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Problems Concerning the Catechesis of America

Updated on February 9, 2017

The Crisis

The new Pew Research Center's study on religious knowledge is out, and the results do not bode well for Catholics. When quizzed on core elements of faith, including the Eucharist, Salvation, the Ten Commandments, and naming the four Gospels, only about 50% of Catholics could answer correctly. In addition, when it came to knowledge of other religions (Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim), our average correct hovered around 33%. Finally, Atheists and Agnostics, in general, scored better than most Christians.

7 Years Later: Seven years after I wrote this has anything changed? In my experience has a religious education coordinator, working with youth of all ages and assessing what they know--nothing has changed. Despite dozens of hours spent every year on catechesis alone, by the time they are confirmed (sometime between 9-11th grade in this diocese) they still don't know or don't care to know the basic tenants of their faith.

How did you do on the quiz?

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Why is this a Problem?

You may be asking, why is this a big deal? Consider the following:

Public Discourse: Religion, in general, and arguably Christianity more than any other, is the oldest and most influential force in human history. Much of public debate, ranging from politics, to medicine, education, and economics is influenced in some way by religion. What's more, it's the differences between many of these faiths (Christian, Muslim, Buddhist) that spark these debates. As citizens of America, believers in Christ, and as human persons, it is the responsibility of all those who posses the intellectual capacity, to be able to communicate their own beliefs as well as dialogue with others. Without adequate knowledge of various religions, we are choosing to remain ignorant, and live in a vacuum devoid of true relationship with others.

Personal Faith: This lack of knowledge also bodes ill for foundations of personal faith, which should be balanced equally upon the pillars of belief and reason. Without adequate knowledge of WHY we believe what we do, not only are we susceptible to attacks from other religions and doubts about the truth of our own religion, but we also lack the ability to evangelize others and form our own identity. How can we preach what he do not know? When our faith becomes based solely on feeling, we lose the intellectual act, the leap of the will, that faith is intended to be in the first place. Our knowledge suffers, our faith is flimsy, and we have people leaving the Church because the cease to understand!

Wasted Time: Quite frankly, what is the point of sending our children to religious education courses if they're not producing results? If we as catechists, teachers, and parents, are putting forth hours every week to merely catechize, there needs to be results.

Future of our Faith: The future of our faith is at risk. Without proper knowledge or identity, who will be there in the future to hand on the teachings of Christ and His Church. Sure, our youth can always learn later in life, but by then will it be too late?

Simple Education: Amount of religious knowledge is directly associated with level of education. The fact that Americans are struggling is a testament to the fact that 1) our education is not placing enough emphasis on culture 2) In general our education techniques lack the ability to properly teach about religion.

Pointing Fingers: Who's to Blame?

What's causing this problem? I believe the cause lies directly within the four main spheres of the person's life.

The Culture

We live in a culture of death. Postmodernism has given rise to subjectivism and plurality, sports, entertainment, and success rank more important than God, and in the age of technology and instant gratification, our attention spans are constantly shrinking. Yet we allow ourselves and our children to partake in the lesser points of this world at the cost of upholding the importance of knowing and obeying God.

The Church

The Church is stuck between a rock and a hard place. How do we as a people of strong and long Tradition constantly progress in our communication and teaching, while still staying true to the core and ancient values of our faith? How do we as teachers communicate doctrine to a population that has no desire for "restrictive laws" and wishes only to see the truth that is beneficial to them? How does the Church maintain a balance of pastoral and doctrinal authority in a world that is increasingly striving for political correctness, tolerance, and passivity?

The Family

The family is the core unit of the Church, and thus, perhaps the majority of blame lies here. Parents need to fulfill their vocation and focus on raising holy, God-centered, children. Too many parents want to be their child's friend, and not their parent. A distressing amount of families are breaking up. Many parents themselves are caught up in the world, thus placing too much importance on sports, school, and money (which yes are important to an extent), and not enough on educating their children to love and serve God.

Personal Faith

Are we as individual persons of faith doing enough? Do we ourselves have a desire to learn about God, and do we communicate that to others? Do our actions line up with our words and beliefs? Are we really doing all we can to educate our children, family, friends, and the stranger on the street? We must change ourselves before we seek to change the world.

What can We Do?

I believe there is still hope for our Church. We must address each of these problems, starting with ourselves and our families. As leaders in the Church we must have integrity, aligning our actions and words with our beliefs. The Church must educate parents, and instill in them the importance of loving God while equipping them with the tools needed to raise their children. Also, the Church must NOT forsake its tradition, but instead seek to uphold it in a way that is both captivating to the third millennium and which respects the fragile person hood of each believer. As a whole, the Church must seek to combat the culture of the world, praying against its influence and seeking to teach all people of the world, so that they may begin to understand the importance of the religious influence, even if they themselves fail to believe. We have a long road ahead, but with hard work, prayer, and eyes set towards God, we can help the Holy Spirit to continually renew the Church.

7 years later: After working in this business for nearly a decade now I have come to realize we need to ditch the classroom model of evangelization, and focus on small discipleship groups, life changing retreats, and equipping families to the majority of teaching. Spending an hour in a class room every night when they are in class all week makes no sense, and the kids are not in a position where they can absorb what we are trying to tell them.

We need a heavy focus on wide reaching summer programs, like mission trips, to attract a large swath of kids. We need to keep them coming by forming small, intimate groups, lead by qualified adults where the youth can not only have fun, but form a tight community that they will not want to leave. Finally, we need to support families in having the resources to model and teach the faith at home, for no matter how much they learn at Church, it will never stick unless they get it at home.

© 2010 R D Langr


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