Identifying with your religion, identifying with your country

The New York Times reports on Muslim loyalty to the  U.S., which is high (see also First Things, and Commonweal with a handy chant).  A study compares loyalty to U.S. and loyalty to their religion for Mormons, Protestant, Muslims, Catholics, Jews, and atheists. I put the groups in that order to reflect the level of identifying with their religion.

That’s right, U.S. Catholics are behind Mormons, Protestants, and Muslims in their loyalty to their faith. Only 55% of U.S. Catholics identify “very strongly” or “extremely strongly” with their religion. For the top three groups the numbers are 90, 70, 65 respectively.

This is even stranger: only 39% U.S. Catholics identify strongly with those worldwide who share their religious identity. For Mormons and Protestants, it’s 81% and 50%. Catholics have the pope, the word “catholic’ means universal, and yet Catholics don’t identify with their fellow believers around the world? What’s going on??

Most of the news reports focus on Muslims in the U.S., which is understandable and appropriate. I propose  Pray Tell be a place to talk about Catholic identity in comparison to that of other religious groups. Why the differences?

Here’s the chart from Commonweal:

muslims-and-country1

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37 comments

  1. Since that survey was done a year ago, its probably even lower now. Hardly surprising, since at least two generations of Catholics have been taught, at best, a very watered down version of the faith, and at worst a slighty Zupped up version of Protestantism.
    Add in infantile, sanitised liturgies, and come to think on it 55% is not bad!

  2. Two generations of Catholics have seen and rejected “Humanae Vitae,” clericalism, abuse and cover-up.

    1. Agreed, Walter. Humanae Vitae (HV), in my view, was the first and worst breaking point. The ruling against hormonal or barrier birth control left an overwhelming number of married couples in a very difficult situation. Defections to other churches, or even from religious observance altogether, is somewhat understandable given that many couples could not observe Church-sanctioned family planning methods and create a prudent family size. The elevation of NFP to a quasi-sacrament hasn’t helped either, as NFP is difficult to implement in comparison to artificial birth control methods. I applaud and support those who try to plan a family while being faithful to HV. Still, I’m not blind to the huge pastoral difficulties that HV has brought on the Church.

      I’ve never envied priests who have had to counsel couples on family planning. Self-styled conservative priests sometimes proudly say that they condemn artificial birth control without concern for a couple’s unique situation. This strikes me as very callous.

      1. I’d add that that it’s not just “pelvic issues” at play here. There are plenty of American Catholics at various levels of active practice who prefer to think “American” instead of “Catholic” on a variety of other, non-pelvic, issues, like pre-emptive warfare, nuclear warfare, the death penalty, torture, Church social teaching, et cet.

      2. John Drake, you’re not comparing like with like when you attempt to link artificial family planning with abortion. Family planning is a duty and a responsibility, according to HV, while abortion is a moral evil.

        A black-and-white attitude towards complex moral issues is an indication of an underdeveloped adult morality.

      3. A couple of points…

        First, there is an important distinction to make between hormonal and non-hormonal methods of contraception. Hormonal methods work in a number of different way: they MAY suppress ovulation, they MAY make the cervical mucus inhospitable, and they MAY prevent implantation of the embryo. In the latter case, they hormonal preparation is acting as an abortifacient, not a contraceptive. I would think that if a couple was interested in a real conversation on the issues involved (and not just an automatic acceptance of the cultural status quo), then that would be an important datum to consider.

        Second, NFP is not difficult to learn or use. Studies across the world have shown that even “illiterate” individuals may learn to recognize their signs of fertility and use that information to space their children with very high success rates. Now, NFP does call for periodic abstinence… is that the aspect of NFP that you are describing as “difficult”?

        Finally, I would be hesitant to lay the findings of this study at the feet of just one issue or set of issues. It seems to me if we do so, without directly asking the participants in the study, what we are doing is offering a reflection of our own issues and biases… if I think “pelvic issues” are a problem, then that must be the cause of the results… if I think that the liturgical reforms are the problem, then that must be the cause of the results… and not anything that can be deduced from the results of the study itself.

      4. John Drake, you’re not comparing like with like when you attempt to link artificial family planning with abortion. Family planning is a duty and a responsibility, according to HV, while abortion is a moral evil.

        Umm… you let a word slip out of your argument there. Family planning is a duty and a responsibility, but HV is clear that artificial family planning is also a moral evil.

        Similarly excluded is any action which either before, at the moment of, or after sexual intercourse, is specifically intended to prevent procreation—whether as an end or as a means.

        Neither is it valid to argue, as a justification for sexual intercourse which is deliberately contraceptive, that a lesser evil is to be preferred to a greater one…

        You’ll find that a “lesser evil” is still a “moral evil”.

