I Will Spit You Out

Today’s poll from the Pew Forum tells us that nearly one in five Americans are ‘nones’. That is to say, they do not affiliate with any religious denomination. Fox News headlines it as “America No Longer Has a Protestant Majority.” The reality is that all the denominations are down and an increasing number of Americans are choosing not to join a church at all.

Why is this? Lots of reasons: There are social and demographic reasons. 1. Increased mobility. Religion is nurtured within families and local clans of people. People are increasingly on the move and the family pressure to belong to a church dwindles when people live alone or move to another locality. 2. Increased affluence. Rich people don’t have much time for religion. 3. Increasing secularization of education. State schools and colleges are becoming not only more secular, but more atheistic. 4. Breakdown of family.Family supports religion. Family breaks down: religion contracts.

Then there are the pretty terrible ‘own goals’ scored by the churches. 1. Sex, power and money scandals across the denominations undermine authority and betray trust. 2. Creeping liberalism doctrinally. You can’t expect a religion to be doing very well if her ministers and theologians spend most of their time denying the central tenets of the faith. This is especially strong in mainline Protestantism, but Catholics have our share of heretics. 3. Relaxation of moral codes: A religion that lets the moral code slide doesn’t last long. Cohabitation, remarriage after divorce, homosexuality, you name it…no Christian leaders want to speak out against sin. 4. Utilitarian and entertainment religion. The churches have opted for a soft sell, easygoing mixture of entertainment, self help philosophy and sentimentality. That might work in the short term, but it’s a killer for the long term commitment. 5. Complacency. American Christians are over fed, over indulged and lazy.

It’s nothing new. It’s all there in the Book of Revelation where the prophet sees seven churches and hears the Lord’s words to them. Here’s what he says to the Christians at Laodecia in Revelation chapter 3.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.  You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict nails it. Agreeing with the Book of Revelation, he says here that being lukewarm is the greatest danger for Catholics. The Church in this country will only return when it returns to its core mission of living and proclaiming the victorious gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. What we need are saints–radical Catholics who are willing to give all and serve all in the name of the gospel

I’m talking about the church militant. But lest people get the heebie jeebies and think I’m talking about righteous crusades and people marching out to war and flying airplanes into skyscrapers–what I by ‘militant Catholicism’ is that individuals and communities step out in a joyful and dynamic way to live the gospel again–to cut through all the suburban, tacky, gaudy junk we think is so important and get a fire in our belly and the fire in our hearts.

That is actually what Catholics mean by living the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic faith. In unity and holiness we live out a common and universal faith with apostolic zeal, vigor and joy.

The lukewarm ones? I’m with Jesus. I want to spit them out.

  • kenneth

    Rome too says they want to get rid of the “lukewarm” Catholics and the nones, but they sure don’t want to relinquish the political and cultural cache that comes with claiming membership numbers. Every last one of the “nones” who were ever Catholic are considered by the Church to be Catholic still, and are counted as such. The Church abolished its one Canon law provision which acknowledged formal defection, though it has unofficially revived that status for German Catholics who fail to “pay up” via state collected mandatory tithing. The bishops want to have their cake and eat it too where the “nones” are concerned. They’re full members when their numbers play a useful role. They’re “spit out” when they speak out of turn on doctrine or other matters.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      Interesting observations. I sense that we are in a time of transition and that accounts for the mixed emotions over this issue.

    • wineinthewater

      “Rome says” is such fraught statement. The Pope has not said that he prefers a smaller Church, but that a smaller, purer is what are more likely going to see. The Church has always wanted to keep people as much “in” the Church as possible – some pundits to the contrary – but also recognize and be honest about the state of each individual’s communion with the Church. Just because I am Catholic does not mean that I am in Communion. And while simply *being* Catholic has a spiritual advantage, it is not the same as actually being in Communion with the Church.

