Saturday, February 13, 2010

A New Study Yields Some Fascinating Results

Young adult Catholics are largely pro-life but say they are moral relativists
February 12, 2010, Catholic Culture

In a 1997 report to the American bishops, Archbishop Daniel Buechlein of Indianapolis documented “a pattern of doctrinal deficiencies” in the catechetical texts he had reviewed. Over a dozen years later, some of the fruits of that insufficient catechesis are on display in a new survey conducted by the Knights of Columbus and the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. (There is more that contributes to moral formation than an hour or so a week in CCD Classes.)

The survey found that 82% of Catholic millennials-- those between the ages of 18 and 29-- believe that “morals are relative; that is, there is no definite right and wrong for everybody,” while only 18% believe that “morals are fixed and based on unchanging standards.” (This is quite the statistic.)

Contradicting this profession of moral relativism, large majorities of Catholic millennials believe that plagiarism (91%), adultery (87%), and “business decisions motivated by greed” (76%) are morally wrong. Despite a largely pro-abortion media culture, 66% of Catholic millennials believe that abortion is morally wrong, and 63% believe that euthanasia is immoral. (Haven't noticed the media being pro-abortion lately.)

In addition, 65% say that medical testing on animals is immoral.
Smaller percentages of Catholic millennials believe that drug use (47%), same-sex marriage (37%), gay and lesbian relations (35%), divorce (35%), embryonic stem-cell research (33%), and pre-marital sex (20%) are immoral. (To get the impact of these numbers one really needs to read them from the affirmative. Then one understands that two thirds of millenial Catholics have no issue with gay and lesbian relationships.)

Among the survey’s other findings:

85% of Catholic millennials believe in God

49% of Catholic millennials say that their faith is “extremely important” or “very important” to them, and an additional 31% say that it is “somewhat important”

a remarkable 61% of Catholic millennials-- vs. 50% of millennials overall-- believe that “it is okay for someone of your religion to also practice other religions” (this is a very interesting finding. This isn't just cafeteria style Catholicism, this is restaurant hopping.)

28% of Catholic millennials are “very interested,” and 31% are “somewhat interested,” in learning more about their faith. Among Catholic millennials who are practicing Catholics, the figures rise to 32% and 52%.


I encourage anyone who has the time to take a look at the survey itself. The above link is to the K of C website. Be forewarned though, that the presentation uses multiple forms of visual presentation. For some things they use bars, for others pie charts, and for others mixed bars. It may just be a personal peeve of mine, but I hate when statistics are presented this way. It's just way too statistically relative.

Over all this survey does not bode well for the future success of the K of C, much less the reform of the reform or the Catholic identity movement. Catholic Millennial are far more open minded than previous generations when it comes to Catholic identity and Catholic sexual morals. They seem to have both a more 'live and let live' philosophy and a willingness to go outside their own religious tradition to find spiritual meaning.

The other real difference I found striking was 31% of Millennials rate being spiritual or closer to God as their biggest life goal. For this age group, this goal surpasses all other listed life goals including marriage and family (27%). This is not your grandfathers generation, where this spiritual goal (21%) is a very distant second to marriage and family (49%).

The differences between the Millennials and the 65 and over group is something of a chasm, and the biggest differences are precisely in the areas which the Vatican-largely all 65 and older- is currently promulgating: the certainty of sexual morality and religious identity. On these two issues over 60% of practicing Millennials are not accepting the over all message. Even with abortion, while they may be pro life, it doesn't extend to stem cell research.

82% of practicing Catholic Millennials agree with this statement: "Morals are relative, that is, there is no definite right or wrong for everybody". I wonder if this attitude is the fault of poor catechesis or the direct expression of an entire Catholic generation sick of the Catholic culture wars and willing to move on, or in too many cases, willing to walk out. I think it also might be a reflection of a generation which is far less willing to judge the circumstances of others. It may reflect they have taken to heart the old adage of walking a mile in another's shoes before passing judgment.

In any event, this survey has really meaningful information for the American Catholic Church. Addressing these generational differences, and with them the future viability of the Church, won't be solved by expounding on the Catechism. It will take dialogue and the willingness to hear this message. The Millennials are not Benedict's generation. They aren't looking for certainty. They are looking for meaning.


