Monday, January 31, 2011

Why Twenty Somethings Are Not Present And Accounted For

I don't know that the Vatican's use of social networking and the internet is going to be much more effective.

According to a current article in America Magazine, a recently held conference on the lack of twenty somethings in Roman Catholicism identified the following three issues as reasons Gen Xers and the Millennials are scarcely seen in Church.

  • The church should avoid the temptation to become a political power player. Surveys repeatedly demonstrate that young adults are turned off from the church when it appears to be shilling for a particular political party. Minor gains in policy may come at a huge cost: losing a generation of Catholics from both sides of the political spectrum.

  • Race and ethnicity remain sensitive and critical challenges for the Catholic Church, especially with the rapidly growing Latino population. Young Latinos are taught a sense of ownership and belonging in their parishes that is not fostered and developed in traditionally Euro-centric parishes. As a result, these young adults sometimes leave the church altogether when their talents are underutilized in mixed parishes. (The prevalence of Euro centrism is an issue in other cultures as well.)

  • The split between church leaders and young adults on issues of gender and sexuality is growing. Young people are more likely to support same-sex marriage and female ordination than their older counterparts and the hierarchy, and many cite these issues as reasons they don’t feel at home in the church. Young adults won’t support any institution where they feel that any group of people is not fully welcome and included.

  • I think it's interesting that the article doesn't state dogma and doctrinal issues other than those surrounding sex and gender.  I often wonder if the above issues, which are cultural, are not excuses hiding the real reason for lack of participation, which is younger generations don't buy into a whole lot of Church teaching, like the Nicene Creed for starters.  I suspect if it were only the aforementioned issues, the Episcopalian, Lutheran, and other denominations would have a much higher youth profile than Catholicism.  Since they don't, it leads me to believe the younger generations aren't into a whole lot of what passes for traditional Christianity.  Bishop Shelby Spong may indeed have his pulse on some unpalatable truths for the Vatican's re evangelization effort.

    I can remember one conversation with a young person (who shall go nameless) about the Incarnation of Jesus.  This YP did not believe any of the teachings surrounding the birth of Jesus.  It made absolutely no scientific sense.  If Jesus was born of a virgin and sex was not involved in his creation, then he certainly wasn't human and Jesus couldn't be a clone or the result of parthenogenesis because then he would have to be a she. The Holy Spirit may be a lot of things, but one thing the Holy Spirit is not, is human. What ever Jesus's genetics were, they were either human or he was some sort of hybrid.  If he was a hybrid he wasn't human. 

    It's hard to argue with this kind of straight forward logic. And then of course, came the counter question.  "Do you seriously believe this stuff?"  My answer was, "not exactly.  A lot of it isn't relevant to my experience of the Faith so I tend to ignore it.  Let's just say I probably won't be taking certain bishops oaths of fidelity any time soon." 

    "Then why stay or bother with Catholicism at all?' was the next question. My answer to that caused some consternation.  I said because the magic is real. Something is really happening and that happening is independent of what you or I or anyone else thinks, and that to me is exciting. It's in that experience of the magic, that I find the truth of Catholicism.  It's not found in all the verbiage.  (I'm using the word 'magic' here, not in the Harry Potter sense, but in the awe and wonder sense.) My young friend did understand what I was getting at because said young friend had been to a couple of Native American Sweat Lodge ceremonies.  Real ceremony puts a participant in a place outside of time and space.  They make one feel potentials are certainties and certainties are potentials.  They are good places to be. Everyone belongs.  There is a palpable feeling of connection to something beyond perceptual reality, and yet there is no fear.  This is religious magic of the good sort.

    But then there is the other sort.  The sort which is front and center in the just released Anthony Hopkins thriller, The Rite.  I have more than a sneaking suspicion the new evangelization is going to feature this sort of Catholic magic somewhat prominently.  This kind features fear of the supernatural and promotes the priesthood as exorcist/protector against Satan and all his works.  This kind might sell movie tickets, but it doesn't really inspire the average Joe to actually follow the teachings of Christ.  At best it might inspire Joe putting the number of the local exorcist on speed dial.

