How Unchurched Is Your City?

The U.S. population is becoming less religious1. I see that in my own home town.

I’ve made mention before, that I live in a very liberal place. That’s relative. It’s liberal if you are Muslim or non-religious, in terms of religion, but outwardly believing in Jesus Christ and his Church seems to be a moral offense based on the reactions of a few when I tell people I am Catholic. Such an old, white man religion to belong to – which the extreme Left is totally against.

Barna defines unchurched as: “have not attended church in the past 6 months”. According to the Barna Group, Portland, OR is the 13th for un-churched residents at 46%; our upper northwestern neighbor Seattle, WA at 50%2. (I point them out because we are their jealous cousin – anything Seattle does, Portland follows suit.) It would be no surprise that high-density metropolitan areas seem less religious than rural areas, but that is more problematic than it should be.

My state also dropped from 63% were absolutely certain in their belief in God in 2007 to 57% in 20144.

We are losing this race to ourselves: 34% of Americans currently belong to a different religion than what they were raised in3. Between 2007 to 2014, the rate of religiously “unaffiliated” rose from 16.1% to 22.8% (6.7 points), while the percentage of Catholics dropped from 23.9% to 20.8% (-3.1 points)3. People are, not only not participating in organized religion (of which I firmly believe the Catholic Church is the paragon of truth manifest), but dropping 9% for the “unaffiliated” in their belief of God(5). That means 28.7 million Americans (based on the 2014 United States population) lost what was left of their connection of divinity, and presumably Grace.

I posted Fr. Tim’s talk on Trans-Humanism (which you should listen to if you have not yet), and it constantly pops up in my mind. The removal of the pursuit of Grace will lead to the damnation of humankind. That is my conservative conjecture, and honestly about as mildly as I can put it. What is the purpose of human life? From the unbiased opinion of a human being who wants every one of God’s creatures to have a good life, the purpose of life of devotion to God. What that looks like is a different issue entirely, and I may write about that later, but let’s continue.

Grace is paramount in all things we Catholics do. Assuming we are not in a state of mortal sin before accepting the Eucharist so there is nothing to impede the Holy Spirit from acting through us in the world, we should be ready and willing evangelists for the Lord and His truth. Yet somehow this is the true. Somewhere between being devoted to Christ and the Sacraments, we fail our fellow brothers and sisters in the way we present our ideologies, our passions, our convictions, and ourselves.

This is an issue because 20% of those polled do not like organized religion, and 82% of the 49% net unaffiliated are Atheist(8). According to American Atheists, “Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods“. I would argue semantics but I honestly never see books written by Atheist condemning native polytheism as much as my own atheist friends buy anti-Christian literature for their wayward religion compatriots. Let me define their religion how they will. Below is the graphic of Pew Research Center:

Trying to be an optimist, I find that the demographic outbreaks who identify as agnostic (63%) or believe as nothing in particular (37%) are caveats of teetering individuals who are potentials for the entries in the Catholic Church. This growing dissent in organized religion to me stems from religion being viewed as something private, not to be shouted from the mountain top, perhaps even shameful in some instances. Honestly, I have been telling people I’m becoming Catholic almost as soon as I meet them. I love talking to people are religion and politics and whatnot – same as when I was Muslim.

People have questions and, because of the hush-hush nature of religion for many people, perhaps also due to societal shame of an ideology so archaic, are eager to have their curiosity sated by someone of a given faith. I find this true the less religious people get. For me, growing up around Catholics I did not feel the need to ask about religious practices; I just accepted it as something parts of my family did. This followed me through Islam and now fully into Catholicism. I seem to end up being the representative for people’s questions, which I love doing to help them see the good that I see in Catholicism! Whether we mean to be or not, we are the manifestation of our faith – and God is always watching.

That being said, in this tense sociopolitical climate, with the rise of political correctness, the shunning of Trump supporters, and the “if you are not with us you are against us” feminists, and ANTIFA, there is nothing wrong with protecting one’s self and one’s family from would-be hate-filled attacks as we stand up for our rights as citizen to free speech, peacefully assembling, voting and lobbying, and – if it pertains to you – our Second Amendment rights. But that’s just my opinion- let’s get back to statistics.

The Pew Research Center then had David Campbell, a professor of the University of Notre Dame, comment with his opinion on the result of the data7:

The survey found that 13% of all American adults used to be Roman Catholic. In your view, what are the two or three biggest factors prompting so many people to leave the Catholic Church?

