Saturday, August 6, 2011

Thoughts On Catholic Guilt, Cognitive Dissonance, and Secularism

Paul Tillich probably had more influence on my idea of God than his Catholic contemporary Pope Paul VI.

 A person's level of education has a huge impact on their attitude towards social and cultural issues.  It's long been known that raising the educational level of women is the best method of controlling exploding population growth.  However education also has a big impact on adherence to religious authority.  This was originally seen in Catholicism back in the mid 1800's when the education level of men in Europe began to rise across the socioeconomic spectrum and their exodus out the doors of Catholic churches began in earnest.  Here's a short article which gives some stats which strongly indicate if Catholicism wants to hang on to educated sectors of the population, it has to keep moving towards inclusion and not exclusion, and it has to seriously search for answers which transcend and incorporate secular advances rather than continue fighting a losing war with 'secularism'.

By Cathy Lynn Grossman
USA Today

(RNS) The old wisdom: The more educated you are, the less likely you will be religious. But a new study says education doesn't drive people away from God -- it gives them a more liberal attitude about who's going to heaven.

Each year of education ups the odds by 15 percent that people will say there's "truth in more than one religion," says University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Philip Schwadel in an article for the Review of Religious Research. Schwadel, an associate professor of sociology, looked at 1,800 U.S. adults' reported religious beliefs and practices and their education.

People change their perspective because, as people move through high school and college, they acquire an ever-wider range of friendships, including people with different beliefs than their own, Schwadel says. "People don't want to say their friends are going to hell," he says. (It's probably a little more global than just "I don't want to say my friends are going to hell." It also has to do with dropping any ten year old notions of a score board toting vengeful God and moving towards a deeper understanding of Divinity)

For each additional year of education beyond seventh grade, Americans are:

  • 15 percent more likely to have attended religious services in the past week.
  • 14 percent more likely to say they believe in a "higher power" than in a personal God. "More than 90 percent believe in some sort of divinity," Schwadel says.
  • 13 percent more likely to switch to a mainline Protestant denomination that is "less strict, less likely to impose rules of behavior on your daily life" than their childhood religion.
  • 13 percent less likely to say the Bible is the "actual word of God." The educated, like most folks in general, tend to say the Bible is the "inspired word" of God, Schwadel says.


Last night I was reading Eugene Cullen Kennedy's piece at the NCR about pre Vatican II notions of guilt and how those notions won't play in the future.  As usual his column was trolled by the more vicious of the Catholic right, which for me, makes reading the comment section a true exercise in developing emotional control and staying open to the Spirit. I freely admit I'm not very good with this task at this time in this context, and in fact am seriously considering not reading Kennedy's or Jamie Manson's comment sections because I quickly jet past my tolerance level.  

Last night though, I was glad I somehow found the fortitude to stick with the comments, because I came across a couple of comments which made me take a second look at those who are heavily vested in the 'reform of the reform'.  It dawned on me that they have never had to overcome the mental associations of guilt and sin connected to the old Latin Mass, weekly confessions, and other pious practices.  They can look at these rituals free of the lousy guilt based theology those of us in the older generations had to endure.  The reason they can do this is because they were not brought up in that Catholic miasma and ironically have the Eugene Cullen Kennedy's of the Catholic world to thank for that fact.  Someday I hope they understand enough to thank the theologians they now feel free to bash.  Previous to Vatican II,  and the work of these theologians, they would never ever have given themselves the freedom to bash any cleric or any theologian or any other professed religious for fear of going directly to hell without passing Go.  Additionally they would have been stuck in a world of cognitive dissonance which constantly pitted their religious understanding against their real world education.  It's precisely at this stage when it's very easy to throw the baby out with the bath water, which I suppose is why so many Catholics of my generation have taken decades to even consider returning to the Church.  Which brings me to the 'evils of secularism'.

