Secularisation: Not the problem

Heidi Schlumpf posted this on NCR:

I have to agree with English Bishop Kieran Conry, who recently questioned Pope Benedict's creation of a new evangelization council because it seems to imply that secularization--rather than the church's own failures--is at the heart of declining numbers of Catholics in Europe and elsewhere.

"My own personal opinion — I would stress that this is a personal opinion — is that I am not entirely convinced by this secularization argument. It suggests that the church's problems are external, in other words society has gone wrong, but the church is fine," he told the BBC on Sunday.

Evangelization, or spreading the Good News, is the whole point of the church, he said, but the church isn't doing it very well. It needs "to become a little more tolerant, accessible, welcoming, compassionate. All the things that, for many people, it is not."


I would have to agree with that, too.

It really perplexes me when people complain about secularisation. I've become quite convinced that people who complain about secularisation don't really know what they're complaining about, or what they would "replace" it with. (I would even argue that it has been good for religion in some ways, in that it has forced a lot of people to grow up spiritually. That is the problem the magisterium needs to address, but doesn't want to, or can't.)

What convinced me of this was Charles Taylor's massively important book, A Secular Age, which I read earlier this summer. I haven't gotten around to writing about it yet--it's 776 pages of very dense prose, not including the endnotes, so it's not the easiest book to review--but I'll try to say something about it soon.



Anonymous Tim said...

Attempting to encourage people to 'grow up' spiritually is problematic to institutionalized, formal churches for multiple reasons.

(IMO) Most pew-warmers are in Fowler's stage 3 of faith, content to be spoon-fed what they are 'supposed to' believe. Giving them a theological boot to the butt means you're pushing them to think for themselves. That will certainly cause some folks to reject the message out of hand. From a church's perspective, it also means giving up power, prestige and perception that the Church has 'the answers'.

Further, by pushing people into an individuative-reflective stage, it causes them to question their core beliefs, which some would consider 'putting a stumbling block before' the parishioners. On a practical level, such a move empties the chapel, lowering revenues and making it harder to do the good work.

Finally, such a push would destroy the Magesterium/papal model of infallibility which the Restorationist movement presently in nascence has doubled down on.

In short, if people are going to be thinking for themselves, then 'pray, pay and obey' won't work anymore. How can we return to pre-V2 without obedience and obeisance.

P.S.- As an aside, I wish to thank you for the brilliantly insightful blog.

11:44 a.m.  
Blogger PrickliestPear said...


Excellent points. I basically agree with everything you said.

I've written previously about how the lack of a compelling Stage 4 kind of faith is one of the Church's most serious problems (see "The Problem is Orange," for example).

I'm really not sure what can be done about that. I don't think there is any question that a lot of people leave the Church when they reach that stage. What if they were encouraged to reach that stage, and then go beyond it? Would they stay? I don't know the answer to that, but I don't see any alternative.

I do know that in a secular and pluralistic society, where no one can be ignorant of other options beside their own beliefs, the tacitly-accepted Stage 3 faith is only going to get harder for people to maintain in adulthood, not easier. So unless the Church starts encouraging people to grow, the exodus from the pews will continue.

Your point that "pushing people into an individuative-reflective stage" might drive many away, lowering revenues in the process is well taken, but discouraging people from growing into that stage is already having precisely that effect. It seems to me that if growing into that stage, with all of the questions and difficulties and doubts that come with it, was seen as something to be expected, people would be more likely to stick around, and the Church would be seen as a place where growth is encouraged rather than discouraged.

Thanks for your comment, I'm glad you like my blog.

5:14 p.m.  
Blogger TheraP said...

I suspect that to encourage such a thing, leaders would need to be in such a stage themselves. Instead the current atmosphere seems to promote those who remain developmentally stunted, doesn't it?

I just posted the following at Colleens' site, but it seems to follow on your blog here as well:

I think the whole issue here is legalism. Legalism has become the "gospel" preached via the Vatican. And while Jesus certainly preached the "narrow" way he also "called" all those already suffering and burdened to a yoke that was "easy" and a burden that was "light".

I've also been taking a look at the Rule of St. Benedict (in comparison to the "Rule of the Master" - described in a link I'll put below as "neurotic and paranoid" - something we could say of the current RC 'leadership' I fear).

Here's Benedict's view of authority versus the more neurotic and paranoid view:

First, "let the superior be chosen by the community" (contrast that with pope, bishop, priest selection!)

And the key to "authority" here:

"One of the distinctive features of Benedict’s teaching on the abbot, compared to The Master’s, is for Benedict, the monastic superior is clearly accountable to the rule, just like everybody else in the community is. Whereas for The Master, the abbot’s teaching is identified explicitly with the voice of the Lord, and the Rule is the Lord speaking through the master, the abbot of the community. Benedict has a very different conception. Although the abbot stands in the place of Christ, as representing Christ to the members of the community in a powerful way, as you all know the superior is not the sole mediation of Christ to the community. Benedict is also very careful to say that the hierarchy goes: Christ, gospel, Rule, abbot, community, with the abbot clearly under the authority of both gospel and Rule. If you read The Rule of the Master, each chapter begins with a question and then the answer comes in this form, “The Lord replied through the master…” and there’s the material—a very different take." (remind you of infallibility folks?)

And while we "know" all these things, it's instructive to see how again and again, in the history of the Church (beginning with Jesus vs the Pharisees and then Paul versus Peter in the first council, and this distinction in Benedict's more compassionate "rule" in the 6th century, etc). The more ammunition from "tradition" that can be mustered, the better - for it demonstrates what firm ground we're on, how far off the rails the Vatican has gone.

See here a great deal more background on this in relation to the Rule of Benedict:


More info here:


Need I mention that the Orthodox have tended to follow the type of ecclesiology and authority which lies on the more sane arm of the continuum?

11:16 a.m.  

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