    This would not be a good step should the Vatican and the USCCB continue to sneak in the exorcism  and demonology thing as the USCCB did at it's last Baltimore meeting, and the Vatican has done with their exorcism school--a school which is ironically run by the Legion of Christ and is featured in The Rite.   What they might want to consider is working hand in hand with current science in an effort to get a better understanding on just how human consciousness works and what it's potentials are, but to do that means giving up the medieval notions of the mind/body/soul split and moving to a more  integrated holistic understanding of  humanity.  That kind of thing might just capture the imagination of the younger generations and that would be a good kind of evangelization.


    1. Colleen, what would you recommend the Vatican and USCCB begin reading or studying in order "to get a better understanding on just how human consciousness works and what it's potentials are"?

      People can not just give up notions, especially if they are attached to them like glue and call it "tradition" and/or "truth." First one has to begin to understand that "truth" is not stagnant or fixed in time, and that is the magic of truth. Any type of change in understanding requires entering into a process with the free will, an emotional detachment far from one's ego desires, a desire for more understanding and a true love for God, grace, a fearlessness of spirit, as well as a sincere mind and heart for the truth. I keep hearing this remark that people "give up" this or that notion. It's too simplistic and it is a fantasy to expect anyone to give up especially notions that are integrated into their view of reality and their place in it.

    2. I love your young friend's line of inquiry. Consider the influence of Aristotle on the Church:
      See: Epigenesis and Preformationism

      Although earlier philosophers did recognize the contribution of the woman, usually as the vessel, the church's creation stories indicate preference for the male as creator. Essentially the male sperm was a little human looking for a place to grow.

      Look above the door of any medieval cathedral. Here's a photo of the entrance above Chartes. Jesus is seen emerging, fully grown, from an oval shape, the womb. Medieval people knew, as did Aristotle, that the female contribution was greater than acknowledged in practice.

      Random human hybrid or demi-god? He or she? I have mentioned that many of the Catholic women I know from my mother's generation, schooled by nuns, believe the Holy Spirit to be female. Otherwise it doesn't make so much sense.


    3. I wanted to add that anyone can enter into a better understanding of human consciousness from any faith, in my opinion, as well can those of no faith on a conscious level.

      The desire for truth is part of the magic of truth and youth in particular are quick at getting it. The RCC really needs to get with getting a better understanding of the potential God has given to all.

    4. I'll probably have a heart attack the day the church changes its stance on gender and sexuality, but I'll be praying my rosary in my hospital bed and asking when the priest can come and give me the anointing of the sick.

    5. Carla, your comment gave me a chuckle. I think that at the rate the RCC hierarchy is consciously moving, which is backwards, there will be no priests around to anoint you. It's sort of like expecting to really survive off social security payments in retirement. Will current entities be there when we need them or request them? Or will they be replaced by something even better?

    6. Our pastor has noted that the number of children in religious ed classes after Sunday Mass is down by 2/3. Rather than questioning where the children(and their parents) went, he is getting rid of the lay volunteers running the program who have "failed" and hiring "professionals" (at parish expense) to do "Faith Formation" during the week as he also found out some of the children were not fasting before Mass because they had class afterwards!
      Never any questions of the parishioners as to why such things are happening.

    7. I remember during the health care debate, a priest had the audacity to lie directly to our faces declaring it would mean "funding tax payer supported abortions," I was Insulted and disgusted that this chicanery was even going on, because I knew better, having payed attention to the news. And instances like that don't even begin to cover my anger over those insipid little "voter's guides" they pass out near every election period (Maybe you've seen what I'm talking about?) and the countless dog whistle homilies given to anti gay conservatives. No lie, once we had a premier activist against gay marriage in our state sitting in during mass and I heard the pastor tailor the homily specifically to him, even though the mass itself had no linking whatsoever to what he was pushing. In fact Paul's famous, neither Jew nor Greek, Slave or Free, Male or Female passage was read (and completely ignored) that day.

      Let them reap the whirlwind I say, I'd love to see where they get without us.


    8. The position of every brick in the edifice of the church as we know it must be maintained or else the whole thing will come crashing down.

      Theories of ecclesiology, liturgy, even embryology must be shored up no matter how many leave. Otherwise, it will all collapse - not just in terms of numbers, but in terms of anyone believing.