Back in the day when I was seriously considering pursuing a career in theology, I took a class called Christian Secularity.  The class dealt specifically with questions raised by science and culture which impacted on traditional Church teaching and whether the two could be reconciled.  It was this class which introduced me to Thomas Merton, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, Paul Tillich, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I can't imagine too many Catholic colleges would dare teach this as an undergraduate class in today's environment. It was a riveting class for those of us who took it because the only synthesis we could find that reconciled the two was the Christian notion of hope combined with the secular notion of social evolution.  It was the idea that man, through his capacity to connect with the Spirit, could find solutions to the massive problems man's intellect created.  I guess one could call this solution a form of reality based active mysticism.  Solutions would not be found in pious passive mysticism locked in cloistered convents and monasteries, but in real time active mysticism ordered towards discovering solutions, not praying away evil.  It was not a closed solution based on traditional answers to poorly formed questions, but an open ended and trust filled faith in the continued evolution towards manifesting the Kingdom on Earth.  God's Will would be done if we trusted our capacity to hear and execute the solutions.  For me it was an invigorating vision.

This is still what I am all about and it's becoming the shared goal of many mystics and spiritual people from all religious traditions.  It has the potential to synthesise knowledge and education with spiritual insight and human development.  Unfortunately it can't be contained in rigid doctrinal formulas--whether of science or religion--and it can't be entirely subject to religious authority.  It can only be fostered by religious authority and that in my humble opinion, is where the mission of Catholicism must go in the future.  It must foster it's mystics, and stop dictating their solutions. That takes real faith in the People of God.  It takes deep trust in the goodness of God.  It takes a true capacity to love enough to include as many people as possible because one never knows whose head the solutions reside in,  and love is the Ground of Being from which the solutions will be found.  Jesus said so.



  1. Love this !
    I don't know what sort of head space these anti Vatican II people are in and their almost fanatical need to restore an antedeluvian system beats me completely !! I too find my anger levels at some of their comments very hard to keep from brimming over.
    I agree with what you say about the mystical and transcendent but somehow there is no-one I can name alive who I can point to who leads the way in this. Thanks Colleen for this - we''ll keep hoping !

  2. Phil it's really hard to put all this together--yet. But I have had the phenomenal pleasure of meeting many truly gifted mystics from all walks of life and traditions and have the feeling eventually we will all together put it all together.

    As always though, the biggest obstacle is our definition of 'self'. One does have to die to all the misconceptions we all carry about that whole phenomenon of 'self' or ego 'I'. Which is why I loved your post today.

  3. Colleen, this is one of your best blog post, in my opinion.

    The anti-Vatican II people, the reform of the reform-back-to-the past reformers, are very similar in attitude to the Tea Party people. Their world view is the world fixed in time with limited resources, limited understanding and no real sense of creativity or the evolving energy and life that creates which is Hope and it is not the Kingdom of God. That is why their world view is always crazy and at war, can only bring more craziness and warring.

    It is very difficult to deal with these types of personalities in the Church and in politics. They seem so caught up in this world and its ways, of which they are true followers and have vested their interests within as fixed structures that must be unchanging and everyone else is wrong for thinking any different than them. The attachment they have to the world they live in is full of rigid rules detached from any real Faith in God, in my opinion.

    word verification is "nosples" .... LOL!!


  4. "...[Catholicism] has to keep moving towards inclusion and not exclusion, and it has to seriously search for answers which transcend and incorporate secular advances..."

    ## It managed something of the kind in the 13th century, when something had to be done about Aristotelianism - if it could incorporate that philosophy, in a creative, discriminating and fruitful way, it ought to be capable of rising to the occasion now.

    "13 percent less likely to say the Bible is the "actual word of God." The educated, like most folks in general, tend to say the Bible is the "inspired word" of God, Schwadel says."

    ## What is the distinction ? What is meant by "actual word of God" ? The Magisterium does not believe or teach the Bible was dictated by God; even if many other Christians do - it's very insistent on the genuine humanity of the Bible, as "the Word of God in the words of men".

    It sounds as though US Catholicism may be at least 50 years - and probably more - behind the Church in Europe in such matters. Having said that, I see no clue is given as to what answers Catholics (if asked) gave.

  5. @Anonymous:

    "Their world view is the world fixed in time with limited resources, limited understanding and no real sense of creativity..."

    ## That's because they are concerned, not to be *creative*, but to be *faithful*. Creativity brings the risk of going wrong, of being (however unintentionally) not entirely faithful to the message one is trying to communicate.

