Coca Cola Catholicism

Back in April I began a series on What’s Killing American Catholicism. Events and other commitments kept me from completing the series at that time. The first post was on Cultural Catholicism and I argued that this was countered by Comprehensive Catholicism–a Catholic faith that is truly universal and transcends all cultures and ethnicities. The second installment was on Complacent Catholicism which is countered by Compassionate Catholicism. The third post focused on Cafeteria Catholicism versus Complete Catholicism while the fourth installment was on Cut Off Catholicism which is countered by Continuous Catholicism. I encourage you to use the links to read the whole series and share it.

The next word that begins with ‘C’ is Coca Cola Catholicism. This has two aspects. The first is a critique of the sort of American Catholicism which, like Coca Cola itself is sweet and fizzy, but has not nutritional value–in fact, after the first buzz it doesn’t even quench your thirst. The caffeine doesn’t really satisfy. It makes you thirsty and wanting more. Coca Cola Catholicism is characterized by worship that is warm and fuzzy and sweet. Anodyne sermons that are about anything but the gospel of Jesus Christ–bland exhortations to be nicer people or to be more tolerant or pep talks to boost self esteem. This is combined with hokey, sentimental music with saccharine songs about gathering together and feeling the Spirit all gooey and sweet.

It is easy to leave the criticism at the superficial level by only criticizing the sappy hymns, cheap populist and practical architecture, the anodyne sermons and bland spirituality. These things, however, are only the symptoms. The cause is the second aspect of Coca Cola Catholicism–that it is truly and completely an invention of the American culture. Coca Cola is a drink that is only water with artificial flavoring, an artificial stimulant and bubbles added. It has then been promoted with one of the most comprehensive and slick advertising campaigns ever launched. Indeed, a visit to the Coca Cola museum in Atlanta is mostly about the advertising.

Coca Cola Catholicism is, I fear, analogous to the drink. It is a form of the Catholic religion that is sweet, bubbly and stimulating, but the stimulus is mere titillation. It is an artificial stimulant. To go to a Coca Cola Catholic Church is to come away feeling fine for a short time, but then you have to go back for more because you have not really received much nourishment. Furthermore, as Coca Cola is completely and genuinely American, and has been shipped around the world to conquer the world, so Coca Cola Catholicism is uniquely American and, sad to say, it too is being shipped around the world to conquer the world.

The antidote to Coca Cola Catholicism is Contemplative Catholicism. Contemplative Catholicism is deeply rooted in the Contemplative tradition of prayer. It is suspicious of all spiritual quick fixes. It is characterized by stability, obedience and conversion of life. Contemplative Catholicism is steady, deep and true. It is good red wine instead of a fizzy drink. The problem for most American Catholics is that Contemplative Catholicism takes time and effort. A Contemplative Catholic is not made in a day. To be a truly deep contemplative Catholic is the work of a lifetime. It requires solitude, silence, sacrifice, service and study. It requires the obedience of faith–even when it is difficult–especially  when it is difficult. Americans don’t like that. We like our results instantly. We want a quick fix, an instant answer, a ready solution.

I cannot see how the American Church will accept this solution. While the portrait I paint of Coca Cola Catholicism is harsh, and I know I am dealing in generalities, at the same time I do not see much evidence of Contemplative Catholicism, and yet it is only this in depth commitment to obedience, stability and conversion of life that will change our church and change our world and change ourselves. As usual, the solution is not in great plans for evangelization or catechesis. Instead what is required for individuals to realize the need for change and to determine that–even if no one else joins them–they will become a contemplative Catholic and they will allow their own transformation to be used by God to transform the world.


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  • Kevin O’Brien

    The contemplation, Father, must focus on the Cross. Paul preached “Christ and Christ crucified”. Sin and its flower, death, must be the starting point for our prayer. God’s love is preached with plenty of pop and fizz, but man’s lack of love is ignored; thus God’s love is void of sacrifice, and we get not only Coke but Diet Coke.

  • Britny Fowler

    So true Father. Please, pray for me that I can have the strength to apply this as the only Catholic in an anti-Catholic family. I try, then I start slipping away, then a post like yours brings me to try again, then more persecution and I start slipping again. Also, happy memorial of St. Benedict!! One of my favorite saints. St. Benedict, pray for us as we seek to live a life solely for God and perfect union with Him!

  • Bennett Kalafut

    Father, would getting Americans to frequently take the sacrament of reconciliation and therefore make a habit of examining their consciences be a start?

  • Dave

    Another reason for Summorum Pontificum.

