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Wednesday, November 23, 2005

We're ignorant, but at least we feel good about it.

Rich Leonardi treats us to a pair of surveys of Catholics in Cincinnati and nationwide. Here's a direct link to the data in the survey commissioned by the Reporter.

Tables 1 and 13 are most instructive (no whining about PDF formats--the reader software is free, for pete's sake).

Note that in the first, nearly a quarter think that a "good Catholic" could believe that Jesus of Nazareth is worm food, and in the second, half are incapable of explaining their faith.

It reminds me of a friendly conversation I had with an agnostic student of Quaker background (he is studying the Greek classical era, which I admire) about the biblical canon and church councils, among other things. He said he admired the Catholic openness to scholarship and research, but was frustrated beyond words with the blinkered ignorance and utter incuriousity of most Christians regarding Christian teachings and history. All I could do was sheepishly agree and point out that in some areas, there are fledgling signs of a reversal of this trend.

Houston, we have a problem. Or so you'd think. What precisely is the Catholic educational establishment in this nation doing to remedy this problem?

Let's take a gander at the speaker and topic list for that establishment's crown jewel, shall we? Sponsored by the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, it is the biggest gathering of Catholic religious educators in the world, bar none. So, what's on the menu?

Liturgical Dance: Moving Through the Seasons

Dancing into Freedom! [exclamation point in original--of course (cue Krusty the Clown groan).]

The Freedom of Movement -- Learning the Steps

Women & Healing: Story, Song, Laughter and Movement

To Dance an Authentic Life

Freedom's Dance Step to Everlasting Love

But it's not all dance, of course. This is a Religious Education Congress, after all:

Why the Catholic Church Is Involved in Immigration Reform

Homosexuality, Celibacy and the Priesthood: Continuing the Conversation

A Womanist Perspective on the Church's Mission in the World

As You Enter Into Freedom, Possibility Comes to Meet You [The Guide insists that the presentation is in English.]

A Survival Guide for Thinking [sic] Catholics [Featuring our old friend, Fr. Thomas Reese, who will no doubt show up for his presentation shouting "Unclean! Unclean!" Such is the inevitable fate of thinkers in Benedict's Borg Cube.]

RCIA: Where Are Our Catechumens and Candidates After Initiation? [My personal favorite]

Pauline Controversies Then and Now: Sexuality, Women and Authority

And the evident runaway success of the past forty odd years:

Soul Formation -- The Foundation for Positive Self-Esteem

Is it all crap? Well, of course not. There are several intriguing presentations. However, the sad thing is the above was less cherry-picking than dodging the rain of apples from the branches.

Here's the rub: there are precious few hints on the list that there is a profound and well-documented crisis at the heart of Catholic life--namely, that Catholics are deeply ignorant of the fundamentals of their faith, and are incapable of communicating it to the wider world. And it is...unclear...how three days of flitting and activist tub-thumping begins to address that crisis. Which is why I think Whistling Past The Graveyard '06 is a better title. It certainly captures the tone better.

While the leadership dances, another generation gets burned. You're on your own, but the good news is it's a lot easier to DIY than it was a few years back.

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