Thursday, October 24, 2013

About that Baptism

So the Church of England got a new member yesterday.  But baptisms are on the decline, and the numbers are particularly striking for American Catholics.

From the National Catholic Reporter:
Catholic baptism rates fell ...from just more than 1 million baptisms in 1970 down to 793,103 baptisms in 2011..... 
Gray said the rising number of out-of-wedlock births may contribute to the decline in baptisms. "Single parents may be less apt to bring a child for baptism because of a misapprehension that they won't be welcome." But as the pope's call to the Italian woman shows, "The church is not going to turn you away," Gray said.
Of course they may shun you or fire you, but you can have your child baptised.

Church marriages too are on the decline. Remember, "formerly Catholic" is now one of the biggest identifiers in the US.
In 1970, there were 426,000 marriages in U.S. Catholic churches -- a full 20 percent of all U.S. marriages that year. By contrast, in 2011, there were 164,000 such weddings, only 8 percent of all marriages. But in both years, Catholics were 23 percent of the national population.
And of course if you don't marry in church, you probably won't baptise your children.

Really, though, how can Catholics be surprised?  They don't allow people who are divorced to marry.  No gays, obviously.  Interfaith couples, which are about 25% of marriages now, are more likely to find that whole pre-Cana Catholic thing off-putting.  The Catholic Church "brand" is not enticing.

But of course, it's not limited to Catholics. Structured religion in general is a turn-off to many if not most young people.  Even kids raised with church generally drift away as they grow up, tempted by the narcissitic  nihilism of modern secular life, our consumerist, greed-is-good culture. This is true whether they are Baptist or Catholic or Episcopalian. I bet if you asked our kids (raised and confirmed RC, now in their early 20s), they would still identify as Catholic and say that they believed in God, but they just don't find "Church" relevant.  Their mom has tried to share her Episcopal enthusiasm with them, and brought them to church with us, but while they are polite they are just not that "in" to it. They have jobs and school and friends that seem to be enough for them.

In fact, I find the young people who stay connected to be pretty remarkable.  I'm thinking of some young church members, seminarians, and recent ordinands that I know, and their commitment to justice and people generally, and not to the materialist culture.  Similarly, kids who join Teach for America or the Peace Corps, rather than jump on the track to the high income and consumerism.  How do we develop such awareness of something beyond our own selves in the young?  


JCF said...

"How do we develop such awareness of something beyond our own selves in the young?"

I wonder if Obamacare might help?

Hear me out: the push to get young people to enroll, is supposed to be out of enlightened self-interest ("you're one accident away from disaster").

At the same time, insurance is ALWAYS, on some level, BEYOND the one insured. Don't you insure yourself, to NOT (excessively) burden those around you/who love you?

Perhaps the "burden" of signing up for Obamacare, will get those same young people to "develop such awareness"? Hope so!

8thday said...

Of course the average household size in America dropped from 3.1 in 1970 to 2.6 in 2011 and people living alone rose from 17% to 29%. People are not getting married like they used to, and many are choosing fewer or no kids. That has more to do with economics than religion, I think.

I am a little dismayed at your statement that young folks who drift away from church are tempted by the narcissistic nihilism of modern secular life, our consumerist, greed-is-good culture, while folks who stay are pretty remarkable in their commitment to justice and people generally, and not to the materialist culture.

My children no longer go to church because they could not tolerate the hypocrisy of those that preached the gospel but did not live it. They did not want to give their money to pay for buildings and salaries when there is so much human need. They do not feel the need for church community because they already find community in their community service volunteerism.

I have no doubt that young people who stay in the church can be pretty remarkable. But those who leave can be pretty remarkable too.

I should also note that the Episcopal Church has the wealthiest membership of any other Protestant denomination so when you are talking about materialism, perhaps you should also consider that.

IT said...

I also mention peace corps, and teach for america, not just church. (Church was simply my jumping off point). There are lots of ways that young people can remain involved outside of themselves in community, that isn't church, obviously.

