Mar 17, 2013

The Beautiful Church is Empty

Crossposted from Reflections Journal.

Religion is on the decline, and "nones" are on the rise. People with no religious affiliation, here in the United States is now at 20 percent -- double what it was two decades ago.

Even as the election of a new Pope in Rome dominated the day's news, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and Duke University reported that Americans are increasingly "parting ways" with religion.

In 2012, one in five people surveyed claimed no religious preference -- that's double the number who said that as recently as 1990. And religious affiliation in the United States is at its lowest point since researchers began tracking it in the 1930s.

Not religious is not the same as atheist, however. Atheists are currently at 3 percent, according to the survey data. People are abandoning organized religion, not spiritual belief. As discussed, the number of those who define as spiritual but not religious is on the rise.

People are separating from religious institutions for a range of reasons, from their misalignment with changing social values, to hypocrisy about their own.

Jerome Baggett, a professor at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, said changes on three levels -- individual, institutional, and societal -- have contributed to declining American membership in organized religion.

. . .

Religious institutions themselves have lost their legitimacy in the eyes of many Americans due to sexual and financial scandals, or political overreaching "by the so-called Christian right," said Baggett. "Americans have a wariness to institutions in general, but a particular wariness to religious institutions," he said.

In other words, there are people who probably would be religious but have become disaffected. I know a lot of those.

I know, for example, a lot people who loved the Catholic Church but have lost patience with its intolerance for homosexuality, birth control, premarital sex, and other matters of personal morality -- even as it thoroughly bungles the problem of sexual abusive priests in its employ. It's a deeper irony than many people can stand to see in their religious leaders.

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So I found this commentary from Bill Donohue's Catholic League particularly risible. Faced with polling that showed more than half of Catholics, 54 percent, now support gay marriage, Donohue pulled a Dick Morris and  attempted to unskew the poll. As per Donohue, Quinnipiac's mistake was in counting Catholics who don't go to church every Sunday.

This takes on added significance when we consider that 4 in 10 of the Catholics sampled do not practice their religion (28 percent go to church “a few times a year” and 11 percent say they “never” attend). That these nominal Catholics are precisely the biggest fans of gay marriage is a sure bet, though the poll fails to disclose the results.

The Quinnipiac Polling Institute has some explaining to do.

The weak impression of Ricky Ricardo aside, Donohue is articulating something very important about the Catholic mindset, which increasingly has more to do with purity tests from the hierarchy and a less to do -- okay, nothing to do -- with responding to the people who make up the Church. Who knows how many of these "nominal Catholics" could be brought back into the fold, if they felt like the Church wasn't totally out of step with the modern world.

As per Donohue, under journalistic scrutiny, Quinnipiac fessed up. If you only count those real Catholics, the numbers are about reversed.

After our news release was distributed, reporters from contacted Quinnipiac. What they admitted totally alters the outcome: 55 percent of Catholics who are regular church-goers are opposed to gay marriage, and only 38 percent favor it. This is important because Quinnipiac’s Peter A. Brown was cited all over for claiming that “Catholic voters are leading American voters toward support for same-sex marriage.” Nonsense.

What I find kind of funny about all that is that 38 percent is still a pretty healthy chunk of the regular church-goers Donohue thinks of as legitimate. Anyone paying attention to the overall trend might be very concerned about the growing disconnect between the Church and even its most ardent followers. But people like Donohue, and it would appear the Catholic hierarchy, seem to be digging their heels in. As a simple matter of organizational theory, this seems short-sighted.

In the 1950s, a lot of companies had the same organizational structure as the Catholic church. You reported up the hierarchy, and you did what the leaders told you to do. And then, in 1961, a surprising study discovered that innovative companies were just the opposite:

They are adapted to unstable conditions....Interaction runs laterally as much as vertically. Communication between people of different ranks tends to resemble lateral consultation, rather than vertical command.

. . .

Maybe the Catholic church doesn't need to be innovative. After all, if you're following the word of God, if you have knowledge of the absolute truth, then perhaps you'd never need to change. And that's often the sort of statement that comes out of Rome. After all, the church is growing (although the new members come from developing countries), so the leadership can argue that it's been successful by sticking to an organizational structure that was invented a few thousand years ago, in the age of monarchy and serfdom--three or four major economic and societal transformations ago.

It's hard to miss that even in its election of Jorge Mario Bergoglio to the papacy -- a departure for the Church in many ways -- they're still hewing strongly to the very regressive policies that are disenfranchising so many Catholics. Pope Francis may be a breath of fresh air when it comes to respect for the poor, but when it comes to gay people, he's a fire-breathing hater. Frankly, it seems sort of incongruous to me. In so many ways, he seems like such a sweet man. Then he says things like this:

In 2010, as Argentina debated a marriage equality bill, Bergoglio called on Catholics to oppose the move, calling it the devil's handiwork.

“Let's not be na├»ve, we're not talking about a simple political battle; it is a destructive pretension against the plan of God,” Bergoglio wrote in a letter calling on followers to join a protest rally in Buenos Aires.

“We are not talking about a mere bill, but rather a move by the Father of Lies which aims to confuse and deceive the children of God.”

Bergoglio went on to say that gay adoption is discriminatory to children: “At stake are the lives of many children who'll be discriminated against in being deprived of the human growth that God wanted to be given through a father and a mother.”

Agrentina went on to ratify gay marriage, which underscores just how out of step the Church is on this issue. President President Cristina Fernandez de Kircher called his statements a "throwback to the Inquisition."

Pope Francis is also stridently opposed to birth control and abortion rights. I doubt that anyone could have been elected pope who wasn't completely regressive on these issues of sexual morality. That seems to be the litmus test of. And the farther behind that puts them with new generations, the more rigid and unyielding the Church becomes. This, according to Joan Chittister of the National Catholic Reporter has made Catholics weary.

The problem is that weariness is far worse than anger. Far more stultifying than mere indifference. Weariness comes from a soul whose hope has been disappointed one time too many. To be weary is not a condition of the body -- that's tiredness. No, weariness is a condition of the heart that has lost the energy to care anymore.

People are weary of hearing more about the laws of the church than the love of Jesus.

People are weary of seeing whole classes of people -- women, gays and even other faith communities again -- rejected, labeled, seen as "deficient," crossed off the list of the acceptable.

They are weary of asking questions that get no answers, no attention whatsoever, except derision.

They suffer from the lassitude that sets in waiting for apologies that do not come.

There's an ennui that sets in when people get nothing but old answers to new questions.

So, yeah... I know a lot of lapsed Catholics.

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