On Drifters and the Disaffected: Pew Study on Religious Practice

changed-faithThe Pew Research Firm recently issued further reflections on a a 2007 Survey it did on religious practice and affiliation. There are important matters raised in this report for the Catholic Church to consider. Rather than reinvent to reportage on this matter I thought I might use a “blog technique” of posting an AP report and then commenting (in red) along the way. Please feel free to comment back. I don’t claim to have all the answers here. Just some reflections, some wake up calls and some rebuttals of mine to the survey and the reportage. The reporter is Eric Gorski, AP Religion Writer. Here then follows the Article with my red commentary


The U.S. is a nation of religious drifters, with about half of adults restlessly switching faith affiliation at least once during their lives, a new survey has found. And the reasons behind all the swapping greatly depend on whether one grows up kneeling at Roman Catholic Mass, praying in a Protestant pew or occupied with nonreligious pursuits, according to a report issued Monday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

While Catholics are more likely to leave the church because they stopped believing its teachings, many Protestants are driven to trade one Protestant denomination oraffiliation  for another because of changed life circumstances, the survey found.

The ranks of those unaffiliated with any religion, meanwhile, are growing not so much because of a lack of religious belief but because of disenchantment with religious leaders and institutions. In a certain sense all the Christian Denominations are in the boat together!

The report estimates that between 47 and 59 percent of U.S. adults have changed affiliation at least once. Most described just gradually drifting away from their childhood faith. Again, this fact does not just affect Catholics. Note too that word “drifting.” This is an important word to help keep things in perspective. While much commentary follows below on how people left due to disagreements over doctrine, the plain  fact is that many people just “drift” away. They don’t leave angry or as some sort of protest. They just gradually disconnect. What this means for the Church however is that we have to do a better job of keeping people engaged and connected. Liturgies need to be effective, nourishing and properly celebrated. People need to be engaged to participate more fully in Church life and the Church needs to be more relevant to their broader needs. Perhaps to include: marriage support and enrichment, Parent support groups, more opportunities for younger adult Catholics to meet, fall in love, marry, have lots of kids and raise ’em Catholic :-)! Seminars in parishes on imporatant ethical and social issues etc. The point is that the drifting and disconnect is real and the MAIN source of loss.

“This shows a sort of religion a la carte and how pervasive it is,” said D. Michael Lindsay, a Rice University sociologist of religion. “In some ways, it’s an indictment of organized Christianity. It suggests there’s a big open door for newcomers, but a wide back door where people are leaving.”

The report, “Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the U.S.,” sought to answer questions about widespread religion-changing identified in a 2007 Pew survey of 35,000 Americans. The new report, based on re-interviews withmore than 2,800 people from the original survey, focuses on religious populations that showed a lot of movement: ex-Catholics, ex-Protestants, Protestants who’ve swapped denominational families within Protestantism, and people raised unaffiliated who now belong to a faith.

The 2007 survey estimated that 44 percent of U.S. adults had left their childhood religious affiliation. This is a huge number!

But the re-interviews found the extent of religion-swapping likely is much greater. The new survey revealed that one in six Americans who belong to their childhood faith are “reverts” – people who left the faith, only to return later.

About two-thirds of those raised Catholic or Protestant who now claim no religious affiliation say they have changed faiths at least twice. Thirty-two percent of unaffiliated ex-Protestants said they’ve changed three times or more. What this means is that a lot of Catholic are no where now. They tried several other places but now belong nowhere: they claim “no religious affiliation” There is a saying, I have not seen numbers to back it up that the Largest denomination in this country by far is the Roman Catholic Church (this is clear numerically). But the second largest denomination is “former Catholics” who now go no where. The harvest is rich but the laborers seem few. One of the  purposes of this blog is to try to reach out and reconnect.

Age is another factor. Most people who left their childhood faith did so before turning 24, and a majority joined their current religion before 36.

Sixteen percent of U.S. adults identified as unaffiliated in the 2007 survey; 7 percent of Americans described being raised unaffiliated, suggesting many Americans end up leaving their religion for none.