        Self-styled conservative priests sometimes proudly say that they condemn artificial birth control without concern for a couple’s unique situation. This strikes me as very callous.

        Those anonymous misbehaving conservative priests again. Besides that, your comment here is rather ambigious. Surely you wouldn’t (normatively) expect less of any Catholic priest however he may have “self-styled” himself than to uphold the teaching of the Church? So your objection is to their pastoral manner and not the doctrine they are teaching?

      5. “but HV is clear that artificial family planning is also a moral evil.”

        A position to which the majority of RCs, the sensus fidelium has refused its consent.

        While faith is constant, belief changes. Doctrine develops.

  3. Among all of the other explanations, I think part of it is the strange kind of continuing self-identification of non-practising Catholics. I once had a church history prof who said, “You never hear of a ‘lapsed Anglican.'” This may be changing, but many people who no longer participate in the life of the RC church in any way will still check off “Catholic” on a survey or census form, whereas the same isn’t true for all religious groups. Of course, the RC church also officially counts everyone we’ve baptized as “members,” whereas some other denominations only count practising members as such.

    1. I see this difference all the time when I work with couples preparing to baptize their babies. We talk about godparents. They will always identify a brother or cousin as Catholic even if he never goes to church, etc. But ask about the religion of a proposed godparent who is not Catholic, if they were (are) Protestant, I often hear, “He isn’t in a church anymore” or “He doesn’t go to church”. Almost never “He’s Lutheran but he doesn’t go there any more.” People see Being Catholic as something different (or more?) than religious affiliation.

  4. @Chris: I think you pretty much nailed that one insofar as explaining a LOT of strange survey numbers, including the infamous ‘Real Presence’ results…

  5. The Catholic numbers generally seem closest to those of the Jewish numbers. Both groups have historically had a “tribal” connection with individuals. Even when one isn’t practicing, they will often self-identify with the group, even if it is a sort of vestigial identity marker, and certainly not an identity marker one might think of regarding one’s self-conception. Hence, a little more than half of Catholics identify strongly with their religion. I think most of us have met people who might say that they are Catholic, but that they don’t believe in God, and they don’t go to church. Despite living in the South and Southwest my whole life, I’ve never met an evangelical whose said the equivalent. When they drop the beliefs, they stop identifying with the group totally. This doesn’t necessarily happen with Catholics.

    Regarding the low(er) numbers for identifying with Catholics worldwide, we can think about how little is heard about the Catholic Church outside of a) America and b) Rome in general media outlets. If the major news networks cover anything, it’s about the sex abuse scandals. If the comboxes are any indication, it’s either the hyper-committed or the hyper-ideological (not exclusive terms) who most frequently visit Catholic news outlets, blogs, etc. As such, if they are getting any info about Catholics in other countries, it generally comes from their parishes.

    Hmmmm . . . Now that I’ve posted, it looks like Chris beat me to the punch on some ideas.

    1. Like American Jews who call themselves “cultural Jews”, we’ve seen the rise of the “cultural Catholic”. I’m wondering how many of the 21,000,000 former Catholics who now rank right after Catholic adherents as the second largest religious group in the USA see themselves as “cultural Catholics”, only.

      What percentage of these 21,000,000 moved on to other faiths, or simply became completely inactive (in a state of spiritual dormancy), but are still being counted by the Church as “Catholics” and part of the official US Catholic population of 63,000,000 or so?

  6. Not only ethnic identity but also culture plays a roll.

    As a German sociologist once remarked: “My Russian colleague and I are both atheists, however he is an Orthodox atheist while I am a Lutheran atheist.”

    Orthodoxy has shaped Russia in complex ways, and so has Lutheranism shaped Germany. Some of that culture shapes even atheists in complex ways either directly or indirectly.

    Social scientists are generally as much or more interested in people’s behavior as they are in their beliefs and values. Many times they don’t coincide. Most people who think they have outgrown their religious/ethnic/cultural heritages are probably mistaken.

    Also people’s judgments about their relationships to their religious/ethnic and cultural heritages might not be as important as a lot of other measurements of their behavior in relationship to those heritages. In others words don’t put too many eggs in the basket of this measurement.

  7. Speaking of NFP, I’ve never understood why using artificial means is wrong, but using NFP is ok. Both methods have the possibility of failure — even pills aren’t 100% effective — and with both methods the intent (to avoid pregnancy) is the same.

    1. I think the simplest answer is that NFP does not interfere with any procreative act (it simply avoids them). Therefore every conjugal union is “open to life”, even those which are done during supposedly infertile times.

