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Sunday, March 06, 2005

A Telling Gloat.

My favorite Washington correspondent for Aggh--Orthodoxy! It Burns! It Burns! Weekly attempts to do some "myth"-busting this week. I'm only going to address the section dealing with the leanings of young Catholics. As to the rest, all I'm going to say is that if the logic underlying the "busting" is the same, then the whole thing is simply cotton candy comfort food for the Forces of Enlightenment--a lot of whipped air and spun sugar that disintegrates upon contact with reality.

There is indeed "something else going on in our nation," and that, according to some Catholic writers is a revitalized "orthodoxy" among the Catholic young. Papal biographer George Weigel says they are at the forefront of an "authentic Catholic renewal" and author Colleen Carroll (The New Faithful) writes that "orthodoxy's appeal seems to be growing among young adults who have a disproportionate amount of cultural influence -- those who set trends and lead others in academic, artistic, and political circles."

Carroll's book is great. I strongly recommend it.

A case of wishful thinking? At a Feb. 18 presentation on "Commitments and Concerns of Young Adult Catholics," Catholic University of America sociologist Dean Hoge painted a picture of 18-to-39-year-old American Catholics that shattered the myth of growing conservatism among this group.

First of all, Carroll is careful to state that her subjects do not represent some kind of majority view--on page 8 she acknowledges that clear majorities of da yutes don't adhere to orthodoxy. What she says is that there is a growth in orthodox observance among the young. Consider, for example, the proof of a clear trend toward orthodoxy among young Catholic priests.

Now on to lies, damn lies and statistics.

And the first question you should be asking yourself is this--how do these numbers compare to previous years--if there are any?

Not surprisingly, perhaps, only 22 percent of this age group agreed that it is "always morally wrong" to "engage in premarital sex," though nearly two-thirds of their elders (63 and older) said so. Only 10 percent of younger Catholics agreed that artificial birth control is always wrong.

Ah, the Reporter. The relentless critic of those who "fixate" on "pelvic issues."

From Mr. Feuerherd's account, it seems an odd survey, what with only four questions. [Sarcasm off.]

Given my slight acquaintance with Hoge's work, there were many questions, and detailed. So why start with those two? Hmmmm....

The responses are not exactly stunners, either. I vaguely recall being in my late teens to mid-20s (and sometimes without acute embarrassment), and I remember being endlessly entertained by answering questionnaires that asked for your sex with the equivalent of "BOO-YEAH!"

Now I have three children. Tends to mature the ol' perspective, and fast.

But even outside temptations of the flesh (opportunities for which are presumably greater among the younger population), the overwhelming majority (80 percent) of the generation called to lead this "authentic Catholic renewal" agreed that "individuals should seek out religious truth for themselves and not automatically conform to the doctrines of any church."

Well, doyyoyyoyyyyyy. While I'd like to see how the question was phrased in its entirety, it doesn't sound like something any reasonable person could disagree with. The marvel may be that 20% did.

The notion that automatic mindless conformance is the prerequisite for orthodoxy is evidence that someone stopped listening to the orthodox a long, long time ago. If anything, the Carroll book is a record of such seekers, as any fair read of it would acknowledge.

By the way: "reading" doesn't include thumbing through it at Barnes and Noble with an expression suggesting one has just been handed a bucket of fish guts.

There's nothing at all wrong with a diligent, good faith and sincere search for truth. If there was, I'd still be a nominal Methodist.

What is wrong is a lazy, endlessly skeptical "exploration" and dabbling, which seems to be the mentality of our benighted era. A phenomenon which "anything goes, no-reasonable-offer-will-be-refused" Catholicism does nothing to discourage.

Eighty-eight percent said, "if you believe in God, it doesn't really matter which religion you belong to." Most didn't even know the Second Vatican Council took place, much less what it taught.

It's not an encouraging sign when your rallying cry is "4 out of 5 religious illiterates agree with us! Nyeah nyeah nyeah-nyeah nyeaaaaah..." An odd and sad gloat, indeed.

Not to mention a terrifying snapshot of the state of rel-ed. One can only marvel at the hermetically sealed faith life (if it can be called that) that these poor folks are dwelling in. I mean, how on earth could you never even have heard of Vatican II? Even I had heard of it, in my Methodist/agnostic years. It reminds me of those painful Jay Leno bits where he interviews The Future of America on the sidewalk, and they can tell you all about Christina Aguilera's fiance', but can't name their Senator.

It would be nice if Feuerherd had provided a breakdown comparing Mass-attending young adults with their non-observant brothers and sisters. I'm sure it was in the presentation, too. The silence is deafening.

Which brings me to my final point--the fatal flaw in the Feuerherd piece is in comparing committed Catholics like those in The New Faithful with a pool consisting of everybody, including those who haven't darkened a church door since confirmation--if then.

It's not that the latter don't count--as children of God, they most certainly do. It's just that they can't be counted upon. Or rather, they can be counted upon, but only to return for the church wedding and the occasional C&E moment. At most, it's a residual identity, and at this rate it won't be passed on in even a minimal form to their own kids. To be blunt, they are a mission field with Catholic sympathies, nothing more. That sympathy makes it easier to reach them--and reach them we must--but they aren't exactly a fund of expert knowledge on how to fix what ails the Church. They surely can't set any agenda if they never show up. They'll need plenty of getting up to speed before they can be taken seriously, at any rate.

Moreover, they need to be reached with the Gospel, not the good news of self-affirmation preached in the cubicles of the Reporter. If you preach that people are welcome and just fine the way they are, they listen, all right. And stay home. Real discipleship costs you something--and, believe it or not, I think people are receptive to that, honestly presented.

So, to sum up, both Carroll and Hoge can be true--which is easy enough to see if you aren't too busy trying to stock up ammo for debates with conservatives.

[Thanks to Amy Welborn for the link.]

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