About half of those who have become unaffiliated cited a belief that religious people are hypocritical, judgmental or insincere. Large numbers said they think religious organizations focus too much on rules, or that religious leaders are too focused on money and power. The uninspiring example of many Christians remains a big image problem for the churches. To be sure, we don’t evangelize merely with words but also with transformed lives. However one of the things we have to communicate a little better is that the Church is like a hospital. People are not surprised to find sick people in hospitals, a place theoretically associated with healing. But they understand that people are “on the mend” or being treated because they are sick. Well the Church is the same. We are not running some sort of “sanctified society ” here. We are here because to some extent we are all sick and in need of healing. The Church dispenses that healing as well as knowledge of “best practices” to avoid poor spiritual health but the fact is, we’re running a hospital and people should not be surprised to the “sick” among our ranks, all in various stages of recovery. As for being Judgemental, we expect doctors and healthcare workers to speak to us truthfully about what can harm us. We do not consider this judgemental. We may not always like it but we understand that it is their job to speak in this way and to exhort us to more healthy living. Why do fingers start wagging when clergy and Church leaders do this? Isn’t it really their job to prophetically uphold biblical doctrine and morality?  As for rules, what kind of healthcare can take place without rules. Clearly there are foods to be avoided in large quantities, clearly exercise is called for, clearly prescribed medicines must be taken in exactly proper does. But when it comes religion many people want to make it a vague sort of wishy-washy directive-free zone. So here too, we have a lot of work to do to answer thoughtfully and respectfully on the view that we are hypocritical, judgemental, too many rules etc. But we ought to have a clear answer as well that questions some of the premises involved in this criticism .

John Green, a University of Akron political scientist and a senior fellow with the Pew Forum, classified most unaffiliated as “dissatisfied consumers.” Only 4 percent identify as atheist or agnostic, and one-third say they just haven’t found the right religion. Some good news here. Outright Atheism seems a much bigger problem in Europe but here in American we still seem to be a nation that generally believes in the existence of God. However, that does not necessarily mean that all, even most believers go to Church regularly

“A lot of the unaffiliated seem to be OK with religion in the abstract,” Green said. “It’s just the religion they were involved in bothered them or they disagreed with it.”

The unaffiliated category is not just a destination. It’s also a departure point: a slight majority of those raised unaffiliated eventually join a faith tradition. Again, some good news here. Just because a person was not raised with religious observance does not necessarily mean that they will always stay unchurched. A lot of them, more than half, eventually find a church home.

Those who do eventually join a faith tradition cite several reasons: attraction of religious services and worship (74 percent), feeling unfulfilled spiritually (51 percent) or feeling called by God (55 percent). Interesting how 3/4 of the unchurched report that the liturgy is an important reason for their embrace of a faith tradition. Once again, we are reminded of the critical importance of liturgy celebrated well, effectively and in conformity with Church norms.

The survey found that Catholicism has suffered the greatest net loss in all the religion switching. Nearly six in 10 former Catholics who now are unaffiliated say they left Catholicism because of dissatisfaction with Catholic teachings on abortion and homosexuality. About half cited concerns about Catholic teachings on birth control and about four in 10 named unhappiness with Catholicism’s treatment of women. And here is a soul searching moment for the Church. Will we change our teachings just to keep members or will we preach the Gospel in season and out of season? Jesus often suffered the loss of many disciples for his teaching. In John 6 “Many left him and would no longer follow in his company as a result of the this [teaching on the Eucharist].” Likewise in Matthew 19 most seemingly rejected his teaching against divorce. So, is the Church about numbers or about the truth? But here too is another challenge for the Church. Many simply do not understand our teachings well. It is not our teachings that are being rejected but rather, a caricature of our teachings that is being rejected. In my conversations with Catholics, former Catholics and non-Catholics it is very often the case that the teachings of the Church have not been faithfully or fully communicated to them. Much of what they know has come from a hostile media or culture. Many of the teachings are often understood “out of context” or in extreme versions. The nuance of our teachings are not well communicated. This is on us. We cannot simply complain of a hostile culture or media. We have to get out there in the mix and effectively present our teachings thoughtfully and effectively. Our Sunday School, and adult Education has to get better and clearer. None of this guarantees that we will keep our numbers, but we ought to be sure that, if people reject our teachings, it really IS our teachings they reject. I am convinced that some are not rejecting Catholic teaching, but a false or incomplete version of Catholic teaching.