    • Mel

      An attack on the Catholic Church is like attacking Jesus Himself

  • Lynda

    On the problem and shame of priests not speaking out against sin, last Sunday was the Church-designated annual Day for Life, beginning of Choose Life month, in Ireland and many priests did not mention it or the Bishops letter on the evil of abortion and it’s legalisation which was sent to them for the purpose of their preaching on it. It was by far the best letter produced by the Bishops since the Day for Life was instituted; up to this they had generally avoided the matters at issue and spoken vague irrelevancies. There is an imminent threat to Ireland of the legalisation of the horror of abortion – several in Government have made it clear they want to legalise it and will use a prearranged ploy of the soon to be published report of a carefully selected “expert committee’s” to do so. Imagine howuch more grave the silence of those priests was in these circumstances! Fr John Hogan in his blog, Ex Umbris et Imaginibus rightly rebukes those “silent shepherds” but it ought to be the Bishops rebuking any of their priests who were culpably silent on the Day for Life. If priests don’t care for their own souls could they please show some consideration for those of their flock?!!

  • Will

    I read of programs reaching out to Catholics who have left the Church. Some bloggers insist the Church would be better off as a smaller, more pure (?) Church.

    • http://www.thecatholicbeat.com Gail Finke

      While some people take entirely too much satisfaction in the idea, can you seriously doubt it will happen? Very soon we are going to have to choose, and a lot of people won’t choose the Church. My impression is that more people than some now imagine will choose the Church, but a heck of a lot will give incense to Caesar.

  • http://www.thecatholicbeat.com Gail Finke

    “The churches have opted for a soft sell, easygoing mixture of entertainment, self help philosophy and sentimentality. That might work in the short term, but it’s a killer for the long term commitment.”
    This weekend the priest in residence in our parish gave an amazing homily about marriage, the importance of faith, the danger of secularism, and a lot of other things. Our pastor is on sabbatical. We thanked him for the homily (VERY unlike our usual “everybody is basically nice inside, so don’t worry so much about things”) homilies, and another parishioner raved to my husband about it. He told me, “People WANT to be told what’s right and wrong, hasn’t anyone ever informed our pastor of that fact?” It’s so true. Clappy happy “sometimes things are hard but hey that’s life” kind of homilies that don’t deal with the reality of the world we all know about may make some people happy, or at least contented, for a while. But they don’t keep people around.

  • FW Ken

    Without sinking into a private piety, I hope, it seems this matter is best considered a spur to self-examination, repentance, and a serious attempt to address my own lack of fervor. That said, I’ll be busy enough working out my own salvation to spend a lot of time worrying about that guy down the pew.

    That said, a Church true to the Catholic Faith will probably be a smaller church. That’s a reality, however, not a goal.

  • john cronin

    Maybe people are just better informed, better educated and more liable to question what they are told rather than blindly accepting it as in previous generations. Maybe they just don’t believe it an more.

    • Arnold

      Many do not believe it anymore, as you say, but not necessarily because they are “better informed, better educated.” More likely because they are more ignorant of what they are rejecting and/or enticed by the ambient semi-pagan culture they live in. I believe that relatively few abandon the Faith after a serious and thorough investigation of its tenets; more often it is because Catholicism interferes with their personal lifestyle preferences. The Church herself has contributed mightily to this by decades of poor or non-existent cathechesis.

  • Proteios1

    Government, corporations and self indulgence are the god…mammon, for many people. These entities have filled themselves with graft, corruption and a general lack of foresight. It will collapse. I don’t say this because I want it. No. I enjoy not being in austerity. Do I say this as spite. No. I’m in it as well. Do I say this with fire and brimstone. No. I say it with a tear, shaking my head, because it didn’t have to be this way. Much of what I know, I expect to be lost with political and social collapse due to austerity measures or outright fiscal collapse. Our culture will change drastically and this indulgent mindset is not what I expect my children to experience.

    Sorry about the rambling, but I think the extended family is coming back. That great strength of faith and knowledge that spanned generations and kept culture stable. Also making us less sue pitiable to whims of the devil. Like relativism. As a university professor ( you could tell from my rambling) I’m knee deep in it and these naive students are so drawn into such social silliness. When you attempt to stand for everything, the result is you stand up for nothing. These poor students are recruited and indoctrinated with everything but a solid education and an acceptance of their heritage(white students only on tht last one).