      1. The open-to-life argument is farcical. What about people beyond child-bearing age? Or where someone has had a hysterectomy, etc?

        The differentiation between artificial and natural is a sham. ‘Artificial’ is simply the natural which has yet to be recognised by me as such.

        Does God care?

      2. As to the natural aspect, I was reading about John Rock in “What Happened at Vatican II” by O’Malley. Rock was a Catholic doctor who taught at Harvard Medical School and who helped create oral contraceptives. He made the argument that BC pilss were in fact natural. You can read an excerpt from O’Malley’s book that mentions him here … http://twhalloran.halloran.info/page3B.html

  8. Given the multiplicity of views proposed as “Catholic”, I would have to ask seriously exactly what it means to identify strongly with your faith. This is a relatively narrow audience at Pray Tell, and yet I would suggest that there are probably a half-dozen distinct views proposed as “Catholic” on any issue discussed. What does it mean to identify strongly with Catholicism in such an atmosphere? Mormonism is pretty clearly laid out as far as what is required to identify one’s self as Mormon. On the other hand, Protestantism is so broad a category that it is fairly simple to identify within that group since a diversity of views is part of the identity. But what does it mean now to be Catholic? Belief in the Real Presence? Faithful Mass attendance? Fidelity to the Pope? Adherence to Church teachings? For many who call themselves Catholics, such things are trivial at best and anethema at worst. So I ask again….what is it that one identifies with as a Catholic?

      1. Had never heard of this! But even so, such individuals don’t seem to identify themselves as Mormon, but rather sort of “ex-mormons” who aren’t hostile towards the faith. By contrast, I find that many “ex-Catholics” are openly hostile to the faith but continue to identify themselves as Catholic. Kind of the opposite.

    1. I agree; and most survey questions are too broad to catch all the subtleties. For example, ask me if I identify with the Catholics I have prayed with in Brazil, in Germany, in Ireland and my answer is a resounding Yes! Ask me if I identify with the Pope, and my answer is No! Heck, ask me if I identify with my local bishop and my answer is No!

  9. Only comments with a full name will be approved.

    Terri Miyamoto :

    I see this difference all the time when I work with couples preparing to baptize their babies. We talk about godparents. They will always identify a brother or cousin as Catholic even if he never goes to church, etc. But ask about the religion of a proposed godparent who is not Catholic, if they were (are) Protestant, I often hear, “He isn’t in a church anymore” or “He doesn’t go to church”. Almost never “He’s Lutheran but he doesn’t go there any more.” People see Being Catholic as something different (or more?) than religious affiliation.

    If people can gradually shed any association with the nationality of their grandparents and parents, and now see themselves as
    fully “American”, as opposed to being “Irish-American”, “German-American”, etc., I’m wondering if the same isn’t happening to former Catholics who are becoming more and more removed from their former self-identity as Catholics.

    I have a number of friends and some relatives who left the Church between 40 and 50 years ago, became Anglican, Lutheran, or Presbyterian, and now never see themselves as Catholic in any way, shape, or form, nor do their children. It leads me to think, as time goes by, the idea of your former religious culture drifts more and more into the mists of history, and you absorb another culture which is substituted for the former one.

  10. I think there are a variety of points that might come into play on Catholic self-identity:
    1. I don’t know how much the following would be in the consciousness of Catholics (of all stripes), but the fact that Catholicism does allow the possibility of salvation for all those who seek truth and goodness according to the dictates of conscience (almost a quote from Lumen Gentium) might appear, on the surface, to devalue specific denominational identity. My undergraduate students, for example, do not realize how distinctly Catholic this kind of universal graciousness, attributed to God, can be. They think it’s a kind of universal given.
    2. The Protestants all seem to be lumped into a single group, which is not fair, since they are hardly homogenous. For evangelicals, Christian identity is very important, because they think it’s the only path to salvation. For other “mainstream” or traditionally “liberal” Protestants, I would guess they are less.
    3. Optimistically — the continuing self-identification (however weak) of non-practicing or lapsed Catholics is a kind of testimony to just how deeply rooted Catholic identity can be — it’s very difficult to get rid of.
    4. Why is Catholic identity considered synonymous with piety or assent to magisterial documents on the so-called pelvic issues? I consider myself strongly Catholic, but I wish the phrase “Catholic identity” had as much to do with social justice (which is ALSO contained in magisterial documents) than it did with pelvic issues or Perpetual Adoration.

  11. Frank Agnoli on August 4, 2011 – 1:05 pm

    Frank: Now, NFP does call for periodic abstinence… is that the aspect of NFP that you are describing as “difficult”?

