Decline Of Catholicism (Oral) Essay, Research Paper
Picture this if you will. In the beginning (being 1945) god created a shepherd (the Catholic Church) in which we the sheep followed blindly. Everywhere the shepherd took us, we would follow without complaint. A sheep dared not question the Shepherd or stray from the flock in fear of being labeled a bad sheep (catholic) and suffering the consequences of eternal damnation. But as time went on and the sheep modernized, however the shepherd was stubborn and conservative in his ways and refused to change. So the sheep began to stray from the shepherd with little fear, scattering, going to other pastures and other flocks with other Shepherds. The Shepherd realized his flock was depleting so he began to modernize as well and changed his ways. With this now modern shepherd, the modern sheep began to gradually come back. But living in a modern pasture the relationship between the two had changed.
Mr. Houston fellow students, “What were the reasons for the decline of Catholicism in America since 1945”, this has been the topic of my research for the previous three terms. The previous analogy, although being far fetched, if you put it into perspective outlines my opinion on the development of Catholicism since 1945 to the present day. That initially we followed the Catholic Church unquestionably and devoutly, mass on Sundays, fish on Fridays (etc). But as society modernized and became increasingly secular in education, the media and politics, people began to question some of the church teachings and the church authorities. Though the church, lead by conservatives initially would not change. As Catholics began to move away, the church realizing the situation reassessed their position at Vatican 2, which resulted in the modernized Catholic Church. Consequently from here catholic membership began to increase, however the nature of Catholicism changed.
This leads me to my hypothesis:
In our modernized secular society, catholic membership began to drop initially, due to the conservative views of the church. As a result of Vatican 2 Catholicism was modernized and membership within the religion was re-established. Although the nature of Catholicism has changed in this age of materialism and consumerism, this does not necessarily indicate direction of decline.
Before I begin my findings I would like to define the nature of secularism which is a word you will hear throughout my research. Secularism: rejection of religious and sacred forms and practices in favour of rational assessment and decision-making, and civil institutions of government
Within my assignment I broke my research into 6 main areas
1. How have the changes in politics affected Catholicism since 1945
2. How has America’s rapid social change and culture affected Catholicism
3. How has modernisation, science and technology affected Catholicism in America
4. How has the mass media affected Catholicism since 1945
5. How has modern education affected Catholicism
6. Whether Catholicism has declined in America
To my first sub-question whether Catholicism has declined in America. The Gallup Poll, a world-leading source of public opinion established in 1935, that showed catholic membership has actually increased over the years with slight dips at various points. Although does this really mean that Catholicism is not in decline. For example the Gallup Poll states church attendance fell from 74% 1958 to 48% 1988. So devotion has dropped considerably over the years, but as a result of what? At Vatican 2 1960’s one of the many changes that precipitated was that Sunday Mass attendance was no longer a serious sin. Also another cause of devotional decay occurred as a result of the Popes birth control encyclical in 1968. According to Greeley “it sent the church into a sudden and dramatic decline; Sunday and weekly mass attendance dropped off sharply”. Although does this drop in devotion translated to the decline in Catholicism. Not necessarily for as Greeley states ‘Religious behaviour may change but that change is not in the direction of decline’. So consequently I found through an analysis of 20th century Catholicism that catholic membership in this century has not diminished but that devotion has and that the decline in devotion is inextricably linked to a decline in credibility or leadership and acceptance of sexual teaching. There are two possibilities- the Vatican council and the birth control encyclical. Does it not seem reasonable to assume- until someone deduces contrary evidence-that the council heightened expectations for change and the encyclical shattered them especially since the devotional change occurred after the encyclical.
So to my second research question, How have the changes in politics affected Catholicism since 1945. It seems Abraham Lincolns ‘One Nation Under God’ plays a very little role in politics as over the years the political arena has become very secular in nature. According to Moyer after “1945 in particular, the political agenda seemed to revolve almost entirely around the humdrum business of ‘who gets what, when, how.’” Much of the blame for this secularity in politics is placed on liberals operating through the federal government. Liehman and Wuthnow mention “America is in a spiritual crisis and the cause of this crisis is simply the application by the federal government of liberal ideas and politics.” Thus what is now seen is a bias in politics by these powerful liberal minorities in charge who tend to shrug off religious issues that the majority of the population are concerned about. Wuthnow states “The current leaders of government are overly hostile to religion. As a result people of faith are either prevented from participating fully and actively in discussions about important public issues or they voluntarily withdraw because they recognise their efforts would be ineffective.” So what I have discovered is there is not really a decline in Catholicism but there is merely an unfair representation of individuals (secular liberal politicians) in high places who tend to ignore Catholicism and other religious issues, but the faith in the population remains.