      I welcome that day and I'm not afraid of it. We'll be able to finally meet and befriend Jesus of Nazareth without having to listen to The Management.

      However, there is great danger on the horizon, especially now that people in powerful positions belong to cults like Opus Dei. Consider what Trotsky (yes, I know) wrote in the summer of 1933 as he observed the rise of Nazism in Germany:

      "Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the physiology of National Socialism."

    9. Very interesting topic Colleen. I started to write a comment which turned into my own post. If you care to, you can find it here:

    10. Colleen, interesting that you bring up Spong. The Episcopal Church he helped bring into being, and for which he is a poster child, is d.y.i.n.g. for lack of young people, which it neither attracts or retains in any numbers. It is hard to find a more welcoming, inclusive and affirming form of Christianity - and its churches are increasingly empty.

      If Episcopalianism is the American Roman Catholicism of the near-future, why aren't the hoards off to the proverbial gold rush?

      PS - Here's a fair cop. Of course the Roman Catholic Church in America is not immune to demographic pressure. My question is why the NCR crowd, most of it anyway, hasn't simply decamped from the RCC and moved where their vision of church is present & actualized?

    11. Marky, that's what I'm trying to get at with this post. People haven't flocked to the Episcopalian church because the issues are more than politics, sex and gender.

      Spong is right--Christianity in it's traditional form, must change or die. He sees the numbers in his own pews and he at least is admitting the reasons go beyond women's ordination and gay marriage. They are fundamentally about clericalism, hierarchical authority, and the presentation of in authentic dogma that doesn't compute in the post modern world.

    12. JD I found your blog post thoughtful and thought provoking. Would you mind if I listed your blog on the side bar of this one?

    13. It was a long time ago but I recall that the last thing I ever wanted to deal with as a young person was embarrassment.

      In the developed world, secularism and aggressive scientism have deliberately and ceaselessly worked to make having an open faith socially unacceptable and an embarrassment. Of course, the churches have enabled this by actually being embarrassing on far too many issues.

      Some return to church when they get to the age when they no longer care what other people think, but these returnees are getting fewer and fewer as less young people have an initial exposure to institutional Christianity.

      Those Roman Catholics in the developed world who are smug in their contemplation of a dying Protestantism are fools. It is happening to their church already. It is only the sheer number of Roman Catholics in the world that hides this fact.

    14. MadPriest, I admit to being smug, but not beyond correction. And, to return to the question, a "smug" - and accurate - way of illustrating The Episcopal Church's self-understanding is this statement:

      "Don't believe that crap? Well, neither do we."

      Colleen suggests the vestiges of clericalism, hierarchy & dogma are keeping people out of The Episcopal Church. But clerics are elected by the People of God through an utterly elaborate consent process, unique in the Anglican Communion (or what's left of it). Hierarchs in The Episcopal are utterly constrained by The General Convention. And dogma? The Elizabethan Compromise is simply "You have your dogma and I'll have my dogma - and we'll pray together as if we believed the same thing, OR ELSE."

      In Elizabeth I's time OR ELSE was nothing other than the coercive power of the State over religion. But that OR ELSE has not existed in Anglicanism, and certainly not in its American form, Episcopalianism, for hundreds of years.

      When you throw out the clergy, bishops and dogma you're left with the most ancient form of Christianity, which is "Congregationalism." Each little pod of people is a community unto itself, a church unto itself, and defines & re-defines Christianity itself, endlessly & all the time. Is that a fresh work of the Holy Spirit? Seems more like spinning one's wheels to me.

    15. a "smug" - and accurate - way of illustrating The Episcopal Church's self-understanding is this statement:

      "Don't believe that crap? Well, neither do we."

      That is a generalisation that says more about your fears than TEC. A more correct statement would be:

      "Don't believe that crap? Well, that's between you and God. Let us introduce you to him so you can talk."

      And I know plenty of Roman Catholic clergy who have exactly the same attitude when their bosses and their bosses' informers aren't watching.

    16. "Let us introduce you to him so you can talk."

      "Thou art a Concierge for ever, according to Les Clefs d'Or USA." Yep, sign me up for that.

