Ever since I started dedicating myself to ministry through promoting the thought of St. Thomas Aquinas to the masses, I’ve consistently said that catechists, religious educators, and pastors MUST emphasize the intellectual rigor of the Catholic tradition.
While I wish that I was wrong about why people leave the faith, it is nice to know that the latest Pew Studies have confirmed exactly what I’ve been saying for years:
The main reason why the Church has suffered an exodus of millennials from the faith is precisely because of the perceived conflict between the Catholic faith and human reason.
Many Christians like to credit sinfulness or desire to live a lascivious lifestyle as the “real reason” why kids leave the faith and while that does play a role, it’s just not a fair analysis….
Because when we actually ask those who have left the faith, we find that the #1 reason for disbelief is because they simply don’t think that Christianity is reasonable.
Again, while it’s great to know that my insights are vindicated by the latest and most up to date studies, I wish it weren’t true.
Now that we know this, what are religious educators going to do? Well, if you look at most religious ed programs or curricula, what you will find is an overview of Christian basics or talking about our feelings and getting along with each other.
First, yuck. Second, that is about as ineffective as one could possibly get. What’s worse is that most of the time, catechists are woefully unprepared to deal with the real issues that come up in working with youth, not to mention the typical lack-luster presentation style they typically offer. Religious ed programs should focus on answering the questions that participants are actually asking rather than trying to check off boxes on requirements made by some bureaucrat who is totally out of touch with the real needs of the Church.
Yes, middle school and high school kids should know the 10 commandments or 7 virtues…but they should know them because they remember them from when they learned them as 9 year-olds! Little kids love memorizing stuff and are really good at it but a 13 year old wants to know how we can believe in God when science tells us about the big bang, or how to reconcile creation and evolution, or why the Church teaches that marriage is only between one man and one woman.
Yes, those are all uncomfortable and difficult topics but it’s our job as mature Christians to at least have the resources to answer these question and the courage to bear the discomfort of argumentative 13 year-olds.
But here’s the deal: What we’ve been doing for the last 40 years has not been working!
So, if you’re a religious educator, pastor, theology teacher, or a parent then you have a grave responsibility to the youth entrusted to your care. How are we going to respond as a Church to this crisis in light of the latest and best studies?
Are we going to keep the status quo? Or are we willing to do the work necessary to address this disturbing trend?
Let’s work on this together: If you have something in your church that has been working, please leave a comment below.
Jonathan L. Stute, M.A., MaPhil