Now to my third research question, How has America’s rapid social change and culture affected Catholicism. Carlin Suggests“ For better or for worse the U.S has always been and likely will be nation of incorrigible religious pluralism.” Which is a society that recognises more than one religious principle. For a long time American Catholics stood outside the circle of general tolerance towards other denominations, insisting it was the one true church. Catholics lived in ghettos and believed salvation only came through their religion. However as a result of Vatican 2 in 1960s Catholicism witnessed great cultural change. From the council emerged denominational tolerance and the disappearance of these ghettos. Their was a lot more freedom in Catholicism, instead of we are the only way to salvation came we are one of the ways to salvation.This new open mindedness in the catholic church appealed to Catholics and drew new membership. Catholicism before the council was not so stable, the church appeared to be solid rooted and unchanged :fish on Friday; mass on Sunday in Latin etc. But then almost over night it was all right to eat meat on Friday, Mass was said in English with the priest facing the people etc. Greeley states ‘Catholicism in America is more healthy and alive today than it was before Vatican 2.’America is a society engulfed in a culture of the American Dream, in pursuit of the almighty dollar. Reeves states “We are consumed by our jobs and endless pursuit of the power, cash, status and the pleasure of promise ‘personal fulfilment and happiness’ we therefore go about our lives pretty much the same as those who have no faith at all.” One could speculate as to how Catholicism could survive in an age of materialism and consumerism. But this speculation is false for Catholicism has survived and its presence is increasing as Gallup Poll shows us. Money means a lot of things but it still doesn’t bring meaning to life, this is why Catholicism co-exists in this materialistic society. Consequently you could be easily mistaken to think that Catholicism is in decline in this culture of consumerism where it is easy to forget this(god) when is search of this(money). But ‘Money can’t buy faith’ and this is why the Catholic faith exists today as strong as ever.
To my fourth subquestion How has modernisation, science and technology affected Catholicism in America. From 1945 till Vatican 2 modernization, science and technology were thought of as enemies by the Catholic church. Darwin’s theory of evolution was banned from all Catholic schools. But as the conservative church leaders kept rejecting modernization, lay Catholics began to reject the church and membership dropped significantly. As Bruce suggests “Technical advances gradually removed areas of uncertainty and unpredictability and by doing so shrunk the regions of life for which religion was thought to offer the best explanations and remedies.’ Although science and technology opened our eyes to new wonders of the world does this mean the decline of faith? Not necessarily, I concluded the decline this was not caused by science and technology but rather the conservative church leaders rejecting it initially. What they did not realize is how Reeves describes ‘Science knows nothing about absolute truth’. Science can’t offer explanations on the meaning of life, or the after life this is where Catholicism serves its purpose. At Vatican 2 church leaders woke up to the myth of science against Catholicism and as Levi states ‘abandoned its stance towards the world and its modern development’. After Vatican two Catholic membership began to rise again as individuals came back to a modern church which was now inter-linked with science and technology. As Noble states ‘there is a simultaneous flourishing of both, not only side by side but also hand in hand.’ So in respect to the decline in Catholicism due to modernization, science and technology. I found that it was merely a myth that was initially believed by the conservative church, but now in the modern church the two are inter-linked.
How has the mass media affected Catholicism since 1945. With almost every household receiving some form of media coverage it is evident that the mass media is very influential in America and indeed most western societies. In today’s society as Reeves states “studies have shown an overwhelming bias against religion by media leaders. In one survey of the media elite, 86% said they seldom or never attended religious services and 50% listed their religion as none.” Television critic Howard Rosenberg observed “ You see more hookers, rapists and serial murders on TV than clerics.” In 1990 the media research center published an extensive study of the media documenting a powerful left wing and secular bias. More recently in the last 4 years the media research center conducted an annual study into the quantity and quality of T.V religion coverage. They found that year after year the total news content of religion failed to crack the one- percent barrier. In a NBC statement “what a strange formula, if it is secular you can report it. But if it is religious, it’s radioactive, third rail, and controversial stuff. How sad, especially when you consider that religion according to a national survey is quintessentially important to 91% of the public”. It seems as with politics there is a disproportionate number of secular minded individuals in the media who tend to shrug of religious issues. Because of the media’s great influence a misconception is created of decline of Catholicism and for that matter any religion, when really the faith still remains in the population.
How has modern education affected Catholicism. From the late 1940’s to the present, public education in America has been completely secularized. 1947 Everson v. Board of education the court had declared that the first Amendment erected “a wall of separation between church and state. 1961 Torcaso v Wathins court declared that a State could not require public employees to believe in the existence of god. 1963 Abington v Schempp, Supreme Court struck down, sponsored bible readings and recitation of the lords prayer in public schools. The Washington Evening star stated “God and religion have all been but driven from the public schools.” Consequently because of the changed public sector of education you could easily believe that it would result in decline of Catholicism. However with this change as Rose states “ Evangelicals began withdrawing from the public schools in 1950’s.Between 1960-1975 public school enrolment declined by 40% while Christian school enrollments increased by a factor of 4-5. “ Rose goes on to say ”The Christian schools movement is today the fastest growing sector in private education representing the second largest group. The first being Roman Catholics.” Therefore with the decline in Catholicism in the public sector there was a shift in enrollments from public to private. This indicates the strong sense of catholic faith that still exists in American society.
With all the extreme opinions out there it is easy to get caught up in the myth that Catholicism can’t exist in a culture of materialism where liberal politicians rule in our governments and we are engulfed in modernisation, science and technology. Although devotion is down there has been a lot of change in the church and being a Catholic today is a lot different than it was fifty years ago and this does not reflect decline. Furthermore the fact is Catholicism still does exist and statistic’s show is on the increase, reasons for this being money, science and politics can do a lot of things but still will never fill up the hunger that exists in our lives for meaning.