  • AMoniqueOcampo

    What kind of drink would contemplative Catholicism be compared to?

  • Pofarmer

    I think what’s killing the U.S. Catholic church is that people see what the church DOES, or has done, worldwide, and many no longer want to be a part of that. Why should Americans let such an organization have any say in our lives?

  • vito

    unlike Catholicism, coca cola does actually satisfy me. Does not quench thirst in the long run, and is not meant to, but a wonderful drink nevertheless.

  • Tom S

    Good post, Father, and very true. I am hoping that the prognosis is not as bad as you think though. There are contemplative Catholics out there, and Priests trying to guide us all in that direction, It’s just that they are obscured behind a virtual waterfall of Coca-Cola, Once the flow of Coca-Cola starts to thin out (as it must, both spiritually and demographically) they will begin to appear.

    At least that is my fervent hope.

  • Pofarmer

    I don’t know your specific situation, obviously, but to most Catholics, simply disagreeing with the Church( the horrors) constitutes “persecution”. My advice would be to grow up and learn to defend your position, or at least understand that your family can honestly disagree.

  • Brother Juniper

    Single Malt Scotch Whisky.

  • meunke

    I disagree. It’s not Coca-Cola. It’s generic, grey and red can, ‘Always Save’ brand cola. It’s been cheapened beyond Coke. Further, even people who want Coca-Cola Catholicism go to the Coke vending machine, hit the button, and instead of Coke get this generic cola can, drink it because they already paid, and then don’t go back because hey, if that’s all there is, I can get an entire flat of generic cola at Sam’s Club for ultra cheap and don’t even need to go to the machine anymore.

  • TOMinAZ

    I’m not a Catholic, but I see the same thing in my own Protestant denomination, and I’m sure it’s a problem in others. We get the warm fuzzy sermon, the admonition to do social good, and then friendly fellowship after the service. Not really a challenge. It comes across like stopping at the gas station to fill up for the week. Maybe clean the windshield, and off you go.

  • Theophilus2

    Amen. Obedience, as my bishop says, means “listen to Him” and His Church. Cooperation must conquer division. Our Lady who goes in haste, Pray for us.

  • Hendo

    Or a small-batch brand of ginger beer, for us abstainers. Either way, a powerful effect that lingers.

  • Guest

    Pofarmer, no one cannot “honestly” disagree with the Church – not on matters of doctrine (faith and morals). Maybe you should “grow up” and have the honesty to either accept Catholic teaching, or leave the Church.

    Also, the only Catholics leaving the Church over her scandals are the kind that would have left Peter because of Judas.

  • Britny Fowler

    my situation is that at the slightest hint of me mentioning my faith I’m a bragging, gay hater, intolerant, clinically insane, and a few swear words I won’t mention… But my parents are allowed to completely destroy my faith, claim I’m being brainwashed into a cult, punish me for refusing to watch promiscuous movies, punish me for having Holy Cards and a Breviary in my room, etc… and I’m not allowed to say a word in my defense. I’m public enemy number one because I insist on going to Mass every Sunday even when they want to plan a vacation. I know very well how to defend my position, I am a recent convert and will be teaching RCIA. I have no issues that they disagree with my faith, and I enjoy having discussions with peoples of different faiths. I do object to being screamed at, sworn at, threatened to be kicked out and such, told that I am wrong on what my faith teaches (and being told the catechism is wrong and not the Catholic Church’s teaching) and being completely bashed for my beliefs and my discernment of religious life. I half expect them to attempt to force an arranged marriage… they are trying to arrange for me to date any guy I happen to pass.

  • JOHN

    Poor Vito. The socialist/american demand is SATISFACTION. ME! ME! The demand of Christ is GIVE. Try it. It is infinitly more satisfying.

  • JOHN

    Britny, as Jesus told the rich man–you are not far from the Kingdom of Heaven. Prayer is the power and the glory. I will pray for you and your unfortunate relatives.

  • JOHN

    A green smoothie.

  • JOHN

    Bro Juniper. You were St. Francis’ favorite friar but scotch was not his favorite drink. Try again.

  • JOHN

    Good analogy, Father. I am certain that in your wish for TRANSFORMATION you would caution that it cannot come to be without Divine assistance. Transformation is putting on Christ. One must pray and pray and beg for His help. All else follows. Peace!

  • AnneG

    A nice Barolo and I think St Francis would agree.

  • Alisha Chromey

    This would be a mistake because in it I see the temptation to turn the sacrament of reconciliation into a therapeutic/consolation session with another person who happens to be a priest. I go to confession because I have already been examining my conscience.