But frankly, a lot of young people can't be bothered in community service, or to maintain values beyond materialism of our culture, whether its church or peace corps. And I say that as one who spends my professional life among the young. Most of them aren't doing a damn thing for anyone else, either secularly or religiously.

(A note generally: I often work on these essays over several hours, and the RSS feed does not update them when I edit them. )

8thday said...

I grew up in a culture of volunteerism and it became the norm for my kids. And I have to say that most of their friends (a couple of church goers, but mostly not) are also very community minded. So, I am pleased to say that what I am seeing is much different than what you are.

But I do think that community service and involvement are modelled by parents. I was once telling someone about my daughters’ community service and how I thought that helped them get into the colleges of their choice and their response was: “Can I just say how much I hate all this bullshit about kids having to develop resumes that look like they are in their 40s?”

So yes, if you are starting out with that kind of attitude from parents, I don’t think there is much hope for their children. *sigh* And perhaps that’s where churches, or other community organizations, can help teach them the value of helping others. For example, both my daughters’ colleges give priority points for community service. These points can then be used for better housing options and other perks. It gets a lot of kids involved who might not otherwise be.

Personally, I don’t worry as much about the next generation’s materialism as I do about their attachment to social media and electronic devices causing a total disconnect from nature. A subject for another post . . .

JCF said...

"I don’t worry as much about the next generation’s materialism as I do about their attachment to social media and electronic devices causing a total disconnect from nature."

Those are separate subjects? O_o

"My children no longer go to church because they could not tolerate the hypocrisy of those that preached the gospel but did not live it."

Any/EVERY human institution is filled w/ hypocrites (comes from having human beings in 'em!). Certainly, this is so in TEC, too . . . but not, in my experience, any MORE so than in other human institutions (and way less than many). If you and/or your kids have discovered hypocrisy-free community service institutions, 8thday, I'd love to know what those are! ;-p

8thday said...

JCF - That must be why I, and my kids, tend to go for one on one community service - helping elderly neighbors with chores, helping rebuild flood destroyed homes, and swinging a hammer for Habitat. My kids have worked for our local food pantry and soup kitchen; Best Buddies, an organization that fosters one to one relationships with kids with physical or developmental disabilities, Ronald McDonald House, and St. Judes. They are now in college and one volunteers for an early childhood development program for at-risk kids, and continues her work for St. Judes. The other is putting her physical therapy skills to use volunteering for the Special Olympics and the Wounded Warriors project.

If there is hypocrisy between the mission statement of these organizations and what they actually do, we certainly don’t see it.

Kevin K. said...

The church holds people to a much higher standard than these worthy and good institutions 8th day. For instance, we are required to love those who hate us. I recongize that I am a bad christian because I don't unreservedly love those who hate me. I don't care more for my neighbor that myself. People tend to see hyprocrisy as the most hideous of all wrongs. I have always like the expression that hypocirsy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

JCF said...

Besides echoing KevinK's characterization of "worthy and good institutions", 8thday, I suspect you're not looking closely enough. Visit a few board meetings. Talk to the paid staff (e.g., re what they think of the board!). I've worked in/with non-profits (various community service institutions), and the hypocrisy (just of the bog-standard sort) could curl your teeth.

Humans, God love 'em (only God has sufficient patience!)

I also want to echo KevinK, that comparing TEC to (for example) the Ronald McDonald House, doesn't take into account the very different scales of their missions. The latter is there to help (and great help they do). The former, its members following its Head, is called to die for others: is it any wonder we (Episcopalians) so often fail to measure up?

Be that as it may, I in no way would deny that the Episcopal Church needs to DO MORE, in terms of (truly, empathically) *charitable* outreach. Remember the hullaballoo over the Millenium Development Goals---how we doin'?

In our interpersonal relationships: are we loving others as ourselves, or doing the (ancient Episcopalian art of) "Here's looking down at you!"?