  • Angel

    John Cronin,
    What do you mean – “just better informed….[they] question what they are told rather than blindly accepting it as in previous generations…”?
    Then why do these lukewarm people still come to Church only during Christmas & Easter? If they are “better informed” why should they even step in a church at all? These lukewarm people are not “better informed.” They are just ignorant. They are just playing games with God. They’re saying: “Don’t damn me God, see I went to church twice a year, isn’t that enough for you?”
    Believe me, little Johnny, Generation Porno is not “better informed.”

  • bernadette clark

    So, ease of data/education/and questioning others thoughts, equals no need for Faith in God anymore?
    Because of knowledge and doubt, man is now secure in himself???

  • Julie

    Leave it to the New York Times to put it this way: “The Pew report offers several theories to explain the rise of the religiously unaffiliated. One theory is that the young adults grew disillusioned with organized religion when evangelical Protestant and Catholic churches became so active in conservative political causes, like opposition to homosexuality and abortion.”

  • MichaelP71

    Hey Father…I have been praying, listening to Catholic radio, reading all matter of things Catholic, my thoughts are in line with the Church. However because of things that I should stand up for at home (like prayer with my kids and hiding my Catholicity) I feel like a luke-warm Catholic…my actions don’t speak very loud. I take my kids to mass, I refuse contraception from my fallen away Catholic wife and all other of the non-negotiables yet I still feel like I could be less? luke-warm. I know I have gotten myself into this pickle and remember the day and moment…anyway, Any advice on finding a good priest and men’s group would be helpful. Thanks Father Dwight!

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      You need that good priest and men’s group. Keep searching and ask the Lord to show you the way.

    • Anne

      MichaelP71
      Your prayers will not go unanswered. I am sure there are many in your situation. My husband converted to the Catholic Faith from secular Judaism after 25 years of marriage. Be faithful and God will work in the hearts and minds of your children and your wife. What is needed here is your continued quiet faithfulness…no you are not lukewarm. Never give up hope…you may be amazed at what God has in store for your family in the future. I would advise you to seek the counsel of a good faithful priest over the issue of contraception. I believe there are guidelines to follow in your case, although I am sure exactly what that would be. That was not an issue for me as my husband never wanted contraception. May God bless you!

  • gilad

    I have been lukewarm for a while, i go to Mass and all i hear from the pulpit is the Social Gospel(love God, love your neighbor, give to the Church, help the poor, Form your conscience, love everybody, do good to everybody, etc;!) Boring and Dead! No wonder why people storm out of Church early to leave!

  • Brad

    It seems to me that the nones are the cold ones, not merely the lukewarm.
    Jeremiah 2:12-13

  • Cassy S.

    The problem is, if the lukewarm were actually spat out of the Church, I’m not sure I would make the cut.

  • Gee

    Oh, my… after half a lifetime of being ‘lukewarm’ it took a non-denominational Bible Study to turn me back to my Catholic roots. Watching the way they worship, I realized how empty anything would be after being raised Catholic. Return, I have! in a deep and meaningful way. I owe much of my return to the Lord; but the earthly catalyst was a friend who saw that I was struggling, that “meditation” and ‘feel-it” spirituality were hollow and that my search was not yielding fruit. She, in turn, has asked me to attend Mass with her, because she believes that something is ‘missing’ in her feel-good Sunday worship with monthly “eucharist” of wheat thins and grape juice. I’ve offered RICA and am praying that she will continue down the path toward becoming a Catholic. Please pray for us? Much of what is going in the Catholic Church on is dependent on God. All of what happens in our world is part of His plan. We cannot fathom or know the ways of the Lord. We must pray that the will of God will be done, and do our best to follow and fulfill His wishes. The secular world which we inhabit doesn’t help us or support us; our task is to always remember that God is close to us at every moment.