  • Britny Fowler

    I thank you. I could use all the prayers I can get. :) Also I will pray for your intentions and the intentions of all those who commented here, poor and unworthy as my prayers may be.

  • Britny Fowler

    One of my favorite prayers during the Mass “Lord look not upon our sins but on the faith of Your Church” I always find it to be a good reminder that when I look and see bad in the Church to remember just because individual fallen human beings mess up doesn’t mean the Church is messed up. We all mess up, we have to pick up the pieces and move on.

  • Britny Fowler

    I think he meant more of a civil disagreement… which is what I try having with people (i.e. when I’m at college my roommate is Mormon) Basically my mindset is “fine, we don’t agree, let’s find the points we agree on, look at definitions of terms (so there’s no confusion) and work from there and start discussing what we disagree on and at least try to understand each other better.” after all we can’t convert people, only God’s grace can (He converted a Wiccan like I was) but we get the soil ready for the seed of God’s grace to grow within the person’s soul if they choose to accept it.

    Also, confronting people to “grow up and accept Catholic teaching or leave the Church” isn’t always the best option, though I firmly understand. It would be better to seek to learn why and where they dissent, chances are it’s a deeper set wound than the surface level disagreement. In compassion and charity we must show everyone the love of Christ and seek to help heal their wounds, then they will more likely return home. Because if we truly believe the Catholic Church is the Church Christ founded we won’t want anyone to leave, we would be working our butts off to get everyone to return home to Holy Mother Church.

  • Proteios

    The reason we are all here reading this is because Fr. D.L. Is correct..and we are seeking more. Sad our priests aren’t providing that directly in person, so we come here to get fulfillment. The mass has become a social scene where the priest tests his standup routine. Ties to “connect” with us. Or we celebrate kids, catechists. But the celebration of Christ is the ONLY reason we are there. And we know tht. We want that. So we seek it anywhere. Even online.

  • Proteios

    The good stuff…I can’t afford. But yes, to contemplate is the essence of the intellectual tradition of Catholicism.

  • david

    I would recommend Total Consecration to Jesus through Mary by St. Louis de Montfort. It requires a great deal of time and study and devotion but, it is well worth the effort.

  • TheReluctantWidow

    I think the reason it’s so hard for American Catholics to become Contemplative Catholics, is that by it’s very nature, contemplation requires a quiet mind and a quiet environment. When was the last time you had real quiet? No text messages, no checking Facebook, no cell phone calls asking urgent questions from work even when you are not working, no email notification ping-pinging away? Even in church it’s hard to find quiet. I go to Mass and there is a constant low-level buzz of people saying “hello,” kids jostling (my four in particular), the organist playing or even the Music Director decides we all have to practice a new setting for a Mass part. Life is fast-paced, we “want it yesterday,” and yesterday’s urgent business is old and now we want the next newest thing. The only time I find true quiet is at adoration and I can only get there once in a blue moon. Even now, I could be sitting quietly in my chair contemplating, but here I am checking out Patheos and blog reading. I think I will shut my computer down and try to spend some time in prayer.

  • Mica Joiner

    I think this is the VERY best start. In my opinion many people have souls darkened by sin and lack of prayer. The act of reconciliation not only frees the soul from sin but, opens up the channel of grace needed for a real conversion. It says to our Lord, Here I am and , I am your ready for help. Then Jesus Christ can began to open our minds and, hearts fully in the Holy Eucharist. The Priest is trained for situations when dealing with some who may really be needing a consolation session and, sometimes this also is a very important means to help the Priest understand the personal situation of each person.

  • Mica Joiner

    Very good article Father:-)

  • Pofarmer

    And that is why Americans are leaving the Catholic Church. Thank you.

  • Pofarmer

    Uhm, if you went from wiccan to rcia teaching
    Catholic, then, yeah, ya got some issues. It really might be best for you to leave your family.

  • Erin Pascal

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. It is very honest and very true. It is sad but this is really happening in reality. But I know that our prayers are already heard. We just need to have faith in Him.

  • markkrite

    I really enjoy the musings of Fr. Longnecker almost more than any other blogging on the site that I read him, “NewAdvent.Org,”, because of his ability to cut through the bloviating so extant today within the Catholic Church, sometimes even coming from Vatican sources, that tend to ameliorate and obfuscate what the Roman Catholic Church really teaches and believes. In terms of what I refer to when referring to Vatican bloviation, my favorite was when they, within the last 5 years, attempted to list the “five greatest songs by the Beatles.” What? Are you kidding us? Yes, Pope Francis was sorely needed, and I believe we now HAVE what we need in Francis’ presence as Pope in said Vatican at this juncture in history. GOD BLESS ALL, MARKRITE

  • oregon catholic

    Hmmm. Sounds like a lot of ‘cafeteria’ drinking preferences goin on here!