    17. "Concierge," "servant," I am happy with either.

    18. The Vanishing American Religious Male

      "The far-reaching Pew U.S. Religious Landscape Survey indicates that women outclass men in all the most important indices for religious belief and participation: affiliation, belief in God, regular prayer, and -- most tellingly -- the reported importance of religion in their lives. It is actually quite stunning how much resistance to female religious leadership still exists in America, considering how many more women than men engage in spiritual practice..."


    19. Anonymous, what you call "resistance" is simply expression of a fundamental tenant of American religion, which is "Thanks for your input, but you're not the boss of me." For Americans personal liberty is the final arbiter of all matters in all cases. If you disagree, well, thanks for your input.

    20. "Secularism" is the boogeyman of the hierarchy and other less competent analysis, no one has a problem with being spiritual. We *do* have a problem with being ignorant bigots, we refuse to be so, and we leave.

      Simple as that.


    21. Colleen, I'm interested in that the young person's views you cite about The Incarnation. It strikes me that young person was being a little too literal. Perhaps because I'd been watching and reading Star Trek (the original series) long before I'd ever seriously considered The Incarnation, it never occurred to me to define it in terms of conventional biology and genetics.

      Reconciling science with religious faith takes a certain amount of flexibility. And it strikes me that humans are made in God's Image. Meaning certain aspects of God are in us - not that God has a body or gender or genetics as we do. So what if 'human' in the biblical sense means something more like 'physical body combined with some level of self-awareness or sentience'. The Holy Spirit can then act, creating the fetal Jesus in Mary's womb using whatever physical genetic material is needed - but the virginal birth part of the story is left intact so to speak.

      If the RCC is going to survive, it needs to learn how to be more flexible in certain teachings - at least learn how to foster creativity such that it can assist in interpreting the dogmas in light of current scientific facts.

      Of course so long as the RCC insists on the primacy of dogma over the need for discerning a personal relationship with God, that will never happen.

    22. Secularism" is the boogeyman of the hierarchy and other less competent analysis

      You obviously don't watch much British comedy.

    23. @ Marky

      The resistance quote is from the Pew study. Those aren't my words.

      Care to expand a bit on what you mean about individual liberty?

      Is that a reference to the religious leader's right to treat women that way or is it a reference to the laity's decision to go elsewhere?

      I'm not sure if you were making a personal reference at the end.



    24. No personal reference intended, Anon.

      In American Modernity, adherence to religious tenants is seen as a personal choice, a means of self-definition and a means of self-expression.

      If, to use your example, I accept women religious leaders, that "acceptance" is my choice & right in what I describe as "American Modernity." "Lack of acceptance" or "resistance" is also my choice & right. There is a sense in which it doesn't matter whether acceptance or resistance is right or wrong - that is irrelevant.

      In American civil religion, I can have my truth and you can have your truth and we can agree to disagree and we can agree to leave each other alone, to live & let live. That tacit agreement is "truth" in American civil religion.

      I'd better go find & read "The American Religion: The Emergence of The Post-Christian Nation" by Harold Bloom

    25. @ Marky,

      Thanks for the clarification


    26. Hey Colleen, I wouldn't mind at all.

    27. A recent post at Vox Nova resonates with some of these concerns:

    28. If the Church adopted and articulated and enacted the thrilling new horizons of religious and liberationist thinking that are opening up in our globalized, interreligious world -- perhaps in a Vatican III -- young people would be inspired again. Thirty three years of our Mubarak-papacy has been a massive tragedy.

    29. Church is stupid.
      It's a waste of time, money and trouble.
      Whenever a church closes, or any other religious building, I'm pleased.
      Glad to see that the next generation has decided that the whole thing is just pointless and refuses to waste its time on magic tricks.

    30. People who are religious aren't any more moral than atheists; they're probably over-represented among people in prison.
      Why would anyone want to run twice as fast to get to the same place?
      Unless you really like watching people swan around in silk robes, you probably won't find religion attractive. The idea that someone invisible is talking to you and giving you advice is fine for children; past third grade it's generally a mentally troubling sign.

    31. Marky, there is a lot of truth in your description of American civil religion.