Thoughts on Pew’s In-Depth Poll of American Catholics

Pew Research conducted a thorough poll of American Catholics leading up to the Holy Father’s recent trip to the United States. The study covers a lot of issues facing American culture today, attempting to understand where Catholics stand on these topics. The findings are interesting even if expected. The entire poll is over five “chapters” long but let’s discuss a few glaring points. If you have time, make sure to check out the entire thing–handy graphs and all–at their site with the table of contents below:

There’s been a lot of polling over the past few years showing that fewer people than ever consider themselves Christian. While I don’t doubt that, percentage-wise, fewer people are Christian (let alone Catholic), something we need to keep in mind is that many of the people checking the “no” box on these polls feel the same way they did 20 years ago, only now there’s less of a stigma associating yourself with non-Christian or even atheistic beliefs. I’d submit that many people are just actually being more honest now than ever (how virtuous!). So, a non-Mass-going ‘Catholic’ dad in 1995 might have felt uneasy about admitting he really has no connection to the Catholicism he was raised with back then but now, with the popularity of open secularism in the West, this same man doesn’t feel so ashamed that he and his family have no connection to any formal religion. In fact, statistician and Catholic Leah Libresco drew my attention to this poll through her post discussing a similar point on First Things: Statting While Catholic.

This theory isn’t to view the situation with rose-colored glasses though, there’s an undeniable problem. And, to cut right to the chase, I am looking at all the careless, lax, fluffy, and lazy priests that have infected the American Church over the last half century. I’m looking at the priests that have led their flocks astray by downplaying reverence, up-playing sentimentalism, allowing sacred art to be discarded, using their homilies as a time to tell stories that hardly resemble any sort of Catholic thought, not teaching the faith to their parishioners with adult logic and philosophical intellect, and ignoring the difference between virtue and vice. We also need to recognize the destruction left in the wake of the Vatican II to properly contextualize these numbers. Fifty years later, it is obvious, especially to young Catholics, that the Second Vatican Council, despite its intention, has created more confusion, chaos, and empty pews than anything else in recent Church history. The Second Council is like a poorly written contract with countless loopholes to be taken advantage of, allowing relative interpretation to creep in…and that’s just what these crappy priests did. In many parishes, Mass has become something that more resembles a protestant worship service only with worse music and lower attendance.

Today's homily: God loves it when you say "please & thank you"
Today’s homily: God loves it when you say “please & thank you”

We have had time for the dust to settle. Now it is no longer the traditional Mass goers and lovers of Catholic orthodoxy that are viewed as the ones “haunting the turrets of outdated and reactionary Catholicism” (quoting Rachel Lu) but rather the aging progressive modernists that are either responsible for or a product of this debacle. The crop of impressive and faithful young laity and clergy supports the old saying “the Church outlives all heresies”. The tables have indeed turned, it’s the progressive modernist-style Catholics in the rear-view mirror of this unfolding history. However, as the data from Pew shows, we still have a huge mess to clean up.

So back to the whole point of this post: the poll. Let’s discuss some numbers. We see that almost half of Catholics consider unmarried partners of any gender combination raising children just as good as a man and woman in marriage raising a family. How can this possibly happen? I have some theories (it involves crappy lazy priests) but I’ll save you the rant.

We see that 83% of Catholics don’t understand the teachings on artificial contraception and with some even thinking the Church is wrong. Now, there is a notable difference between cultural Catholics (who rarely attend Mass) and weekly Mass-going Catholics, but not by much. Another topic many priests shy away from, confession, a SACRAMENT, is something few Catholics participate in, with 56% of them either never going or going less than once a year!

We see that parents either are not doing a good job or are not getting the support they deserve because half of children who grow up Catholic leave the Faith. So, since most Catholics seem to have no more than two children, that means…well you do the math.

We also see the trend of men becoming less engaged. While I applaud the strong female Catholics leading their families, this has caused many problems in attendance and vocations. Many of the liturgies you come across at some parishes are enough to make sure a man never thinks about setting foot in a Roman Catholic church again. At many parishes women (again, to their credit) nearly run the entire operation, but it shouldn’t be so lopsided. We need engaged men.

