Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Church is covered in powder burns from shooting itself so many times

A Church that repels instead of attracts:
Catholics declined from 23.9% of the American population to 20.8% between 2007-2014, and in that time “unaffiliateds” (i.e. those who do not affiliate with any religious group) increased from 16.1% of the population to 22.8%. According to the report, that means that there are roughly 3 million fewer Catholics today than less than a decade ago, even factoring in immigration and births.
...The first, and most important, take-away should be this: what we are currently doing isn’t working. I realize this might come across as blindingly obvious, but for many Catholic leaders it doesn’t appear to be. If you attend a typical Catholic event today, most of the talk will be about how great everything is: our schools, our parishes, our youth groups, etc. Nary any mention of the reality that our pews are emptying.
...The complexity of the problem doesn’t mean we just throw up our hands and give up. I think there is something buried in the Pew numbers that is revealing, and points to a possible solution. When you look at the “religious switchers,” it is clear that the mainline Protestants and Catholics are the worst at attracting new members, and the best at repelling existing members. Yet look at other faith traditions, such as Evangelical Protestants, Mormons, and Muslims: you see that they were able to maintain their numbers in an era of religious decline– the Evangelicals actually added more members than they lost.
Is there anything they hold in common, as opposed to mainline Protestants and Catholics?
I would argue that they take their faith seriously. There are no felt banners, content-free catechesis, or silly songs to endure. More importantly, there are no apologies given for what they believe: they are robust in their practice of the faith, or to use the politically-incorrect term, manly. Such cannot be said of the typical mainline Protestant congregation or Catholic parish. 
 Something my buddy the youth minister told the kids the other night is illustrative of this problem. He told us the story of how he got the job. He was interviewed by a hiring committee of prominent parishioners. The parish is largely made up of wealthy suburbanites, which correlates strongly with liberal Catholicism. He didn't expect to get the job going in so he figured he had nothing to lose. They asked him, "What would you do to attract more young people and keep them rooted in the faith?"

They were expecting him to offer the usual platitudes but instead he said, "Gregorian chant, for one thing. The music in most parishes is embarrassing. Increased reverence in the liturgy should be a priority." Much to his surprise, he got the job. Although, he went on to tell us, later on a member of the committee told him that that answer nearly cost him the job until the pastor put his foot down. It's almost a law of nature that the wealthier a parish is, the more casual the dress and the more liberal the theology and politics.

All of the problems within the Catholic Church of the last 50 years - the ugly churches, the embarrassing music, the lousy art, the milquetoast preaching, the sodomites in the priesthood, the communists in the religious communities, the disappearance of men and corresponding feminization of the congregations - are symptoms of the underlying problem. Of course, stuff like this doesn't help.

This will bring in the men in droves!

Godless heathens think religious faith means believing in nonsense without any evidence at all. This is, of course, ridiculous. Christianity hinges on the historical existence of Jesus Christ. A few neck bearded fedoras try to argue that Jesus never existed, but that is such a manifestly risible argument that it deserves only contemptuous dismissal. Faith is akin to confidence. Reason demonstrates the existence of God and his perfections. The First Vatican Council put it this way:
  • 1. If anyone says that 
    • the one, true God, our creator and lord, cannot be known with certainty
      • from the things that have been made, 
      • by the natural light of human reason: 
    let him be anathema.

Reason cannot demonstrate that which transcends reason. The most prominent example is the dogma of the Holy Trinity. We accept this truth about the nature of God solely on the authority of the God who revealed it.
If anyone says that
  • divine faith is not to be distinguished from natural knowledge about God and moral matters, and consequently that
  • for divine faith it is not required that revealed truth should be believed because of the authority of God who reveals it:
let him be anathema.
The problem which has gripped the Church for the last 50 years is a crisis of faith. The Catholic Church has lost all confidence in itself, its mission, its identity. Why is our public worship so frequently ugly or silly? Because we no longer have supernatural faith that Jesus Christ is truly present. Why is the preaching of our priests and bishops so banal and enervating? Because they're trained not to rock the boat. Might cause too much loss of revenue.

The Second Vatican Council has locked the Church into mid-20th century illusions about the compatibility of Christianity with secular liberalism. Our paaaaastoral strategy has been to make nice with the world. The numbers speak volumes: the world hates us more than ever and Catholics are no longer given solid reasons for remaining Catholic. If anything, it'd be better if religious education programs taught outright heresy. Heretics often take religion seriously, albeit a diseased and erroneous form of religion. Most Catholic education teaches children that religion is kid's stuff. CCD may as well stand for Cutting, Coloring, and Drawing.

Demography is destiny. The Church will continue shrinking in the West for the rest of my lifetime. There are no simple solutions. One thing that has been of help to me is recalling the distinction between Catholicism as a body of doctrine vs. how it is lived in practice. In theory, the Catholic Church should be the most reactionary institution on earth. In practice, American Catholicism is essentially mainline Protestantism with more Mexicans. I admit it's unsatisfactory. But it has saved my faith on more than one occasion to recall that the Church has not and cannot teach error, no matter how much our bishops would like it to or how much they refrain from teaching the hard stuff.

What makes today's crisis heartbreaking to me is that it is mostly self-inflicted. The Arians, the Cathars, the Protestants... all of them were easily identifiable groups with easily identifiable beliefs that marked them as outside of the Catholic Church's pale. They either left of their own accord or they were thrown out. These days the Modernists chose to remain inside and undermine the Church from within. You learn to be on your guard around the clergy until you can discern whether they're orthodox or not. And if not, you either find another parish to attend or you learn to maintain a critical distance from them, always analyzing everything they say to discern whether it's good, bad, or indifferent.

But I stay, and God willing, I will stay until death. I imagine this is how it must feel to watch one's mother descend into alcoholism. You still love her, but you learn not to take her drunken rambling too seriously and you always work and pray for the day when she decides it's time to give up the sauce and turn her life around.

1 comment:

  1. Why are so many modern churches so ugly? Often big blocks of concrete with an oversized cross on top?