Gongol.com Archives: March 2024

Brian Gongol

March 30, 2024

News Religious detachment

Every year, legions of "Easter Catholics" attend Masses across America on Easter Sunday morning. Easter and Christmas are, like the High Holy Days of Judaism, the times when people who may have lower theological attachment to their religious faith still respond to their feelings of cultural attachment. ■ Religious attendance in the United States has been in long-term decline, and the share of adults with no religious affiliation is now more than 1 in 4. And no small number are former Catholics: 13% of American adults, or about 1 in 8, are ex-Catholics. ■ Outreach to former, lapsed, disaffected, or merely disengaged Catholics -- and to those who identify with that ambiguous identity of "spiritual but not religious" -- would seem to be the most fruitful kind of evangelism the Catholic Church could do. It would require a different approach than traditionalism or ritualism, and it would probably require reaching out via people other than conventional clerics. ■ Yet, at a time when the Pope has been diversifying the highest echelons of church leadership (and has even made some initial moves to elevate women into influential roles), it seems peculiar that the church hasn't responded more directly to the rise of "spiritual but not religious" as a social identity. ■ Even if specific religious affiliation is in retreat, the search for meaning shows no signs of abating. That quest for meaning is a fundamental part of human nature, and someone, somewhere, will fill the voids people feel. Some have observed the rise of political fervor as a substitute for religion, and others note the quasi-religious (or even cult-like) attachment some people feel to the wide range of self-help gurus found today. The problem is that many of these alternative expressions of religious energy end up having unholy consequences. ■ Catholicism is already a church of many spiritual styles; different religious orders emphasize considerably different practices, just for example, and the influence of syncretism has been applied for centuries to harmonize the Roman Catholic church with local customs. How might it look if the church were to treat those "cultural Catholics" (and their friends) as if they were an existing civilization all their own, previously untouched by missionaries and now being contacted for the first time?

@briangongolbot on Twitter