guitar massThe poll has a chapter asking which actions, if any, constitute a “sin”. These results show, in my opinion, that many Catholics don’t understand what “sin” means. This is something we’ve discussed on this blog before. Popular culture (and protestants) has a done a great job diminishing what “sin” is. Of course, many Catholics haven’t had explained that sin is simply taking an action contrary to the natural order in the world; that God is–in the most basic sense–the unseen order of the universe and a sin is any action that frustrates that order. That’s it. It’s not some outdated, judgmental term. But again, many Catholics aren’t aware of this because their priests likely decide to talk to the congregation as if they are children, incapable of any intellectual or adult discussion. Pastors need to lead their congregation’s spiritual growth by discussing the disorder that vice causes in our lives, and about the holy saints that lived lives of heroic virtue.
So, fellow Catholics, keep praying, keep evangelizing, and keep hope. We’ve about hit rock bottom–it’s only up from here. There’s an amazing crop of young priests seeking to “fix the fix” of 50 years ago. These young priests are in love with their bride, the Church, and they want to share everything she has to offer with their congregations. Liturgies are embracing Gregorian chant in the music and Latin in the ordinaries again. The Traditional Latin Mass is exponentially growing worldwide. We have tools at our disposal that help us communicate like never before. We have young men and women who desire big and beautiful families. We have a laity on fire with the Faith. Because of all this, the dire numbers we see are getting better every day.

So, yes, there’s some very unfortunate facts we must face temporarily. Luckily, all that’s right with the Church is strong enough to overcome anything that’s currently wrong. So be patient with your eyes on Christ and, in the meantime, pardon all the snark on TSP.

For an incredible breakdown of American Catholics by the numbers check out the linked table of contents above. There’s a ton of stats not mentioned in this article.

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PetSmart and a Society That Favors Pets as Children

The comforts of Western culture have no doubt encouraged the embracing of a hedonistic lifestyle among humans. Starting with the Baby Boomers (well, actually, with Europe), humans are increasingly living a life of chasing only immediate material pleasures (trust me, I love material pleasures too…but not exclusively). This is coming to a head with the current era of young adults known as Millennials. Millennials don’t want commitment because it gets in the way of being controlled by whatever passions or appetites they may have at any moment. Commitment to a spouse is too sexually constricting. Commitment to a mortgage is too geographically constricting. Commitment to a family is too…well…constricting in general. So, since humadoggybag24006_228x374-798730n beings naturally long for companionship, we find young adults between about 20 and 35 are personifying their pets in a way that mimics a relationship to the children they are forgoing. People seem to be more concerned with unadopted dogs than suffering children (and make no doubt, I have a soft spot for dogs). For instance, take a look at social media. Posts of pets frequently include captions offering adorable glimpses not into their cute pets, but their adorable “children” and “family”. Millennials, inevitably, know they are longing for a happiness that isn’t material so they are attempting to quench this immaterial thirst by drowning themselves in dog slobber. Pets require less of a financial commitment, they require less of a time commitment, and they require less of an emotional commitment. Does this sound like anyone you know?

Enter PetSmart pet stores. They recently aired a commercial that, admittedly, is somewhat humorous. But the main thing that stood out to me is the fact that it shows a typical Millennial couple discussing what they need since becoming “new parents” to some puppies. Even the narrator refers to the pets as “kids”. Is the commercial a big deal? No, not really, but it highlights the growing sentiment among young people: that real children are a burden to anyone that actually enjoys their life. PetSmart recognizes this growing demographic and are simply trying to capitalize on it (Note to self: Invest in PetSmart stock). This sentiment shouldn’t be ignored though, it is quite literally destroying the population in Europe and will soon do the same here. Unlike the destruction from the big plagues of history and natural disasters, it’s not the old and weak that this kills, it’s the young, strong and fruitful–the people that we rely on to keep the population stable.

I know, I know, it’s just a silly commercial, right?

"Family picture time!"
“Family picture time! Odie, stop staring at your brother. You are the reason we drink every night. Ugh, being a father is exhausting!”

The Dominican Sister I Met and Our Difference of Philosophy

Today I met a very kind woman while waiting in the Geek Squad line at Best Buy. She was a Dominican Sister from San Antonio visiting the area. Her name escapes me but I remember everything else during our brief-but-open conversation. Our conversation highlighted the opening rift in Christian philosophy that seems to separate many Baby-Boomer-aged Catholics (especially in the Religious Order) from younger Catholics (both laity and fresh out of the seminary).

'Nuns on the Bus' is one of the more 'progressive' groups of religious women. In their crusade for government being the solution to economic inequality, they don't mind supporting relativist-minded politicians that support issues such as late-term abortion, forced payment of contraception, and other legislation that attacks Christians.
‘Nuns on the Bus’ is one of the more ‘progressive’ groups of religious women. In their crusade for government being the solution to economic inequality, they don’t mind supporting relativist-minded politicians that support issues such as late-term abortion, forced payment of contraception, and other legislation that attacks Christians. Note: I am not suggesting the Sister I met is this extreme.