    Fixed dogmatic formulae have the advantage that their meanings and content are familiar and certain - whereas creativity in theology or in pastoral work or that sort of thing has the disadvantage of not having a familar content or meaning.

    STM that both approaches are needed for a healthy theology, not the one or the other, but both, working in concert. That has the advantage that neither approach is canonised as the only Catholic approach; and that whether Catholics are drawn to one or the other tendency, both can be given a hearing; which is one way for the Church to be catholic, rather than becoming a one-sided & impoverished sect.

  6. Your right Rat, but I would use the word discernment in there somewhere, and I would also say either approach must be able to withstand a reality check. In my book mysticism also must be able to withstand a reality check which is why I have trouble getting started writing my book. My intuitive understanding is not yet translating to an understandable written explanation. The real time, real results are there however.

  7. Remember that in writing a book as in all creative endeavors, action induces inspiration. Just start writing. Let the Spirit guide you through your writing process. The words may be wrong/mistaken/incomplete on some level at this point but you then have to opportunity to trust the Spirit again as you revise, revise, revise. Your writing is already wonderful. I would relish the gift of reading a book written by you. Of course, as I write this, I ponder, "Physician, heal thyself."

  8. Rat, I said no sense of creativity. That is different. I was not speaking about theology. Creative people do have a sense of what it is to be creative. It comes from a faithful place, if one has faith. There cannot be a mistake if what is creative is from a source that is higher than the self, and especially if people benefit from that creative energy in a positive way.

  9. "I have had the phenomenal pleasure of meeting many truly gifted mystics from all walks of life and traditions..."

    Who, specifically, have you met? Who is a mystic? Who qualifies the name mystic?

  10. Yes, well, it was people like Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Paul Tillich and the students of Bede Griffiths who made me reconsider and re-explore Christianity. If we really took a non-dualistic approach seriously, and moved beyond naive literalism versus tepid metaphoricalism (?), we would have that open space. Not to completely reject received wisdom, but to gain the maturity to reinterpret it and expand on it. Which of course leads to new understanding of what sin is, or how to appreciate God-language, or what it means to call Jesus the son of God. But even the more liberal-leaning mainlines don't seem ready for this yet. And the alternative is the kind of regressive form of religion that is increasingly coming to represent Christianity.

  11. "Not to completely reject received wisdom, but to gain the maturity to reinterpret it and expand on it. Which of course leads to new understanding of what sin is, or how to appreciate God-language, or what it means to call Jesus the son of God."

    You are so right with this sentence. Maybe just as important is reinterpreting what Jesus meant when He is recorded to have called us His brothers and sisters.

  12. Indeed, I've pondered that a great deal. It's ironic, as I wrote under a blog account above, I was primarily drawn back to and rediscovered Christianity through the insights of RCC Religious (including Thomas Merton, Thomas Keating, Wayne Teasdale, David Steindl-Rast, etc). From their loving and inspiring view of the Church, I even discovered some affinity for a few RCC spiritual devotions, particularly the reverence for Mary (also seen in the Orthodox Churches but rarely in the Anglican/Protestant ones).

    I had considered looking into the Roman Catholic Church, perhaps even trying the RCIA program. I read books like "Whose Church?" by Maguire, and I went to Catholic forums and blogs looking for insights and answers, including some places where priests would answer questions.

    After a while, I was able to get the message from what I was reading: We'd love to have you so long as you are willing over time to completely conform to a particular set of theologico-political views or at least be a quiet dissenter. If you are going to willfully reject that, we already have enough bad Catholics.

    I had a harder time then finding progressive Catholic voices, but the few I ran across seemed quiet or ambivalent on the idea of someone who had grown up outside of the RCC and who was looking for the kind of Church I envisioned for from my readings (which I suspect were strongly influenced by the same spirit as Vatican II) getting involved.

    I think now I can understand some of that ambivalence or hesitation, especially as I read about more and more internal issues coming to light, the airing of long-suppressed frustrations, and many folks quitting any active involvement with the RCC. It seems like such a shame too, because I do think there is a vision which can accommodate the primary concerns of most Catholics (I could be wrong), a view based in a more mature and mystical understanding of the Gospel.

    Which is of course what I was thinking about in my previous comment.