Don't know what to make of the news that membership in organized religions is down across the United States.
That's not quite true. I've been trying not to let myself make anything of it. For one thing, I'd just be talking out of my hat. I don't know enough. None of the articles I've read get very deeply into people's reasons why they've left the faiths of their fathers and mothers behind or into the question of what it means to them that they're keeping the Sabbath by not going to church...or temple...or mosque...or shul. For another, I'm afraid that I'd just be flattering my own prejudices or stoking the fires of old angers.
But I can't help noting that the biggest drop has occurred among Catholics. This doesn't surprise me, on the one hand, but baffles me on the other. What's baffling to me is that the drop is so small. For the life of me, I can't understand why anybody is still a Catholic anymore.
Shoot. Hear I go. Bless me, father, for I am about to sin. I'm giving in to my prejudices and angers.
Over at Andrew Sullivan's place, a commenter reports that Massachusetts is a lot less Catholic than it used to be and attributes that to Bay Staters' disgust and fury at the pedophile scandals and Archbishop Law's attempt to cover it up. Which makes perfect sense. I can't sit in church without looking at the men in dresses on the altar and thinking, "Were you one of them or were you one of the cowards who looked the other way?"
I've asked still-practicing Catholics I know how they can stomach the sight of these creeps or creep-protectors. Most of them are able to see past the priests to the Man and God they represent. They go to mass for communion, and they don't mean the wine and the wafer. They mean the company of other Catholics and the feeling of being close to Christ. During the gospels and the sermons they listen to the message not the messengers.
For the record, my break with the Church is only tangentially related to the fact that for twenty or thirty or even more years it was running a giant child molestation ring. The priests I knew when I was an altar boy were not pedophiles. The only proof I have of this, though, is that they left me and, as far as I know, my friends alone and that over a short span of time almost all of them left the priesthood to get married. My break with the church came much later and it was in a fight with our parish school over getting help for our son, who we were just beginning to figure out had learning disabilities and developmental problems we would later learn to call Asperger's. Basically, I learned that every priest in our diocese I talked to, from our pastor on up to the bishop, was willing to throw our kid away. They all thought he was our problem that we were lazily and irresponsibly trying to make their problem and they pretty much out and out accused of being rotten parents and of raising a bad kid. He was seven and a half at the time, by the way.
So the last priest I ever talked to seriously I told to go to hell.
And that was it for me. I was done. I'd been holding onto my faith by the threads of a frayed alb anyway. As soon as it became impossible for me to sit in a church without wanting to heave a missal at the priest saying the mass I realized I didn't believe anymore and in fact hadn't for a long, long time. I'd been using the rituals and the nostalgia to distract me from my apostacy.
Shortly after that, the scandals hit the news and I couldn't help thinking, Oh sure, that's what you want little boys around for.
I'm not sure anything could have brought me back, but it doesn't help that the Church's only response to the scandal has still been to pay victims to shut up and go away and demonize homosexuals. Oh, and blame some of the kids for being seductive.
Because it's not really child abuse if the child is over twelve.
There were, and are, other things that bothered me about the Church. But I used to tell myself that it would come around, eventually, on birth control, letting priests marry, allowing women to become priests. It still might, although it's not going to happen under a pope who condones lunacy like this.
Maybe I should have come to my senses sooner and left because of the backwardness, the misogyny, the homophobia, and the hypocrisy of Catholic bishops condemning Pro-Choice Democratic politicians while giving their tacit support to Pro-choice and pro-Death Penalty Republicans. It shouldn't have taken a personal quarrel with a handful of scared and stupid men. But there it is.
The long and the short of it is that there are a lot of people who have good reason to be furious with the Catholic Church, to hate it and its minions with all their hearts, and that's why it baffles me that, even with the influx of Hispanic Catholics in the West and Southwest and big cities back East, the number of people identifying themselves as practicing Catholics hasn't dropped even more than it has.
There. I've given into the one temptation, anger. Now for the other.
As I said, the articles I've read don't give enough reason to know why so many people have given up on religion. I'm sure education has something to do with it. Fundamentalists fear and blame Darwin for threatening everybody's faith in a special creation for human beings, but really once you get a glimmer of how vast the universe is and know how old it is and what it's made of, it has to be hard to maintain your faith in a God for Whom human beings are at the center of His thoughts, which, of course, is why the Religious Right is anti-science not just anti-Darwin. Intelligent Design---Creationism---isn't just about teaching that God created the universe. It's about how biology, geology, astronomy, and physics are all wrong. "Teaching the controversy" is literally about teaching that a legitimate alternative to scientific thinking is a belief in magic, fairy tales, and just-so stories.
But it also can't help God's side that His public face is the charlatans and mountebanks the Media has designated as the spokesmen for religion or that the Media seems to think that the only religious people in the United States are Right Wing Protestant Fundamentalists and Right Wing Jews and Catholics who ape their politics.
For thirty years or more the Media has been so desperate to win over Right Wing audiences by flattering them and fawning over them that they've failed to notice what a lunatic brand of religion is being practiced by these people.
And it's not just the magical thinking. It's the hatred. And the fear.
Of sex, of women, of gays, of freedom of thought, of people who aren't Americans, of Americans who aren't "Christian," of art, of joy, of life itself.
There have been reports that younger Evangelicals have begun to notice this about their parents' religion, that even some of the parents are questioning it themselves. They're becoming concerned that the Religious Right has identified itself with the Republican Right so closely that it has become indistinguishable from it, that they've adopted a political cause not a faith and are rendering to Caesar what they ought to be rendering up to God.
I don't know.
The stories that report a drop in membership in other religions report that there's been an increase among Evangelicals. Not all Evangelicals are Right Wing Fundamentalists, but still.
Maybe, though, it's the case that these young people are strong enough in their beliefs that they feel they can take their churches back from their preachers.
Some days I almost wish I felt that way about Catholicism.
Ash Wednesday the blonde came home with a black smudge on her forehead and I was jealous. I wished I could have gone to church and believed something good was happening when the priest pressed his thumb to my head. But I know better. As far as I'm concerned, Ashes to ashes, dust to dust is a simple statement of a biological fact, and isn't that a sad and lonely thought some days.
Second reading: Michael Spencer sees a coming Evangelical collapse.