Converts to evangelicalism were more likely to cite their belief that Catholicism didn’t take the Bible literally enough, while mainline Protestants focused more on the treatment of women. But the mainline Protestants are in steep decline themselves and those who depart there are fewer in number. Further those who depart there often carry issues with them that we can do little to change. We cannot change our teachings on the ordination of women, or on homosexuality, or on abortion which the study also indicates as issues of importance to those who depart to mainline Protestant denominations. However, from those who depart to Evangelical denominations we might be able to learn more about things we CAN change. We can and should work more on developing better preaching in the Catholic clergy. We can and should do a better job of demonstratingour faith from the Scriptures. Good, solid Biblical based preaching is not at odds with Catholicism. Our teachings are there in Scripture and we need to do a better job of teaching from the Scripture. It is true we also have the sources of the Apostolic Tradition and have great respect for Natural Law. But it remains true that people report their hunger to taught the Scriptures and we can and should do a better job of teaching clearly. As for the reference to interpreting the Bible the Literally, no one does that all the time. If you think the Evangelicals or others do then why do they not interpret literally passage that call us to cut off our foot, or hand or tear out eye? Why do they not interpret the words of our Lord “This is my Body” literally? The notion of literalism is a simplistic one and again, as a Church we need to better explain our position here. But NO ONE interprets all of the Bible literally all the time. Catholics take a  lot of passages literally, others, due to context we interpret more symbolically. But so do the Evangelicals. The question is what to read literally. In the end I think the view that Catholics don’t “take the Bible Literally enough” really means that they don’t think we take the Bible seriously enough. Here I think we can make improvements. I think we do take the Bible very seriously as a Church. But our preaching and other teaching methods don’t always convey this very well.

Fewer than three in 10 former Catholics cited the clergy sexual abuse scandal as a factor – a finding that Washington Archbishop Donald Wuerl cited as an example of the faith’s resilience.“Catholics can separate the sins and human failings of individuals from the substance of the faith,” Wuerl said in a statement. This is my experience too.

Wuerl said getting teenagers to weekly Mass greatly improves their chances of staying in the fold; the same holds true for Protestant teens attending services. Amen. Another huge group is young adults, 21-35 especially those who are not yet married. We need to do a better job of reaching them.

Perhaps too not enough study was done of those who have been hurt by the Church. Not by doctrine but by some insensitivity, by an omission, or comission of sin, whether by clergy or one of the faithful. If you are among those please consider contacting your local parish to let the healing begin. Don’t let anyone or anything get between you and the Lord who wants to minister to you through the sacraments and in the liturgy. The following video is about clergy sexual abuse specifically but allow it also to speak to others who were wounded in other ways. Let the healing begin.

The Good Shepherd Lays Down His Life For His Sheep

 “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. This is why the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down on my own. I have power to lay it down, and power to take it up again.

On this Good Shepherd Sunday we celebrate the fact of what our Shepherd has done for us. He has given his life for ours. Consider this, there are many things and people that will try to claim your loyalty. Maybe it is a political party, maybe it is a philosophy, maybe it is the boss at work, maybe it is popular opinions. But there is only one contender for your loyalty who ever died for you. His Name is Jesus. He alone is worthy of your most fundamental loyalty since he alone gave his life for you. Freely he died, not merely as a victim of circumstances. He laid down his life of his own accord and he took it up again. Only Jesus died for you.

What Are You Longing For? What do you Want?

There’s an old Gospel Song that says, “I heard my mother say, ‘Give me Jesus. You may have all this world; just give me Jesus.'”  In my own life I heard people get to the mature point in their life when they could really say those words without any simulation or exaggeration. In particular I have in mind those I’ve been privileged to accompany toward death. For many of them these words become very real. My own mother died suddenly so I did not have the privilege of making that journey with her along the way. But My Father died after a year-long illness and my Grandmother too. I was able to walk with them in their final stages and I heard them say these words. And I knew it was time because only God can get you ready to say those words in a true and authentic way. I knew they really meant it and God was getting them ready for the great journey over to the other shore.

In the end, we have to desire heaven more  than this world and only God can cause this change and purge us from the many attachments we have to this world. It usually takes the dying process to get us there, though I suppose it shouldn’t have to. But, painful though it is to behold there is something quite beautiful about the  approach to death. I often see a letting go of those who approach death;  perhaps it is of worldly glories, old grudges, preoccupations and many worries. Little by little these things fall away and the “one thing necessary” replaces them. It is merely this:  that we sit at the feet of Jesus and wait for him to bring us over. There comes a moment when those who are dying with faith can truly saying the words of Psalm 27 : There is only one thing I ask of the LORD; this alone I seek: That I  may dwell in the LORD’S house all the days of my life and gaze upon his  beauty.

What do you want? What do you long for? Maybe it’s God! I know, its probably a lot of other things too. But if you’re faithful God can get you to the point where you can truly say: Give me Jesus. You may have all this world. Just Give me Jesus.