  • Jack

    The reason the Church is Catholic is that there is something for everyone. There are devotions and forms of spirituality that appeal to some people and answer to their spiritual needs, and some that appeal to others. This is why I say that EVERY Catholic, even beloved Pius XII, is a Cafeteria Catholic. If we all ate everything at the banquet that is the Catholic Church, not only would we be spiritual gluttons, we’d be spiritually obese.

  • Michael

    I left Catholic Church after Vatican II.Now giving it another go. Not seeing much that makes me want to stay, going to Mass is like going to a fast food restaurant rather than a fine five star restaurant. Now it’s just sing a couple of Protestant songs engage in some cheap theatrics like holding hands upward in prayer, receiving The Sacred Host and then see you next week.

    Why I mention this is the Catholic Church seems to be doing a giant ostrich, putting the head into the sand. All the church does is whine about the population,or prospects, or parishioners rather than look to the failure of Catholic leadership. Your current Pope is only able to say quit buying stuff and give it to the poor, thus creating more poor as a result of those now unemployed because people stopped buying things. A good class in non Marxist economics might be a good step for Pope Francis to get a clue.
    Summary look at the inadequacies of The Vatican and Bishops. Quit trying to be “like the other guys”.

  • Will

    Perhaps the priests proclaiming good things should be asked to leave?

  • Athanasius De Angelus

    Wow, I will pray for you. You are like St. Thomas Aquinas his family really really sucks. I wonder if you don’t mind me asking this but are your parents protestants or atheists? You are amazing but don’t despair. I hope you don’t mind me suggesting this, but my husband used to be anti-catholic but once I gave him the green scapular he converted within 2 years. In your case, hide the scapular in their mattress and say a prayer from the green scapular for them every night. It might convert them, and it might not; however, I believe they will leave you alone or give you some peace.

  • Pofarmer

    What about when the faith of the Church leads people to sin? Thinking of things like the Magdalene laundries. What about when the faith of the Church leads people to by tyrants? Thinking of things like the Church in Argentina prescribing what individuals could name their Children.

  • Will

    Some priests have been accused of preaching “Catholic lite.” Are all of these priests wrong?

  • Britny Fowler

    My father was raised protestant, Methodist specifically but he’s a moral relativist, my mother was raised Catholic. She left the Church as a teenager. My step-mom was also raised Catholic and left the Church as a teenager. As such I was raised Methodist, then I was Wiccan because of school trips to the witch museums in Salem and the witch in my class. Then later in high school I became a Pentecostal Christian but I knew something was off. Watching them bash one of my Catholic friends one day and the truth, like a lion defending itself brought me home. I studied for a couple years, turned 18 and joined the Church. (extreme oversimplification)

    On the scapular suggestion, heehee… did that a few weeks ago. :) I hope they don’t find it or I’m dead lol got the idea from a friend who sewed one inside a quilt for her sister so she wouldn’t find it.

  • Scaevola

    Pretty sure you’re missing what Britny meant by “faith”. The faith as such did not lead to the problems you mention. Rather, it was people in positions of power within the Church who forgot the meaning of their faith, or actively acted against it.

  • Scaevola

    I rather prefer mtn dew myself…more sugar, more caffeine, more short-term satisfaction in every can.

  • Scaevola

    Find a different parish. One that offers a Latin Mass. The Church isn’t all watered down and weak. You have to get around the abuses by weak and well-meaning people.

    Also, the pope just released an encyclical that was on many things unrelated to the economy. (unless we’re talking about the economy of salvation that is! …sorry, awful catholic nerd pun)

  • Scaevola

    If they’re teaching Catholic-lite, they’re as wrong as caffeine-free Coke Zero. “A half-truth is a whole lie.”

  • chrismayeaux

    This is characteristic of all American Christianity not just Catholocism . Great post!

  • Curious Catholic

    So, Jack — do you have an example of someone in the history of the Catholic Church who you would identify as “spiritually obese”?

  • Matthew Manint

    If She holds the Truth, then one will be faithful no matter what horrors Her members might commit. If She teaches falsehood, then one would flee from Her even if all her members seemed holy. We must seek the Truth, for it will set us free.