    Yes, but that is not the only aspect of NFP that might be difficult for couples. Even with all of the advances in NFP technology since the promulgation of HV (more accurate methods, electronic monitors, etc.) not all women can easily follow natural planning methods due to unique physiology. Also, men can experience difficulty with irregular abstinence periods. Abstinence is not an on/off switch.

    NFP is not a panacea for marital life, and should not be marketed as such. If we want to keep Catholics in the church, it’s time to focus on helping couples who want to follow church teaching but just can’t seem to find a way to practice NFP without marital strain. Pastoral guidance from both priests and lay teachers is crucial in this effort.

    Samuel J. Howard on August 4, 2011 – 2:01 pm

    Sam: Surely you wouldn’t (normatively) expect less of any Catholic priest however he may have “self-styled” himself than to uphold the teaching of the Church? So your objection is to their pastoral manner and not the doctrine they are teaching?

    Yes. I had an experience where a priest considered a smackdown of a couple struggling with contraception as a heavenly +1. Conservative clergy and laity who honor Church teaching should not use the travails of others to feed their egotism. Rather, the best medicine is listening, not trumpeting Church teaching.

    Several friends of mine have had abortions. My friends know that I am a believing Catholic who holds that abortion is always morally evil. I offer myself as a friend who is willing to listen to the profound trauma of abortion. My liturgy might be very “high”, but the heart needs to humble itself to allow others to find Christ.

    1. In response, one of the unique and beneficial aspects of NFP is that it is usable across a wide-range of physiologies – post-partum to peri-menopausal. It requires good instruction and commitment, but I would argue that the situations in which NFP is truly “impossible” to use are few and far between.

      In regards to men having difiuclty with periodic abstinence, it seems that you are getting close to suggesting that we are simply drivien by our hormones (or that we just find delayed gratification impossible). Sure, abstinence can be difficult at times – but I sure hope we are more than our libido / desires!

      As far as panacea is concerned, it has been observed that couples who use NFP divorce at a rate less than 1/10 of the national numbers…. I am not arguing for direct causality; it may very well be that couples who would opt for NFP are couples that would not consider divorce a viable option for a number of reasons. BUT… I think this is an important association to keep in mind… and perhaps we should at least be open to the possibility that the traits called for by NFP (selflessness, open communication, mutual discernment, willingness to put the common good of the family above personal needs/desires, etc.) might actually be good for a marriage.

  12. Gerard Flynn :

    John Drake, you’re not comparing like with like when you attempt to link artificial family planning with abortion. Family planning is a duty and a responsibility, according to HV, while abortion is a moral evil.
    A black-and-white attitude towards complex moral issues is an indication of an underdeveloped adult morality.

    There seems to be a comment from John Drake missing from the thread that gets to me.

  13. Commonweal quotes Matthew Cantirino as saying,
    “The Gallup results suggest that many Americans have allowed patriotism to consume their faith rather than complement it …”

    This shows up quite clearly in Catholics giving preference to their political self interests instead of to RCC social justice teachings. It shows up in the attitude toward money and the right to make as much of it as possible by whatever ruthless means are available and legal, regardless of justice. It shows up in the attitude toward the poor as welfare cheats or toward immigrants which focus on the perceived threat toward the jobs of those two or three generations from immigration. These things are all justified by some on the basis of patriotism.

    It shows up most clearly in the attitude toward US military intervention and the self-righteous need to maintain the US as the strongest military power in the world and to use that power to police other nations and the opposition to any criticism by the UN or NGOs.

    For far too many US RCs, their [often mistaken] beliefs about their constitutional rights evoke more passion and commitment than any papal teaching which does not happen to align with their political positions.

    This is where we should be addressing our preaching. This is where we need to be doing adult catechesis.

  14. Since 70% of Catholics, according to another poll, say they don’t go to Mass regularly on Sundays, a figure of 55% saying they identify strongly with the faith either indicates an improvement, or fibbing to poll-takers.

  15. It seems to me that this issue relates as well to inculturation vs. Interculturation. Is the the universal Church some distinct ‘res’ that one can really feel attached to as something other than one’s local community? I’m not sure. It seems to me that the Church is made actual in and through the local Eucharistic celebration and thus the universal Church is manifested everywhere. Perhaps part of the problem is that we’ve abstracted Catholic identity from our participation in local Eucharistic celebrations. I do wonder to what extent it’s possible to even form a Catholic self-identity (which is nothing other than conformity to Christ in the final analysis) apart from active parish life.

    I suppose I’m just publicly musing.