Pray along with this beautiful rendition of the Old Song: Give Me Jesus

The Mass in Slow Motion – The Greeting by the Celebrant

We continue our look at the Mass with the greeting of the celebrant. Earlier instalments of this series can be seen in posts below.

The celebrant standing at the Chair greets the assembled people in one of the following ways:

  • 1.  The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
  • 2.  The grace and peace of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
  • 3.  The Lord be with you.
  • 4.  Peace be with you. (Only Bishops may use this greeting)

In each case the people respond: “And also with you.”

Here again, we hear it all so often we mis the point! But through his greeting the priest declares to the assembled community that the Lord is present! The greeting and the congregation’s response expresses the mystery of the gathered Church and that Christ Jesus is among us. For, as the Lord says in the Scripture, “Where two or three are gathered in my Name, there am I in the midst of them. (Matt 18:20) The greeting ritual is both theological and descriptive. Something powerful and wonderful has just been told to us. Therefore, informal additions by the clergy such as “Good Morning everyone” are not called for or helpful here. To announce to us that the Lord and his grace are both present and available to us is far better than some colloquial form of hello, remarks about the weather or the progress of the local sports team. We need to grasp the significance of what is taking place to see how inappropriate such light banter is at this moment. We are not just in any gathering, we are with the Lord and He with us and his grace and mercy are available to us! Indeed and in fact the Lord is present and ministering to us. The ritual does allow for the celebrant to add some introductory remarks after the greeting: After the greeting of the people, the priest…may very briefly introduce the faithful to the Mass of the day. (GIRM # 50) Notice the purpose of such remarks is to draw the faithful more fully into the feast they are celebrating or perhaps to announce the basic theme of the readings that are about to be read, or perhaps the mystery of the Eucharist that is about to unfold. Here again light banter about extraneous matters seems out of place. Rather, that the Lord is present and he is ministering to us and unfolding for us the mystery of his Grace is the most basic tone of this moment of greeting.

History – Originally it seems the Roman rite began simply with the readings. This was probably reflective of the very small congregations which gathered in homes or other places. There was little need for a formal greeting. However, as the Church emerged from persecution and communities became larger and processions longer, a greeting of some kind became more of a necessity. Augustine mentions in the City of God 22:8 “Salutavi populum” (I greeted the people) as he began Mass. Likewise, in solemn functions of the 7th century the first thing that happened when the Pope reached the Altar was a series of greetings for the co-liturgists (much as in our present day sign of peace). But in the Middle Ages the greetings came more and more to be paired down while rites such as prayers at the foot of the altar and other introductory rites were added. In the Tridentine Liturgy, the greeting was a simple Dominus vobiscum (the Lord be with you) but it was not proclaimed to the congregation until after the Kyrie and Gloria and immediately before the opening prayer. Today as is seen above, the greeting is restored but is still brief in nature. Further, the greetings include a richer drawing from the written greetings of Paul in the New Testament as well as the greeting by Jesus to his Apostles after his resurrection, “Peace be with you.”

Jesus Is Here Right Now

Picturesque Papa

I have often thought that Pope Benedict XVI is quite photogenic. Some  of the pictures I have seen are quite humorous. Here are a few photos I have collected of him that I think are funny. I set them to the music of Irving Berlin’s What do I have to do to get my picture took.

More Liturgy in the Movies

Here is a clip from the Movie “Joan of Arc” depicting the coronation of the Charles VII of France in Reims. I am not sure how accurate the Liturgy is since I am not familiar with coronations nor am I even sure if there is such an actual Rite in the the Roman Ritual. Nevertheless it is beautifully filmed. It also displays a time when the Church and State were often closely allied (too closely??). But it was what it was.

Charles VII ascended to the French Throne after the death of his father. However his nephew also claimed the throne. After some  intrigue he had insisted that he was King but was really a toothless tiger due to the presence of the English Forces in France. Joan of Arc, after a vision was given permission by Charles to lead forces against the English.

Joan of Arc then set about leading the French forces at Orléans, forcing the English to lift the siege and thus turning the tide of the war. After the French won the Battle of Patay, Charles was crowned King Charles VII of France on 17 July 1429, in Reims Cathedral as the de jure king. This scene is depicted in this movie clip

Joan was later captured by the Burgundians who handed her over to the English. Tried for heresy she was burned at the stake on 30 May 1431. Charles VII did nothing to save the one to whom he owed his throne.