  1. I like your assessment: Looking for Meaning. And if that is the ultimate end, then the shifting ethical sands are apparently the fruit of one's "search for meaning". Taking this a bit further, I'm guessing the attempted intrusion of the hierarchy's top-down approach to serving up meaning will run headlong into this generation's personal search process!

    Seems to me the catholic church is well on its way to future self-destruction!

  2. Those of us at any age find the present approach of the American Bishops and the Vatican-they issue decrees and we say "yes, your Lordship"-unconvincing. It is rather breathtaking that they have NO interest in what we think or in the case of pastors, even getting to know our names, and only insist that we obey orders.
    How sad that if we look for meaning in our lives we have to do so in other communities !

  3. I think the finding that millennials see morals as relative is not out-of-keeping with Catholic thought. Almost all respected (and magisterium-approved) Catholic moral theologians will tell you that there are many subective factors that figure into whether or not someone is in mortal sin (outside of the state of grace). Someone has to know that a given act is considered a sin, have thought about the act before they did it, and have to have resolved to do it anyway. Add to that such things as their psycholigical state, pressures from family members (as in a husband hounds wife to get an abortion), financial pressures (parent can't afford to feed kid, so he or she steals food), and you see how nuanced this is.
    Such understandings are the more complex part of catechesis that the church is spending little time elucidating now. They leave that to individual confessors.
    What they're focusing on is black-and-white statements. They want to be clear, and that seems to mean paring away anything complex that might confuse. And they are far too caught up in stemming cultural trends.
    And I think that's what young people are fed up with. Statements such as condoms are bad, period. Well, what about the HIV+ husband who forces himself on his wife. The church is not considering if a condom is justified there even if the intent of using one would be to save a life rather than to thwart God's desire to bring a new life into the world.
    The church has chosen not to engage in nuanced issues, but such nuances ARE what priests consider when someone comes to them for confession. And it is what we're trained to consider.
    Anyway, the pope is committed to reversing moral relativism--that is by pointing out that some things are objectively sinful. period. Sure, some things are sinful, but whether someone who does that sinful act "IS" a sinner is relative. That guy who stole bread to feed his kid committed a sinful act but isn't a sinner in the eyes of the church. He's still in a state of grace.
    The church is very bad at nuance lately, and it's credibility with young people is suffering as a consequence.

  4. The institutional church indeed does not do nuance, and pople find themselves voting with their feet.

  5. There's quite a large difference between saying there are lots of factors affecting the answer to a moral question and saying that there is no answer.

    For a sin to be mortal sin, for example, requires full knowledge and grave matter. If full knowledge is not there though, that doesn't mean the act was less wrong, it means that the sinner doesn't necessarily destroy his relationship with God by committing. But the act was still absolutely without question an act which should not have been preformed.

    As for the condom thing, I've gotta say that really gets on my nerves. Someone is infected with a lethal STD, and all they can think of is that they should be allowed to have sex with a condom so that they might have a chance of not killing their spouse. It seems to me that if you were worried about this and you truly loved someone, you wouldn't want to risk it and should abstain anyway.

    I'm 22 by the way, but this whole warm and fuzzy feel good "give me meaning, but don't give me any hard rules" thing drives me nuts. Meaning which doesn't give certainty isn't much of a meaning, and one who searches for meaning but is not willing to follow the rules that come from it doesn't want meaning, he just wants to say that he's "spiritually sensitive," or some other meaningless waste of words, and be happy about it.

    The Church has had 2 millenia of theologians working stuff out, based on the certainties and the meanings that were given to it by God. To expect it decide that all of that theology, based on certainty and giving meaning, is wrong just because of the fads of the day is absurd.

  6. Annymous, there is no point for the Holy Spirit then. There was no point in Jesus speaking about the spirit of the law as apart from the letter of the law.

    There is no point in having a right hemisphere in one's brain or a pre frontal cortex. There is no point in being human or struggling with life if the issue is certainty. And finally, there is absolutely certainly no need for free will. God apparently screwed up from the get go.

  7. The Church has had 2 millenia of theologians crafting Catholic thought and belief to the various Popes' specifications.

    The Spirit moves through the people, too. Thinking, questioning, dissenting, and demanding reform are not heretical or anti-Catholic. They are faith in action and should be received with respect and given serious consideration by Benedict.

    I'm not holding my breath.