Here’s more bad news for the Catholic Church, courtesy of Bishop Robert Barron over at Word on Fire:
An earlier Pew Study showed that for every one person who joins the Catholic Church today, six are leaving, and that many of those who leave are the young. This most recent survey indicates that intellectual objections figure prominently when these drifters are asked why they abandoned their faith. My cri de coeur is that teachers, catechists, theologians, apologists, and evangelists might wake up to this crisis and do something about it.
Barron’s information comes from a couple of Pew studies, but other studies are showing exactly the same thing. Bold emphasis is mine:
Young Catholics are leaving the faith at an early age – sometimes before the age of 10 – and their reasons are deeper than being “bored at Mass,” the author of a new report claims.
. . . .
In exploring why young Catholics were choosing to leave the faith, he noted “an emerging profile” of youth who say they find the faith “incompatible with what they are learning in high school or at the university level.” In a perceived battle between the Catholic Church and science, the Church is losing.
Science was also a major reason for leaving the Church in the studies that Barron looked at. A second reason for leaving centered on Freudian arguments that have been revived by the New Atheists. And Barron cites still another reason:
A third commonly-cited reason for abandoning the Christian churches is that, as one respondent put it, “Christians seem to behave so badly.” God knows that the clergy sex abuse scandals of the last 25 years have lent considerable support to this argument, already bolstered by the usual suspects of the Inquisition, the Crusades, the persecution of Galileo, witch-hunts, etc., etc. We could, of course, enter into an examination of each of these cases, but for our purposes I am willing to concede the whole argument: yes indeed, over the centuries, lots and lots of Christians have behaved wickedly.
The truth is that all of these objections share a common origin–It is the New Atheism. And I certainly agree with the bishop that Christians need to do more to defend the faith against their criticisms. That’s the reason I wrote my book–The Immoral Landscape of the New Atheism—it deals with all of these objections.
But the reaction of Catholics to my book has been unusual to say the least. Let me give you an example. In the summer of 2015, I was invited to speak to a Catholic men’s group just before my book was published. The organizer, however, asked that I not mention the priest scandal (the topic of my second chapter) because he thought “we are past that now.” So what happened later that year? The movie Spotlight, which deals with the priest scandal, was released to rave reviews, and it ran away with all the awards, including best picture. Bishop Barron is right to mention the priest scandal in the same breath with the Inquisition and the Crusades. The truth is that we will never be “past the priest scandal” just as we will never get past the Inquisition or the Crusades or Galileo. It has become a part of our history, and the enemies of the Church will use it against us forever. If we who are faithful choose to remain silent, then we allow our enemies to define us and our history, just as they have done with so many other Church scandals.
This is what the New Atheists have done so successfully: they have redefined us. At a conference I attended, the great Catholic scholar Scott Hahn spoke of the tremendous success of the New Atheists on college campuses and admitted that there was a great need to effectively answer these potent critics of our faith. Just last Saturday Bishop Burbidge of Raleigh echoed precisely the same idea when he recounted to our men’s group how many young Catholics are experiencing persecution on their college campuses.
So it is at last dawning on Catholics that there is a need to respond to the critics. Our silence has been deadly as millions have abandoned the Church. And those who have left now stand ready to persecute those who remain faithful to the teachings of Christianity. But Bishop Barron’s exhortation to “wake up!” may be overly simplistic. I think Ross Douthat comes closer to the truth. In his 2015 Erasmus Lecture, “The Crisis of Conservative Catholicism,” Douthat admits that the crisis might involve more than simply arousing ourselves from slumber. For Douthat argues that actually we need new and better arguments.
At the risk of sounding immodest, may I suggest that my book is precisely the new and better argument we need. What we have struggled to communicate is the real message of the Gospel, namely, that Christianity is indispensable because Christ is indispensable. This is the message of my book. To deny this message is to capitulate to the heresy of Pelagianism, the erroneous but increasingly popular belief that we can be good without God. I show in my book how to refute this error: Without the Church our souls are lost, which means that our minds are lost. And the culture and civilization that depend on our spiritually transformed minds is thus also lost. That is the prediction of my book: that the loss of Christianity will inevitably lead to the loss of civilization. And it is coming true before our eyes. Yes, waking up would probably be a good idea. JG