September 28, 2010

Whose Fault?

So this morning everyone will be blogging and tweeting about the study released by the Pew Forum suggesting that atheists and agnostics are better educated on religion than religious people. In particular, the study is reported to suggest that a large proportion of Catholics either don't understand or believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation as a description of what happens in the liturgy of the Eucharist.

But if this is the case, whose fault is it? Is it simply a case of ignorance or faulty catechesis? No. The problem is much deeper. When I joined the Order, we had a couple years of internal classes on various topics. Most of these were very good, but in one of them a priest went to great lengths to teach us the doctrine of transignification, which the magisterium has judged to be inadequate. Never was it said that this wasn't what the Church taught, or that this was an experimental approach that never made it to magisterial approval. It was taught to us, whether we knew better or not, by someone presented to us as an authority.

Even more, the manner in which many priests and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion handle the sacred species reveals a lack of confidence in what the Church teaches about these most sacred things.

So if the clergy will neither teach the Church's doctrine nor behave as if what the Church teaches is the case, perhaps what is really surprising is not that some Catholics don't believe it, but that some still do.


Mark said...

The same is true hear in the UK.

This struck me forcibly last week when, prior to the first Mass of the recent papal visit to the UK, Sky News (the less conservative British sibling of Fox) offered a clear and concise explanation for the benefit of viewers of the structure and meaning of a Catholic Mass.

The presentation placed transubstantiation (the actual term was used) and the sacrifice of the Mass at the heart of the explanation.

Yet I would guess that many UK Catholics catechised over the last thirty years have scarcely heard of these terms from their priests and bishops, and, if they have heard of them, have heard of them in the context of being told that "we don't believe that sort of thing any more".

ben in denver said...

I once had a delightful conversation with one of your capuchin brothers here in Denver about the deficiencies of transignification as an account of what happens during the consecration.

Anonymous said...

Twenty years ago, when I first dated my husband, I tried to get him back into the faith by going through the back door, so to speak. He carried quite a chip on his shoulder regarding religion that he closed himself to any meaningful argument. So one day I told him that the best way to argue religion with a believer is to delve in and study what it is they believe and then argue your position using their own beliefs against them. I had thought that by delving into the doctrine he himself would be turned. How wrong I was. So I'm not surprised at all when you say that atheists and agnostics are better educated on religion than religious people. What I don't understand is how is it that their "studies" reinforced their atheistic position rather than instill the seedlings of faith?

Sara said...

Hi Anonymous,

You are in my prayers. My husband is Catholic. It took me 13 years to convert.

I studied his beliefs, read the Bible. I wanted it to be true but I couldn't reconcile what I was reading with the actions of the Christian people around us. There was too much hurt. This was particularly true regarding marriage and children. We were young and I was just trying to do my best. I remember one day, maybe 10 or 11 years ago, reading Ephesians 5 and feeling so sick and sad. I could feel that this was something I wanted for my life, but all around me were Catholic couples whose married lives seemed most unloving and disrespectful. In that way, my studies drove me further away from God for a long time. I don't say this to blame anyone. Maybe it's not true for your husband. It's just my experience.

The seeds of faith were planted and nourished by the example of good Christian people whom I came to trust. Those relationships were healing and allowed me to turn back to Scripture. Most of those people have no clue that they ever did this for me.

Lee Gilbert said...

"The study is reported to suggest that a large proportion of Catholics either don't understand or believe in the doctrine of transubstantiation as a description of what happens in the liturgy of the Eucharist."

A number of years ago the prefect for the Congregation for Catholic Education commented on the wonderful state of the Church in this country (the USA) before the Baltimore Catechism was put on the Index of Forbidden Books.

IMHO lack of faith in the Eucharist is not a problem that needs to be addressed at the university level, but in first and second grade. When I saw how vapid was the religious ed textbook for our kids, we spent twenty minutes an evening memorizing the Baltimore Catechism and reading the lives of the saints. This was a formation of the intellect and the imagination. It "took" for them just as it had for generations of children from the Council of Baltimore right up to the 1960's.

Other than appalling stupidity on the part of the catechetical establishment, which ought to be corrected yesterday by mass dismissals, there is no mystery here. People do not believe because they have never been taught.

Carly said...

I agree with Lee. In my home, in Canada, we have publicly funded Catholic Schools. Though the elementary schools are better than the secondary schools, catechesis is not taught. Rather, my child comes home spouting social justice platitudes accompanied by warm and fuzzy feelings.

Though I do feel that all education, most especially that of the faith, begins and ends at home.

Anonymous said...

I believe the survey asked 12 major categories of "Religions", the same set of questions on all of the religions: the Catholics didn't just get questions about Catholicism and the Buddhists questions about Buddhism. They had to answer questions on each others Religion.
Could it be that the atheists got so many questions right because they spend so much arguing how everyone's religion is false? Also, could the Religious have gotten lower scores because they were devoted to their own Religion, and possibly didn't pay as much attention to everyone else's beliefs?A third possibility might be that the news stories put a little spin on the results to make religious people seem ignorant.

tgshaw (aka secondarycreations) said...

I'm a little late to the game here, but I agree with what the last "Anonymous" said - people who claim one religion are more likely to know something about their own but less about others. So when asked questions about all religions they might not come off so well.

Also, claiming a religion is the "default" in the U.S. (not true in some other countries). Someone raised by Christian parents will self identify as Christian even if neither they nor their parents actually practice the Christian faith. The same would be true more specifically for a lot of those identifying themselves as Catholic, especially in communities where being Catholic is really more of an ethnic or familial identification than it is a religious one. In the U.S., someone has to really choose to be agnostic or atheist, so people who identify themselves that way are likely to have looked at religion more seriously than a lot of those who claim a religion.