  16. The first and second comments are not contradictory. The first implies that Catholics are badly catechized and consequently owe only a weak alliance to the faith; while the second comment seems to say, no wonder they confess to be disloyal since the demands of their faith is just too hard or are not to their tastes. IMHO both comments are true; because if the first condition is true dissent logically follows.

  17. The Catholicity of Catholicism with regard to nations is a both/and matter according to Lumen Gentium:

    13. All men are called to belong to the new people of God. Wherefore this people, while remaining one and only one, is to be spread throughout the whole world and must exist in all ages, so that the decree of God’s will may be fulfilled.

    It follows that though there are many nations there is but one people of God, which takes its citizens from every race, making them citizens of a kingdom which is of a heavenly rather than of an earthly nature.

    Since the kingdom of Christ is not of this world the Church or people of God in establishing that kingdom takes nothing away from the temporal welfare of any people. On the contrary it fosters and takes to itself, insofar as they are good, the ability, riches and customs in which the genius of each people expresses itself. Taking them to itself it purifies, strengthens, elevates and ennobles them. The Church in this is mindful that she must bring together the nations for that king to whom they were given as an inheritance, and to whose city they bring gifts and offerings.This characteristic of universality which adorns the people of God is a gift from the Lord Himself.

    We can become more American and more Catholic by using the particular religious gifts that God has given Americans.

    Two of the foremost particular religious gifts that I as a social scientist see in Americans are the gifts of an emphasis on a personal relationship to God and voluntarism (caring for others locally through associations). These two gifts seem to me to account for the far greater strength of religion in the USA than in Europe, even though most of our ancestors were from there. We have far higher rates of daily prayer and church attendance than in most of Europe.

    Americans have secular gifts of wealth and power that we often misuse. In criticizing their misuse we should not ignore our religious gifts.

  18. The Catholicity of Catholicism in regard to persons is also a both/and according to Lumen Gentium:

    In virtue of this catholicity each individual part contributes through its special gifts to the good of the other parts and of the whole Church. Through the common sharing of gifts and through the common effort to attain fullness in unity, the whole and each of the parts receive increase. Not only, then, is the people of God made up of different peoples but in its inner structure also it is composed of various ranks. This diversity among its members arises either by reason of their duties, as is the case with those who exercise the sacred ministry for the good of their brethren, or by reason of their condition and state of life

    I like Andrew Greeley’s model of religion as poetry.

    We can consider Catholicism through prose descriptions (either theological or social science) of its complexity and diversity. However people do not acquire their personal identities by having these prose descriptions dumped into their brains or their lives.

    We acquire a religious identity by religious experiences that are more poetic than prosaic. These are highly shaped by our uniqueness (gifts and unique personal history) and the uniqueness of the people and institutions of our environment both secular and religious.

    The evidence from studies such as American Grace is that mere church attendance (and its exposure to beliefs and values ) without religious social networks (family, friends, small groups in congregation) produces none of the health and happiness benefits that accompany religious social networks. Mere social networks without the religious context do not provide the health and happiness benefits.

    Therefore, we need three things: 1) religious beliefs and values, 2) religious social networks (family, friends, small groups), 3) these coming together to provide poetic religious experiences that constitute personal religious identity.

    1. To be concrete about the religious identity process:

      I had good poetic experiences of both the German Catholicism and Polish Catholicism from my grandparents, and of the caring and respect for others of my Catholic parents.

      I had the joy of Gregorian Chant provided by a seminarian during summer in grade school, the inspiration of Merton’s Seeds of Contemplation lent by a lay high school math teacher, and of Byzantine Pilgrimage Liturgies at Mt .Macrina during my adolescence.

      I had the environment of the Spiritual Exercises at a Jesuit Novitiate, the choral Divine Office at Collegeville during college, and lay teachers in both high school and college who tried to integrate deepened theological knowledge with deepened knowledge of their own disciplines. These all provided poetic experiences.

      These laid the foundations of my Catholic identity. Very few of them were consciously chosen by me. Very few were consciously used to form me by others. Often when people tried to form me, it backfired. All these particular fragments of aspects of Catholicism were assembled through many different “religious” people in many different networks providing an abundance of poetic experiences that constitute my Catholic identity.

      Long ago I recognized that I was not the author of my own identity, past, present or future. On the other hand, I have often had a good sense of where that identity is going, even many decades into the future. Only when I get there, I marvel. “What a creative solution, I would never have though of doing it that way!”

      When I was an undergraduate at Collegeville, I volunteered in the psychiatric ward of the VA hospital. I decided I had the gifts of a researcher and academic rather than a clinician. Yet I have spent the last two decades in the public mental health system as an applied social scientist and administrator probably helping people with severe mental illness far more than I ever could have as a clinician in direct service.

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