At each stop [on the road these past 10 days, visiting Christian universities], I talked to professors — some of them theologians, but all of them believing Christians — who all agreed that perhaps the biggest problem they’re seeing among their students is illiteracy in the basics of the Christian faith. Broadly speaking, the students don’t know their Bible, don’t know the foundational stories of the Christian faith, don’t know much of anything. And these are young adults whose parents send them to Christian colleges!
Let me state this strongly: not once did I hear a professor speak disdainfully of students today. Rather, I heard a deep concern for these kids, and fear for their futures. If there was condemnation, it was for the families and the religious communities that formed these young people so inadequately. An Evangelical theologian with whom I spoke at the Pepperdine conference (he doesn’t teach at Pepperdine, but rather drove in for the event) said, “They were taught arts and crafts in their churches. Now their religion is what Christian Smith calls Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. “
In 1991, I had decided to seek instruction in the Catholic faith, but dropped out of the RCIA program after three months of the theological equivalent of arts and crafts. I wasn’t sure I was to become a Catholic, but it was clear that if I stuck with that program, I would emerge no more knowledgeable about what being Catholic meant than if I had never darkened its doors. A friend pointed me to Father Dermot Moloney, an old-school Irish priest at a downtown church. The first time I met with Father, he said, in his chewy brogue, “By the time I get t’roo with ye, ye might not want to be a Catlick, but ye’ll know what a Catlick is.”
This was golden. It was what I needed to hear. What had brought me to the threshold of the Catholic Church was in large part the royal mess I had made of my life by choosing to live directed by my own passions. To speak in Dantean terms, I wanted to learn the way out of the dark wood; I did not want the church to tell me to relax, to not be so hard on myself, that the dark wood was actually Paradise.
Maybe the times we’re in now require those who profess Christianity, in all its forms, to embrace its core radicalism more consciously. Yes, this must be true: Christians have to push back against the world as hard as the world pushes against them. The lukewarm and their descendants will be seduced by the siren song of individualism, shoved over the cliff and washed down the river by the irresistible current. What a terrible judgment to inflict upon one’s children. I’ll be crude here, but the seriousness of the situation demands straight talk: you are a Christian, but half-assed about it, you had better face the likelihood that your children and your grandchildren will be strangers to the faith.
HERE is a seeming paradox of American life. One the one hand, there is a broad social-science correlation between religious faith and various social goods — health and happiness, upward mobility, social trust, charitable work and civic participation.
Yet at the same time, some of the most religious areas of the country — the Bible Belt, the deepest South — struggle mightily with poverty, poor health, political corruption and social disarray.
Part of this paradox can be resolved by looking at nonreligious variables like race. But part of it reflects an important fact about religion in America: The social goods associated with faith flow almost exclusively from religious participation, not from affiliation or nominal belief.
(Emphasis added) I think I’ve made clear several times that I’m not terribly interested in utilitarian arguments for religion, but children lapsing from the faith ought to be a concern for parents, whether they value the social benefits or actually believe (as do I) that participation is our cooperation with God in our salvation – at least if we’re participating in a Church that believes, practices and teaches the faith, and doesn’t just teach arts, crafts, and niceness.
You know how they say that religious marriage and civil marriage are different things and that “marriage equality” is no threat to religious freedom?
That will last until about 2 seconds after the Supreme Court decree that same-sex marriage is the law of the land. Then the presses will start cranking out the new textbook histories of these dark ages, when people thought that marriage was gendered, and how there are some bigoted Churches and religious fanatics who still think that.
Just you wait and see.
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“The remarks made in this essay do not represent scholarly research. They are intended as topical stimulations for conversation among intelligent and informed people.” (Gerhart Niemeyer)