  • OneTimothyThreeFifteen

    I do wonder how many in the TLM crowd simply abuse the Church teaching on Music as having a justification for what gives them a ‘frisson’, too?

    In other words, for many TLM ‘fans’, it seems their attachment to Palestrina is just the same as the Coca-Cola Catholic’s attachment to Marty Haughen or the St Louis Jesuits, except the Church conveniently aligns with the tastes of the TLM groupie.

    Surely the emotive/groupie mindset in both types – TLM and Kubaya – is the problem where form overtakes substance?

    Maybe we should call it ‘Chablis Catholicism’? :)

  • ve6

    move out as soon as possible!

  • Athanasius De Angelus

    Wiccan? Wow, how did you jump from being that to becoming Pentecostal? Wow, God really has His eyes on you! God really loves you!

    I hope you don’t mind me asking this but did you sense the darkness being a wiccan? And why did you leave it?

  • x x

    I love your ‘CC’ combinations. As a Protestant, I’m looking forward to your forthcoming post on Catholic Catholicism!

    Just kidding.

  • Britny Fowler

    yeah, I sensed the darkness, thank God I wasn’t possessed. I was meditating communicating with a spirit I thought was an angel (part of what saved me was I believed the “no magic for evil” line) when Jesus appeared before me in tears. I couldn’t understand why He was upset, but I noticed when He appeared that the spirit beside me shrank back in fear… when I turned to look at her her once beautiful appearance was foul and twisted and evil and just possibly diabolic beyond words. She reached out to grab me but I pushed away and jumped into Jesus’ arms. Next thing I knew He was between us and there was this huge blinding white light and she was gone. I came back to myself and I was lying there paralyzed, the only thing I could think to do was scream out “Mary!” and then I was fine. From that day on I was done with being Wiccan. I didn’t know anything at all about Catholicism though, and the big thing at my school was Pentecostalism because there is a big mega church in my town, so that’s where I ended up till I made friends with a couple of Catholics and came home. :)

    I have had some residual problems from being wiccan though, and unfortunately most priests just think I’m psychotic when I tell them I can see spirits and these spirits follow me around. Took months before I found a priest who believed me, gave me a giant bottle of Old Rite Holy Water, a stub of an altar candle with Old Rite blessings, and said a deliverance prayer over me… that helped, but it still took a close religious friend of mine visiting me and walking me back through everything and renouncing each individual thing before I was finally free. And it has made a HUGE difference in my life. He said I was suffering from diabolic oppression and obsession, which are two of the three levels, possession is the third.

  • UWIR

    “just because individual fallen human beings mess up doesn’t mean the Church is messed up”
    But the issue is not individuals messing up. The issue is the church, as an institution, messing up. The issue is some Catholics doing evil, more Catholics aiding and abetting them, and the vast majority of Catholics negligently failing to taking proper precautions against people doing evil.

  • Pofarmer

    Truth is a subjective thing. If she holds the truth, it seems to me her members would not commit horrible things. You see, your truth is determined by your actions.

  • Britny Fowler

    the vast majority still isn’t the whole, just, unfortunately a lot of human beings messing up. It’s not right, and I fight it everyday. What’s needed is people to stand up and fix it, not people who say that the institution is messing up so we need to leave and not do anything about it. (I don’t think that’s what you’re saying, I think that is what many say) Renewal and reform are always needed, people need to stand up and spearhead this, and my generation is trying, but we need everyone’s help. :)

  • UWIR

    The faith created the positions of power. The faith is responsible for what people did with those positions of power. The positions of power, the people who occupy those positions, and the decisions they make, cannot be separated from the Catholic faith. The Catholic faith teaches that revelation comes from both the Scriptures and the Body of Christ, where “the Body of Christ” is primarily people in position of power in the Catholic Church. When your faith involves following people in power, it makes no sense to say that what those people do is distinct from your faith.

  • Matthew Manint

    The even more wonderful, yet terrible, thing is that truth is objective, no matter what we happen to think or feel about it. It’s philosophically easy to sit in an armchair and profess subjective truth, but once someone steals your wallet or dangles you over a precipice, professing that their truth has no problems with such actions, objective truth makes itself known.

    Indeed, your saying, “Her members would not commit horrible things” shows an understanding that there is a measuring stick of actions. A more “truthful” statement, according to your professed belief about truth, would be to say, “I think their members commit horrible actions, but who am I to say or tell others what to do? For, what is truth?”

  • heidisaxton

    I would think the “spiritually obese” would be those who eat endlessly but never exercise the graces — in particular, by living in a way that draws others to Christ — through acts of self-giving and service.