I appreciate the challenge you give us, 8thday. I also welcome you and your family (back to?) TEC, to be *part of* the church as it becomes who it ought to be. Pax et Bonum.

8thday said...

Kevin - I don’t define hypocrisy as not meeting someone else’s high standard, as your example suggests. I define it by telling others that they have to live by certain standards, or calling them out for not living up to those standards, while they themselves do not meet those standards. Something I think many institutional churches excel in. And perhaps I’d rather be associated with other organizations than a church for the very reason that they don’t hold me to any standard at all.

JCF - I have no doubt that hypocrisy exists at the administrative level of every institution. (One reasons I eventually quit every Board I ever served on) But if you look at the mission statement of any of them, and then compare it to the work their members/volunteers accomplish on the ground, I think they are generally meeting their mission. I really can’t say that about most church people I know - doing a quick glance at various christian church mission statements which all seem to be a variety of “showing/doing the love of Christ in the world.” ( I have never heard of a church mission being called to die for others. I’m not sure why ANYONE would voluntarily sign up for that!)

All that being said, I only commented on this post because the original draft that I read seemed to state that there was a correlation between young folks attending church and being community minded vs. not going to church and being materialistic nihilists. I was only pointing out that that was not the case in my experience. That was my only point.

I, and my family, no longer attend church because of the extreme hypocrisy we witnessed in our particular church and the behaviour of some particular elders. I am sure there are churches that do much better in living out their mission statements. I have yet to find one, but in fairness, I have stopped looking. But thank you for your invite to the TEC. My religious background is not Episcopalian, but I did indeed try two TEC churches. In fact, my two daughters were both baptized in TEC - the only church we could find that would baptize them without my partner and I becoming members. However, while I am attracted to and greatly admire TEC’s call to social justice, I found them to be much too steeped in patriarchy, catholicism, and centered on pomp, buildings and salaries for my particular, simple tastes. I am very happy now to volunteer wherever I see a need, give my money directly to people who need it, and to worship and celebrate out in god’s beautiful creation, free from other people’s or institution’s standards and hypocrisy.

Kevin K. said...

My point was that Christianity is much harder than the organizations you mention. As so many of us fall short of its teachings (my self certainly) its membership is much more subject to the charge of hypocrisy. My suggestion wasn't that Christians generally don't meet others high standards, we generally don't meet Christ's standards which we say we
embrace. This is why I try not to condemn others because I am aware of my own inability to meet the standards Christ.

As you point out, an institution without standards is unlikely to be subject to a charge of hypocrisy and does provide a good deal of freedom.

PS JCF's point about surrendering even our lives to Christ's service comes from the Gospels.

it's margaret said...

8thday --I understand the statement about hypocrisy. Yes. I. Do. It kept me out of church and voting in elections for a couple of decades.

Recently, I watched my nieces and nephews begin to unravel their own illusions --so anxious and hot for the election of Obama, only to find out... well... more of the same etc.

To hold others to a standard that no one --no human being, no human institution can obtain is hypocrisy itself. And we are all hypocrites. All of us.

And that is the best reason I can think of to go to church --to realize our own shortcomings, the shortcomings of the world, and gain the humble strength to keep going.

8thday said...

Fortunately I don't need to go to church to realize my own shortcomings - my partner and my children do a fine job of reminding me. Daily.

For now I am very happy with leaving church and walking my own spiritual path. I have never felt in closer communion and conversation with god as I do right now. That may change over time and I will need to evolve again. It's a journey. Still I am very happy for anyone who finds their own path to god, whatever that path might be.

IT said...

Peace, 8th day. We're glad you're here.

Kevin K. said...

8th Day

I did not mean to criticize your choices and hope my comments were not taken as such. I was attempting to explain why my path has been different than yours.

8thday said...

Kevin - I did not take your comments as criticism, as I hope mine were not either. Although I do think the discussion got far afield from the original intent of the post, I enjoy hearing other perspectives. And you never know - I once felt very connected to a church - I may feel the need to return. Stranger things have been know to happen : )

Kevin K said...