  • Graham Combs

    I’m afraid I was put off by one line above. The remark about “suburban, tacky…” It reminded me of the condescending and even contemptuous Pete Seeger song about “ticky-tacky houses.” I’ve lived in Detroit (the city not the suburbns), Queens, NY, Brooklyn, NY and the Bronx. Are urban residents more devout, more “on fire” than Catholics in the suburbs? If yes, based on what? And I don’t think liturgy is nearly as relevant as is believed. Certainly it is in the center cities where the family has broken down the most and religion has become most politicized. Although the working class of the suburbs is catching up in the drift from family and religion — and the Church seems somewhat negligent in this regard. I now live in Royal Oak, Michigan and attend mass at a orthodox and vibrant parish. In fact the pastor has been given the task of consolidating three declining urbans parishes into one. As a recent convert (I was raised in the Episcopal Church) I’ve been reluctant to get involved — in part because I am a conservative in an historically liberal diocese. The Church can be discouraging but I don’t think the divide is urban/suburban when it comes to enthusiasm. That particular conceit is now decades old and it’s time to retire it. The Detroit suburbs have ceased to be exclusively segregated for some time now as well. Where do you think the million or so people who have left the city went? Not all have gone South. The Church still seems captured by a variety of stereotypes and somewhat lazy perceptions that will do nothing to revitalize the Church either in this Year of Faith or any other year. Just as conservative baby boomers have had seccond thoughts, so should Catholics.

    Graham Combs/Royal Oak, MI

  • rich

    Father, sorry but your preaching to the choir. In thousand of parishs across the country their are silently suffering sheep waiting for their sheppards to boldly and courageously LEAD them out into the deep! What always amazes me is why would a man give up this world for the kingdom and then settle into their vocation like it was just a job. i’m not saying every priest has to be a JPII but man, a little fire!!! As faithful Catholics we would march with our priest to the gates of hell if they would only lead!!! This is what has to change. I always tell my parish priest that i got his back and not to worry or count the cost. Historically priest and bishops r who we turned to in times of trouble to defend us. when i was a kid growing up in NY, the mayor literaly could not do a thing without first consulting the Cardinal! and if he said no that was it, case closed. it would not happen! Complacancy, over fed, over indulged, lazy, acceptance by the academic and social elite, has, as u point out, made us, but also our clerics, soft and lukewarm. But as we can now see it was just a trap. those who hate Christ and his Church were just waiting for the time to bring us down! and it may seem that for the last 20 yrs or more thy may have had the day! If the clergy don’t wake up and realize the water is now boiling, they will be cooked!

  • john cronin

    Look, Christianity is just another religion. There used to be lots of people in Germany and Scandinavia and Anglo-saxon England who believed devoutly in Thor, Odin and Freya – aint too many of em today. There used to be lots of people in Greece who believed in the Gods of Olympus. Again, that seems to have died out. A few hundred years from now, there won’t be any Christians either.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      They said that 2000 years ago in Rome.

    • Jim Albert

      Mr. Cronin,

      You have several little problems with your comparison. Jesus actually was born, became man, died on the cross, rose from the dead, then ascended into heaven. I don’t believe any of your above characters (in fact) died, rose and acended into heaven. In light of those real historical events–there will be Christians—if we make it “a few hundred more years”. As if that isn’t enough–what about the miracle of the sun at Fatima–also real, historical and witnessed by approx 70,000 people including atheists (and an atheistic media)? —this miracle was associated with Mary,–Jesus Mother,–and 1917 years after His birth.

      • john cronin

        i do not believe any of this. I believe that Jesus was a bog standard Jewish holy man who never preached anything which was not entirely consistent with the orthodox Judaism of the day. I believe that he never claimed to be the messiah, or wished to fond a new religion or had any religious aims beyyond purifying and reforming the jewish religion. His parents appear to have led a perfectly normal married life and he appears to have had several siblings. i believe that he woulda been astounded by the concept of a religion known as Christianity and in particular as a strict monotheisitc jew would have been horrified by the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity, which he would have regarded as the grossest blasphemy

        • Jim Albert

          John,
          I anticipated that response, I did not know exactly how the details would flesh out, but I was pretty sure you would respond that way. I respect your right to that opinion. Whether you choose to accept it or not, you were made in God’s image and likeness with a soul, an intellect and will; therefore, in acknowledgement of that, I hold you in very high esteem no matter what you believe.

