7th grade and getting to make my faith MY choice in high school; I honestly think God allowed the circumstances of my upbringing for a reason.

I feel like many of my kids are already pretty set on dismissing the Church when they're out of their parents' house. It makes me think I need to reach a younger group next year. But then I'd probably keep feeling each year like I'm not reaching kids early enough....eventually signs DO point toward catechizing the parents instead!

tour86rocker said...

I'm a young adult in a suburb of Houston now. I've talked with a number of Catholic young adults who aren't satisfied with the spiritual dimension of young adult programs in their areas. There are plenty of SOCIAL activities. A girl I know in north Houston only has access to a spiritual small group event once a month despite the fact that her parish has a staff member appointed for young adult ministries. In northwest Houston, a group shares a staff member with the high schoolers, but he is only advisor and wants the group to sink or swim on its own. After all, he says, they're supposed to be adults now. (At our age, he was building a Catholic high school bible study from the ground up, he's a self-starter) The young adult leaders regularly invite an Episcopalian youth minister to give the bible study, possibly because he's the highest example of living faith in their personal lives and they're not confident in their own faith.

At my own parish, there's room for more leadership and there are dozens of young adults on the listserv but few attend the weekly event, which tends to be a slavish chapter-by-chapter slog through a book of the bible. I feel a urge call to give up catechesis next year and volunteer in young adult ministry but my part-time job and Theology classes already add up to more than a full-time job.

I think parishes need to let go staff members who are just maintaining the status quo or who are holding back the population they are supposed to serve by presenting only a lukewarm Catholicism that has no depth, has to borrow from contemporary Protestant sources (every time I see a Catholic "The Shack" book group advertised I cringe), or even that incorporates non-Christian practices.

But I think there need to be more paid positions for lay ministers, but perhaps at a DEANERY or DIOCESAN level to start with. Perhaps a group of parishes can afford this more easily than a single parish. Offer graduates of good Catholic universities gainful full time employment to run bible studies and engaging adult catechesis events at a FEW area parishes in order to grow these programs. When it becomes too much work for one individual, add a second or spin off the parish groups to have the parish hire its own staff member for young adults' formation or adult catechesis. I mean, who's going to jump on an annual $12k to run ONE parish's adults' program that doesn't need a full time employee? I'm sorry, the Church needs to do more to attract leaders, it's not doing so well by sitting back in venus fly trap mode, waiting for them to volunteer. There's only so much that good-hearted volunteers with full-time jobs and/or families can do. And if they have to make a dollars-and-cents issue of it, surely parish collections will increase once people BELIEVE IN the ministry that their parish is doing and appreciate the ministries that they themselves can directly benefit from!

Marcel said...

I know it sounds radical, but here is what I would do.

Step #1 - Get a Bishop that wants to take a chance.

Step #2 - cancel all children't catechesis for 2 years. In those years only offer adult catechesis.

Step #3 - require parents who want to have their child baptized, confirmed, etc. to go through the classes. Then train them to teach the faith at home.

Step #4 - after the two years, maintain the focus on adults, with smaller initiatives aimed at kids.

EbethW said...

Jumping up and down, clapping loudly screaming here! here!! Whoooop!! Whooop!!! Yeeeaaaahhpp! that's right.

Now, I just received my mast catechist certification and am already writing lectures for the parish adult education program. Did on on prayer last month. I totally agree, Marcel!

tour86rocker said...

I'm glad someone's hopeful about adult catechesis. I want to be, I've just not seen a parish that does that (or adult RCIA) in a way that has transformed a parish in the way that we're talking about.

I'm not ready to "throw anyone under the bus" but the reality is that millions of people have found themselves inducted into the Catholic Church shortly after birth at the request of parents who don't follow through in their promises to raise their children in the faith. They can't, it's not even their fault, they weren't raised in the faith themselves!

So what I like about the idea of adult catechesis is that it's not cursing the fig tree for not producing fruit. That's not our place. After Vatican II, Mass attendance PLUMMETED. Different groups have their own explanations as to why. Although speakers of Latin could have achieved active participation when assisting at Mass, now those who couldn't understand it WERE faced with a comprehensible liturgy. I think many couldn't handle that intimacy with God so they left and I don't necessarily think that was a bad thing.

I do have to admit that I tend toward resentment of the cafeteria Catholic. I feel like each one of them makes the rest of us have to work five times harder. I don't want to use the term "cultural Catholic" because I'm a proponent of building and growing AUTHENTIC Catholic culture and I think your term muddies the water.