From what I have seen in the data, the continuing decline in Catholics is due largely to the same factors leading people to leave other faiths, rather than to specific Catholic issues. It is tempting to attribute the decline in Catholic numbers to the sex abuse crisis within the church, but that does not seem to be the primary explanation. I say this because we do not see a sharp drop in Catholic numbers corresponding with the revelations regarding sex abuse. Rather, it has been a steady trend. (There is evidence, however, that financial contributions to the Catholic Church have declined precipitously as a reaction to the sex abuse crisis. Catholic parishioners are voting with their dollars, if you will.)

One primary cause of the rise in “nones” — and thus the decline in Catholics — is a negative reaction to the mixture of religion and politics. And, just as mainline Protestants do not form the same sort of subculture as evangelicals, neither do Catholics. But Catholics once did. As the ethnic bonds of Catholicism have weakened, it has become easier for Catholics to become ex-Catholics.

I do find a strong correlation between the still persistent Diocesan cover-ups of sexual abuse allegations and the then apparent re-shuffling of alleged perpetrators within a given Dioceses within the Catholic Church. This is morally reprehensible and ethically unfounded to be still going on after the corruption that was sustained during the 20th century. Granted, all clergymen are human beings first and religious leaders secondarily – that is no excuse to abuse powers and to abuse devout followers.

My greatest issue is the lack of action from the Church. Consistently it seems that all accused priests are simply removed from the parish of allegation continuously, especially when the allegation follow them. There are many documentaries and books on this issue and I can see why many people would not want to be associated with a religious body that does so little to protect its followers. The Catholic Church will have to answer for that. (See Star Tribune, Great Falls Tribune, and MPR News articles for details.)

Another reason is the Catholic Church’s view on contraception. We won’t get into that today; let’s leave that for later. Here’s an anecdotal NY Times article that many American Catholics may be able to relate to, as well as a United States Conference of Catholic Bishops exposition of the morality and theology of contraception, to be supplemented with a Catholic Answers article.

To note a positive, it appears that the amount of people using the religion as the means to gauge right from wrong increased between 2007 and 2014 from 24 to 29%4. Which, considering the aforementioned moral errors of the Church, may be good.  Pew Research Center also found that generationally, since the Silent Generation, that the “importance of religion” has diminished. However, they do suggest “[i]t is possible, of course, that younger adults will become more religious with age. Analysis of the General Social Survey (GSS), for instance, shows that over the long term, people pray more regularly and report attending religious services a bit more often as they get older.”1

As a “Younger Millennial”, I feel a strong conviction that many of the factors imparting the divide between religion (Catholicism specifically) and lack of contemporary, mainstream support has a lot to do with how the older generations presented it to us. At the same time, I understand that Vatican II “helped” the Church seem more friendly even to the present parishioners of this time. (See the Vatican II documents here.) The Church has made slow and steady progress to keep the conviction of faith alive in believers, and I pray it continues to not be the slow old man when it comes to adaptation and innovation.

I will leave some links here for basic questions and answers that one might have about Catholicism: Catholics Come Home, Beginning Catholic, Catholic Answers – How To Become Catholic, and Catholic Digest – 20 ways to get more from the Mass.

References

  1. Pew Research Center. (2015). U.S. public becoming less religious. Retrieved from http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/
  2. Barna Group. (2016). The state of the church 2016. Retrieved from https://www.barna.com/research/state-church-2016/
  3. Barna Group. (2015). Retrieved from http://cities.barna.org/barna-cities-the-top-churchless-metro-areas/
  4. Lipka, M. (2015, August). 10 facts about religion in America. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/08/27/10-facts-about-religion-in-america/
  5. Pew Research Center. (2015). Adults in Oregon. Religious Landscape Study. Retrieved from http://www.pewforum.org/religious-landscape-study/state/oregon/
  6. Pew Research Center. (2015). U.S. public becoming less religious. Retrieved from http://www.pewforum.org/2015/11/03/u-s-public-becoming-less-religious/
  7. Masci, D. (2015). Q&A: A look at what’s driving the changes seen in our religious landscape study. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/05/27/qa-a-look-at-whats-driving-the-changes-seen-in-our-religious-landscape-study/
  8. Lipka, M. (2016). Why America’s ‘none’s’ left religion behind. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/08/24/why-americas-nones-left-religion-behind/
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