The Sister was ahead of me in line while we waited for an employee to return from the back room. She was sitting at the desk and I was standing behind her at the “please wait to be called” sign. She moved over to another stool and said that if I sat by the main computer area that maybe I would be helped quicker. She looked to be in her 60’s and spoke with a very pleasant tone. After some small talk, she mentioned that she was a Dominican Sister and our conversation became more substantive. I mentioned (read: shamelessly plugged) that I had a Catholic blog and she had me to write the URL down so she could take a look later. She asked me what exactly the blog was about. Thinking quickly, I explained by saying, “well, it’s a blog about orthodox Catholicism and how it relates to modern society in America.” She raised her eyebrow at “orthodox” and asked, “what do you mean ‘orthodox‘”. Knowing that people often equate this word with a sort of stone-aged, fire and brimstone mentality, I was quick to respond, “orthodox in the true meaning of the word: non-heretical, traditional.”

Sister was quick to say how she views herself as a more progressive Catholic and pointed out that she believes in the evolution not only of our biology but of Christianity (to which I told her that I was embarrassed that she would take the assumption that an “orthodox” Catholic would somehow be at odds with biological evolution or, as she later suggested, the Big Bang, I would expect this assumption from the media and secular culture but not a fellow Catholic). After citing how the Dominicans came out of the time of the Inquisition, she said that we must evolve our minds to move forward. After quickly responding that indeed we evolve through time but God is objective and doesn’t change with time and that is a big difference. Before I could finish my thought, she asked me, “tell me, do you like Pope Francis?”. I responded that I do indeed. She said, “good, I do too, now how about Pope Benedict [XVI]?”. I said I liked him too. She shook her head and mentioned that she didn’t care for him too much. I told her that I think a lot of people are misguided about Pope Francis, thinking he’s something that he’s not. He’s not going to somehow change church doctrine in a way that suits popular culture’s current appetites.

She conceded that she’s probably a bit to the “left” of many in the Church and then asked me what I feel about women priests. I told her that I think it’s a break with the sacred Tradition of the Church and how Jesus formed his Apostles. If I had more time in our quick back-and-forth, I would have pointed out that men and women have very different but equally important roles in the Church–that priests give life to the world by ministering the Eucharist and women give live to the world one soul at a time; that women are considered sacred. She quickly asked me how I felt about divorced and remarried Catholics receiving Communion. I told her that it indeed is a sensitive subject because I can see how someone could make a mistake earlier in life before they took their faith seriously and, now that they want to live a holy and Catholic life, they are unable to just confess and move on like with most past mistakes. I told her that I made mistakes in my past and am very understanding of others’ need for mercy. However, just because it’s difficult for us, we cannot change what marriage is: a covenant not only between two souls but also with God. So, I told her I understood the pain it might be causing some people but that is no excuse to change this Sacrament to artificially lower the bar for humans or to in any way encourage a lack of seriousness about holy matrimony.

I wrapped it up by noting that the Church doesn’t exist so we can change it, it exists so it can change us. I went on to say that part of the reason so many young people are disinterested in what the Church has to offer is because too many people think it should offer the same message popular Western society offers: relative morals and all behavior being equal. This is why the Anglican church in particular is dwindling at such rates. Why would anyone want to be a part of something they can get anywhere else?

The time came when we had to part ways and she told me how nice it was to meet me, I responded similarly and thanked her for the fun conversation. But I left with a sense of just how deep this “progressive” mentality is in many Catholics that came out of the Baby Boom era. The relativist mindset that thrived in those decades eroded the Church; not only does it seek to take liberty with sacred Liturgy, it quite literally is physically eroding churches in how they are built and renovated. “Progressive” (read: heretical) Catholicism can not thrive because the people who are attracted to this message, typically the political and social leftists in American society, have no need for the notion of God or religion no matter how watered down it is. There are two main types of these people. The first type is someone that’s not religious and would never consider all-of-a-sudden joining the Catholic Church even if it did claim to represent the “values” they espouse–what would be the point for them to join this “progressive” form of Christianity? The other type of person are the ones that are still Catholic-by-association but hardly practice it and have children that will not be carrying on the faith (if they even have children)–they have no desire for bells, incense, and kneeling to get in the way of their paramount virtue of ‘liberating’ individualism.

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While I obviously have my philosophic differences with this kind-hearted Sister from San Antonio, I very much enjoyed my spontaneous conversation with her. Sister, I hope you did indeed check out this website and you’re reading this. I encourage you to comment on this post and on other posts whenever you’re in need of a discussion or really disagree with something I have to say! I want you to know that I’m going to be praying for you tonight and ask that you please pray for me in return. God bless you!