          As I reflected on your anticipated response St. Paul and St. Thomas came to mind. St. Paul felt as you did and even killed Christians—then he was struck blind. God knew how to get his attention. St. Thomas required to see the wounds himself and the risen Christ appeared and showed them to him. I even thought, what will it be for you? What will God do to get your attention, what has he already done? Only you know what he has done in the past and only you will experience how he will invite you in the future. He won’t force you, nobody should. He loves you and wants you to choose Him for yourself. It up to you to let Him in John. I am sure has been and will continue to gently knock at your door. It is ok to try by saying “I believe”–sometimes that is how one begins to see.

  • Jim Albert

    Fr. Longenecker,

    To all of your excellent points, I would add that this phenomenon of “nones’ is just a normal manifestation of those who separate themselves from the bark of Peter. It they are not in union with the Pope and the Magisterium–they can only be in union with themselves. They can pretend they are affiliated with a “denomination” but in the end–all of our separated bretheren are “nones”, Let us all pray for each other that we be strengthened by the Holy Spirit in truth.

    Jim Albert

  • Irene

    Re: #2 “Rich people don’t have much time for religion”
    Charles Murray, in his recent book “Coming Apart” says the opposite. Statistically, religious families in the U.S. are considerably more affluent than families that don’t practice a religion. The poorer you are, the less inclined you are to go to church according to the statistical studies he cites. That runs contrary to conventional wisdom, but it’s what the numbers show.
    Incidentally, if you haven’t read “American Grace,” do. It is the best sociological study ever done of religion in America.

  • john cronin

    Er, no they probably didn’t say that in Rome 2000 yrs ago, for the very good reason that there weren’t any Christians in Rome 2000 years ago: might have said it 1800 years ago.

  • David

    The social and demographic reasons above came into being shortly after WWII and reached their peak in the 1960′s and are now just “naturally” part of the social fabric. Personally, I believe this was spurred on by greed. Having come out of the Depression and war, corporations saw what the country was capable of accomplishing and took advantage of it. By requiring employees to relocate, so they could become more well rounded and more valuable to the company, they increased mobility nationally. This also increased affluence for the individuals (accidental) as well as the companies (intentional). Increased secularization was necessary to feed the grees and take the individuals minds from distractions like religion and subverting attention to family.
    Regarding the “‘own goals’ scored by the churches” I believe they came about due to the churches losing track of their own identities and embarking on a quest or quests to identify more with Hugh in the pew. In the exhuberance to connect with Hugh, the Church became entangled in the same secualrism from which they were trying to save him.
    As far as the sex money and power go I cannot speak to those as I am a lay person and have no credible framework on which to base an opinion. Your points of creeping doctrinal liberalism, relaxation of moral codes and utilitarian and entertainment religion I remember well. That liberalism didn’t really “creep”, as I recall. It was thrust down our throats after Vatican II with gusto. I have vivid memories of the changes in doctrine being discussed in our religion classes in hicgh scool. Picture 30 students being told by a priest that we need only to follow our conciences to obtain salvation. Quite a change. This liberalism, relaxation of moral codes and entertainment religion proceeded apace with the events occurring in the secular world (protests against the government, the sexual revolution, the drug craze, etc) and the Churches desire to open a dialog with the world. Even now we are trying to “communicate”. The “New Evangelization” seems to be an attempt to bring back those we pushed away over the last 50 or so years.
    As far as “Complacency. American Christians are over fed, over indulged and lazy.”, this applies to Americans – period. Not just Christians. This complacency has served as a lense through which all of the other points are magnified.
    I’m sorry to have rambled on so. I do appreciate your articles/opinions and the oportunity to reply to them.
    Dave

  • john cronin

    rent “The Life of Brian” from your local blockbuster video.

  • Paul Bachmeyer

    Mr. Cronin,

    I would not recommend “The Life of Brian” as a source for any kind of reliable information. This film has misled others also. If you want to know the truth about Christianity, I suggest you read the Bible and the Catechism of the Catholic Church and compare what these sources say to your theories.

    For example, I think you will have a hard time rationalizing that Jesus was just an ordinary Jewish man seeking nothing but reforming his religion when he is saying things like this:

    “Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me and I in him.” (John 6:54-56)

    God Bless,
    Paul

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